Dollar Shave Club adds deodorants, elbowing into crowded d-to-c scrum

Bid for 'dark, sweaty, stinky spaces' rounds out a mini-conglomerate built from cheap razors

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Dollar Shave Club is branching into the last big men's personal-care category it hasn't already entered with the launch today of Groundskeeper deodorants and antiperspirants, taking a relatively late plunge into what's become a hotbed of direct-to-consumer marketing.

The Groundskeeper brand will include antiperspirants and deodorants as well as absorbing one of 7-year-old DSC's first extensions from five years ago—One Wipe Charlies butt wipes.

"What connects the whole line is taking care of your dark, sweaty stinky places that don't get a lot of love and attention throughout the day," says Michael Dubin, CEO and co-founder of the Unilever-owned business.

Antiperspirant-deodorant scents will include bergamot & white musk and sea spray & amber. But it's a category where the sea spray and California Coast scents have been flying fast and furious. Direct-to-consumer natural deodorant players include Unilever's own Schmidt's Naturals, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Native and independents Oars & Alps and Stinkbug Naturals among others.

Dubin says he's not concerned with the crowded space, because Dollar Shave Club's proposition is increasingly about providing a one-stop-shop for everything. To help back Groundskeeper, Dollar Shave Club will launch a new in-house-produced video and TV ad where Dubin points out it's "now the Amazing Deodorant Too Club."

Surveys of existing members show at least 98 percent of Dollar Shave Club subscribers use deodorant or antiperspirant, but 64 percent are open to trying another brand and 70 percent say they're open to subscribing to a deodorant.

"This is definitely a category our members have been asking for directly," says Brand Development Director Chloe Jensen. Dubin says it's not the "final frontier" of new products for DSC, but it is the last big basic category for the brand.

Rival direct player Harry's has been making inroads through distribution at Target and Walmart, while P&G's Gillette On Demand has been making up ground too, with P&G claiming it's the only direct-to-consumer razor business adding subscribers in recent quarters.

Some critics, including CNBC "Mad Money" Host Jim Cramer believe people are getting burned out on product subscriptions, and Gillette's club took off after ditching the subscription concept. But Dubin says he's not hearing that from members, even as DSC changes its model to favor fewer annual shipments of a wider range of products.

Meanwhile, Dubin says DSC is expanding its recently launched "automated retail" vending machines and exploring other physical retail options, without offering details.

But the main avenue for growth is expanding into new products and categories, he says. "We're trying to get as many customers as possible into a multi-category subscription as soon as possible."

Increasingly, there's more than meets the eye at a brand built on cheap razors and funny videos. Dollar Shave Club's Marina Del Rey, Calif. headquarters, unimposing to the point of being nearly invisible from the curbside, is a sprawling complex inside that's recently doubled its footprint with a combination of open work space, production studios and even an employee barber shop. The business now has more than 600 employees, a distribution center near Columbus, Ohio, and global expansion in Europe and Australia. Unilever acquired DSC in 2016.

While growth has slowed from early days, Unilever says Dollar Shave Club grew sales by double digits in the fourth quarter, thanks in part to its broader reach into categories and countries.

"We have made very good progress on taking it from cheap razors to a full male grooming brand," Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in a January investor presentation.

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