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They Changed the Way You Buy Your Basics

Entrepreneur Jeffrey Raider has observed the brand revolution from a front-row seat. He started not one, but two, direct-to-consumer unicorns before he reached his mid-30s. He co-founded Harry’s in 2013 and sold it to Edgewell for $1.37 billion six years later. Earlier, he had co-founded Warby Parker, which is worth $1.75 billion.

Harry’s and Warby Parker, along with Dollar Shave Club and many of the other new successful direct-to-consumer brands, share a strategy: Each saw an opening to challenge entrenched market leaders with quality products at a much lower price. In Raider’s view, however, what catapulted each to become a billion-dollar brand is an obsession with connecting with the customer. Everyone who joins the staff of Harry’s, no matter what the job, has to spend a day working in the call center as part of the customer experience team. Raider and his co-founder, Andy Katz-Mayfield, themselves spend several hours each month listening to customers’ complaints or suggestions. Among these was an odd inquiry that they heard from about 100 customers in Harry’s first year.

“People were calling us all the time, saying, ‘Hey, can I get one of those little plastic covers that go over the blade?’” Raider recalled. “And we’re like, why?” From the start, Harry’s had included a blade cover — a small, rigid plastic piece that snaps snugly over the razor cartridge — when it shipped a customer’s first order, to protect the blade from getting dull. Many people threw the cover out or lost it, only to decide later that it might have been nice to use while traveling, not just to shield the blade but also to protect their fingers from getting nicked when they reached into their toiletry kit. “Since I travel a lot, and the razor goes into my travel kit, I would like to get another. I don’t need another handle/blade set. Is the blade guard alone available?” one customer wrote in an email.

So, in 2015, Harry’s began selling a replacement Travel Blade Cover for $1. It may seem insignificant, and indeed it brings in only a tiny amount of revenue, but Raider points to it as something that signals to customers that Harry’s cares about what they have to say. And that helps to build loyalty that will last for a long time, which is one of the things that makes for a successful and enduring brand.

Yet Raider understands that the proliferation of start-up brands has fragmented the consumer product business, and that could make it harder than ever to create mass brands in the mold of Serta or Victoria’s Secret or Gillette.

In the old world, once a popular mass-market brand was established, it could count on a long reign. In the new world, this is no longer true. Brand loyalty is declining as never before. One report on the 100 top consumer product brands found that 90 percent had lost market share in recent years.

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