A well-groomed man needn’t choose merely between cheap, breakable, throwaway razor blades and high-end, pricey shaving kits, said Mike Knopke, co-founder of KC Shave Company.
On their way to building “a shaving empire,” Knopke and co-founder Joe Henderson hope to fill the gap amid a landscape of disposable and over-priced options, they said. A current member of the ScaleUP! class, KC Shave Company focuses on building high-quality, affordable products for everyday men, they said.
“[We ask ourselves:] ‘How do we get our products in the hands of every man with a face?” Knopke said.
The duo — who previously owned Overland Park-based Junkman Hauling before selling the business, then focused on KC Shave Company — think consumers have been duped by the shaving industry.
“Men have been brainwashed into thinking that we need those cartridge razors (with) several different blades because Big Box companies — Gillette, those guys — want to make a lot of money by selling you a product you don’t need for an exorbitant amount of money,” Knopke said.
Such razors often are made of a zinc alloy that is easily breakable, and men who have to shave often could end up spending more than if they had bought a sturdier, durable razor, the founders said.
On the flip side, high-end shaving options aren’t necessarily the best choice for the average consumer either, they said.
“One thing that we heard over and over from our customers: ‘I went into the store on the Plaza, and there’s no way I could stomach dropping $250 for something (I’d) never tried,’” Knopke said.
Shaving into savings
One national brand — Dollar Shave Club — disrupted the shaving industry in recent years with its subscription razor service, Henderson said. But KC Shave Company products actually are less expensive, especially for men who need to shave every day, he said.
“If you shave every day, you get four cartridges per month with the Dollar Shave Club,” Henderson said. “Each razor gets you four, maybe five shaves, so that’s 20 days max worth of shaves out of 30 days in the month. So you’re either not shaving, or you’re using a razor you should have already replaced.”
Priced between $50 and $100, KC Shave Company’s razors also come with a lifetime warranty, Henderson added. Here’s a breakdown of Henderson’s math on the cost per shaving.
KC Shave Company also offers vintage, or traditional, razors such as straight or single-blade. It’s proven to be a niche part of the market, with Knopke and Henderson noting hesitation from men who are more accustomed to cartridge razors, which are deemed safer to use, they said.
“Some people think it’s overwhelming, I guess, maybe a little scary,” Knopke said, adding that straight and single-blade razors actually get a closer shave compared with modern razors.
Henderson compared using a straight or single-blade razor to using a kitchen knife.
“If you don’t respect that cleaver, and you’re just swinging it around all willy nilly, you’d hurt yourself,” Henderson said. “You’re messing with a sharp object, obviously you have to respect it.”
Scaling the brand
In the span of about two years and with no investors other than the founders, KC Shave Company products are already on shelves in 62 stores in 12 states across the country. As new members of ScaleUp! KC incubator program, Henderson and Knopke are now “exploring international distribution channels,” Knopke said.
“I think the important thing that we found was we’re both serial entrepreneur type of personalities where we both liked to build things: the process of the research, getting our hands dirty, building something and then stepping back and actually seeing what we’ve created,” Knopke said, adding that he sees KC Shave Company as one of his biggest accomplishments.
Knopke, who is also chief executive officer of KC Shave Company, is proud that he’s “able to step back after a little bit of time to see the brand that’s been built and see the product that has been built, a company that’s been built with just the two of us,” he said.
With beards having become trendy again, Henderson and Knopke are “discovering, a lot of those (international) markets have a fairly strong demand for quality products from America,” Henderson said. “We set the trends, they follow the trends.”
Henderson and Knopke began conducting their market research in 2015 and began selling other companies’ shaving products online the following year, they said. By the end of 2016, they were selling their own handmade shaving soaps and beard oils, besides shaving kits that include brushes and beard grooming necessities.
While expanding to supply shaving products for women is on their horizon, Knopke and Henderson found through their marketing research that their target demographic is already women, who are buying gifts for men in their lives, they said.
“We found a lot more success as more women see the products,” Henderson said. “They go, ‘Hey, honey, I know beards are cool right now, but what if it was trimmed? What if you didn’t look homeless?’ There’s a point between homeless and handsome, right?”
Although the founders have no near-future plans to sell the company, like they did with Junkman Hauling, they are operating as if that is part of the plan, Knopke said.
“Every good company has to be built like it’s going to be sold,” Knopke said. “In order to be a successful business owner or entrepreneur, you have to have that mindset.”