Vendor Interview # 4
An Interview with John from West Coast Shaving
On May 6, 2006 a member of B&B put a post in the BST Forum to provide blade sampler paks. This idea was "cutting edge" since the concept of providing a range of different and some hard-to-find blades in one sampler pak had never been done before.
That member, was our own John (letterk) and the blade sampler pak is his innovation.
This sampler pak thread has since been viewed over 33,000 times and has provided hundreds of shavers, both beginners and experienced wet-shavers, with the opportunity to obtain a variety of the best blades available in one sampler pak. This ultimately led to the birth of West Coast Shaving.
Over the years, B&B has posted several interviews with vendors whose products are utilized here at B&B, i.e. Scott Policar at Cambridge Chemists, Danielle Malka at eshave and Sue Moore at SCS.
We had approached John on several occasions to share the origins of West Coast Shaving but he has always politely declined in light of the fact that he is also a moderator extradordinaire at B&B.
However, persistance has finally paid off and John has graciously agreed to be interviewed and share his story with us.
B&B: First of all, thank you for agreeing to do this interview.
WCS: Agree? You bribed me. Now, where are my crepes?
B&B: When did you develop the idea for a blade sampler pak and how did this idea come about?
WCS: The idea came about in my early days on the forum. While I would love to say I used my business background, analyzed the market, found a niche, created a business plan, etc… that would be far from the truth.
In a nutshell, I wanted to try all the blades talked about on the forums without my wife killing me for spending $100 on razor blades (as some blades were only available in bulk, overseas, etc...).
After a quick "are you interested" thread, I realized I could offload the balance of the blades to a few other members before my wife found the shipping boxes. And that was supposed to be it. However, soon after the batch was sold, a few people PM'd me asking if I'd do it again. It wasn't that much of a hassle, and I felt like giving back a little because I learned so much from the site.
I sold the blades at cost or traded them for other products thinking it would go away shortly. I bounced around different suppliers (if I was buying some QED soap, I might as well order Merkur blades from Charles this time around, etc…), and currency changes affected some costs.
After a few months of a pack here and there, the quantities started to increase and I could get some slight discounts from suppliers. While it wasn't much, it created a bit of profit. Once that happened, my wife realized I wasn't a lunatic (no comments Nick!) and greatly reduced the complaints about the blades.
B&B: When you initially offered sampler paks, the sticky that is currently in the BST forum was the only source where they were available. What prompted you to develop a full-blown website dedicated to the various blade sampler paks?
WCS: The website grew out of necessity. As you said, in the early days, everything was done by PM and PayPal. People would PM me with an order, I would send them the price, and they would send a PayPal payment. I would then PM back saying I got the payment and ship it.
As the number of orders increased, I had to come up with a more automated solution. Doing so required much greater accounting detail and I learned quickly PayPal and Quickbooks do not work together efficiently without something in between. My wife came up with the name West Coast Shaving and I migrated everything to a dedicated site where we still are today.
B&B: How did you initially decide which blades you wanted to include? Was this a trial and error proposition?
WCS: The blades offered were the blades the forum said were the best. As I had only tried Feather blades, I trusted the wisdom of the group. I had no desire to try blades people generally found sub-standard. I still feel that way today.
I have since added a few other blades to the original "Big 5", but in every case it's been due to mass approval of the general forum members. I've also sent blades to other members asking for their input, but in general, it's the B&B's members that makes the decision. I have never added a blade based purely on my own experiences.
B&B: Does anyone help you with the running of day-to-day operation of WCS?
WCS: West Coast Shaving would not be able to serve the wet shaving community as well as it does without the fantastic support and effort of my wife. Honestly, she does the bulk of the time consuming work now, as she packs and ships most of the orders. With little kids, a full time job, and the normal requirements of life, she makes it all work. She really is terrific.
B&B: Which sampler pak is the best-seller and in your estimation why do you think this particular one is a favorite?
WCS: As you can imagine, popularity of any particular pack has changed over time, but right now it's the Extended Pack followed by the Choice Pack. I think it comes down to the largest selection for the Extended Pack and the price-point of the Choice Pack.
B&B: Which blades are your personal favorites?
WCS: By far, my personal preference is the Swedish/UK Gillettes. However, the Red Pack Israeli blades are close.
B&B: How many blades do you keep in stock?
WCS: I'll let you figure it out from the pics.
Blade Storage Room at West Coast Shaving
B&B: Which blades have you noticed recently gain increased popularity?
WCS: The Red Pack Israeli have really taken off. They were only introduced to the Sampler Packs a few months ago, so not many people had tried them. Now that more people have tried them, the word is getting out that they're good and inexpensive.
B&B: How about the alternative? Which blades have recently decreased in popularity?
WCS: UK Wilkinson. I'm not sure why the decline with this blade, but the orders for this blade have generally declined. However, I have noticed a little increase this past month, so maybe there is some renewed interest.
B&B: Are there any new razor blade companies on the horizon, that you know of, coming out with new razor blades that you may add to your selection?
WCS: While not new, there are a number of companies that are expanding into North America. I watch the market closely, and get samples of blades frequently, but nothing yet worth mentioning. There is one blade that I may add shortly if the supplier is able to work with me.
B&B: How much contact do you have directly with razor blade companies, i.e. Derby, Gillette when ordering blades.
WCS: It depends on the company. As you can imagine, there is no contact with Gillette (P&G). Other companies are more interested in working directly. I buy both from manufacturers and distributors.
B&B: Which countries do you feel produce the best razor blades and why?
WCS: The ASR Israel plant is producing some nice quality blades. I mention them specifically because they produce a variety of blades, rather than one. I'll change my answer when I have confirmation about the location of the Swedish/UK Gillette plant. You also have to consider Japan right up there as well.
B&B: In your estimation, how stringent are quality controls regarding blade production in overseas factories.
WCS: Overall, I believe blade production QC is pretty good, however, it really depends on the plant. As you know, Japan is fanatical about QC, and that is apparent in Feather Blades.
B&B: Do you plan on expanding the type of products you have available at WCS?
WCS: Early on, I decided I didn't want to compete with our wonderful established vendors. I wanted to complement them. In fact, I've worked with a number of them. However, that isn't to say you won't see some new things show up soon.
B&B: I have to ask you, what at is your favorite razor/blade set-up?
WCS: Futur & Swedish/UK Gillette. Second place is a Tech and Red Pack Israeli.
B&B: Finally, what is your explanation for this?
WCS: It speaks for itself.
B&B: Thanks to John for taking the time to share this behind-the-scenes look at the origins of West Coast Shaving. It has been a pleasure.