An Interview With Will KingPosted on: 02 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
50connect talk to self-made millionaire and shaving entrepreneur Will King.
Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, the eldest of three sons, Will King had no idea he would one day be a self-made millionaire and shaving entrepreneur.
After enjoying life in his local comprehensive school, Will studied engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic in the mid 1980s and began work selling ad space in the late 80s.
Britain was in the middle of a recession and with it, at the age of 27, Will was made redundant and forced to fend for himself.
“I decided to do something for myself. At least then I’d be in control in some way, shape or form - but I had a good idea of what could work,” says Will.
Like a majority of men Will suffered from shaving burn. He found a solution from his girlfriend in the early 1990s by using her beauty products.
“I was spending a lot of time pottering around my girlfriend Ann’s flat and I noticed that she used essential oils for her dry skin. She suggested I try them for my shaving rash.”
“I thought, what the hell. I put this bath oil underneath the foam and shaved, and for the first time in my life didn’t get razor burn. I can only say that what I experienced afterwards was an epiphany moment. I thought, ‘wow, fantastic,’ and the business was born there and then.”
Convinced others would find it fantastic too, Will began learning about essential oils with a view to setting up his own business.
“I read books on the oils and mixed them up together and used my knowledge of engineering and surface tension to work out how the oils could come together. I simply did it all at home, in true British fashion, but out of necessity more than anything.”
“I was determined to make it work but at the same time I believed in what I was doing.”
After finding the formula and producing the oil, Will needed to fill 10,000 bottles of his new shaving oil. Ask him who won Wimbledon in 1992 and he’ll give you a quick answer, “Andre Agassi”. How does he know that?
“I was hand-filling bottles of the original King of Shaves shaving oil over the sink in my kitchen, and having 10,000 to fill I needed an occasional respite. It ended up taking two weeks but it saved us £2,000 that we didn’t have.”
With first year sales of just £300 and losses of £30,000, few would have given Will’s King of Shaves empire a chance, but with second year sales of £58,000 and third year sales of £250,000 the dreams started to roll.
“When you use your own product everyday and it gives you a good result, it’s not like eating something or selling something then you fall out of love with it or don’t like it anymore. Because it kept working for me I felt it was purely overcoming lack of awareness that was stopping us. Most companies overcome that with advertising and millions of pounds but we just couldn’t compete.”
“The sales trajectory was exciting enough to persist with the dream. I put those three points on a graph together and thought, well this could get pretty exciting and maybe we’ll make a million pounds before long.”
“I also had to take a deep breath, a bit of a gulp. I borrowed money from friends and family, and took out loans from the bank which were secured as much as they could be on the assets that we didn’t have. Within five years we’d turned a profit of £125,000 on sales of £1,250,000, and then did £2million the year after, and we’ll do about £26million this year.”
King of Shaves broke into the American markets in 2000, and today they still have products across the continent and in over 1500 Target stores today.
“We’ve an office based in New York so we go over there from time to time to see how things are going. In New York, Miami and in LA I see our product in the shop and it’s mildly amusing. Sometimes if people are hanging around the shaving area I might tap them on the shoulder and introduce them into the brand with my British accent.”
Today King of Shaves are second only to Gillette in shaving gels and shaving preparation products, and Will’s aiming for the company to take a 25 per cent market share in razors and blades by 2012.
That estimation has been given a huge boost with the launch of the UK’s first built razor in over 100 years, the Azor.
“We believe it shaves closer and lasts longer. It’s also cheaper than our rivals and we’ve married that up with performance and styling and we’ve had a great response.”
“Gillette’s Fusion is too big, clunky and overdone in my opinion but then Gillette shaves you close, as does our Azor but ours has been voted as far more stylish.”
“Gillette have had 100 years of people believing that it’s the best a man can get, but we’re new and we’ll just have to hope that people are willing to try our products and see what they think. We’re all about 'less is more' and 'expect more with less'. It’s got my name on it and I’d have never launched it if it was going to fail.”
After nearly 20 years in the shaving industry, Will, now 43, claims his two proudest moments in his life both stem from his success.
“First of all, mum and dad invested in the 90s when a lot of people would have really laughed at the whole thing but they put in a few quid. Now we’ve been able to really financially secure them in a substantial way for the rest of their lives.”
“My dad always wanted to be a pilot and he’s learnt to fly a couple of years ago. He’s now got a plane and a new faster plane on order. At 76-years-old he’s flying around the country meeting rich and famous people and he’s loving life. I’ve been able to reward them for helping me get to where I am.”
“I’ve also always wanted to be a designer and although it’s not a yacht or anything like that, the story really is quite different. I’m now proud to look back at what I’ve done knowing that with a lot of help and support, I’m the one behind it all, and I’ve even got my name on the products.”
By Mark O’Haire
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