A US flag hangs from the roof of Gillette's manufacturing plant in Boston. These bars and stars preside over a kind of closed circuit where autonomous vehicles cross that execute in a synchronized way their tasks: collect and deposit components in machines that, in turn, perform other mechanized tasks. "It's a bit disturbing, right?" Says Kristina Vanoosthuyze, director of scientific communications for the company.
Even quality controls are carried out automatically at the stroke of a laser, using sensors that detect defective parts that can not be put on the market. The truth is that it is difficult to distinguish a human figure across the length and breadth of this space where photos are not allowed and whose dimensions are not even shared so as not to give clues to the competition. Of course, Gillette takes full advantage of the capacity of this plant, which produces 4,000 million razor blades per year.
But this room full of machines is only a small part of the manufacturer's central facilities. Inaugurated in 1904 and made up of 24 interconnected buildings, they total more than 160,000 square meters where some 1,350 employees work in corporate, production, R & D, and process and engineering positions. At the main entrance, three words next to Gillette's logo remind us that going through these doors means going into "the world shaving headquarters" (World Shaving Headquarters).
- One leaf, two leaves, three leaves
After the entrance lathes, a small hall of fame honors 118 years of innovation that began when in 1901 the founder, King Gillette, devised the first disposable razors that ended with razor shaving in homes. Since then, technological advances have been accompanying the successive models of the brand to develop a "shaving science" in which "each hair is a mini-sensor" that helps launch increasingly better products, according to Vanoosthuyze. To do this, the company carries out continuous dermatological research with which it ends up identifying the designs most suited to the needs of the clients.
Since the 70s of the last century, almost all efforts in R & D have focused on improving the blades to make them more precise and thin, so that you could fit a greater number of them in each replacement and thus achieve a shave more hurried. So much so that Gillette not only have been accustomed to hearing the same jokes before each release, but they themselves join the jokes: "We present the razor 18 leaves!", Jokes Pankaj Bhalla, director of the Gillette and Venus brands in North America, before exposing the latest innovations of your company.
This obsession to perfect the leaves obeys a commercial model created by the manufacturer a few years after its founding and that today continues to be studied in business schools under the name Blades & Razor (razors and razor). Broadly speaking, it is a question of offering a durable object at a low price (the razor) and then generate more income by selling a disposable part (the blades) that the user needs to buy on a recurring basis. Over the years, this model has been successfully transferred to other businesses, such as the printers and their essential ink cartridges.
But now that it has almost reached the ceiling in the perfection of the blades and the competition launches very similar products, Gillette seems determined to give a new impulse to the razors, that is, to the durable part of their products, through disruptive proposals. One of the people in charge of pursuing this goal is Donato Díez from Madrid, who at the age of 29 is not only globally responsible for the brand, but also leads an innovation team in Boston that starts up new projects in the same way in which a startup would do it and not a company over one hundred years old.
Among these proposals stands out Heated Razor, a razor able to distribute heat through the face to make more pleasant the shaving. It is the first fruit of GilletteLabs, a kind of business incubator within the manufacturer itself and which Díez defines as "a premium division that is committed to innovation and high-end technology to enhance the shaving experience of the most demanding users".
The funny thing is that, for the launch of Heated Razor, which in the market will have a price of 169 dollars, a crowdfunding campaign was devised on the platform Indiegogo with which they managed to sell 1,000 razors in a week that had not yet been sold. manufactured and whose first prototypes began to be delivered to customers five months later, in March of this year.
Waiting to know if it meets the expectations of these seasoned users, during the last edition of the CES of Las Vegas, the largest technology fair in the world, Heated Razor won the Audience Award for the best innovation of the year in the awards granted by the Engadget publication.
Out of GilleteLabs, another of the novelties is Razor Maker, a razor that the user can customize thanks to 3D technology. Simply enter the Internet and tailor a model from some 90 predefined proposals. Within two weeks, the user receives his order at home for a total cost of between 19 and 45 dollars.
Díez, who promoted this product line, says that everything started as a pilot project that led to the installation of a 3D printer farm whose work is automated using a robotic arm, so that they can produce razors without rest. "The value of Razor Maker is not only to apply 3D printing to our manufacturing process, but to uncover a bestial business model because it brings us much closer to the customer. I am no longer an engineer who for three years designs something that you later buy, but now you tell me what you need and I look for the way to make it come true with the highest quality. The conversation has changed forever, "says Díez.
It is striking that Gillette, which according to Forbes ranks 32nd in the ranking of the most valuable brands in the world, resorts to micromecenas to take forward Heated Razor, the first product of its division GilletteLabs. Donato Díez, responsible for this unit, recognizes that the money raised is not "relevant" for a company that has 800 million customers worldwide, but that the value of this campaign lies in having detected a thousand people who have believed in the possibilities of a product that they were not going to obtain immediately: "We have established a close conversation with these early adopters to better respond to their needs and involve them in the final design, which allows us to validate our proposal in a real market, as well as access the knowledge, opinion and experience of using a very demanding customer base ".