Manpacks throws its man-hat into the subscription razor blades ring

By Michael Carney , written on July 18, 2013

From The News Desk

On the continuum of first world problems being solved by venture-backed startups today, the frustration of men having to drive to the pharmacy to buy razors each month is neither the most ridiculous nor the most noble – it’s somewhere in between. But, because disposable blades so thoroughly check the criteria for a subscription ecommerce business – they’re inexpensive, disposable, and commoditized – we’ve seen numerous offerings in the space.

The business model that was made famous by Dollar Shave Club, and its massively viral launch video, now includes Harry’s (created by the co-founder of Warby Parker), Dorco’s TheGreatShavingRipoff, and RazorWorld (Australia), among others. Today, the category got a little more crowded with the entrance of Manpacks, a three-year-old men’s subscription etailer that has launched a dedicated razor offering.

Previously, Manpacks offered name brand razors, in addition to underwear, apparel basics, and other personal grooming and hygiene products, in its quarterly bundles. The newly announced Blades by Manpacks is a private label product available in packs of four blades at $9 per month and sold separately from its existing quarterly packages. Subscribers have the option to skip monthly deliveries at any time with the press of a single button.

According to a company statement:

After a three-year search, Manpacks has found a partner who offers a razor with great features and pricing without sacrificing quality. The result: a Made in USA, premium razor that costs half that of leading brands.
Blades by Manpacks may cost half of those sold by Gillette and Schick in brick-and-mortar retail locations. But it’s on the high end of the subscription ecommerce market. Dollar Shave Club’s premium “Executive” model costs the same $9 per month for four cartridges, but offers a “sixth blade.” (Insert “Something About Mary” 7-minute abs joke, here). DSC, however, also offers a four-pack of 4-blade cartridges for $6 per month, and a five-pack of 2-blade cartridges for $1 per month. DSC has previously stated that “The 4X” is its most popular product.

Harry’s offers a cartridge blade option, but varies pricing based on volume, with a four-pack costing $8, an eight-pack costing $15, up to a 16-pack for $25 ($1.56 per blade). One difference is that Harry’s customers, like those of Gillette and Schick, must pay $10 or $20 for the company’s (admittedly fancier) handles, while DSC and Manpacks give their handles away for free.

“Blades are premium, Made in USA razors that are as good, if not better, than DSC,” said Manpacks co-founder Ken Johnson by email. “We were thrilled with the quality of shave with these razors, so at $9 a month we know this will appeal to lots of guys. We like the simplicity of a single offering, but we do plan to add another blade type in the future.”

For Johnson, it seems that Blades is meant to stand on its own as a profitable business, but the co-founder is also expecting that it will act as a gateway, leading subscribers to buy some of the 150 other products in the Manpacks ecommerce store, including those from American Apparel, Calvin Klein, Gillette, Glyde Condoms, and others. Manpacks has “over 10,000 members,” according to Johnson, as compared to DSC’s “more than 200,000 active subscribers.”

Nonetheless, Manpacks’ evolution from a quarterly subscription offering, to a traditional ecommerce portal, and now back to a monthly subscription is an atypical one. More often, startups move from subscription to ecommerce, but not back, and rarely do they switch the subscription model along the way. The addition of Blades by Manpacks, a new monthly subscription that lives alongside both the existing quarterly subscription and traditional ecommerce offerings, somewhat muddies the message. What you want, is to make it easier, not more difficult, for consumers to answer the question “What is Manpacks?” The more complicated the message, the less likely it is to spread virally.

Manpacks raised a $500,000 Seed round in August 2011 from 500 Startups, Venture51, Kima Ventures, Dan Martell, Chipper Boulas, Dylan Parker, David Hauser, Luc Levesque, Adam McNamara, Dave McClure, Paul Singh, and David Beyer. The company does not disclose revenue figures. But given this limited financing, relative to the high costs of operating an ecommerce business, it’s fair to question how close it is to profitability and how much cash the company has left.

Customer acquisition will be the big focus over the next phase. In addition to offering promotions to its current members, the company has launched a Vine video contest through which consumers who submit a Vine hashtagged #GetBlades will be entered to win a free one-year subscription to Blades by Manpacks. Consider it the crowdsourced answer to DSC’s “Our Blades are F***ing Great” coming out party.