Competition: Beastly Blades

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Perhaps not since the first postwar Volkswagen gunned into view has there been such a word-of-mouth consumer success as the Wilkinson Super Sword-Edge razor blade. When it was first introduced in Britain by the stodgy, 1 go-year-old Wilkinson Sword Ltd. (sword cutlers by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). the Super Sword immediately took over 10% of the British blade market. Men who normally scraped through three shaves with the best blade available found they got more than ten with a Super Sword. Its farne spread to the Continent, then to the U.S.; supplies ran short, and now it is practically impossible to find Super Swords in stock anywhere.

Super Swords shave so smoothly because Wilkinson turned a trick that most cutlery makers thought impossible: it managed to put a really keen, lasting edge on stainless steel. But to slow-moving Wilkinson the runaway success of its blades was just a beastly bother, and it refused to move quickly to step up production to meet demand. In fact, Wilkinson's bosses make little secret of the fact that their primary interest is in promoting the steady sales of their high-priced garden tools—among them, the three-edged "swoe" (sword-hoe), which Wilkinson considers the first improvement on the hoe in 2,000 years. They bypassed U.S. drugstores with their, blades and gave them to hardware dealers who tried to lure garden-tool customers by offering them Super Swords as well.

Last week Boston's Gillette Co., the king of razor blade makers, recognized that it could no longer ignore Wilkinson's threat to its markets—no matter how reluctant a threat it might be. Before many months, announced Gillette Chairman Carl J. Gilbert, Gillette will introduce a stainless steel razor blade of its own. Gilbert, too, seemed to regard the new blade as a bit of a bother that would do little to help Gillette earnings. "As we see it now," says he, "the real significance lies in the direction of increased customer satisfaction with our products."