retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

For some disruptive startups, apparently, improving the act of number two is actually the number one priority.

Fast Company has a story saying that “after 150 years, toilet paper is getting an update from a new flock of startups that claim their rolls can seriously improve the butt-wiping experience. All of them have made a sense of humor part of their brands, with names like No. 2, Who Gives A Crap, Tushy, Cheeky Monkey, Bippy, and Peach, a nod to the emoji that’s become code for ‘butt’.”

The industry these startups want to disrupt is considerable, generating some $31 billion in annual sales. The industry also could be described as complacent: “For decades, the major players in the tissue industry, including conglomerates like Procter & Gamble, Georgia-Pacific, and Kimberly-Clark, have treated their products (think Quilted Northern, Angel Soft, Scott, and Charmin) as a commodity, competing largely based on price. And none of them have done much to innovate besides simply selling larger rolls so you don’t need to replace them as often.”

Fast Company writes that the strategies being used by the startups “include using more sustainable materials, eschewing plastic wrap, improving texture, and perhaps most importantly, designing rolls that look beautiful enough to double as bathroom decor. In exchange, they’re charging more than their old-school competitors, which generally sell a standard roll for under $1. Though Who Gives A Crap has prices starting at $1 a pop, Peach charges as much as $3.”

As much as these companies are focused on issues like sustainability and aesthetics, they’re also paying attention to basics: “Many offer subscription programs. Enormous boxes of rolls appear on your doorstep on a regular schedule, so you never have to do a last-minute TP run.” Which, of course, you could do on Amazon with its Subscribe and Save program, but the startups are building it into their value proposition … and in doing so, are building a system that does not depend on traditional retail for success.

Fast Company makes the point that in many ways, this approach mimics that taken by Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club in the razor blade business … and just ask Gillette and Schick if they had any impact.

“In the end,” the story says, “perhaps their biggest impact is that they’re showing the industry’s old guard that consumers are willing to pay more for better-designed, eco-friendlier toilet rolls. If this spurs them to create a better butt-wiping experience, everyone wins.”

And it could be an Eye-Opener.
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