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King C. Gillette: Inventor, Marketer, and Strategist

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Very few great men have left behind marketing systems and business concepts that are modeled till date. King Camp Gillette, inventor of the Gillette disposable razor, fought all odds as he embarked upon his vision of making shaving a simpler, safer, inexpensive, and time saving exercise. Gillette brought about a revolution in men’s shaving by his stunning marketing plans.

The Success Journey:
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In this article, Amit Agarwal narrates King C. Gillette’s journey toward success. Gillette, a traveling salesman, revolutionalized the men’s shaving industry. Although technical experts discouraged his idea in the beginning, Gillette never lost hope. The salesman eventually became a successful inventor! He replaced the dangerous ‘cut-throat razors’ with the ‘double-edged safety razors.’ In fact, Gillette’s business concepts find great relevance in today's marketing techniques.

A brand of Procter & Gamble, Gillette till date has top marketing strategies. Most recently the company launched the "Champions" marketing campaign featuring sporting super heroes Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and Thierry Henry. The campaign carries the tag line 'Prepare to be your best today.' The new creative execution will make its TV debut on 18th January, along with print and outdoor campaigns.

His Inspiration

Born in 1855 in central Wisconsin, King Gillette was always inspired by his father who worked on various inventions and had a penchant for creating something better. Gillette's mother was an inventor in her kitchen where she experimented several recipes. She is the author of the famous book the 'White House Cookbook.'

Early Days: The Struggle

When Gillette was 16 the great Chicago fire destroyed his fathers hardware business and his family moved to New York. Gillette worked as a salesman, while trying his hand on a number of inventions. By 1890 he accumulated four patents. His work however drew no interest.

Unable to touch success, Gillette became astringent towards society and wrote a book called "The Human Drift." This book talked about competion being the root of all evil. The book weighed on a utopian or socialistic form of society.

"Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, shaving was a nuisance, and sometimes even dangerous. That changed when King Camp Gillette (1855-1932) founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1901 and began selling his safety razors with disposable blades two years later."

-Biographer Russell B. Adams, Jr. wrote in The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device - King C. Gillette.

The Great Idea

In 1895 Gillette started working as a salesman for Crown Cork & Seal Co. which had one of the first, major disposable products. Here, Gillette got the idea of making a razor with disposable steal blades. In those days people used straight-edge razors that needed sharpening every time they went dull. They also got worn out quickly, proved expensive, and were not very safe (they were known as 'cut-throat razors' as they could cut a man's throat).

Gillette Firsts
  • Safety razor: invented in 1895 and patented in 1904
  • Razor marketed specifically to women (Milady Décolletée, 1916)
  • Razor dispenser (1946)
  • Stainless Steel blades (Super Stainless, 1963)
  • Double-blade razor (Trac II, 1971)
  • Disposable double-blade razor (Good News!, 1971)
  • Razor with a pivot point (Atra, 1977)
  • Razor with a lubricating strip (Atra Plus, 1985)
  • Razor with spring-loaded blades (Sensor, 1990)
  • Razor with microfins (Sensor Excel, 1995)
  • Razor with three blades (Mach3, 1998)
  • Razor with battery power (M3Power, 2004)
  • Razor with five blades (Fusion, 2006)
  • Razor with rear trim blade (Fusion, 2006)
  *Source: Wikipedia
Gillette visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and inquired if it was possible to make a small strip of steel sharp enough to shave. After getting a negative response, he decided to partner with his friend William Emery Nickerson and started working on the blade. After five years of struggle and using much of their own money they perfected a double-edged safety razor.

The Company Rolls

Gillette and Nickerson established the American Safety Razor Company and acquired their patent in 1901. By 1903 they started selling the razors, but at a loss compared to their cost price. They wanted enough business so as they could reduce their cost. In 1904 the company was renamed Gillette Safety Razor Company.

Gillette's Marketing Strategy

Gillette launched a massive marketing operation. He gave away his razors for free so that he could sell more of his blades. When Gillette's competitors tried to copy his patented product, he sued them and on many occasions bought them.

By 1908 the company spread its business in the United States, Canada, England, France and Germany. By 1915 razor sales touched 450,000 units and blade sales were well over 70 million units. Gillette's low prices, automated manufacturing facilities, and advertising turned him a millionaire. Since every pack of razor blades had Gillette's face was on it, people in non-English speaking countries referred to them as "the kind with the Man's Face."

Fall of the King

As stock markets tumbled in 1929, Gillette's fortunes were wiped out. He was left with little power in the boardroom of his company. Till he died in 1932, Gillette worked on an unsuccessful venture to extract oil from shale.

The Legend Lives

King Gillette's idea of disposable razor blades and his strategy of giving away free razors to sell his blades worked wonders. In 2005 Procter & Gamble bought the company for US $57 billion and has further worked its way to recognize the Gillette brand as the unbeatable top shaving systems in the world.
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