A little over a year after Dollar Shave Club’s online video ad went viral and nicked the U.S. razor market, the upstart company is back and operating from the same budget-marketing playbook for the launch of its newest product: a high-end alternative to toilet paper.
Dollar Shave Chief Executive Officer and lead pitchman Michael Dubin calls them “butt-wipes,” underscoring the startup’s ethos that consumer goods aren’t as fancy or expensive as giant companies such as Procter & Gamble (PG) and Unilever (UN) would have shoppers believe. “I’ve been a butt-wipe user for years. I just think it’s a better experience,” Dubin said. “And of course, the video just writes itself.”
Dubin’s online pitch for what he’s calling One Wipe Charlies, released on Tuesday morning, isn’t just a winking bid for clicks and laughs. His Venice (Calif.)-based company is aiming to disrupt the link between consumer packaged goods and retailers by shipping products to customers on a schedule through various membership plans. Subscribers to the Humble Twin plan, for example, get a monthly shipment of five two-blade razor cartridges for $1 per period, plus shipping costs. The executive package includes four cartridges of six-blade razors each month.
“The razor was a great beachhead,” Dubin said in an interview before the launch of the butt-wipe video. “There are some other obvious personal care and grooming products we can hit pretty quickly, and I’d love to hit as many as we can.”
The company’s arch video introducing the razor-subscription system garnered more than 10 million clicks and convinced about 200,000 people to pay for monthly shipments, 5,000 of whom signed up the day the video went up. Although Dollar Shave tried to keep its users chuckling with a steady stream of content, including social-media jokes, a lively blog, and virtual cards, growth waned quickly after the initial spike of attention. The hope is that Dollar Shave’s expansion to wipes—40 for $4—can also recharge demand for its razors and “shave butter.” Eventually, as Dubin explained, Dollar Shave hopes to “own the bathroom,” or at least muscle some of the space away from consumer-goods giants.
There are no shortages of new companies doing an end-run around brick-and-mortar retailers. Many of them are even selling goods via Web memberships. Bark Box, for example, sells its subscribers a box of dog treats and toys every month for $19 and up. Even Amazon.com (AMZN) is now offering discounts on goods that its prime members agree to have shipped on a regular basis.
While customers get to enjoy the convenience, the model allows entrepreneurs to lock in a revenue stream and more easily manage inventory. Dollar Shave has tried to go a step farther and become a sort of lifestyle brand that connects with its target demographic—men—through the brand’s humorous sensibility, Dubin said
Dollar Shave has some buying power of its own at the moment: The company is flush from a $9.8 million round of venture-capital funding that closed in October. A pool of investors led by Venrock and including Silicon Valley kingmakers such as Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has allowed the company to buy space for more traditional ads on television and radio. (Bloomberg LP, owner of Bloomberg Businessweek, is an investor in Andreessen Horowitz.)
The question remains: Why butt wipes? Of all the male-oriented grooming products, why pitch an item strongly associated with babies?
Dollar Shave did some survey work and found that roughly half the men surveyed used wipes in addition to—or in lieu of—toilet paper. Almost one-quarter of wipe-using gentlemen acknowledged hiding their wipes. The company concluded that there could be millions of potential customers in the U.S. and Canada who would much rather buy wipes over the Internet than at a store. “This is something guys are using, but it’s not really talked about,” Dubin said. “It kind of hit on all levels for us.”