Saving one’s own skin

With more men taking an active interest in their appearance and skincare, KoS is launching a line which protects the skin’s surface. By Barny Stokes

King of Shave’s (KoS) decision to promote its new shaving line as the ideal partner for Gillette’s five-bladed Fusion razor system (MW last week) is a bold move.

The range, which includes skincare products, has a working title of K5 and is set to launch in September, to capitalise on the arrival of Gillette’s Fusion in the UK. It be will be positioned as a premium line to sit above the core range of KoS “problem-solution” products, and the company is also developing a shaving platform of its own.

KoS founder Will King says that while the brand’s strengths are in “shaving software”, if its prototype razor performs favourably compared with Fusion, he may well take on Gillette in “hardware” too.

“Our core proposition is that the technology of shaving software has lagged behind the technology of shaving hardware,” says King. “We’re dragging increasing numbers of super-sharp blades across our skin, but the majority of shaving gels and foams available are still essentially detergents – they are good at cleaning the skin, but not at lubricating or protecting it.”

As such, King argues that products engineered to protect the skin’s surface offer a clear point of difference and thinks Gillette will “secretly quite like” the fact the KoS is implicitly endorsing its products. He is less forthcoming about a KoS razor though, admitting that Gillette’s attitude might be “very different” if challenged directly.

King’s confidence highlights the rapidly growing male grooming market, as more men take an active interest in their appearance and skincare. Provisional figures from Euromonitor show that the UK’s male pre-shave market was worth £771.2m last year, compared with £729m in 2004 – a healthy 5.8 per cent rise.

Gillette accounts for 55.3 per cent of the market, but KoS is the second-largest brand, with a 12.5 per cent share, placing it just behind own-label ranges, which account for 14 per cent. Its nearest major rival is the multi-national Beiersdorf, whose Nivea for Men brand accounts for just 7.8 per cent.

Take account of the UK’s male skincare market, which Euromonitor values at £54.7m, and KoS’s achievement (as a relatively small, privately owned brand), stands out even further. Beiersdorf takes the lion’s share, with 49.7 per cent, and L’Oréal Paris’s Men Expert takes 14.4 per cent. But KoS is third, with a 9.6 per cent share.

For observers, the growth of the market – and in particular the entrance of L’Oréal Paris, with its famous “Because You’re Worth It” tagline – underlines a change in male attitudes towards grooming. Recent research has focused on the rise of “metrosexuals” – heterosexual, urban male professionals who are increasingly adopting traditionally female behaviour, such as following beauty regimes and fashion trends.

“Male attitudes to beauty have changed in the past few years because opinion-formers such as David Beckham have admitted to using skincare products,” says a recent report by Datamonitor. “Shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy [in which a straight man is given a make over by gay men], have also helped in the growth of the male skincare market.”

The report also points out that King of Shaves has marketed its products very astutely, and has been particularly adept at communicating with men in language they understand. Instead of using traditional cosmetics language, it has sought to focus on the functional benefits of its products. Its XCD range, for example, is dubbed “enhance, camouflage, defend”. In women’s terms, the authors suggest, that would be “beautify, conceal, and reduce the signs of ageing”.

It’s a point on which others agree. “Most communication in the shaving category implies that choosing a particular brand will either boost your sex appeal or improve your football skills,” says Don Williams, chief executive of branding consultancy PI Global. “A functional brand that offers an effective and painless shave has a valuable point of difference.”

However, despite KoS’s widely acknowledged success in both shaving software and skincare, the suggestion that it is gearing up to take on Gillette in shaving hardware has raised a few eyebrows. “Taking on Gillette would be a huge mountain to climb,” says Peter Shaw, managing director of branding consultancy Brand Catalyst. “I can’t imagine Gillette going to sleep and letting someone beat it in razors.”

King, naturally, remains bullish: “If we moved into hardware then we’d flash up on Gillette’s radar as a threat. “But,” he admits, “it’s a challenge, and I like challenges.”


Former ad salesman Will King first hit upon the idea for marketing oil as a pre-shave product as a solution to his sensitive skin.

Shaving irritated his skin, so his wife Ann persuaded him put some bath oil on his face before shaving. The idea worked, and King began testing combinations of essential oils. After borrowing £40,000 to get the venture off the ground, he hand-filled the first 10,000 bottles of oil at home. It took him two weeks, but by April 1993 he had both a product and a brand name: King of Shaves.

By September 1993, King had managed to persuade Harrods to stock his range and in 1994 Boots were selling it as well.

Later launches included Alpha oils, in 1996; the KoS Connexium silicon-based range, in 1998; and KoS Woman in 2000. The latest product, KoS Alpha cream, launches in Tesco next month.

Over the years King of Shaves has won a string of awards from magazines like GQ and FHM. It is now the UK’s number two shaving brand by value behind Gillette, with sales of £11.6m last year.

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