The big global shaving brands are in business to make as much money as possible for their shareholders, this is their duty in life. To do this they need to extract the maximum cash each week out of the billions of men who shave.
At the beginning of the 20th century King Camp Gillette invented the bait and hook marketing strategy, selling the razors, which only needed to be bought once, at a loss, then making a big profit on the blades, which were patent protected and needed to be replaced regularly. The only fly in the ointment was when the patents ran out, which they did in the 1930s, whereupon anyone could manufacture double edged (DE) blades. Gillette then maintained market dominance by product quality, brilliant marketing and the inertia and efficiencies of their sheer size.
In 1971 Gillette went back to patent protected blades and the bait and hook business model with their Trac II (G II in Europe) twin bladed cartridge razor. The system razor was invented and Gillette stopped making DE razors in the West, they could make vastly more profit in their patent protected walled garden. The Trac II was followed by the Atra, the Sensor, the Mach 3 and finally the Fusion in a system of planned obsolescence that keeps the patents fresh (they didn’t want to get caught again) and which has ever increasing cartridge prices and therefore profits.
Gillette’s marketing department have the job of persuading their customers to make the continued upgrades and to pay out progressively more money, they do this on a country by country basis depending on what they think that the population can afford. For instance in India just now they are making the initial push away from DE razors to low cost system razors, as the population become yet more affluent Gillette will bring planned obsolescence to the market with new and “better” models.
In the West the supply of DE blades dwindled as the bait and hook business model of the system razors succeeded, whist in the rest of the world different markets were in different stages of development according to their wealth. So when globalisation and the interwebs came along and the retail barriers between markets broke down people in the West were suddenly able to buy a wide range of quality DE blades from all over the world.
Of course Gillette want to have their cake and eat it. Whilst trying to force the men of the planet to use their system razors they still have factories all over the world churning out DE blades for those who cannot afford the cartridges. Their St Petersberg factory in Russia, for instance, manufactures eight different brands of DE blades.
So now to the meat of this article, what are the chances of DE blades becoming extinct? On the one hand you have the immense power and wealth of the global shaving companies who want the out of patent DE blades to be killed off. These blades, quite simply, ruin their business model and reduce the amount of profit they can make for their shareholders.
But the factors that keep DE blades going are far more powerful:
- The blades are out of patent so anyone can make them. The machinery and processes for doing so are well understood. This is not rocket science.
- About half the world’s population live on a dollar a day or less. These people cannot afford a $4 system razor cartridge every week. Even a 10 cent DE blade is a lot of money to most.
- We live now in a global market, it is becoming difficult for big global companies to behave differently in different countries. I mainly use Iridium DE blades made by Gillette which were never intended for the UK market, they must be horrified that these are crossing borders in huge quantities to be used instead of system razor cartridges.
- There are lots of quality DE blade manufacturers around the world competing with the big global companies. There really is lots of healthy competition and most of these companies have very low cost bases so can make a healthy profit out of DE blades.
- Customers in the West are getting wise to the bait and hook, planned obsolescence business model in ever increasing numbers. Just look at the resistance there has been to the switch from the Mach 3 to the Fusion, despite massive marketing efforts. And now we have the real, traditional shaving resurgence in the West, which is absolutely booming as evidenced by this and many other websites.
- We live in increasingly environmentally aware times, we are at last realising that we need to take care of this planet. And DE blades are, quite simply, the lowest environmental impact shaving method in widespread, common use (cut-throats are even better).
So, in balance, DE blades are not going to be extinct any time soon. However there can still be good reason to stock up on your favourite blade because individual brands can succumb to commercial pressure just as in any other business. A few hundred Iridiums don’t cost much and take up little space.