Efficient Shaving

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King Gillette
was one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history. He saw an opportunity,
and he took it.

When he introduced
the well-named safety razor in 1903, he presented to the average
man a way to reduce the learning curve for becoming a self-shaver.
He also gave to his fellow men a way to cut back on the time (high)
and expense (high) of a shave by a barber.

Gillette understood
a fundamental marketing principle: The profit is in repeat sales.
The main cost is generating the initial sale. After the seller gains
the buyer’s trust, repeat sales are far less expensive. This is
the principle of the back end, and it is basic to most businesses.

He sold his
razors cheap — below cost, we are told — in order to sell blades
at a profit. He used price competition to create demand for a totally
new product. This enabled him to gain market share rapidly.

He was selling
to the middle class initially. He was not selling to the rich. Soon,
he was selling to the poor.

By 1916, the
beard was out of favor. The last major-party candidate for President
who wore a beard was Charles Evans Hughes. Wilson defeated him in

A huge breakthrough
for the company was the policy of the Army in World War I to issue
a Gillette razor to every soldier. That was 3.5 million razors.

To say that
Gillette changed the world is not saying too much. His price-competitive
marketing strategy made shaving so inexpensive that the average
Joe could afford it. All over the world, beards disappeared.

So, by the
way, did underarm hair for women. But that was not Gillette’s doing.
That was the Wilkinson razor company’s doing. That advertising campaign
began in 1915, following a Harper’s Bazaar article that featured
a photograph of a woman in a sleeveless dress. It is less likely
that this fashion trend would have been attempted by a straight-razor
company, for the straight razor’s association with masculinity was
obvious, and remains so.


I have been
cursed with three biological features that are at cross purposes:
a fast-growing thick beard, sensitive skin, and a chin with small
folds. So, when I wore a beard, briefly, in 1980, my beard pulled
against my skin when I put my head on a pillow, and pulled at my
skin annoyingly. I never got used to this.

When I shave
exclusively with an electric razor, it doesn’t cut short enough
to prevent the appearance of a Nixon-like beard before the end of
the day. Also, the whirring blades tend to irritate my skin after
a few days.

When I shave
with a standard safety razor, the folds of my chinny-chin chin protect
whiskers from the blade. If I go after them, I risk nicking myself.

I remember
seeing an interview with Tom Paxton, the folk singer. He hypothesized
that whiskers learn how to evade whatever system you use against

Because I prefer
to spend my time in front of a computer screen rather than a mirror,
my goals for shaving are simple: (1) get finished fast; (2) avoid
leaving whiskers behind; (3) avoid cuts; (4) avoid skin irritation;
(5) get my beard short enough so one shave a day does the job.

Only secondarily
is the money cost per shave relevant. The time cost per shave is
far more important to me. I am long on money and short on time.
Or, as an economist would waste your time saying, the marginal cost
of my time is higher than the marginal cost of my money, other things
being equal.

If I wanted
elaborate ritual, I would join the Greek Orthodox Church.


I knew from
age four or five what my solution would not be: a straight razor.
I watched my grandfather sharpen his razor on a long piece of leather
called a strop, and then shave his face. My father told me that
his father could shave on a moving train. My father, who celebrates
his 89th birthday today, used a straight razor briefly, but switched
to a safety razor, as he says, “to keep from looking like hamberger.”
He used a Gillette safety razor.

When I was
about 13, I had to start shaving daily. At first, I got a Remington
electric razor, but it irritated my skin and did not shave close
enough. So, I started using Gillette blue blades. They were awful.
They were good for maybe three shaves. They easily cut me.

In 1957, Gillette
introduced a multi-setting razor that let you adjust for the thickness
of your beard. I needed the maximum setting.

In 1960 came
Gillette’s super blue blade. It had a silicon coating. It cut better
than the blue blade, but it wore out fast, and it nicked me more
often if I failed to replace it.

The next year,
Wilkinson introduced the first coated stainless steel blade. I started
using it. It lasted longer than a super blue blade. Its market share
grew rapidly at the expense of Gillette.

Gillette countered
in 1963 with its own stainless blade. That blade soon replaced the
older blue blades in popularity. I switched back to Gillette.

In 1971 came
Gillette’s two-edge blade. It was a major improvement. It lasted
longer, nicked less often, and was easy to replace. Nothing since
then has made more than marginal improvements.

Somewhere along
the line, I bought a Norelco twin blade electric. It had circular
spinning blades. It was not so irritating as my old Remington. It
cut fairly well. But I had to use it twice a day to keep really
clean shaven.

What I did
not know at the time was that the Norelco was the North American
outlet of Holland’s Philips Company. I also did not know until decades
later that the company’s two founders were the grandsons of Lion
Philips, who was Karl Marx’s uncle. He despised his nephew. Had
I known this, I would have bought a Norelco earlier.

By my college
years, I used a stainless blade to do the heavy cutting, and a Norelco
to do the secondary shaving. The Norelco was fine for touch-up.
It did not irritate my skin, and I did not risk nicking myself in
an attempt to get the last few recalcitrant whiskers.


The key to
a clean shave, we are told, is a hot towel. I disagree. The key
to a clean shave is oil-free skin.

I am a shower
man. I like long, hot showers. I have extremely oily hair. In the
shower, I use shampoo to wash my hair twice. Each time, I also wash
my face. This removes most of the oil from my skin and whiskers.

When I get
out of the shower, I wrap a towel around my waist — habit — and
go to the sink. I apply the cheapest shaving gel I can find, which
is Barbasol. Barbasol shaving products are great because the company
spends almost nothing on advertising. It uses price competition
to gain market share. That’s my kind of company.

I use a Gillette
three-edge blade. I change it every two weeks, I guess. I once got
one that lasted a month. This is cheap.

When I’m finished,
if I plan to go out that day, I use my three-head Norelco to buzz
over my chin and around my mouth. I don’t want to re-lather and
shave again. The second razor shave is high risk. I want to avoid

The entire
procedure takes about two minutes. As for shaving lotion, I use
rubbing alcohol, which also serves as an effective, non-irritating
deodorant. Cheap.

have been doing this for 35 years. I am not about to re-learn shaving.
Shaving for me is not a ritual. It’s a necessity. The aesthetics
of shaving are lost on me. Call me a philistine, except the Philistines
did not shave.

22, 2006

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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