Here’s a hint for budding entrepreneurs: some markets are meaner than others. Meanest of all are markets where a few entrenched, powerful companies fight over a commodity product. Unless you’ve got deep pockets, keep a safe distance.
Andrew James would disagree, however. He’s going after one of the most competitive commodity markets of all: razors. While Gillette and Schick spend their time working out how to squeeze yet more blades into their razors, spending millions on celebrity endorsements and suing each other stupid, James has spent a year perfecting the Goodfella, a 21st-century version of the classic single-blade razor.
Working with skilled professionals who hold some of Auckland’s most blokey job titles—toolmaker, die caster, engineer, metal polisher and electroplater—James eventually came up with his perfect razor. “I’ve been tapping into decades of experience,” he says. “We started off by hand and then moved into computer-aided design.” His razor is cast in stainless steel, finished in chrome, balanced, comfortable to grip and precision-engineered for the finest shave.
The result is an antidote to the mass-market products. “They’re arguing over whether you need three or five blades,” says James. “It’s crazy. They’re so over-designed and over-engineered.
“I’m promoting the traditional type of shaving. The Goodfella, you just stroke on skin. There’s no silly buzzing with a battery, or clogging up with multiple blades. There’s no comparison.”
MBAs everywhere are familiar with the business model used by mass-market razor manufacturers: flog the razor off cheaply, make money on the blades, and retool every few years so everyone needs to buy again. James has a different plan: design a razor that will last the distance, sell it for $120, and give it a lifetime guarantee.
Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a business model of his own. He hopes to tap into increasing interest in men’s grooming and has designed the razors to also appeal to the women who are likely to buy Goodfella razors for their men. It’s available in bright silver chrome or black satin chrome; during consumer testing 85 percent of men liked the black razor, he says, “but every single woman said the silver one”. The design focus has been carried through to packaging and the Goodfella website.
It’s even made in New Zealand—the ability to work with local manufacturers meant James was able to get just the product he wanted. “I could have got this made in China, but we can’t just tap into that expertise and communicate as easily.”
And what blade would you choose for your old-is-new razor? Avoid the cheap and nasty Chinese blades, says James; the best edge comes from Turkey.