http://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/ar ... ing-nicked
Jeff Hagan, a 43-year-old investment banker in San Francisco, doesn't need to buy another blade or razor for the next four years.
That's because last year, tired of trying to keep up with the cycle of shaving-system upgrades and price hikes, Mr. Hagan bought 100 Gillette Mach3 blades. Then he found oil that helps double the blades' lifespan.
"I'm basically investing in blade futures," Mr. Hagan remembers telling onlookers at Costco as they marveled at the pile of cartridges in his cart. "That's my hedge against getting forced to upgrade."
His hoarding came just in time. This spring, the titans of shaving, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Gillette (NYSE: PG - News) and Energizer Holdings Inc.'s Schick (NYSE: ENR - News) launched another round of their endless duel, with systems touting improved blades, more ergonomic handles and, inevitably, higher prices.
Shaving is big business. Gillette brings in more than $4 billion in annual sales; Schick sees sales of around $1 billion a year, according to analysts' estimates. Though the recession hurt sales of blades and boosted sales of cheaper disposable razors, the two companies still have a lock on the U.S. market. Gillette commands 70% of the razors-and-blades category, and Schick holds about 10%, according to market-data firm Euromonitor International Inc.
A hardy subset of men, however, isn't interested in playing the game and takes extraordinary measures to opt out.
"I'm a full-on capitalist, but there's a little bit of 'sticking it to the man' here that I enjoy," says Mr. Hagan of his stockpile of Mach3 blades, which Gillette launched 12 years ago.
New razors have been fodder for parody for more than a quarter century. In 1975, the inaugural episode of "Saturday Night Live" included a mock commercial for a three-blade razor with the slogan, "Because you'll believe anything."
The introduction of Gillette's Fusion razor, kept secret until its debut in 2005, was eerily predicted the year before by the satirical Onion newspaper, which ran a fake memo from a shaving executive bragging about besting a competitor's four-blade razor by making one with five.
This time, razor makers are claiming breakthroughs in design. Gillette touts its Fusion ProGlide's ergonomic grips, its ultrafine cutting edge and a "snow-plow guard" that moves around the shaving cream. It goes for $16.99 per four-pack of basic cartridges, about a 15% premium to regular Fusion blades.
A four-pack of blades for Schick's new Hydro—with a hydrating "reservoir"—runs $11.49, about 5% more than Schick's premium Quattro blades.
The companies know they're pushing the bounds of credulity. "When we talk to guys, we hear them say, 'It's all a bunch of hype,'" says Gillette spokesman Damon Jones. "Our strategy was to tackle the skeptics head on," giving away hundreds of thousands of free ProGlide razors around the launch last month.
"As we enter into any innovation, obviously there's a level of skepticism," says Dan Kinton, senior brand manager for Schick's Hydro.
Allan Neibart believes better versions were made decades ago. Despite occasionally suffering deep gashes, he swears by the close shave delivered by his 1958 gold-plated Gillette toggle razor, bought for about $260 in an eBay auction.
The concentration required for a bloodless shave has produced a relaxing morning ritual for Mr. Neibart, a 52-year-old real estate developer in Allentown, Pa. "They keep trying to improve something that they already had perfect," he says.
Fearing Gillette would discontinue the Platinum Plus blades he needs, Mr. Neibart spent the past three years buying packs every time he found them. He's now stocking about $1,000 worth. "I'm shaving with a dinosaur, but now I'm set if it goes extinct," he says.
Steven Schimmel, owner of Pasteur Pharmacy in Manhattan, says he quadrupled sales in his shaving aisle by carrying hard-to-find products like British shave creams, badger-hair brushes and safety razors. He sells eight brands of double-edge blades, including Gillette's 7 O'Clock blades, bought from a dealer in India.
While the latest advances in shaving remain big sellers on Drugstore.com Inc., unit sales of hard-to-find blades including the Schick Injector and Wilkinson Sword increased in 2009 over the year before. Drugstore.com regularly lobbies blade-makers to maintain their inventories.
Gillette says it continues to do regular production runs of its existing shavers. "We monitor sales to be sure we meet that demand," says Schick's Mr. Kinton.
Brian Crowell says he has driven up to 20 miles to find a store that stocks two-bladed Gillette Good News disposable razors, introduced in 1976.
"If these disappear one day, I will be devastated," says Mr. Crowell, a 44-year-old professional golfer in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
He, too, keeps a stash at home. But he keeps it secret, lest his wife or daughters snag one. "I'm uncomfortable revealing my hiding spot," he says.
Mr. Crowell attributes his ability to achieve a good shave with a basic blade to his strong putting game. "People who have a good feel for the contours of the putting green don't need a fancy razor," he says. "If you've got some degree of touch and feel, you can follow the topography of your face accurately."
As blades grow more expensive, they are increasingly kept under lock and key. A frustrating attempt to find a drug-store employee to unlock the blades case prompted Nick Meyers to give up his four-bladed Schick Quattro several months ago.
"It's easier to buy uranium," Mr. Meyers says. "They're so expensive, they have to keep them locked up, and that's when I realized what a gimmick all of it is."
Now, the 51-year-old financial planner in Cherry Hill, N.J., is searching for a new shave. He enjoys lathering up with a badger-hair brush and wielding a double-edge blade, but it's so time-consuming he does so only on weekends.
Mr. Meyers is considering investing in a supply of Gillette's two-blade Sensor Excel, introduced in the U.S. in 1994, which he used years ago. "Frankly, that gives a beautiful shave," he says.