Originally created 01/16/04

Gillette unveils new premium "humming" shaving system



BOSTON -- There's a new Rolls-Royce for the serious shaver.

Gillette rolled out a new high-tech, premium razor Thursday, a souped-up version of the Mach3Turbo featuring 62 patents and a tiny, battery-powered motor that emits pulses that work on the skin to prop up hair so it can be lopped off more easily.

The Boston-based company said the gentle, electric hum of the "M3Power" not only reduces the need to shave over the same skin surface repeatedly, but even produces an agreeable massaging sensation.

But the Rolls-Royce device, expected to hit North American shelves in May, will also come with a Rolls-Royce price tag: $14.99 for the shaving system (including a battery), compared to $8.99 for the Mach3Turbo. A 4-pack of blades will go for $10.99, a 15 percent premium.

"I'm not concerned about the product or the quality or the ads or the message, it's just whether or not the consumer will readily accept the trade-up," said William Steele, an analyst at Banc of America Securities.

Gillette says they have before, and they will again.

"Men have demonstrated over and over a willingness to pay if we perform, and we do," said Mary Ann Pesce, Gillette's vice president of new shaving products.

The M3Power, rolled out in New York on Thursday after much industry speculation, is a counterpunch to rival Schick-Wilkinson Sword's four-bladed "Quattro," which hit shelves in September amid much fanfare and some concern it would cut into Gillette's market lead. Gillette has sued Schick, a unit of St. Louis-based Energizer Holdings, for patent infringement.

But Gillette says M3Power is more of an extension of the Mach3 product line, and that its next-generation shaving system is still in development. Pesce declined to say whether Gillette would try to include the M3Power technology in a woman's razor. Gillette's new Venus Divine women's system goes on sale in March.

The M3Power comes with a Duracell battery - also manufactured by Gillette - that fits in the handle and powers a small motor that generates what Pesce described as a "gentle hum." That energy increases the tension in facial skin, and essentially props up hairs, which can otherwise lie flat.

Gillette also says it has improved the technology behind the coating of the blades, to make sure they stay uniformly smooth throughout.

"It also provides this new experience that guys said was like a massage," she said.

Gillette refused to discuss details of its marketing plan for the new system, but said it would kick off with an ad during the Super Bowl.

Peter Hoffman, president of Gillette's blades and razors division, declined to give specific sales guidance but said he expected comparable results to the rollout of Mach3Turbo, which generated $300 million in sales in its first year.

Most of that came from customers already using Gillette, and the company acknowledged that would likely happen again here. But Steele said it would likely lead to some new customers, and that Gillette's strategy has worked in the past.

"Leave it to Gillette to innovate behind its own products," he said.

Shares of Gillette fell 6 cents to close at $36.07 in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.