EARLY REPORTS HAVE MACH3 SALES GOING SMOOTHLY

Supermarket buyers report fair to brisk sales of Gillette's Mach3 shaving system since it hit store shelves two months ago. Stronger consumer demand is expected to heat up as marketing intensifies.Retailers generally expect that the new razor, with three aligned blades designed for closer shaves, will steal market share from other systems as well as encourage many users of disposable razors to trade

Supermarket buyers report fair to brisk sales of Gillette's Mach3 shaving system since it hit store shelves two months ago. Stronger consumer demand is expected to heat up as marketing intensifies.

Retailers generally expect that the new razor, with three aligned blades designed for closer shaves, will steal market share from other systems as well as encourage many users of disposable razors to trade up, according to those surveyed by SN.

"Sales have been doing fairly well," said Doug Barnett, health and beauty care buyer for Brookshire Bros., Lufkin, Texas. "It will definitely take SensorExcel. It's a better product and those users will switch to the new product."

Other merchandisers believe the new Gillette shaver will cause a shift across the whole shaving category.

Mike Williams, category manager for the Northern region of wholesaler Supervalu in Minneapolis, said category sales were up 18% in the early weeks following Mach3's introduction compared with the same period a year ago, with the new system accounting for 50% of that business.

"It's bringing customers into the category," said Williams. "We expect it will attract the customer now using a disposable razor."

Jan Winn, director of general merchandise/HBC at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., described sales of Mach3 as "very high."

"There haven't been any signs as yet that it is cannibalizing SensorExcel, and we expect growth in the shaving category with consumers trading up."

Al Jones, marketing manager for HBC at Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass., which supplies 500 to 600 stores, noted that "everybody took a substantial supply of the Gillette razors, and we are getting a lot of reorders across the board -- razors and cartridges."

Jones also pointed out that customers may return more frequently for refills, since the Mach3 offers four- and eight-pack cartridges compared with five- and 10-packs for the SensorExcel.

Mach3 is retailing at approximately a 35% premium to SensorExcel. The U.S. retail price for the razor set (razor, organizer and two cartridges) ranges from $6.49 to $6.99. The retail price of a four-pack of cartridges is $6.29 to $6.79.

Schick, Jones also noted, has been "very aggressive" with new launches. "At least from our sales, they have been maintaining their share."

For some retailers, the higher price points have made the Mach3 a tougher sell than expected, at least initially.

"We purchased four shippers of the Mach3 for all our stores, selling it off-shelf since July 20, and we are doing so for another 30 days," said Dan Van Zant, director of general merchandise at Ray's Food Place, Brookings, Ore.

"It's only selling fair," Van Zant commented. "It's not as strong as I thought it would be. The price points are higher than any other item in the category, making it more difficult to merchandise."

But Van Zant noted also that Mach3 "still has sold much better than other recent launches of competitive lines."

Last October the Warner-Lambert Shaving Products Group, Milford, Conn., introduced its latest shaving system, the Schick Protector, with emphasis on its wire wrap technology and a message focused on safety. Protector is aimed at younger shavers, but Van Zant, for one, says it has missed the mark. "We have been very disappointed with the results of the Schick Protector items," he said.

The new Gillette system arrives eight years after the company introduced the Sensor and only four years after SensorExcel, the current category leader. Sensor was the first razor to incorporate spring-mounted twin-blade technology. SensorExcel added a skin guard with five microfilms preceding the blades.