Do Men Need Condoms Sent To Their Doorstep Every Month?
A crop of new online subscription businesses want to ship men razors, condoms, and other stuff you'd normally buy at the drugstore. But is it really a good business — or just a marketing ploy?
For $1 to $9 a month, the Dollar Rubber Club will deliver three, six, or nine condoms to your doorstep. The Dollar Shave Club will send you a new razor each month, also for $1 to $9, depending on the quality you select. Similar services cater to other male needs: multiple online monthly subscription services exist for underwear and socks. Another service, called Bombfell, will even send you an entire outfit in the mail every month.
Over the past year, startup companies like these have multiplied, as they all try to capitalize on the idea that men hate shopping and love convenience. Customers and investors alike have latched on excitedly, funneling a stream of cash into these businesses. So is this a new frontier in the way men shop online, a thing men really want and even need — or just a novelty fad that will fade when it's time to renew subscriptions?
"I don't think men are lazy," explains Michael Dubin, the co-founder of Dollar Shave Club. "But the experience of going to shop for the razors is really frustrating. You have to find the locked up case and find the attendant. And they're one of the most regular purchases that men make."
The idea for Dollar Shave Club was born when Dubin met a friend's fiancée's father, who happened to have connections in the wholesale razor market, giving him access to cheap product. The man approached Dubin, who had a decade of experience working at digitial marketing and online video companies, as a potential Internet-savvy partner. Dubin agreed to work with him, and Dollar Shave launched in July 2011.
Men may have been attracted to the idea of convenience and affordability, but it's more likely that they were attracted to Dubin's funny promotional video, which premiered in March 2012, and has attracted 4.8 million views on YouTube. In the short video, Dubin — handsome and charismatic — rides around a factory cracking jokes about the business.
A 23-year-old customer in New York City who didn't want to be named admits the video and its novelty caught his eye. "I thought the video was funny and I ordered it," he says. "I like it a lot but not only for rational reasons. They hooked me on the novelty of it."
Within 48 hours of the video's release, 12,000 other customers were similarly convinced to sign up, which put the company into a supply shortage. Customers were offered the option to cancel and refund, or to wait until the company was able to stock enough razors.
The video also brought on investors. Top tech venture capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz invested around $1 million in The Dollar Shave Club upon seeing the video.
Aileen Lee, the investment partner at Kleiner Perkins who led the investment in Dollar Shave, called the video "innovative." Its pull wasn't just the humor, but Dubin's charisma. Lee calls him "a magical marketer" with "a fantastic vision for delighting customers."
With the company's viral success, naturally, others would want to follow suit. But does it work with other products?
The Dollar Rubber Club launched in June 2012, borrowing both Dollar Shave Club's business model and its name. Instead of razors, Dollar Rubber Club sends men packs of condoms.
"I'm not gonna lie. I absolutely fell in love with Dollar Shave Club," admits Dollar Rubber Club co-founder Daniel Elwell. "Men don't like to shop, but there are things we need on a regular basis. We don't change our shampoo when it's almost empty, but if it's sent to us, that's great," he adds.
The condom delivery business has some obvious pitfalls: unlike shaving, men can't guarantee that they'll need condoms every few days. But Elwell claims, "People tend to be optimistic." The sites analytics show a trend of customers browsing through the various options — and opting for the larger pack.
Online subscription services, it should be noted, have been around for years. Amazon has offered a monthly subscription for groceries and household products (including razors!) since 2007. But Amazon, of course, doesn't offer the fun, hip experience that these newer sites do. Just look:
And of course, mail-order subscription services, like wine or cheese of the month clubs, have been around for decades. And yes, there are newer on-trend, online versions of these food and drink clubs. Lee says she recently received an unsolicited sample for a pork ribs of the month club, for example. (They happened to be really good). There's also a club that delivers artisanal ice cream monthly. But the ploy to get men buying their monthly grooming products on fun websites is both new and on the rise.
In the past year, Birchbox, the definitive MVP of the online monthly subsciption service game, has also tried to gain an edge in the men's market. Birchbox, launched in September 2010, sends samples of various beauty products to women each month for $10, and has raised $10.5 million in venture capital funding. They launched a men's edition in November of 2011.
The original Birchbox for women has largely succeeded as a platform for discovering new products — something ladies are supposed to enjoy doing. Birchbox Man stays true to that goal, while also subscribing to the "make it simple for the guys" approach.
"We believe that guys are definitely more given to stockpiling their favorites when it comes to clothes and grooming products, but they've also got a high appetite for discovery," writes Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp in an email. "They're eager to try things out if you make it easy for them." Birchbox Man costs $20 a month — double the cost of the female version — because it features more "lifestyle" products like notebooks, water bottles or even socks, which are typically pricier than makeup.
Beauchamp says that Birchbox launched the service because subscribers said "that the men in their lives were constantly peeping over their shoulders when they'd get their Birchbox deliveries." The guys wanted a monthly gift of their own — but it had to be easy.
But still — is this a business model people can keep copying, until men have a subscription for every last item they might possibly buy at a store? And why keep the services separate? Isn't it a pain to keep track of so many different accounts and deliveries? Finally, is it even a good business model?
None of the companies interviewed would disclose any subscription or revenue figures, outside of those 12,000 sign-ups in reaction to the Dollar Shave Club video.
Whether it's a viable business model or not, Dubin thinks that people will continue to rip off the idea. "I think some of these services will be successful and others will not. I do think there's a tendency for people to say what else can we do on a monthly basis," he says.
Elwell maintains, meanwhile that the idea of being able to say, "Great, I've got that one thing covered," makes the individual services work.
So, are we on our way to some post-drugstore society where millions of men eagerly await the monthly delivery of their latest razors, toothbrushes, socks, underwear and condoms from five different services? Seems like it might just be easier to, you know, make one trip to the drugstore.