Next month, Boston-based Gillette unveils to the public its new Gillette for Women Venus razor and compact in a blister pack that’s as “cutting-edge” as the product itself. The company is proud to point out that Venus operates under 50 separate patents, including advances for the company’s Sensor and Mach3 razors. Some of them are for its packaging.
Working closely with a selected group of suppliers, Gillette has achieved some packaging wizardry:
• The clamshell is molded with tabs alongside the top to hold a flap that’s printed with the principal product identification.
• Attached to that flap, a die-cut and printed collar showcases the razor in its hourglass shape and is sealed to the clamshell base. The base of the clamshell is scored for easy opening through the bottom.
• The decorating of this collar and flap incorporates six-color printing plus two colors of hot stamping, all accomplished with a single pass through the press.
• Replacement blade cartridges are packed in injection-molded polypropylene cups that are hermetically sealed with a five-layer printed lid film. The cups have two breakaway tabs to make them easy to open, even with wet hands in the shower.
• Perhaps most interesting of all, Gillette says that all of its packaging operations are completely automated. Unfortunately, that’s about all that they’ll say about it.
Footsteps and footprints?
Naturally, Gillette would like to focus on the razor, its first triple-blade model designed especially for women, with special comfort edges and lubricating strips, all mounted on a specially shaped handle designed for women. Piggybacking on Gillette’s Mach3 blade technology, Venus is uniquely feminine in shape, color and feel. And, to warrant its $7.49 price, it comes mounted on an injection-molded compact that’s designed for hanging (using a hook that’s included) in the shower. In the primary blister pack with the razor, the hinged compact holds one extra cartridge and the hanger hook.
And even though Venus was not test-marketed, it was so extensively researched that the project from concept to the market took more than three years. Gillette claims that it spent $300 million to bring Venus to the market.
Because this package literally offers more to the woman razor buyer, it could have been a much larger package. However, Gillette and partners felt that the Venus package had to stay within the size parameters established by the pegboards that are common to the razor sections of most retailers.
“To stay within the appropriate size, we had no room in the pack for the brand identification,” says Pamela Parisi, director of packaging graphic design for Gillette’s grooming products. “Since we felt the razor handle would be the key attraction, we didn’t want to cover it up. That’s why we put the logo and brand on the clear flap. It really brings the logo forward, and it creates a real depth to the appearance of the package.”
Flap and collar
To focus attention on the handle and, frankly, away from the compact, Gillette created the femininely shaped die-cut ellipse of the collar that’s sealed to the base of the clamshell. When hanging vertically on a peg, the razor handle and blade cartridge are surrounded by the glow of the soft blue color. However, when a woman picks up the package, its depth and weight communicates the fact that the pack holds far more than a razor and blade.
For the project, Gillette teamed up with several suppliers. The graphics were coordinated with Wallace Church (New York, NY). The clamshell of polyvinyl chloride from Klöckner Pentaplast of America (Gordonsville, VA) was designed in conjunction with and produced by Placon Corp. (Beloit, WI). The collar and flap, along with a paperboard insert at the bottom of the pack, were produced by Diamond Packaging (Rochester, NY). While Gillette injection-molds the replacement cartridge cups in-house, the lidding film was supplied by the Rochester, NY, plant of American Packaging (Rochester, NY). And the packaging operations, at a Pack Center near Boston and one near London, England, are managed by Gillette’s packaging partner, Sonoco Products (Hartsville, SC).
The blister was designed in conjunction with Placon. “We say it that way because our own people at Gillette also contributed to the design,” says Parisi. “But we especially want to give Placon credit, because they worked very hard on this. They have a terrific design team there who worked hard on this project.” A center hole for pegboard hanging is flanked by two other holes for retailers that use a double-wire rack. The back panel is scored with a finger notch for easy opening of the back of the clamshell.
The concept of the collar and flap wasn’t created by any single person, says Parisi. The fact that this piece is sealed precisely in position with the tab then folded over the front of the blister in precise position with tabs in the top blister is an achievement. And, says Parisi with obvious pride, “we automated that too. With our volumes, we have to automate everything.”
When asked about the equipment, Parisi declined to identify the manufacturers or describe the process.
The collar-and-flap piece is a clear 12-mil amorphous polyethylene terephthalate that’s scored and converted by Diamond. It’s printed in six colors by flexo one side, plus hot stamping of silver foil and white on the other side, says Diamond’s Dennis Bacchetta.
Since Gillette didn’t want the cost of a second pass, the printing and two hot stamping steps are all accomplished in a single pass. “You’ll never figure out how that’s all done in register,” Parisi says mysteriously.
In addition, Diamond also produces a shaped fold-over card that represents the package insert and provides the base in the bottom blister of the clamshell. On 10-pt paperboard, Diamond prints offset in four colors outside, six colors inside. This product information pamphlet shows consumers how to hang the compact, how to load blades and how to buy other products. The card is die-cut to make it easier to open, and it has two dots of adhesive inside to keep it securely closed, and probably to automate its loading into the blister.
A fair amount of design also went into the creation of the cups that hold replacement blade cartridges. One replacement comes with the primary pack. Replacement cartridges will also be available in four- and eight-count five-panel folding cartons.
The PP cartridge cup has breakaway corners, designed into the cup itself, which Gillette injection-molds internally, Parisi says. American Packaging does the five-layer lidding material for the cups. “They are geniuses in making layered films,” Parisi says. “We pack the blades into the cups in-house.”
The breakaway tabs on the replacement blades was an answer to women who don’t want to break their nails, Parisi says, “and we have to make sure that the lidding fully comes off, rather than tearing or shredding. We take our blades [and packaging] very seriously,” she says. The cup is hermetically sealed, and it’s been tested under pressure, heat and, of course, water. “It’s perfectly protected against moisture coming into contact with the blade or the lube strip,” says Parisi.
An internal Gillette team works on all phases of these projects. “One of our people worked for months with American Packaging just on the lidding film for the replacement cartridges,” she recalls. “They spent a great deal of time coming up with the exact materials in exactly the right order with the correct adhesives to achieve exactly what we needed.”
“A number of years ago we decided that assembling in our manufacturing plants took up a lot of space, and it wasn’t something that we felt was a core competence,” Parisi reports. “So we set up what we call Pack Centers, which we have all over the world.
“We specify all the materials, we even specify the machinery and put it in place there. We create the package and the process to pack it in-house. When we’re satisfied, then we move it out to our Pack Centers, where it can be done more efficiently. The Venus product is only made and packaged near Boston and near London.” Those are the two centers that are managed by Sonoco, which also does the packaging materials ordering, too.
Parisi was asked why Gillette would skip a test market for an important product launch like Venus. “We do an awful lot of consumer testing on the product and comparative testing against other products,” she responds. “We spend a huge amount of money testing the concept, the product, the advertising, and we do huge blocks of in-home testing.
“With new products, it can be difficult because of confidentiality. Our people literally hand-carry the product to consumer’s homes for testing, and later pick it up from the consumer,” she reports.
Before this packaging was developed, most women didn’t store shavers in the shower because they’d get wet and could be damaged, Gillette’s research learned. “Similarly, women were not replacing the blades often enough because the blades were often kept in the medicine cabinet, but the woman was already in the shower when she realized she should change the blade. So women were not getting as good a shave as they should have, and Gillette was not selling as many blades as we should have.”
When asked about the retail price, Parisi explained that all the components in the product and package are costly, “because we’re giving women a lot more than ever before. This is the first time we’ve had a cartridge head developed exclusively for women.
“The packaging is unique and challenging, but the shaving technology is why we’re charging more for it,” Parisi concludes.