The Best We Can Get?

By Lloyd Graff

Gillette Fusion Razor

Gillette Fusion Razor

I recently discovered that I was out of cartridges for my Gillette 5-blade razor (the Fusion). I hopped over to the local Walgreens to buy a new package.

It was an ugly experience. The Gillette cartridges were locked up, requiring a buyer to hunt for a salesperson to come over to unlock the booty. Then I had to figure out which razor blade model I owned and whether I wanted to fork over $25 for four precious 5-blade cartridges in one over-wrapped package.

Gillette, now a division of Proctor & Gamble, has been developing high-tech razors and blades over the last decade which last longer but make shaving more expensive. Its advertising has flogged the high-tech blades, mercilessly extolling the wonderful experience of shaving while dulling one of the great American brands by being greedy and dumb as the market for their products was starting to shift.

As men and women get older they tend to shave less often. Younger men and women are hairier these days with the disheveled look in vogue.

One indicator is how few Major League Baseball players are clean shaven. Beards are in. Just look at Jake Arrietta and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitchers in the game, and Bryce Harper, the top position player.

The other wild card that Gillette did not expect is the dollar shave club phenomenon. Many men are choosing mail order low tech blades that offer a less expensive monthly bill and fresh blades daily. They have eliminated the distasteful trip to Walgreens or Target to unlock the precious cartridges from the store safe. You would think they were illicit goods like original Sudafed.

Gillette razor blades are one of many iconic products that got too fat as cash cows of obese conglomerates like P&G. I doubt the old independent entrepreneurial Gillette of Boston would have locked themselves into overpriced high-tech blades that shavers are starting to reject in droves.

Gillette is not the only once revered label that consumers are starting to hate. The mattress market is also shifting quickly.

A few years ago beds and mattresses were mostly sold in department stores and furniture emporiums. Brands like Sealy, Simmons and Beautyrest dominated. The big names gradually merged together looking to monopolize the market and keep the price high for traditional spring products.

But they were blindsided by memory foam mattresses which were cheaper to make and better to sleep on. Independent chains popped up almost overnight to sell the new foam products and accessories. Then Internet sales, boosted by media campaigns challenged brick and mortar. Today the mattress market is fragmented and competitive.

The beer and booze market have also seen both consolidation and a challenge from independents. The behemoths still dominate with enormous advertising budgets and control of the vital distribution, but craft beers have a growing audience for young buyers and independent vodka and whiskey makers are proliferating.

The latest challenge to a regulated monopoly is in the hearing aid business. Audiologists and doctors have pretty much sewn up the high end market for hearing devices. The average hearing aid costs $2,000 to $3000 including visits to the professionals. A company called Etymotic Research has developed an in-ear amplifier to be sold over the counter, which they call the Bean. The cheapest model retails for $299. So far the FDA has protected the incumbents like Siemens and Sonova which control 95% of the $5 billion world wide market. The Bean can currently be sold only for “recreational” use (hunting and birding). But the White House is now pressuring the FDA to give Etymotic’s products a hard look. I foresee this tightly controlled business as a prime target for entrepreneurial attack. The over-the-counter hearing aid will be in Walgreens and Target soon—I predict 2016 or 2017.

Fat monopolies are still vulnerable to humble entrepreneurs in America. May it always be so.

Questions: Do you have a mattress that you love?

Have you tried the Bean?

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27 thoughts on “The Best We Can Get?

  1. Rod Hatcher

    After trying an unending stream of mattresses (all of which I slept fine on) my wife, who suffers from lower back pain, finally found the Sleep Number mattress. For a couple years now, this mattress has done the job for her. The price? Who cares.

    In regards to your point about company’s trying to milk their position. I concur.

  2. Greg Anderson

    I now buy razors from Harry’s. They shave well
    and do last. I got tired of paying high prices and
    finding someone to unlock the stupid blades. I kissed
    Gillette a very warm goodbye, never to return.

  3. Victor

    I have a beard and mustache but need to shave the skin parts and my neck to keep everything tidy. I have been using a 3-blade cartridge for many years. It was state-of-the-art 10-15 years ago. I have found that I can use one cartridge 2x per week for 6-9 months before replacing it. That’s 50+ uses!

    Another trick is to shave right after my shower. That way the beard hairs are very soft so they cut easily, and I don’t need any shaving cream.

    1. Doug

      Shave in the shower, a mirror with a suction cup stuck up on the back shower wall works great, and rinse and dry your razor after each use and you can make a cheap disposable last easily a year.

  4. Dave

    I still use the old Gillette sensor razor with “only” 2 blades + lube strip and skin depressor. I can’t get the new ultra-wide blades close enough to trim my beard. I get the blades on the internet with better prices and no hassle. A blade cartridge lasts me about 2 months.

    I also switched to the Sleep Number air bed several years ago. No more back pain and really comfortable for sleeping.

    No hearing aid yet for me.

  5. David

    My favorite mattress is any one I am sleeping on. A friend of mine told me about thirty years ago that the only difference between making $30K and $60K (1980’s dollars I guess) was that you spent more on couches, beds, furniture, cars etc…at $30K you had all those things.

    I try to remember that when i am tempted to spend money on a razor.

  6. Tom

    For many years I used the double blades and was completely skeptical of the “more blades is better” marketing that came along – first 3 blades, then 4…. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I even tried the latest (4 or are they 5?) multi blade designs. Holy cow was I shocked at how much better they worked for me! Shaving became a completely different (and not dreaded) experience. I have tried all the shave club blades (Dollar, Harry’s ,etc) with the hope that they would be as good or better than the ridiculously expensive Gillette blades. I use them for at least a few weeks before deciding yay or nay. Unfortunately, to date, I haven’t found one that works as well as the Gillette blades. I am always on the lookout for cheaper alternative but until that comes along I will bend over and pay for what works best.

      1. Tom

        No, or I wouldn’t be trying all the club blades. I’d be happy with my employee discount or free blades 🙂 As it is I buy bulk at Costco but it still pains me when I do…

  7. Karl

    Find a African-American man on a Gillette ad, they will never get a dime from me till they recognize they have a lack of racial diversity and are overwhelmingly white.
    That needs to change !!
    Look how our greatest president has propelled the country into the future with his leadership.

    1. Noah Graff Post author


      Check this ad out. It has Andre Benjamin (AKA Andre 3000) from Outkast! There’s your diversity!

    2. RandyB

      Yes, how wonderful his leadership has been. I have lost most of my medical device business to China because of high corp taxes. African American unemployment it at a record high and yet for some reason they worship this man in the Whitehouse. Astounding.

  8. Jerry Johnson

    Gwad – Karl must have eaten a big bowl of Stupid for breakfast !!!
    Extend your blade life and in the process punish Gillette. Take one of your old cowhide belts, and after shaving and cleaning the razor, strop it on the belt like the old time barbers used to do with their straight razors. My record is one year, same 5 blade head. I finally had to toss it because the lube plastic around the blades fell off. Shaving doesn’t dull the blade. The gunk that builds up on the blades (the stuff that stropping removes) is what makes for a painful shave.
    Temperpedic is a great mattress. But my wife said that when you first climbed into bed, the mattress felt like a morgue slab. So out with the Temperpedic, in with the Duxiana. What a piece of horribly overpriced junk Duxiana is !!!! Next stop is Sleep Number. If that doesn’t work, back to the morgue slab.

    1. Noah Graff Post author

      Hi Jerry. Your insight on blades is intriguing. I agree that the razors do not work well because of the hair that gets caught in the blades. You really have to clean them out! The other thing that is the downfall of those Fusions is that if you leave it face down on your counter, the gel strip on the razor will get messed up. I think that leads to bad uncomfortable shaves. Your one year record is astounding! You must have a tough face. Like leather or something.

      As far as mattresses, a few years ago I found the mattress of my dreams! I got it off Groupon. $400 for a $1,700 value from a company called Zen Bedrooms. It’s memory foam. But it’s simply amazing. Best bed I ever had and everyone else who tries it says it’s amazing. I put it in an Ikea bed. No boxspring, just slats. It’s much lower to the ground.

      This bed may change your life! Comes delivered as a package too from fedex or UPS. It’s in a rectangular box, and then you open it and expands magically.

      Here’s a link to the deal. It’s been going on for years!

    2. RandyB

      Just make a pyramid out of popsicle sticks. Place used blades underneath and say a silent prayer of thanks for 8 years of Obama. The blades will magically be sharp again.

  9. Donald Green

    Back in the day of “only” two blades (Gillette Trac II), I started using Personna blades instead. They were cheaper and lasted just as long as the Gillettes. I eventually changed to an electric. It was easier on my skin.

    This article reminded me of a Saturday Night Live skit from that time period. It was Dan Aykroyd (I think) hawking the latest multi-bladed razor. It had something like 5 or 6 blades, and of course at that time we were living in the age of two. It was obviously prescient however. The last line of the ‘ad’ was “because you’ll buy anything”.

  10. Lloyd Graff

    I like the 5 blade cartridges though I doubt they are better than the threes. I am going to clean them more thoroughly as Jerry suggests and get my Pedro Strop out (Cubs pun).

    On mattresses I am vexed. I paid a lot for a Sleep Nmber mattress and have been disappointed. I fall off the side of the bed, which I now understand is a common complaint. I also read that large people may not like them. I would be classified as large. All in all, I find it an expensive and neffective piece of bedroom terrain. Keep the mattress critiques coming.

  11. Erik

    Saatva Mattress. They are heavy duty, double inner spring mattresses. You have to buy on line, but it’s a fantastic Mattress for under a grand. Good guarantee, luxury firm Mattress is what we went with.

    With Razors? I hate Multi blade Razors, I have really coarse beard hair, and they just plug up. So I buy bulk cheapos at Sam’s Club, and I also shave after my shower, which works way better….

  12. rick

    Government welfare started in President George Washington’s second term. Tariffs were placed on European manufactured goods to help the northern manufacturers. the rest of the world retaliated and levied tariffs on agricultural crops from the south.

    this is where the Government started picking winners and losers, and it continues on and on.

    can you say “Solyndra”!

    Nothing good comes from it and nothing ever will…

    OBTW, my mattress is “ok” but I spent toooooo much to get a new one.

  13. Gordy

    Looks like I am in on all counts

    My Grampa gave me a Norelco triple header in 1978 for HS graduation, running on 110v. Still using it, 3 sets of heads later. I have heard the blades give a better shave, but neither myself or my wife can tell the difference, so I keep mowing with it. BTW, we made the mold for that Gillette disposable razor run on an MDC form fill seal machine.

    Still sleeping on a waterbed. It is a cal king, with 2 bags (so she can be softer and hotter than me) and 2″ of memory foam. It is like being on a cloud, wouldn’t trade it though some day it will fail again (3rd one so far). The only change I would like is the air to come through it like my F150 seat. (do they make that yet?

    I have the IVEX hearing aids, all 3800 bucks worth. If you get them, watch out for someone putting ice in a glass; no one notices and you are cringing. Someone can pick up an air hose 3 rooms away. But, I can hear the individual violins at a strings concert and tell it is exhaust halve #3 clicking on my 914 as soon as I pull the valve cover. Good and bad, but if I didn’t have a great job, I would be looking for the bean for sure.

    1. David

      I shave my head and most of my face every 2 or 3 days. I too use a Norelco. I prefer the corded model to cordless. Replace the heads once a year for $22.

  14. Robert

    Cartridge razors. Well the best one I have used is Mach 3. It’s sort of like a sports car on the face. Used the five blade cartridge also and find them to be like a lumbering truck. However, there is a better way my friends. Double edge safety razors like your Grandfather used in his day. There are all kinds of razors to choose from and tons of blades you can buy. My favorite razor is a 1929 Gem open comb MicroMatic clog-pruf and get this, it takes single edge razor blades. Second favorite is Muhle R41 razor with Feather double edge blades. Feather blades are one of the sharpest blades on the market and as such command a high price. Yeah, each blade cost 50 cents versus the cheap blades that cost 20 cents. Traditional wet shaving is a learned skill that takes some practice but is worth it. If you get skin irritation from shaving then this may be your Holy Grail of solution. I kid you not. Check it out. Google it.

  15. Bruskie

    Great article Noah. It’s always nice to be reminded that there’s still competition in this country in spite of all the corporate written regulations to crush said competition. I guess in this day and age technology can still trump government regulation whether they (corporations) like it or not.

  16. Safety Razor Guy

    I went to a safety razor and watch a video on how to shave with one. Blades are cheap – and the shave is the closest I have ever had. THAT is not a lie. I’m too old to lie. And we sleep on a crappy mattress with hard foam pillows. We need to fix that!

  17. Terry Donovan

    I use a three blade Gillette I believe and shave in the shower, I have a mustache and don’t use or need a mirror , try it never have cut myself , I get about 20 shaves to a blade.


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