When I first visited John Lyles and Neel Kulshreshtha three years ago, their business survival seemed a real long shot.
They were two unknowns out to make a mark with an electric head shaver in a world dominated by such household names as Philips Norelco, Remington, and Braun.
They're unknowns no more.
Their company, South Jersey-based Skull Shaver L.L.C., has "low-seven-figures" sales, largely through Amazon.com and, increasingly, its own website, skullshaver.com, said Kulshreshtha, president and CEO.
Many of those sales are of their men's shaver, the Bald Eagle, even though the women's shaver, the Butterfly, has had exposure on the nationally syndicated talk shows The Real and The Doctors.
In December, Skull Shaver made its first bricks-and-
mortar appearance in nearly 40 Bed Bath & Beyond stores in the United States. Its retail footprint is expected to grow this year, Lyles and Kulshreshtha said.
Internationally, the bulk of sales have come through Amazon UK. Skull Shaver has just started doing business with a big retailer in Israel and has expansion plans for Europe.
"I think it's going to be a very good year," Lyles said recently at Skull Shaver's new 5,000-square-foot headquarters, an office/warehouse in Moorestown that the company moved into two months ago. It soon will be taking on an additional 4,000 square feet of warehouse space next door. Previously, it occupied a former house in Mount Holly.
That's where I first heard Lyles and Kulshreshtha spell out their business plan in March 2013. Their only product at the time - a men's rechargeable shaver with five rotating heads and a patent-protected horizontal handle to enable a feel-as-you-go shave and easier reach to the back of the head, had been on Amazon.com for only three months.
Kulshreshtha and Lyles had been working together since 2005 in a government- and corporate-travel business. A personal need got them thinking about the shaving market. Lyles, 48, of Cherry Hill, had made the decision 14 years earlier to go bald. Maintaining a sleek dome, however, proved particularly onerous, given all his traveling.
By December 2010, the pair had formed their company and spent the next two years securing patents and improving designs. Since Skull Shaver's market debut, a number of lessons have been learned.
"We faced a lot of challenges because we had no manufacturing experience," said Kulshreshtha, 58, of Burlington. "I had to take seven trips to China."
Manufacturing in the United States "would have been much easier," he said, citing language, culture, and credit problems in dealing with Chinese factories. "But we would have been out of business really quick."
Customer critiques led to several changes. For instance, lithium ion batteries now power the shavers instead of nickel cadmium ones, extending a shaver's use time from 30 minutes to 90, Lyles said. A more powerful motor also is part of the upgrades, as is water resistance.
The Butterfly came out about two years ago, about the time NPD Group, a Long Island-
based marketing-research firm, reported a surge in sales of women's grooming appliances, led by electric shavers.
"An opportunity clearly exists to provide convenient in-home, professional-quality hair-removal products that are safe and easy to use," said Debra Mednick, executive director and home-industry analyst at NPD.
Skull Shaver's line ranges in price from $84.95 to $120 on its website. On the advice of former Shark Tank star Kevin Harrington, the company has developed a $50 shaver, expected to be available for purchase by May, that runs on two AA disposable batteries. Also due by spring, but under wraps for now for competitive reasons, is a hair clipper.
"A simple scan of any street in any town will show you that the way men groom has changed dramatically," said Perry Reynolds, vice president, global trade development, at the International Housewares Association in Illinois.
"Whether it's the bald look or the partial-beard look, people that create unique tools for maintaining those kinds of looks seem to have done very well and seem to have created whole new segments in the personal-care industry," Reynolds said.