Trying to innovate can be difficult in any market, particularly when it’s dominated by just a few big players. Will King gives us the lowdown on how a revolutionary product can revitalise a whole industry
Facial fuzz has made something of a comeback in recent times. With Movember, increasingly hirsute comedians and ‘stache-based semiotics adorning our products, the proportion of beardy blokes in our towns and cities are definitely on the rise. Men have been drifting away from the shaving market and razor sales have been slowly falling for the first time in living memory. Clearly the men’s grooming market needs some sort of saviour. Fortunately, King of Shaves believes it has provided just that in its latest product: enter the Hyperglide, a razor that allows customers to shave without having to use shaving foam or oil.
It’s certainly been a while since the world of razors has had a true breath of fresh air. Speaking at the launch of Hyperglide, Will King, founder and CEO of King of Shaves, made reference to the evolution of the razor: since the introduction of the lubrastrip in 1976, there have been few leaps and bounds in shaving. We’ve seen blades added, strips proliferate and even batteries included, and yet the core shaving experience has barely altered.
King thinks a big part of this is down to lack of competition, meaning there is little pressure to innovate. “When you’re making £2 - £3 on the sale of each cartridge – or about 94% gross profit – then you ain’t gonna change that are you?” King asks. “You stick with what you’ve got until somebody comes along and delivers better.”
Unfortunately, this is obviously a flawed perspective. Given razors aren’t a perishable item, there’s no call for a consumer to purchase a new razor unless it offers a significantly new experience. Adding new bells and whistles to a product may potentially attract someone to choose it if forced to purchase a new one but it still makes it incredibly unlikely that they will feel much desire to upgrade. King explains: “That failure to innovate is very symptomatic of industries which are monopolised.”
And the Hyperglide is nothing if not innovative. Allowing shavers to trim their stubble with the aid of water alone is definitely a revolutionary idea but, for a lot of product developers, knowing to make the intervening steps isn’t immediately clear.
The key is being able to recognise potential solutions when you see them. “I’ve got a great curiousity and I’m a mixture of an engineer, a creative guy, entrepreneur – I’m quite a hybrid character,” says King. “I’m always looking to see what could be the best, what could we do, how could we do it.”
One of King’s real passions is the area of high-performance yacht racing. “There are surface modification treatments that can be put on to hulls to make them go through the water faster,” he relates. An area causing much debate in recent years has been between the merits of two such treatments: hydrophobic solutions – which repel and push water away – and hydrophilic alternatives that attract water and spread it across a surface, offering better lubrication. For King, it wasn’t hard to see the crossover with his own industry.
Blades have received a huge amount of treatment over the last few decades, not only offering a closer and more thorough shave through the use of multiple blades but with vastly improved edging, grinding and treatment techniques. However, steps forward with lubrication largely hadn’t progressed much past 1976 and the lubrastrip. “What I wanted to do with Hyperglide was to put the shaving oil into a solid state lubricant on the cartridge,” says King. Hydrophilic treatments seemed the ideal solution. “That’s when the journey started.”
And it’s been a long but rewarding one. However, its patented super-hydrophilic cartridge hasn’t been its only differentiator. Not only has King of Shaves carried over the ‘S-Flex’ flexible head from its previous razor and introduced a new easy release cartridge but the company invested significant time ensuring the look was just right. “It’s the pride in the product,” comments King. “The aesthetic of Hyperglide, the curves, how the black and the white work with the chrome – it’s got to look so markedly different to a Fusion or a Hydro that there is no confusion over what this razor is.”
It’s evident that every element of Hyperglide is clearly designed not only to utterly change how men shave but to take a significant step forward and get people excited about the idea of shaving again. “That is what Jony Ive and Tony Fadell did at Apple,” King comments. “They took the mobile phone and they didn’t just bring it up-to-date: they completely revolutionised that space and made phones more desirable.”
Inevitably, taking a serious step forward in any industry is going to be a product of intuition, perspiration and no small amount of luck. In King’s opinion, any great innovation relies on an ability to recognise it when you see it, something the likes of Apple have always used to their advantage. “That can happen instantaneously or it can take five years like it has with us,” he explains.
And he’s keen to stress there’s no slowing down, with the firm looking to use the strength of their IP to expand into many other areas that involve a super-hydrophilic contact with skin. “Anything that involves a lubricity with water, we know how to coat surfaces with this tech,” he concludes, hinting toward a bright future. “It’s a journey and we’re still in it.”
Just add water
An innovation is all well and good but finding a simple way to present that to the public isn’t always straight-forward. Fortunately, King has an ace up his sleeve in the form of his wife: Tiger Savage, the renowned creative director responsible for the famous ‘Lynx Effect’. Eager to hear her thoughts on the product, King gave her a Hyperglide. He recalls: “She goes ‘it’s just a razor,’ and ignores it for about two weeks.”
Eventually, after a little gentle coaxing, Savage did indeed try the product and was blown away. “Because she’s a fantastic advertising creative director, she distills products to a simplicity point,” King explains. “She says ‘why don’t we shoot it with a guy shaving underwater?’”
Produced by Savage’s agency Tiger’s Eye, Hyperglide’s campaign is sublimely simple. “You’ve got a guy, who’s a good-looking guy and he’s shaving away,” King explains. “Then he grabs a toothbrush floating past his head and you get the point. He’s underwater: he can shave. Then obviously you can deliver a very clever advertising aesthetic, which gets the point across: ‘Just add water. King of Shaves: Hyperglide’.”