Happy Sunday From Florida! Many of you posted messages wanting to see an interview with a Vendor of Shave Goodies... I wrote to Gary from The ShoeBox Shave Shop and asked him if he would be interested in giving an interview. Gary emailed be back and included his phone number, so I called him. We chatted for a bit and the exchange below is what came out of it. Q: Your story on how your store got its name is that you promoted traditional wet shaving by handing out shaving kits in shoeboxes. Can you elaborate on the story please? A: About 3 ½ years ago. I evangelically, loaned a copy of Leisure Guy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving to a comrade in the cube farm where I worked. That piqued his interest in wet-shaving but he didn’t want to bother picking kit and asked me to order some wet shaving products for him the next time I ordered for myself. I did and he really enjoyed the products and the wet-shaving experience. He & I both, started talking to other guys about old fashioned shaving and they started coming to me to pick starter kit for them too. The “direct marketing” network just kind of grew organically from there. I hope I didn’t cut into Michael Ham’s sales because I loaned my copy of Gourmet Guide to Shaving Edition 1, out to a whole lot of gentlemen. Michael is a man I admire a whole lot and his contributions to modern wet-shaving have been enormously positive. At the time, my favorite online shaving store was the late, lamented and sorely missed “Barberia Italiana” which was run by a true “Renaissance Man”, Giovanni Abrate. Barberia Italiana had great products, unusual products and hard to find products. At the time, the market was dominated pretty much by English products and Giovanni single handedly introduced the USA to the wide, wonderful world of fine Italian shave products. Anyway, I told Giovanni what I was doing, “filling orders” for newbies and he suggested that I just stock up some products all at once and he’d give me a nice discount so I could make a little extra money while helping guys get started into the world of way better shaving. So I bought an initial stock of Merkur HD’s & Treet Platinum (aka Del-Rin) razors, a nice cache of about ½ dozen top blade brands, a nice selection of Omega brush models in Silvertip and Pure plus some boars. The idea was to offer good products at several price points. Initially we limited our “software” to Proraso shave cream and soap, Cella, and Arko Shave Creams and aftershaves. Then I started carrying them around with me in a ShoeBox. One day I’d pack the ShoeBox with razors and blades, the next day brushes, the next day creams and soaps and so on. Customers told other guys and word would go around that the “ShoeBox ShaveShop” was open for business in the 2nd floor break-room or 3rd floor break-room or “wherever” and guys would stop by to see what was in the ShoeBox that day and buy what they needed. Looking back, sales were good. Very good. Even the guys who weren’t interested in switching from cartridges to DE razors saw that a brush and a good soap or cream make a whole lot more skincare & sensual sense than their crummy canned goo. So we were named ShoeBox ShaveShop by our first direct marketing customers. I figured if the customers cared enough to give us a name, I’d stick with it – the name and the business. Q: How long have you been at this? A: Direct marketing started about 3 ½ years ago and we still direct market out of a ShoeBox. I really enjoy direct marketing as I like to talk shaving and it gives customers a chance to feel and handle and sniff the products which you can’t do on the internet. About 2 years ago, Giovanni landed a whale of a dream job with an Italian aeronautics company. The new job required him to travel in Europe and the USA 3+ weeks a month. He decided to sell his shave business because he just didn’t have time to do it anymore. My wife and I discussed buying Giovanni out. I’m nearing retirement and we thought it would be good to have an internet business for retirement. We could make a little extra money which is always helpful in “retirement” and it would keep us “active” in our golden years which is another good thing. My wife knew that the Shoebox was already selling a considerable amount of shave kit just casually with no publicity or advertisement so we reached an agreement with Giovanni to buy his inventory. I built the web-store and opened it as ShoeBoxShaveShop.Com. It was tempting to keep the name Barberia Italiana as it was a well-recognized name with a store of “good will” from it’s customer base. I named it ShoeBoxShaveShop instead because our direct marketing customers had already informally named us and if Giovanni ever decided to get back into the shave business I wanted to keep his old name open for him. Q: Has this venture of yours outgrown your home and required you to set up a shop somewhere? A: Our inventory has grown immensely. Thank goodness we live in a very capacious 5 bedroom house. Since the kids are grown we decided to keep 1 of the extra bedrooms as a bedroom for guests and family and 3 of the extra bedrooms as warehouse/workspace. We are stuffed to the gills with products but we still have room for more since we’re very “organized” people. Q: Have you always been a traditional wet shaver? A: I’m now 61 years old. I started shaving about 1964 – 1965 and at that time old fashioned wet shaving was already pretty much D-E-A-D. Killed by our cultural craving for convenience and speed. So I started off with a Shick Injector and a can of Barbasol ! Shaving was NOT ENJOYABLE, the idea was to get it DONE as fast as possible. So that was pretty much my routine through my younger days. Sometime, probably in the early 70s, BIC came out with super cheap disposable razors and I started using those. When Gillette came out with the Sensor, I switched to that. But I was a brand loyal Barbasol canned goo customer for most of my life Q: When did you start wet shaving then and what was your first kit? A: The idea that there could be a better way, a more enjoyable way to shave never occurred to me BUT I was getting pretty sick and tired of shelling out big bucks for Sensor cartridges. One day, about 10 years ago I figured I’d GOOGLE cartridges to see if I could save some semolians buying them on-line. Lots of sites popped up and not all of them were about cartridges, some of them were about enjoying a good old fashioned wet-shave. So I started clicking around, reading up. The idea of a shave brush and quality shavecream being better “skincare” struck home with me, so I kept surfing, clicking and learning. At some point, I stumbled across Michael Ham’s shave blog “Later On” and Corey Greenberg’s “Shave Blog” and the figurative light bulb turned on in my head and I began to think about shaving in a new light. After interminable reading, reflecting, thinking & re-reading I decided to take the plunge into shaving like Grampa. I figured the savings from switching from cartridges to DE blades would pay off my up front investment in a razor, a brush, blades and a cream pretty quick so I bought a Merkur HD, a pack of Derby blades, a Saville Row 3118 badger brush and a tub of Taylor of Old Bond Street Avocado Shave Cream from one of the top vendors, Charles at QED, and anxiously awaited and anticipated the arrival of my “goodie” box. LOL, the first few shaves were a complete disaster. I was thinking O’Lordy what have I done, but I kept at it and by the end of the week I was getting really good results. More importantly, for the first time in my life I was enjoying shaving. And maybe just as importantly, the time spent shaving felt like “my time”. Now that may sound dumb but you guys who have kids and burdened by the responsibilities of modern family life like mortgage payments etc know what I mean because you probably don’t get much “my time” either. I soon turned into a Night Shaver so I could take more time to enjoy my shaves in an unhurried manner and stretch out “my time” an extra few minutes…..Members of the household soon learned not to pester the ol’Geezer while he was in the Shave Den unless it was something real important like the house had caught fire or a kid or grandkid was injured. Shaving was a great way to finally get 15 minutes or so of my time a day and I highly recommend that aspect of it to all adult males of the species ! Q: One of the reasons I like to order from Shoebox is that you are based in Florida not too far from where I live so I get my stuff very quickly. Where is the farthest away place that you have ever shipped shave stuff? A: When we started, I sat down with my “packing” department (SWMBO) and laid down several principals for the back end of the business: Orders are to be packed like we’d like our orders packed when we order stuff online & orders are to be processed and shipped ASAP even though that means we generally work till pretty late at night. Our shopping cart is not set up for international orders but we do have some very good customers abroad. We’ve shipped to Japan, lots to Australia, some to New Zealand and even to Tasmania. Most of our international shipments are to Canada and the UK. We’ve even shipped Institut Karite (based in Paris) products to customers in France which struck me as rather odd…. We’ve had some customs and delivery problems with several foreign countries like Germany and Italy. International orders require extra paperwork and standing in line at the PO. After a particularly ugly disaster in Germany, we updated the web site to state that we don’t do international orders. Too much hassle and uncertainty BUT we will still serve customers in UK, Canada & AU if they contact us by email to arrange an order. Q: Shave stuff is a very niche market it seems. Are there any special challenges you face as a business owner involved in a niche like traditional wet shaving? A: A niche makes it easier to focus on very specific areas and products and makes it easier to compete and differentiate your operation. If we were selling non-niche, mass market, run of the mill personal care products it would be impossible to compete against huge corporations like Wally World, CVS et al. To a large extent, American consumerism has become boringly, stultifyingly homogenized. Cruise down the main shopping drag of about any town in the country and it’s the same as all the other main drags: same chain stores, same chain restaurants, same everything. Same with modern malls. The structures may vary architecturally but the stores and products are pretty much exactly the same. When I was growing up each town had pretty much unique mom’n’pop stores which had character and the stores in different towns were way different from each other. Brick and mortar retail in it’s modern incarnation is a big monolithic Bore, just cookie cutter everything, everywhere. Q: There are a variety of vendors that people can choose from when shopping for shave supplies. Is there any kind of inter-vendor rivalry out there? Or is there enough business to go around for everyone? A: Guess each vendor might have a different take on that one. We just try to stay focused on offering quality shave kit & skincare products at fair prices, served up with solid customer service. We want our customer service to be the kind of customer service that we’d like to be on the receiving end when we order stuff. We have a lot of return customers and some who are incredibly loyal which tells me we’re on the right track. Q: Have you ever met any of the other well-known vendor’s? Any insider secrets like shave stuff vendor corporate mergers happening out there? A: Giovanni Abrate is the only vendor I’ve met personally. We live about an hour away from each other and get together occasionally. I’d probably be the last to be in the news about mergers and acquisitions so if you know anything in that regard, please tip me off. Q: Without divulging any of your business secrets, can you give us an idea of how you find new and interesting products to add to your inventory? A: Customers are the best source of new & interesting product ideas. Some I pursue and they work out, some don’t work out. It’s an odd thing to me but have found that some sources are very easy to do business with and some are very difficult to do business with. Q: Do you have any plans to add Shoebox house brands to your offerings? A: Many house brands are outsourced with the retailer’s label slapped on them. Even if one creates a cool formulary for say a shave cream & then outsources the production to a soap making operation, you’ve still got potential Quality Control problems unless you’re right there on the spot watching the process like a hawk. So we have no plans for house brands at present BUT I do have some ideas for some creams, so that could change in the future. Right now, we’ll just stick to offering top quality, highly reputable brands to our customers. Q: What is your take on the shavepocalypse? Is it real, or just hype? A: If it wasn’t for the 3rd world our product options would be extremely limited, razor & blade wise. As 3rd world countries get richer over time, you can be danged sure Gillette & other companies will switch out their DE production to cartridge production for the local economies. Take India for instance, a lot of great old style shave kit comes out of India because it’s still such a poor country. Now, I know a whole lot of young Indian guys. Truly, the elite of their country: superbly educated, well-mannered, well-spoken, honest and honorable. Nice young men, like we’d like our sons to turn out to be. Thing is that they all shave with cartridges and goo because to them that’s what successful guys do, only the peons use DE’s and brush creams. Another worrisome cloud on the horizon is the fate of the shave brush. Badger & boar brushes are doomed as they will definitely be “out-lawed” by the goodie two shoes in the EU. Probably sooner rather than later. Omega has invested a large chunk of money over the past few years developing a superb “artificial badger” loft. They are way ahead of other companies in these, In my opinion. Omega is one of the largest brush companies in the world. They make all kinds of brushes, not just shave brushes. I think they see the handwriting on the wall as scrawled by the “righteous ones”, the nameless, faceless appartichicks, running the EU in Brussels and they are being pro-active about it. So hang onto your badger & boar brushes, they could be valuable collector items down the road ! Q: You have a corner on your site for SWMBO. Care to tell us about your SWMBO? A: Former latin beauty queen and still turning heads everywhere she goes ! She has a lot of skills and is very meticulous and a perfectionist. It can be “hard” living with a meticulous perfectionist sometimes but I’ll tell’ya she’s one of the best “packers” on the planet. She packs the orders and it is gratifying that we get a big volume of email from customers who marvel over how beautifully their products were packed. As a carry-over from her pageant days, she’s a classic cosmetics maven and skincare fanatic but the idea behind the SWMBO section was for the guys to pick up a little something extra, a high-quality, effective and hard-to-find little something to tuck into their order for their SWMBO. As many wet-shavers are painfully aware (and it is ironic) that their SWMBO’s may beef about a guy spending a little money on his skincare while they’ll spend 10x or 20x on their skincare/cosmetics over what he spends. So we want to give guys a chance to include her in his shopping. We want your SWMBO to be excited when a goodie box from the ShoeBox hits the door because she knows there’ll be a little something nice in there for her too. Q: Are you a soap guy or a cream guy? DE, Injector or Straight shaver? What was your gear for your last shave? A: My personal kit is pretty simple. I like to use products that are good for my skin. I rotate Wool Fat, Pre De Provence or Institut Karite shea butter for soaps. For creams I mainly use TOBS Jermyn Street (great stuff) & Edwin Jagger SeaBuckThorn (great stuff) & Speick (great & cheap to boot). My razor is a Jagger DE89L usually loaded with a Black Ninja (Gillette 7 O’Clock Super Platinum – black pack). I’ve got a Wee Scot brush. That little runt muscled all my other brushes out of my Den. Since I could have my pick of any of about 200 shave brushes to use, I think that is quite an endorsement for the Wee Scot. For years I felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, praising the superb qualities and performance of the Wee Scot. Since Gary Young has been posting up his fascinating remembrances of the Simpson family and business, I feel very much vindicated in regards to my feelings & experiences with my Wee Laddie. Q: What do you do when you are not shipping shave stuff? A: I like to fish. Fortunately, we live on a seriously Bass infested lake so I like to walk out into the back yard and dunk a plastic worm when I can. I also like to spend time with my grand kids and am very thankful that they are still young enough that they like to spend time with me too !!! Q: If you could meet any notable historical figure, who would it be, what is one question you would like to ask? A: Can’t think of any questions, but there are a few I’d like to THANK !! I’d really, really totally sincerely thank Sir Isaac Newton for inventing Calculus. I’d thank Beethoven & Wagner for all the beautiful moments of sublime joy they’ve given me over my life. Q: Any final rants or raves, hints or tips ? A: I was born 61 years ago, into a great industrial country and I’d like to see my country re-industrialized. We import wonderful products from all over the world and I wish more than anything that we made stuff here, made by American workers, that I could sell. Tips? For new wetshavers: watch Mantic’s terrific vidz on YouTube. They will save you “pain & suffering” and shorten your learning curve to getting BBS Shaves the old-fashioned way. Hints? To thank you and the fine members at The Shave Den for the graciously extended opportunity to share and for their past support of the ShoeBox, I’d like to extend an offer of 10% off anything in the shop from now through Fathers Day June 19, 2011. Just enter “sdfd” into the coupon code box at checkout. So there you have it My Fellow TSD Friends! An interview with Gary from The ShoeBox Shave Shop and a 10% off coupon to boot! Thanks Gary!