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The Most Remarkable Salesperson Who Ever Lived

Aug 17, 2007
A friend of mine once asked me this question: Who was the most remarkable salesperson you ever met or have ever heard about?

After stammering around for a moment, I said I think I have an answer. The person I am thinking about was a great salesperson, an inventor, an idealist, a manufacturer and a financier.

This individual made money happily, no doubt about that, and his picture was in every town in the world, almost in every street. He was universally recognized.

King C. Gillette, the inventor of the safety razor, was the most remarkable salesperson I ever heard of. In actuality, his true invention was a high profit margin, stamped steel disposal blade and a unique business model. Up to his invention, the old straight edge razor had been in popular use since the 1700s.

Few people know the extraordinary story of Gillette. He lived in London during 1904, where he sold "Crown Seal" corks. At that time, his razor business was unknown and he was just getting it started.

His razor blade production began in 1903 when he sold a total of 51 razors and 168 blades. The following year, 90,000 razors and 12,400,000 blades were sold. By 1908, the corporation had established manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada, England, France and Germany.

Razor sales reached 450,000 units and blade sales exceeded 70 million units in 1915. In 1918, when the U.S. entered World War I, Gillette's company provided all American soldiers with a field razor set, paid for by the government. Gillette supplied 3.5 million razors and 36 million blades to U.S. soldiers. These solders became long time Gillette customers long after The War was over. Gillette was now wealthy and the company prospered.

Gillette's razor retailed for a substantial sum of $5 (almost $134 in 2006 dollars). This was approximately half the average working person's weekly pay, yet it sold by the millions.

He created an entirely new type of razor and sold it to millions of people at a good price.

Gillette's full name was King Camp Gillette. He was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, January 5, 1855 and died July 9, 1932 in Los Angeles, California.

King grew up in Chicago. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 devastated Gillette's family and they lost everything. Because his father struggled to make a living, King had to make his own living in his early years and remained in Chicago while his family moved to New York City.

King was the youngest of three boys. The boys were encouraged to work with their hands, to figure out how things worked and how they might work better.

Early in his career, King made his living as a salesperson. He was a visionary, however, fond of new ideas. Gillette set high goals for himself. His biographer, Russell B. Adams, notes that, "Gillette planned to build first a better world and then a better razor blade".

In his early days, his vision was to find a way to abolish slums. He believed that poverty was preventable and maintained that the supreme crime of the world was to allow children to be born in the midst of filth and squalor. He had strong socialist leanings and wrote several books on the subject.

In 1890, Gillette married Atlanta Ella Gaines, a daughter of an Ohio oilman. They had one son, King Gaines Gillette. Both were at his bedside when he died.

Gillette met William Painter, who had originated the "Crown Seal" metal cork, a stopper inserted into beer and water bottles. This was the standard used in the bottling industry at the time.

One day in 1891, Painter said to Gillette, "Why don't you invent something that makes a person keep on buying from you as long as he lives? There is no use selling just one thing to a person. You want something that is used, and then thrown away".

This suggestion was the originating cause of the Gillette razor. Gillette thought for weeks about how he could invent a perishable necessity; he became obsessed with the thought.

One morning as he was shaving himself, his razor was dull. His beard was stiff. He was scraping painfully away at his face, when, in an instant, he thought why not invent a better kind of razor? He thought; why not invent a removable edge razor?

He put down his razor and with lather on his face, began to sketch out the design of a new razor, which would consist of a blade and a blade-container.

In 30 minutes, he had his plan. Then he finished scraping his face, rushed out and bought some steel tape, a file and some other things. Gillette then wrote his wife a letter who was visiting family in Ohio and stated, "I have got it our fortune is made".

In 1895, Gillette had his first patented razor. At first, though his razor was a failure. His friends, and he always had plenty of them, teased him unmercifully about his freak razor.

People laughed at Gillette and his silly razor. What is important to remember is that every venture capitalist who met Gillette during those early years might have owned some of the Gillette shares for a pittance.

Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, shaving was a nuisance, sometimes even dangerous. That all changed when Gillette founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1901 and began selling safety razors with disposable blades two years later.

In 1900, Gillette met William Emery Nickerson, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a man of unusual skill who helped perfect the razor.

With a zeal for his fledging company, Gillette was able to arrange the needed financing.

Until 1902, he had not sold one razor. In desperation, Gillette began giving them away.

He gave one to John Joyce. Joyce shaved with it, liked it and agreed to buy $60,000 worth of shares.

The little razor company then began to sell a few razors, but Gillette had to continue to support himself and his family by selling steel corks for his friend William Painter.

In 1904, the right advertising man came on the scene. He was the last link in the chain of success. In 1904, King C. Gillette obtained another patent on his safety razor.

The razors began to sell and money rained down on Gillette. His old employer, William Painter, bought $40,000 of shares.

Gillette was wise enough to keep a large number of shares for himself.

Gillette invented a PERISHABLE NECESSITY, something that compelled buyers to become permanent customers.

Gillette's success came because he had IDEAS. He first got an idea and then he put his mind and will behind it.

Fame and fortune were now his constant companions.

His business, known as the razor blades business model, makes money not on the razors themselves but on the replacement blades.

Later in life, he traveled extensively. He was universally recognized from his picture on the packets of razor blades. People were surprised that he was a real person rather than just a marketing image.

He had financial difficulties at the time of his death, even though he had made millions. He lost a major share of his wealth due in large part to spending large amounts of money on property that declined in value. His corporate shares lost much of their value. The Great Depression was not kind to Gillette.

King C. Gillette always put Ideas first, and always had big ideas. He created a new idea. He shaped this idea into a fact; and then he sold this fact to the clean-shaven men of the civilized world.

The Gillette Company continues to thrive and sells products under a variety of brand names including Gillette, Braun, Oral-B and Duracell. It did so until 2005, when the company was sold to Proctor and Gamble for $57 billion.

On May 4, 2007, the National Inventors Hall of Fame inducted King C. Gillette into their Hall of Fame. Today, more than 600 million people around the world shave with a Gillette product. More than 100 years later, his disposal razor product is still in use. The global blades and razor business is estimated at $11 billion today.

If King C. Gillette is not the most remarkable salesperson who ever lived, he certainly belongs among the most extraordinary.
About the Author
Bob Bergeth currently consults with and leads hundreds of home-based entrepreneurs. His specialty is recruiting, training, motivating and leading. He has a Ph.D. and is President of International Mergers & Acquisitions. He publishes a popular newsletter, The Freedom Express: An Insiders Analysis of Home-based Businesses. Contact Bob at
Wealth Building 101 or http://www.mymangosteen.com/dream/
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