The acquisition of Dollar Shave Club by Unilever for $1 billion in cash gave the London-based consumer goods giant its first razor business. It also gave a shot in the arm to the L.A. tech scene, which has had a mixed record with e-commerce companies.
A number of local e-commerce startups, such as lifestyle e-retailer BeachMint, shoes subscription service ShoeDazzle, and fashion brand NastyGal, have failed to live up expectations set by heavy venture capital investment.
Dollar Shave Club’s large exit could help shift that conversation.
“Dollar Shave Club’s valuation and the size of the exit really support the investment thesis in the general e-commerce space,” said William Hsu, managing partner of Santa Monica venture firm Mucker Capital. “It’s a category that’s somewhat beleaguered across the board in the last 12 months in the VC world.”
In fact, what made Dollar Shave Club so attractive is its ability to cheaply acquire new customers with savvy branding, said Chirag Chotalia, a principal at Menlo Park’s DFJ and a former vice president at Pritzker Group, an early investor in the company.
“Because they were able to create an organic community it lowered their customer acquisition costs,” he said.
Michael Dubin, chief executive of Dollar Shave Club, spurred his company to growth with a marketing video that went viral on the internet and a humorous marketing scheme.
“It’s called Hollywood,” said Hsu. “L.A. is a consumer town. We understand the consumer mind-set and how to build stories.”
Dollar Shave Club had sales of $152 million last year and is projecting more than $200 million this year. Some 3.2 million people subscribe to its razor delivery service. The company is reportedly not profitable.
Taken together, operating at a loss and generating sales of $152 million make its price tag appear high, said Ali Dibadj, an analyst at AllianceBernstein in New York.
“Clearly they must have a view that it will continue to grow, maybe in store or globally. Unilever is buying the Dollar Shave Club of tomorrow, rather than of today,” he said. “Four or five times revenue is expensive.”
Unilever thinks it will be able to justify its acquisition by leveraging its global consumer package goods empire and making use of Dollar Shave Club’s branding and customer insights, Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever North America, said in a statement.
Perhaps the biggest appeal to Unilever has been Dollar Shave Club’s ability to upend the razor industry. Gillette’s razor business reportedly had a 60 percent gross margin before it was acquired by Procter & Gamble Co. in 2004, but has been suffering declining sales and shrinking market share in the face of lower-cost rivals such as Dollar Shave Club.
Procter & Gamble’s share of the men’s razor industry in the United States fell to 59 percent last year from 71 percent in 2010, according to research firm Euromonitor International. Dollar Shave Club had 5 percent of the market last year.
“It’s a big disruption for the industry,” said Dibadj. “It basically says (Unilever) is going after you.”
Dollar Shave Club declined to make Dubin available for comment.
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