First it was two blades. Then six. Now Gillette’s latest razor innovation is taking men’s shaving technology into whole a new dimension.
The Boston shaving giant on Tuesday introduced its new Fusion ProGlide with Flexball technology, a razor handle that features a swiveling ball hinge. Gillette says its new stubble-fighting innovation will adjust and pivot to remain in constant contact with the contours of a man’s face from rounded cheeks to the sharp edges of the chin.
“This revolutionary pivot allows the razor to move forward, backward, left and right in a highly controlled manner,” said Patrice Louvet, group president of global grooming and shave care at Procter & Gamble Co., the company that owns Gillette.
“It’s a razor that’s more comfortable and more responsive than ever,” Louvet said.
With a price tag of $11.49, the razor is also more expensive than ever. It will be among the priciest razors on the market, and about a dollar more than other Gillette models, when it becomes widely available on June 9. A battery-operated version will retail for $12.59.
Gillette introduced the new technology at a launch event in New York that featured live music, a shave of actor Omar Epps and the usual company proclamations that its latest razor would change shaving as we know it.
Ali Dibadj, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, said it remained to be seen if the product will live up to the hype.
The handle will work with Gillette’s existing Fusion ProGlide cartridges. Dibadj said the pairing of the new handle and the blades is a marketing tactic to boost sales of the brand’s most expensive razor cartridges, which cost about $20 for a pack of four at stores. The analyst said many Gillette consumers continue to use the older and less expensive Mach3 system rather than adopting the Fusion ProGlide, which was introduced four years ago.
“They’re trying to get people to trade up within the Gillette family as well as take share from competitors,” Dibadj said. “That may be successful. We’ll see if the innovation itself has legs.”
The Flexball’s debut comes at a difficult time in the men’s grooming industry, a market dominated by P&G.
Americans spent $3.7 billion on razors, blades, and shaving products in the 52-week period ending March 15, according to Nielsen data. That represents a decline of 2.7 percent from the previous year.
Procter & Gamble controls about 80 percent of the US razor blade market and holds a 40 percent share of the disposable razor category, according to a Bernstein analysis of Nielsen data. Revenues in its grooming business fell 3.7 percent to $8 billion last year. The company has blamed recent weak results on the popularity of facial hair.
Dibadj said competitors may try to mimic Gillette’s Flexball technology. The company said users of its best-selling model, the ProGlide, preferred the new razor by a 2-to-1 ratio in shaving tests.
Gillette has a long history of introducing new razor and features to the shaving market. The company invented the safety razor with disposable blades at the turn of the 20th century. From 1903 to 1904, sales grew from 51 razors to 90,000 and 12 million blades.
In 1971, Gillette introduced the Trac II, the first twin-blade shaving system. The Flexball is an update on the Atra of 1977, the first pivoting head razor.
The arrival of the first triple blade system with the Mach3 in 1998 sent competitors scrambling to match it with products that had similar blade counts.
The Flexball is the first new razor Gillette has released since the Fusion ProGlide in 2010. The Fusion line features a five-blade shaving surface on the front and a sixth trimmer blade on the back for men to shape their facial hair. A team of designers, scientists, and engineers worked on the Flexball handle for five years.
“We’re really looking at this as a big step forward for Gillette and P&G,” said John Mang, vice president of Gillette at P&G. “The opportunity to deliver a 2-to-1 improvement is amazing.”