With Yasuoki Takeuchi, President of the Kamisori Club, we look back at the Japanese wet shaving market and culture from the post-war period to the era of Seiwa.
Schick conquered the Japanese market with strategy.
As Kinzo Takeuchi, the predecessor of the Kamisori Club, said in an interview in his day, “If the product is good, the publicity is good, and the sales network is good, we can sell. The key to success is how to tell them apart. What made Schick the number one razor market in Japan after the war from scratch was a simple marketing strategy that is relevant today and in the future.
Kinzo, who had given up on selling single-bladed razors suitable for the Japanese after the war, encountered the “Injector” by “Schick” on a large poster in the foreign razor section of a department store. That visual of a little girl shaving her dad’s beard was both loving and appealing to the safety of injectors. The Injector was a revolutionary product, not only because of its unique handling and sharpness, but also because it could be safely replaced without touching the blade. I remember my first experience at a local barbershop while studying in the US and thinking, “This is it! Kinzo, who had a hunch that this was the way to go, asked Ever Sharp Schick to send samples directly to him.
At the time, however, Sanpo Shoji (the predecessor of the Kamisori club) was a small company of about 20 people. After the war, there were foreign currency restrictions, and imports had to be traded in dollars. In other words, unless you were a company that had dollars in its own trade, it was difficult to buy from abroad. For this reason, we asked Hattori Tokeiten (now Seiko Holdings Corporation), which had a track record of dollar trading in watches, to act as an import agent, and Sanpo Shoji began to handle them as a domestic sales contact.
At the time of import liberalization, the domestic razor market was dominated by feathers with more than 80 percent of the market share, and there was no way we could get by if we tried too hard in the same place. Avoid fighting down the same route and examine the perception methods and image to establish the “chick” brand. With double-edged razors dominating the market, our first task was to create an opportunity for people to use a single-edged razor.
At the time, imported goods from overseas were very popular because they were seen as ‘imported goods’. So, the first thing we decided to do was to sell them as luxury gifts in department stores. Because if it’s a gift, you’ll use it once. While double-bladed razors were the norm, a single-bladed injector was displayed in a glass case in a department store for 600 yen (the price of the injector at that time was about a quarter of what it is today). This was a popular gift, as it attracted a large number of orders to put their names on the holder. The first thing we did was to popularize the holder, which contributed to the sales of replacement blades later.
However, that era did not last long, and the focus of consumption eventually shifted from department stores to mass merchandisers. Anticipating the arrival of the era of mass merchandisers, we quickly shifted our sales structure to mass merchandisers across the country. I also walked through supermarkets across the country to check out their sales floors and make new sales pitches. I’m glad that I was able to use my experience in the U.S., where I studied abroad as a student.
The razors, which were sold face-to-face in showcase cases, are now sold in blister packs with backing and clear plastic to accommodate self-service stores that hand carry them to the cash register. I still vividly remember seeing the new packages in stores when I started getting direct business with them. By quickly entering the supermarket market, Schick “Injector” and the stainless steel replacement blade, which had been the focus of the company’s efforts at the same time, quickly established their image, shaking off the advances of Gillette, Feather, Lion, and Kao. One of the factors that contributed to our victory was our focus on TV commercials and the investment of funds in advertising. Many of you may remember the striking “Schick” commercial.
On the other hand, Sanpo Shoji expanded its sales bases to major cities across the country and vigorously developed sales activities in the region. Eventually, the razor entered the “two-blade” era, and Gillette sought to make a comeback in the Japanese market with the “GII” two-blade cartridge. However, the manufacturer (Warner-Lambert) decisively airlifted the “SII” of the “Schick”, and although it was delayed in the press release, it succeeded in impressing consumers by going ahead with nationwide sales in stores, winning the two-blade showdown.
Gillette is better in terms of capital and product development capabilities. We are a leading company in terms of technology as we have a patent. However, we were connected with the manufacturer (Werner Lambert), the import agent (Hattori Seiko), and the sales agent (Sanpo Shoji) by a strong pipe. Peter Oliver, the Far East manager of Eversharp Schick, who owned Schick at the time of its importation, made it clear that “the sales of Schick in Japan will be left to the Japanese”, and this was no different after Eversharp Schick’s merger with Warner-Lambert.
Kinzo Takeuchi had a similar belief. I have a great deal of respect for my father, who has thoroughly implemented the idea that the Japanese market is for Japanese people. And that’s definitely been a factor in our success. . The three companies met regularly and took measures to spread the “Schick” product with an overwhelming sense of party.
Today, companies still have to make a choice between “global” and “local” when aiming for global markets. More than 50 years ago now, Gillette tried to integrate the Japanese razor market into its global strategy, and Schick tried to respect and adapt to the uniquely Japanese way of doing things. It can be said that “Schick” was a major factor in the success of “Schick” because of the sense of unity and consistency of direction with Sanpo Shoji, who was passionate about making “Schick” the number one product in Japan, even during the period of high growth.