Meet Harry’s, the shaving startup taking on Gillette

The shaving subscription service is determined to appeal to British men by adopting an “underdog spirit”, but faces a battle with Unilever’s Dollar Shave Club once it launches in the UK.

Almost every industry has been hit by digital disruption and shaving clubs are trying to do the same to the razor market.

Popularised by Dollar Shave Club in the US 2011, they aim to offer a cheaper alternative to razors by signing people up to a subscription. And they have done a fairly good job of pulling in consumers. In the US, the market leader Gillette has lost share for the last six quarters and even launched its own shave club in a bid to tackle the disruption head on.

Now shaving clubs are coming to the UK. But it isn’t Dollar Shave Club, recently bought by Unilever, that has made it across the Atlantic. Instead it is a brand called Harry’s, which has made quite a splash with its marketing approach.

The brand was launched by best friends Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield. Raider has form in disrupting traditional markets – he founded online glasses retailer Warby Parker.

The idea came about due to how “tedious”, the process of buying razors had become. Because of their value they are often locked away in cabinets or feature security tags making the shopping process longer. And they can seem expensive.

But changing that has not been as easy as Raider and Katz-Mayfield expected. The category is incredibly “complex”, requiring a lot of specialist knowledge, particularly when it came to the blades. The two nevertheless decided to launch the business in 2013, using “their faces as a testing ground” for developing new products.

Fast-forward four years and Harry’s now has three million customers in the US. Its products are available in-store and online. But the brand is predominantly known for its ‘shave plan’ subscription service.

It works like this: customers can sign up to the service for £2.95, and will be sent a handle, blade, shave gel and a travel blade cover.

Following the trial, they will be automatically enrolled on a subscription plan (although customers can modify or cancel ahead of their first payment). The subscription costs vary dependent on people’s individual needs, and can therefore be paid every two, three or five months.

The brand is hoping to jump on a growing consumer appetite for online services, with research conducted by Shorr Packaging showing that subscription boxes have become increasingly popular in recent years.

More than 2,000 subscription box services exist in the US as of March 2016. Consumer interest is growing too. Visits to subscription box websites have grown by over 3,000% in the last three years, up from 722,000 visits in 2013 to 21.4 million in 2016.

Conquering the UK market

With a growing customer base in the US, Harry’s saw an opportunity in heading across the pond. The brand officially opened for business in the UK in June, and unveiled its outdoor and digital campaign in mid July.

Its UK general manager Matt Hiscock believes the UK is an attractive market due to the relatively high ecommerce penetration and the “countless” enquiries it received from British men when Harry’s was still building the brand in the US.

This is, incidentally, also reflected in its marketing activity. As part of its email efforts, the brand encouraged US customers on its mailing list to invite their friends in the UK to join the service in return for early access once it launched.

You only get one chance to launch, so we wanted to try and raise awareness as much as we could. We want to show that we’re different from the establishment.

Matt Hiscock, Harry’s

“We had a wonderful head start where we built a great business in the States. We had four years of learnings; whether it’s using different marketing channels, or focusing on our brand positioning or tone of voice. We’ve now built a small on-the-ground team of UK experts. We are inheriting what we have in America and changing what we need to,” he tells Marketing Week.

Unlike its US marketing activity, the brand hopes to focus on humour and a sense of style to resonate with British consumers. Its ‘Shaving’s other guys’ campaign also looks to position itself as being different from incumbents such as Gillette.

“You only get one chance to launch, so we wanted to try and raise awareness as much as we could. We want to show that we’re different from the establishment. We do this with an underdog spirit, a humble tone but by not taking ourselves too seriously,” he explains.

“We felt that we didn’t need celebrity endorsements or posed male models. Instead, we chose to use illustrations. We wanted to do things a bit differently.”

Fighting off stiff competition

Harry’s does face a tough fight, however. Dollar Shave Club holds 54% of the online shaving marketing in the US, according to Euromonitor, while Gillette’s share of the online market is 21%.

READ MORE: The biggest challenges facing disruptive brands

Both brands have yet to enter the UK market, giving Harry’s an advantage. That said, there are plenty of other smaller brands looking to steal custom, including Cornerstone, the Bearded Colonel and FFS (Friction Free Shaving).

“There is plenty of healthy competition. If you think about Dollar Shave Club versus Harry’s, we’re here before them which is good. But in the US we already exist alongside them so we’re used to that [kind of pressure],” says Hiscock.

Harry’s ultimately believes its agility will be crucial to business success and the best way to compete with its bigger competitors that can outspend on marketing.

As Hiscock concludes: “We have a really strong customer service ethic in our business, and have the ability to develop and change on the back of what we hear from our customers, and fast.”

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