An Old Dog Learning New Tricks? How P&G Gillette is using 3D printing to mass-customize its razors.

Making cutting edge products since 1900, Procter and Gamble Gillette is the market leader in the hyper competitive shaving and grooming category. Can Gillette use 3D printing technology to design artistic, innovative and customizable razors in its bid to stay relevant with and win with today’s consumer?

Gillette and the Shaving Category

Founded in 1837 and boasting $67 Billion1 in revenue, P&G is an American Consumer product goods behemoth selling iconic brands such as Tide, Pampers, Bounty and Crest. Acquired by P&G in 2005 for $57 Billion2, Gillette has been the market leader in the blades and razors category ($2.2 Billion market size) but has faced intense competition by direct to consumer start-ups such as Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club (DSC) over the past few years. Combined with the trend of fewer shaving consumers, the competitive landscape has eroded Gillette sales and market share – declining from 71% in 2009 to 65% in 20174. The rapid growth of Harry’s and DSC has put significant pressure on Gillette, forcing it to find new ways to innovate quickly.

Figure 1: US Sales of Men’s Razors ($Billions)

https://www.wsj.com/articles/gillette-bleeding-market-share-cuts-prices-of-razors-1491303601

3D Printing and Razors?

With the ability to test and revise designs at will, 3D printing has opened new doors to innovation in consumer products. The technology provides an unprecedented ability to customize products and respond quickly to shifts in market demand5. With 3D printing, complexity and variety are “free”; a 3D printer takes no more time, energy, or material to manufacture a complex shape than a simple one, and zero tooling means printing a variety of designs requires no extra production costs7.

Strategically, 3D printing can be a means by which Gillette and P&G can hold on to and grow its market leadership by offering customization at scale. Gillette has partnered with 3D-printing powerhouse Formlabs to offer a series of customizable 3D-printed handles, matching advanced manufacturing with consumers’ desire to have completely unique and personalized products6. Previously, Gillette had only applied 3D printing for prototyping, but advancements in materials and hardware have made the technology a viable option to produce end-use parts7.

Figure 2: 3D Printed Razor Maker Models

https://razor-maker.com/

Gillette’s Ambitions

Launched in October, 2018, Razor Maker is a direct to consumer pilot concept only for US Customers. “The Razor Maker™ pilot furthers our commitment to place power in the hands of consumers and literally have them custom-make their razors exactly the way they want them – tailored to their grooming preference, budget, look, color and style” said Pankaj Bhalla, Director Gillette6. Typically, Gillette release 1-2 new designs per year; however, by leveraging this new technology Gillette is providing 48 blade designs across 7 different color schemes6. For Gillette, piloting Razor Maker is a crucial step in its customization journey where it is trying to blend a unique business model (Premium DTC) with a new technology (3D printing).

Longer term, Gillette is also experimenting with automating 3D printing production processes, working with Formlabs as one of the first testers of a technology demonstration exploring the future of 3D printing in production environments7. The technology removes the need for tooling, requiring no up-front investment in molds and eliminating the exponential costs of producing a variety of complex designs7. Given the modular nature of the technology, scaling custom manufacturing can be as easy as adding more printers.

Figure 3: Each Razor Maker handle is printed at Gillette’s Boston headquarters using Form 2 stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers.

https://formlabs.com/blog/gillette-uses-3d-printing-to-unlock-consumer-personalization/,

Recommendations

In parallel to refining the 3D printing technology, Gillette needs to ensure that a viable market exists for customizable razors. To make the launch of Razor Maker bigger, Gillette should consider using its mega brand to advertise the concept to more consumers. Since razors are mostly used in private, Gillette needs to improve the observability and trialability of its Razor Maker line. Displaying prototypes in store next to its current offering could be a way for Gillette to expose the concept to more people and generate purchase interest. Over the medium-term Gillette should experiment more aggressively with additive manufacturing in its production facilities to reduce the time to execute innovation.

A couple of questions still remaining are as follows:

  • Given the steep prices of razors and blades in the market today8 and the downward pricing pressure faced by P&G, will Razor Maker will be economically viable?
  • Should P&G develop capabilities and expertise in house, given the competitive advantages of additive manufacturing?

Word Count – 749

Footnotes

  1. Procter and Gamble, 2017 Annual Report, p. 37, https://www.pg.com/annualreport2018/static/PG-2018-Annual-Report.pdf, Accessed Nov 12, 2013
  2. Jack Neff, “WHY P&G’S $57 BILLION BET ON GILLETTE HASN’T PAID OFF BIG – YET,” adage.com, Feb 15, 2010, https://adage.com/article/news/marketing-p-g-s-57-billion-bet-gillette-years/142116/, Accessed Nov 12, 2018
  3. Andrea Cheng, “P&G’s Gillette Woes Have Translated To This Good News For Consumers”, Forbes, Jan 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/andriacheng/2018/01/24/pgs-gillette-woes-have-translated-to-this-good-news-for-consumers/#fbe32b57d54d, Accessed Nov 12, 2018
  4. Nathaniel Meyersohn, “Beards are back. That’s bad news for Gillette”, money.cnn.com, Aug 8, 2018, https://money.cnn.com/2018/08/08/news/companies/razors-shaving-blades-gillette-braun-harrys-dollar-shave-club/index.html, Accessed Nov 12, 2018
  5. Richard D’Aveni, “The 3-D Printing Playbook,” Harvard Business Review, July-Aug 2018 Issue https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-3-d-printing-playbook, Accessed Nov 12, 2018.
  6. “Gillette Partners with Formlabs – a Boston Startup Defining the 3D-Printing Industry – to Pilot Razor Maker™ Concept, Enabling Consumers to Personalize and 3D Print Razor Handles”, Business Wire, Oct 17, 2018, https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20181017005532/en/Gillette-Partners-Formlabs-%E2%80%93-Boston-Startup-Defining, Accessed Nov 12, 2018
  7. “Gillette Uses 3D Printing to Unlock Consumer Personalization,” FormLabs Blog, Oct 17, 2018, https://formlabs.com/blog/gillette-uses-3d-printing-to-unlock-consumer-personalization/, Accessed Nov 12, 2018.
  8. Sharon Terlep, “Gillette, Bleeding Market Share, Cuts Prices of Razors”, Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/rather-than-add-more-blades-to-its-razors-gillette-trims-prices-1511960400, Accessed Nov 12, 2018.

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10 thoughts on “An Old Dog Learning New Tricks? How P&G Gillette is using 3D printing to mass-customize its razors.

  1. I’m glad that you ended your article on a skeptical note – as I can’t help but agree! The market for razors appears to be bifurcating between cheap replaceable razors and sophisticated electrics – I seriously doubt that this product is anything more than a flashy marketing effort. It has very little inherent consumer value beyond its novelty – why would a buyer even need the customization?

  2. In response to your second question – this is not an area in which I think P&G should be spending resources to have in-house capability. This is on the low end of the technology spectrum of 3D printing in terms of tolerances, strength requirements, and complexity of setup, so I would be very inclined to outsource this effort. The only counterpoint is if P&G sees other areas of their business that might be require expertise in 3D printing, then it might be worth them developing that expertise themselves, but my hunch is that this is not the case.

  3. Thank you for a very interesting article! I think the incorporation of additive manufacturing into Gillette’s toolkit for making new and unique razor designs not only impacts the way that P&G must market the razors (as differentiated from competitors given the ability to customize your shaving experience to your exact specifications through Gillette’s 3D-printing capabilities), but it would also hugely impact the distribution channels in which P&G sells the razors. The additive manufacturing shift will force Gillette to move a large part of its business online, as people will not be able to order and have a customized product printed for them while in the grocery, convenience or drug store (the main channels for razors today). This pre-ordering model will also force Gillette to grow its operating resources, likely needing to add teams to manage the ordering platform and teams to handle the additional logistics of shipping (likely) single razors directly to customers. This illustrates how important it is to remember that incorporating 3-D printing comes at a cost greater than the cost of the printing itself – it can require massive changes to your business model.

  4. Very thoughtful article. In my view, Gillette needs to react quickly and address the issues driving the decrease in sales and market share over the past couple of years. However, I’m still unsure which major action / directive the company should pursue. I guess the question is — does 3D printing actually provide any true value to customers? Does the customization that 3D printing enables actually provide meaningful value?

    My sense is that 3D printing customization in the razor market will provide little-to-no value. As such, I believe that Gillette should swiftly switch its near-term focus on the direct-to-consumer channel. Meanwhile, Gillette should continue to leverage its strong brand known for high-quality, innovative razors to drive sales. Lastly, the key risk to Gillette’s future is the strength of its customer loyalty. With cheaper, subscription-based razor-razor blade solutions, Gillette is in dire need to connect intimately with its end users and further develop entrenched customer relationships. If those relationships can be formed in a value-added, cost-effective way through customized 3D printed razors, then Gillette should pursue that route. However, my worry is that 3D printing will be costly and provide little-to-no noticeable advantages.

    This article (https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/070715/gillettes-market-edge-becoming-razorthin.asp) provides a cogent overview of Gillette’s business model. While the article doesn’t address 3D printing specifically, it highlights other potential headwinds that Gillette might face going-forward.

  5. Interesting read! I agree that most innovation within consumer good like razors need to carefully factorize cost component. While the design and idea is cool, I doubt many would purchase based on ‘how its manufactured’ and ‘what it looks like’ especially in this space of razor. Reasons are: razors are mostly used in private therefore the ‘show’ element of the product is reduced; (from what I understand) these razors are replaceable ones and therefore consumer wouldn’t prefer value for their money on regular purchase.

    Apart from printing the body, would 3D mass production of blade an option for manufacturers like P&G to consider? if they would do so cost effectively…..

  6. You raised extremely valid questions about Gillette’s 3D printing and customization efforts. Personally, I do not think it is economically viable to proceed with this project. Anecdotally, I do not care about my razor’s looks or even performance past a certain point; I’ve used two blades, three blades, five blades, and will probably eventually use their ten blade razor, and my handle colors have ranged from pink to orange. The key driver, as you referenced, is price, which is driven by cost.

    I would expect higher set-up costs with customization and 3D printing (at least until work with Formlabs concludes) and fewer economies of scale during production (because large quantities of the same product are no longer being made). As such, because I (and likely many other consumers based on your article) value price first and foremost, I would not proceed with this initiative.

  7. I agree with some of the other comments posted here that cost is a key factor in the purchase decision for razors, once quality has been established. I would be curious to know whether these razors achieve higher consumer quality outcomes than other options than traditionally manufactured products, and secondly whether the margin on the products will allow a price reduction, particularly on the razor blade side. The project also begs the question of whether consumers see razors as an on-demand purchase item, or a planned one. Will consumers care enough about their razors to request personalised design, or just pick up whatever is available in the nearest shop?

  8. It is such an interesting article! I love to see the creativity that P&G has applied in its shaving products! While I think it is a brilliant idea to use 3D printing technology to push for more creative innovations, I am also a little skeptical about whether there is any need for such innovation. Is there any material impact on the sales of these razors because of this innovation? Is it to create differentiation, help with marketing or help drive the prices? It is important to understand the economic viability and lends to your second question on whether P&G really needs to do this.

  9. A very interesting read, thanks for sharing! I was astounded by the fact that this is a real program. Despite the low capital costs of custom razors, there is an associated cost of R&D (figuring out which colors, handles, and molds should be available) that really doesn’t seem worth it. In an environment of decreasing razor prices (and competition from direct-to-consumer players like Harry’s and DSC), I doubt that there is market appetite for paying for a razor that looks and feels exactly how one would like it to look. Typically, those looking for a higher end shaving experience are already buying up to straight razors / safety razors.

    This is a fun idea for sure, but appears to be more of a skunkworks project than anything truly revolutionary.

  10. Very interesting to see how 3d printing can be used for mass customization, given the big trend driven by millennials who require a customized experience in almost everything they do.
    To the questions you’ve asked, yes I do think this is a great product to be produced through 3d printing and they eventually should develop it in-house. The cost will eventually go down and be even more competitive than any other way of producing razors and the “customization” concept is a great marketing strategy.
    My main concern around this is if this top notch technology adds any value to the product itself. It is clear that customizing your razor will look cool and specially millennials would love it, but is there any room for improvement in the razor quality? It seems that regardless the improvements done within these razors, safety razors provide a better shave in the end and the difference across current razors is not much, so how much can we improve the product isn´t clear.

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