NEW YORK — Procter & Gamble executives say it was striking the first time they witnessed a man shave while sitting barefoot on the floor in a tiny hut in India.
He had no electricity, no running water and no mirror.
The 20 U.S.-based executives observed the man in 2008 during one of 300 visits they made to homes in rural India. The goal? To gain insights they could use to develop a new razor for India.
“That, for me, was a big ‘aha,’ ” said Alberto Carvalho, vice president, global Gillette, a unit of P&G. “I had never seen people shaving like that.”
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The visits kicked off the 18 months it took to develop Gillette Guard, a low-cost razor designed for India and other emerging markets. Introduced three years ago, Guard quickly gained market share and today represents two out of every three razors sold in India. The story of how Guard came to be illustrates the balance companies must strike when creating products for emerging markets: It’s not as simple as slapping a foreign label on a U.S. product.
Gillette has sold razors in India for over a decade. The company had 37.3 percent market share in 2007, selling its high end Mach3 razor, which costs about $2.75, and a stripped- down Vector two-bladed razor on the lower end, which goes for about 72 cents.
But Gillette wanted more of the market. To do that, P&G executives would have to attract the nearly 500 million Indians who use double-edged razors, an old fashioned T-shaped razor that has no protective piece of plastic that goes between the blade and the skin when shaving. This razor, which makes skin cuts more likely, costs just a few pennies per blade.
Gillette wanted to test the product among Indian consumers before launching it, but instead of making the costly trip abroad, they had Indian students at nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology test the razor. “They all came back and said, ‘Wow that’s a big improvement,’ ” Carvalho recalls.
But when Gillette launched the razor in India, the reaction was different. Executives were baffled about why the razor flopped until they went to India and observed men using a cup of water to shave. All the MIT students had running water. Without that, the razor stayed clogged.
“That’s another ‘aha’ moment,” Carvalho said. “That taught us the importance that you really need to go where your consumers are, not just to talk to them, but observe and spend time with them to gather the key insight.”
In 2008, Carvalho decided to bring 20 people, ranging from engineers to developers, from Gillette’s U.S. headquarters to India for three weeks.
They spent 3,000 hours with more than 1,000 consumers at their homes, in stores and in small-group discussions. They observed people’s routines throughout the day, sometimes staying late into the evening. “We asked them what their aspirations were and why they wanted to shave, and how often,” Carvahlo said.
They learned that families often live in huts without electricity and share a bathroom with other huts. So men shave sitting on their floors with a bowl of water, often without a mirror, in the dark morning hours. As a result, shaving could take up to half an hour, compared with the five to seven minutes it takes to shave in American households. And Indian men strain to not cut themselves.
The take-away: In the U.S., razor-makers spent decades on marketing centered on a close shave, adding blades to achieve a smoother cheek. But men in India are more concerned about not cutting themselves.
The resulting Guard razor has one blade, to put the emphasis on safety rather than closeness, compared with two to five blades found on U.S. razors.
Next, the company had to figure out how to produce the razor at the right price. “We had to say ‘How do we do this at ruthless cost?’ ” Carvalho said.
P&G scrutinized the smallest details. It cut the number of components in the razor down to four compared with 25 needed for Mach3, Gillette’s three-blade razor. They even made the razor’s handle hollow so it would be lighter and cheaper to make.
“I can remember talking about changes to this product that were worth a thousandth, or two thousandths of a cent,” said Jim Keighley, the company’s associate director for product engineering.
The result? The Guard costs about one- third of what it costs to make the Vector, Gillette’s low-price Indian razor before Guard. Gillette sells the Guard for 15 rupees, or 34 cents, and each razor blade is 5 rupees, or 12 cents.
The company’s strategy seems to have worked. P&G says with 9 percent market share, Guard has grown share faster than any other P&G brand in India. And Gillette’s market share for razors and blades in India has grown to 49.1 percent, according to Euromonitor. That’s up from 37.3 in 2007.