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Battle for beards heats up

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The Fusion ProGlide (Gillette)
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By Matt Sepic, St. Louis Public Radio

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kwmu/local-kwmu-905703.mp3

St. Louis – The battle for the American beard is heating up. After months of hype, Gillette's latest razor finally hits store shelves this Sunday. This skirmish pits a consumer products behemoth against a much smaller, but formidable, challenger.

This latest version of Gillette's Fusion, the ProGlide, still has just six blades. But you wouldn't know it from the hundreds of millions of dollars Gillette pumped into the razor's design and it's marketing.

The ProGlide features thinner blades and better lubrication. But Damon Jones, with Procter & Gamble says even the loudest ads aren't enough to make men switch brands.

"It's one thing to watch a commercial, but when we put the razor in the hands of guys and they try it, they tell us wow,'" Jones said. "So we're really going to depend on the word of mouth."

Meanwhile Schick, owned by St. Louis-based Energizer, is pushing its new Hydro razor just as aggressively. It's selling point is a reservoir of water-activated gel.

Lindell Chew is a marketing professor at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. He says Schick has always been more innovative, even adding tiny clippers to its earlier Quattro line.

"This product has a four-blade disposable on one end. It has a hair cutting tool on the other end. It's operated by a Triple-A battery."

But despite Schick's technical wizardry, Chew says it'll have to fight hard for shelf space because Gillette's Procter & Gamble dominates the consumer products industry.

"They're going very aggressive with these billion dollar brands that they have, and carving out deals that will often wipe out the number two brand, not just the 3, 4, 5 and 6 brand," Chew says.

Chew says Proctor and Gamble's Duracell is a perfect example. Earlier this year it used its market clout to bump Energizer batteries out of CVS drugstores.

But for customers confused by all the competing razor blades, vintage simplicity is making a comeback. Online retailers of those double-edged safety blades your grandfather used say business is booming.

And while replacement cartridges for the latest razors can cost more than $4 each, the retro blades are as little as 15 cents.

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