How Oscar de Vries is taking on the razor business one clean shave at a time

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We do love an Aussie battler. Even if he’s a Dutchman who’s made Australia his home.

We regularly hear about the constant and combative relationship between big retailers and big suppliers. It appears to be an unending story of conflict and change as retailers push for lower prices and manufacturers push for higher prices.

There’s only one place worse than that, and that’s being a supplier to both manufacturers and retailers. Trust me, there is no moral high ground owned by either wilful buyers in retail, or demanding procurement managers in manufacturer land.

I’ve had the dubious honour of being involved in “robust” negotiations with both sides of the retailer and manufacturer equation. Sometimes on the same day. But that’s just the bump and grind of business. I thought that was the worst place to be until I met Oscar de Vries.

Now I met Oscar many years ago in motor sport. He was the editor of Formula 1 magazine in Australia. Twinkle in his eye, a bit of a larrikin, lots of energy.

We met again a few years later when he had set up a business selling shaving oil into retail in Australia. Having not played in that space before he asked me for some advice on how to operate in retail as a small start-up. It was the early days of online, the growth in retail own-brand was just catching up with the UK, so shelf space was shrinking. Added to that was the fact that the world’s largest consumer goods company, P&G, dominated the sector, and the largest retailers all loved the predictability of men’s grooming, especially the shaving sector.

I told him bluntly he needed to prepare for very serious competition. He reminds me that I said something like “You’re only ever one meeting away from being delisted by a retailer and one promotion away from being eaten by P&G.” Not personal, just business. And the best way to prepare for either of those two events, at that time, was to learn from the winds of change blowing through the northern hemisphere. Supply online as well as via retail right from the get go. Be “omni-channel” before the term had even been coined.

Well Oscar got into retail, built sales, then was deleted. Battled the big American. He went to Canberra and had the support of various politicians and generally made a lot of noise. He’s spent time and money in the High Court to protect his business. Litigation is just another marketing tool alongside the 4Ps.

Today, many blokes reading this will have seen Oscar’s products advertised whilst standing, with relief, after a long flight, in a men’s room at an airport somewhere in Australia. Many of us now buy his online subscriptions and receive new razor blades to their door every few months. Their partners buy the subscriptions as gifts for husbands, boyfriends, dads, sons and uncles. Shaving as a convenience via a subscription model. And the products he sells are excellent and great value for money.  

I caught up with Oscar for an afternoon tea (a cloggy and a pom; bound to happen) in Surry Hills. He’s been in the eye of a storm for most of the past decade. He’s still got a gleam in his eye, huge spirit and battles through every day. You can’t help but respect what he’s achieved, as most of us would have walked away years ago.

If you haven’t been there visit http://oscarrazor.com.au/, take out a subscription and enjoy. You’re buying part of what could well become a small business legend.

Kevin A Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings and Mirador Retail Technology. He is also the founder of TheRoadToRetail.

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Kevin A Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings and Mirador Retail Technology and the founder of TheRoadToRetail.

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