Upscale Shaving: Unilever Bets More Men Will Spend Big

Unilever bets more men will spend big on shaving
Photograph by David Brandon Geeting for Bloomberg Businessweek; Paper styling by Andi Burnett

How much is a great shave worth? If you visit one of Manhattan’s high-end Fellow Barbers, the answer’s $40. Dove Men+Care is hoping guys will spend even more. This January the Unilever brand introduced its Expert Shave, a three-step, five-product regimen promising to eliminate stubble. It has a steep buy-in: $21.99 for one of two preshave options—an exfoliator to fight ingrown hair or a softening oil—and $21.99 or $25.99 for shaving cream for either normal or drier skin, plus $25.99 for a postshave balm the company claims repairs skin while being “intense.” All told, it’s about $70.

The company tested the line with barbers and dermatologists before bringing it to market
David Brandon Geeting for Bloomberg Businessweek

“Fifty percent of guys don’t like shaving because of irritation,” says Rob Candelino, Unilever’s vice president for marketing. For this group, the company launched more basic Dove Men+Care face-moisturizing and shaving products last March, with prices under $8. It sold well, so executives decided to upgrade the concept. “With our mass-market stuff, 10¢ can make a lot of difference,” Candelino says. “But when competing with products sold at department stores, we’re less interested in the minutiae of a dollar.” That’s because the majority of potential customers will already be using equally expensive competitors such as the $19 Ultimate Brushless Shave Cream by Kiehl’s, owned by L’Oréal since 2000, or the $25 lavender-scented lather from Procter & Gamble’s Art of Shaving line. Unlike these offerings, the Expert Shave items will be sold primarily at mainstream retailers such as Target, where curious men can stumble upon them while checking off their shopping lists of deodorant, toilet paper, and Doritos.

Last year, market research firm NPD Group found that sales of “prestige” men’s skin care (which doesn’t technically include Dove Men+Care’s line, but is the closest category comparison in terms of price and premium ingredients) jumped 3 percent, to $70 million, according to analyst Karen Grant. “The younger generation is more accustomed to buying these products,” she says. “So we expect it to continue growing as more men come of age.”

Many companies are getting in on the game. In November, Tom Ford introduced a dozen face products for men, including a $25 lip balm. L’Oréal in September bought Baxter of California, a niche luxury skin-care line, in an attempt to expand in e-commerce. One of the founders of eyewear startup Warby Parker co-created Harry’s, an Internet company that mails shaving cream and $40 monogrammable aluminum razors. And GQ magazine plans to profit from $75 shave-and-haircuts at its new barbershop in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. (P&G’s Gillette is going the opposite direction, introducing $7.97 men’s body razors this February for shaving below the neck.)

To sell the new shaving routine, Unilever used money that might have gone toward conventional advertising to produce sleek in-store displays telling men to “think beyond your razor” and offering tester bottles. These displays also highlight the line’s packaging, which is conveniently mirrored. Because a man has no better argument for pampering himself than a good hard look at his own scruffy face.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.