With Wit and a Cutting-Edge Business Model, Dollar Shave Club Expands its Established Brand in the Personal Grooming Industry
Posted: 3.2.17 Ecommerce

With Wit and a Cutting-Edge Business Model, Dollar Shave Club Expands its Established Brand in the Personal Grooming Industry

By: Jon McDonald

The Crunch: Since making its world debut with a humorous viral video, razor purveyor Dollar Shave Club has been doing much more than making people laugh. The company, which started with razors, has been innovating new products to create a hassle-free grooming experience for its more than 4 million members. Thanks to the popularity of its razor subscriptions service, and the demand of its members, the company has grown to offer everything from lip balm to body cleanser to bathroom wipes. And that expansion is a testament to how hard work and a unique sense of humor can build an iconic brand amid a saturated market.

Sometimes, a great idea is so outlandish that generations pass before it becomes widely accepted. In the 6th Century B.C., Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras proposed that the earth was a sphere, not flat as most people assumed But that particular Pythagorean theorem didn’t gain much traction in its day, as few took it seriously. In fact, it wasn’t until Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition in 1519 — over 2,000 years later — that people started coming around to the idea that the world was round.

Other times, great ideas are immediately adopted because they are much easier to understand than global circumnavigation. One such innovation that took hold is Dollar Shave Club mailing high-quality razors and other grooming products to a member’s home at a fraction of the price and hassle of buying them in a store.

The idea was born at a party where Founder Michael Dubin was lamenting the high cost of shaving supplies and the difficulty of finding a store associate to open the glass case where high-priced razors were locked away.

Screenshot of Dollar Shave Club logo

That idea led to a business that led to a viral video, starring Michael, that captured America’s attention with its low-budget look and straightforward, irreverent humor. With that video — and a lot of hard work— Michael helped transform an industry that hadn’t seen much disruption since Frenchman Jean-Jacques Perret invented what would become the safety razor in 1762.

Dollar Shave Club now boasts more than 4 million members and has built such a powerful brand that Unilever acquired it for $1 billion in July of 2016. That backing, plus a hard-working company culture filled with dry wit, enables Dollar Shave Club to continue expanding its already established brand and carve out more market share in the $21 billion men’s grooming industry.

Founded By Two Guys Who Were Tired of Razor Hassles

Michael enjoyed shaving but found buying razors to be an inconvenience. Not only did companies charge a premium for “razor technology,” like the addition of a vibrating handle or extra blades, but many stores kept them locked away in “razor fortresses” where only certain associates had access to them. That meant customers had to track down an associate to buy a razor.

So, the pair founded Dollar Shave Club in 2011 as an alternative. Through a subscription service, members received razors each month through the mail at a price far lower than buying them at a store. To start operations, the founders used their own money and an investment from a small incubator. The shaving supplies were packed and shipped from Michael’s living room, but the business grew so quickly that they weren’t able to sustain it themselves for long.

As the company gained steam, it received $1 million in funding on March 6, 2012, but securing that funding was only the second most memorable event for Dollar Shave Club that day.

Also on March 6, 2012, the company posted a promotional video shot on a budget of less than $5,000 starring Michael, who had taken some improv comedy classes. The result has become legendary in the world of entrepreneurs, shaving enthusiasts, and comedy lovers alike. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of words were inspired by Michael’s performance in the video, which has been viewed on YouTube over 24 million times.

The overwhelming traffic from video viewers forced Dollar Shave Club’s servers to crash shortly after it was released. From what Michael remembers of the next few days, he was printing out labels and carrying them to a fulfillment warehouse in trash bags. Needless to say, Dollar Shave Club was onto something.

Years, and millions of members, later, the company continues to be on the lookout for other grooming products frustrating customers so it can fix those problems, too. And Dollar Shave Club’s servers are now able to handle the traffic.

New Products are Made to Solve Customer Problems Beyond Blades

Although Dollar Shave Club was built on shaving — as the name suggests — it is also very responsive to the needs of its customers. And after receiving feedback on a wide variety of other grooming problems, the company decided to expand its line to solve those issues for its members.

“Since we have a direct relationship with our members, we can glean insights about their needs and their frustrations with the market’s current offerings. We then formulate products that solve those problems,” Dollar Shave Club told us about its customer relationship.

Some of the products it has formulated are shaving-adjacent, like its Dr. Carver line of creams, lathers, oils, dews, scrubs, butters, and serums to apply to the face before, during, and after a shave. And for a full body experience, Dollar Shave Club introduced Wanderer, which is its collection of shampoos, conditioners, soap bars, and facial cleansers.

“With Wanderer, we discovered that our members felt that their shower is a place where they can unwind from the chaos of everyday life and also a place to recharge for the day ahead,” Dollar Shave Club said about its decision to launch the line. “When we formulated our products, we used these insights to inspire our two scents: Calming with Amber & Lavender and Awakening with Mint & Cedarwood.”

Screenshot of Dollar Shave Club products

Dollar Shave Club expanded its offerings from just razors to a plethora of bathroom and grooming products.

Other markets the company has penetrated include hair products with its Boogie’s collection and sun care with Big Cloud. Dollar Shave Club also has a line of bathroom wipes called One Wipe Charlies, and Michael himself explains to consumers exactly what they are used for with a hefty helping of potty humor.

But the reason all of these products exist is because of the unique relationship Dollar Shave Club has with its customers.

“We have a continuous feedback loop where we are constantly communicating with our members,” Dollar Shave Club said of the relationship. “One of the benefits of being direct-to-consumer is we’re able to quickly update products or features in response to the feedback we receive.”

Dollar Shave Club was founded in response to a need and listening to its members continues that tradition. The engaging brand personality also extends to its company culture and website, where a visitor is met with answers to all of his or her questions, whether or not they relate to shaving.

A Culture of Solving Problems With Straightforward Humor

When Dollar Shave Club exploded onto the scene, the company had to scale up quickly, which meant a lot of hard work for Michael and his team. But they were able to meet the demand while maintaining their unique culture.

As Michael told the Huffington Post: “You get a lot of companies that will throw video games or bean bags in a room and say, ‘That’s culture.’ But culture is built around happy people who are contributing to the mission and feel valued.”

If its website is any indication, the team at Dollar Shave Club is having plenty of fun.

As a self-described “experience brand,” Dollar Shave Club is active in producing engaging content. Beyond ad campaigns, the company inserts a copy of its entertaining and thought-provoking print publication “Bathroom Minutes” in each shipment so that members have something to peruse while using their own lavatories. That is if they haven’t already read the content online.

The “Bathroom Minutes” articles are available in Dollar Shave Club’s original content section and include answers to many common questions that people are too uncomfortable to ask. Some articles tackle remedies for the post-manscaping prickle that can cause men to feel like porcupines while others focus on how to deal with unsightly ear hairs.

Not all of the content is grooming-related, as some posts deal with deeper philosophical issues like how people smelled before the introduction of indoor plumbing or whether we will ever be able to talk to animals.

Screenshot of Dollar Shave Club original content

In its original content section, Dollar Shave Club doesn’t shy away from some of the biggest issues of the day.

But it isn’t just the original content section that promotes knowledge. The frequently asked questions (FAQ) section goes above and beyond as well, letting Dollar Shave Club’s personality shine through.

Alongside questions like “How many blades will I receive per month?” and “Is there a fee to join?” are more pressing queries such as “What is the function of mitochondria?” or “What year did the Vikings attack Lindisfarne?” And the questions aren’t just for show, Dollar Shave Club answers all of them.

(Mitochondria produce energy for the rest of the cell through respiration and regulate cellular metabolism, and the Vikings attacked Lindisfarne in 793 C.E.)

The personality weaved throughout its website, and the eye-opening original content has helped Dollar Shave Club move past products to build relationships with its members in a space where very few relationships begin: the bathroom.

From One Viral Commercial to Disrupting the Grooming Industry

People who believed the world was flat and those who thought going to the store was the only way to buy razors have one thing in common: they were wrong. Magellan and Dollar Shave Club came along to debunk each of those theories, respectively.

While Magellan died during a battle in the midst of his global circumnavigation, Michael is alive and well at the helm of Dollar Shave Club. After its acquisition by Unilever, Michael stayed on as CEO to steadily guide the company into uncharted waters.

Photo collage of Michael Dubin Pythagoras and Magellan

Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, left, has a different philosophy on shaving than Pythagoras and Magellan, right.

Thanks to a great idea — and an incredibly impactful viral video — Dollar Shave Club has been one of the most disruptive forces the shaving industry has ever seen. Razor companies used to think that innovation was seeing how many blades they could add atop a handle, but Dollar Shave Club came along to show that the biggest innovation was making it easier and less expensive for consumers to get a great shave.

Now, the company has turned its disruptive focus to the entire grooming industry, and its products are resonating with consumers everywhere. And if Dollar Shave Club had been available in their time, perhaps Pythagoras and Magellan would have shaved once in awhile.