Taking on the world, one shave at a time

In just a few years there has been an irreversible, seismic change in the way the world communicates. Wherever you are in the world, you can know almost everything, on anything, instantly. This has, and will continue to, hugely break down barriers (and possibly erect new, unforeseen ones) as ‘content’ is shared and consumed on a truly global basis.

Digital dialogue rules, and what individuals, companies, or even countries opine is now discussed and dissected in a real-time basis. All of this was basically improbable, indeed, impossible, prior to the launch of social media channels, firstly YouTube, followed by Facebook, then Twitter and of course Instagram and Tumblr. We live in a world where content is king, and newsworthy content can be shared instantly and change lives forever. For better or for worse, that is yet to be seen. But, I think, for better.

Shaving America
In many ways, the USA looks like an easy market to develop (big, generally English speaking and relatively wealthy) but it’s actually extremely hard (think of the 50+ states as individual countries, huge land mass, absolutely ruthless cutting-edge competition and no place for the faint of heart). We launched in the USA with Target in 2000, and for 10 years maintained our own office there, growing slowly into chains such as CVS/pharmacy and Walgreens.

Then, in 2011, we entered into a distribution agreement with the company that owned the Remington electric shave brand. Things didn’t work out well at all: King of Shaves has different brand dynamics and consumer appeal to Remington, and in 2012 we withdrew. Throughout 2013, we spent our time preparing the four key retailers with what we’d be launching in 2014 (our next generation razor, Hyperglide) and we will be relaunching in the USA next year. It has cost us a huge amount of money being there, but it has the potential to be our biggest market and in my heart of hearts, I know there is a place for King of Shaves there. If only to keep Gillette and Schick (Wilkinson Sword) on their toes…

On being ‘Made in Britain’
I’m delighted King of Shaves products are designed and (97%) manufactured in the UK. Britain is a hugely creative nation, respected worldwide for innovation and quality – a far cry, perhaps, from the 1970s and 80s. On our latest razor, Hyperglide, we proudly display a graphic of the Union Jack and call out our ‘Made in Britain’ credentials. Apple may be designed in California but it’s made in China. King of Shaves is designed in the UK and made in the UK. Consumers worldwide like that fact, I believe.

On working with international partners and suppliers
We’re 20 years into partnerships with suppliers, initially in the UK, and now internationally. And, it’s been challenging. Many are ‘process driven’ and don’t understand how important it is to react with speed, especially when the business is small. Others are fast, but maybe too fast and we have to temper their enthusiasm with sanity. Language barriers are sometimes a challenge, as the level of engineering we work at (and its associated English) is tough, and sometimes lost in translation. As well as Skype and conference calling, we use translators extensively to ensure important detail is understood. And we still rely on the ‘Mark 1 Eyeball’ meeting, where you can gauge whether something is good (or bad) – which is often difficult to do over a telephone call. We have a relatively small team at the KoS HQ, 14 in total, but work with many others over multiple locations. We always aim to ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid’. And keep meetings as short as possible!

On communication with customers
Nowadays, communication with customers is driven by them, not us. With the advent of two-way digital dialogue channels such as Facebook and Twitter, as soon as someone ‘rates’ or ‘slates’ your brand or business, you must engage in a conversation with them, or someone else will. I personally run the @KingofShaves Twitter account, with around 10,000 followers – most of what I receive is good. But, of course, that’s not always the case and how public complaints are dealt with is absolutely ‘mission critical’ or a company might face the 21st Century equivalent of ‘doing a Ratner’. The challenge is always time, as that’s the one thing you can’t manufacture, so having great products not just average ones, is truly essential to survive (and thrive) in these days of the ‘Word of Mouse…’

Customers love being involved in the DNA of the brand they’re buying, if they love the experience they’re getting. Back in 2009, we issued the world’s first SME ‘retail’ bond (a shaving bond) which was not only designed to earn our customers interest (6%) but also to bond them closer with our company, brand, value and objectives. It allowed us to raise money (alongside more formal mechanisms) to develop and improve our offer, and has now been widely copied, from companies as diverse as luxury chocolate brands (Hotel Chocolat), the Jockey Club – even mattress manufacturers. We keep in close touch with our bond holders, via a private Facebook group, email them regularly – and they’ll be some of the first people to use and comment on our new products. Bonding, like communication, is key in business today.

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