Men and women might hail from two different planets, but when it comes to technology developments in shaving systems the distance between the two segments is growing shorter.
Over the last few years, technology developments in men's shaving systems have rapidly propelled the category forward. New introductions include razors with a higher numbers of blades, enhanced blade coatings and, finally, a motorized element. Until recently, women's products tended to lag behind in such development, and alterations made tended to be purely cosmetic. However, this is changing, according to industry sources.
"The gender gap in shavers is getting very, very close at this point," said Al Jones, vice president of procurement and merchandising at Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. "A men's item is launched, and they're close behind with the same technology for women."
With the introduction of products like Intuition by Schick, a division of Energizer Holdings, St. Louis, and the soon-to-be-released version of the battery-powered M3Power razor for women from Gillette, Boston, true innovation has now moved into the women's category, Jones said.
"This has been the age to be a man who shaves," said Sue Vodika, HBC buyer and category manager for Bashas', Chandler, Ariz. "Now they're coming out for women." One manufacturer is coming out with a women's product with a scented handle, she said. "It's definitely a growth category."
Diane Garber, president of In Sight Communi-cations, Buffalo Grove, Ill., also commented on this trend.
"Women's [products] are doing a good job of combining health and beauty into newer formulations that you see in all different types of personal grooming categories and niches," Garber said.
The mix of brands that comprises the top 10 razors is an almost even split of men's vs. women's products in the 52-weeks ended Jan. 23, according to data from Information Resources Inc., Chicago. (See chart.)
Supermarkets generated $85.6 million of the total $200.7 million in dollar sales for razors in the same period. Food retailers eked out a slightly higher rate of growth in dollar sales for the category than the total retail sales for the period. The food channel grew 31.9% overall in razors, while for food/drug/mass (excluding Wal-Mart) the total grew 26.8%, according to IRI.
While retailers said they're aware new products are in the pipeline -- Venus Vibrance, Gillette's power razor for women, is expected this spring -- it's difficult to predict where the category will go. Recently, it's the technological developments that have been the biggest news for these products.
"The technology over the past year and a half has really given this category a shot in the arm," said Bill Mansfield, vice president of GM/HBC at San Juan, Puerto Rico-based Pueblo International.
Over the last five to 10 years, Gillette and Schick have developed and launched new technology on a periodic basis, Mansfield said. However, "looking into the crystal ball to see where this category is going in the future, it's hard to imagine how they can change the technology anymore," he added.
The category is booming, Bashas' Vodika pointed out, but at some point, it may get diluted if the innovation isn't truly ground-breaking.
"It's all in color and handles now. They've got three heads, four heads, and a lubricating strip with aloe in it on almost every razor. What more can you ask for? Intuition came out with the bar soap that lathers as it shaves," she said. "We have to be at a standstill."
Product proliferation has created a merchandising crunch for her stores, Vodika said. Disposables have necessarily been reduced to make room for the higher-ring, more permanent shaving systems.
Jones predicted there is still room for innovation in the shaving category. Yet he cautioned that Gillette's recent acquisition by Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, could create a natural lull in product introductions during the merger. Regulatory approval is expected in the fall, according to media reports.
"The question now is if the purchase of Gillette by Procter & Gamble is going to affect how they go to market," he said.
The two companies have many synergies, including complementary stables of men's and women's products, sources explained.
"Gillette has some women's products, but it is really driving more to the men. Procter & Gamble seems to be more focused on beauty and women. One might think there is a way to take advantage of that from a marketing standpoint," said Pueblo's Mansfield.