IF you’ll pardon the pun, there are few sectors more cut-throat than the razor blade market.
Will King, the founder of King of Shaves, has transformed a shaving oil business which used to be based on his kitchen table into a multi-million pound enterprise which is unafraid to challenge industry giants like Gillette.
Mr King visited Yorkshire to encourage parents and pupils at Leeds Grammar School (GSAL) to consider becoming their own bosses.
What you need, he told them, is a great product and the ability to stay several steps ahead of the competition.
He was a guest speaker at the GSAL networking group, which brings together small business owners from across Leeds, so they can network and share ideas.
The audience also included sixth form pupils who wanted to find out how to become entrepreneurs.
Back in 1993, Mr King devised a range of products to give a smooth, close, burn- free shave. Today, King of Shaves has a powerful retail presence, and you can buy its products in big name stores such as Boots, Harrod’s and Bradford-based Morrisons. Speaking before he addressed the audience, Mr King said: “My mum and dad were both teachers so they instilled in me the importance of gaining knowledge.
“Being an entrepreneur means basically getting out and looking around you and seeing what can be done better.
“It’s about making a job, as opposed to taking a position in a company and then learning what the skills sets are to develop that business. “That’s a self-starter entrepreneurialism that I think can be got across to kids.”
His business career took off in the dark days of the early 1990s, when Britain was sucked into an economic slump.
He recalled: “I was made redundant in the last recession and lost my job in marketing. I didn’t like shaving. I’ve got sensitive skin. I’d feel itchy around the neck at the end of the day. So I created a shaving oil.”
In order to make an impression, he knew that he needed to think big, and employ the tenacity he gained as a salesman.
He said: “I decided I wanted the world’s best known department store, Harrods, to stock it. I got hold of Mohamed Al-Fayed (the owner of Harrod’s) and he placed an order for £27.
“My first job was selling advertising space over the phone. I got very used to taking rejection as a delayed ‘yes’. I also found out how to get in contact with people.
“I contacted Mr Al Fayed’s personal PA, she asked me to send a fax over. That fax was put in front of Mr Al Fayed. That gave me the ability to go to Boots and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got Harrods as a stockist. Might you take the product?’
“They took the product into 200 to 300 stores.”
Growth has also been boosted by gaining celebrity endorsements, including the Chelsea and England football star, John Terry.
“When you’re getting celebrities involved in the business, it gives you a certain amount of oxygen of publicity,’’ said Mr King. “John Terry came about in 2006. I took a call from Chelsea saying John Terry’s agent would like to speak to me about an endorsement deal. We were able to conclude a two-year deal with him.”
Ever the salesman, Mr King believes the company’s new Azor Hybrid Synergy System Razor will boost turnover and profits.
He added: “Our retail sales will probably end up just shy of £30m, about £28m. We have 16 staff, so it’s a very virtually integrated business. We have a supply chain which is pretty substantial.
“This year will see King of Shaves achieve its biggest ever group sales.
“However, the UK has been a really tough place to do business. We have kept our products great, so people will come back and buy them. We try to keep tight with the retailers and we do good business with Asda and Morrisons, of course.
“We’ve looked overseas, so we have a distribution agreement in North America.
“We’re opening in China in 2013 we’ll open up probably about 10 countries in Europe and that’s against a background of me positioning the brand to be part of a bigger set-up...You can’t just stay here, we’ve got to go overseas, especially in China.”