The Life of Will King, The Founder of King of Shaves

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When Will King decided he wanted to call his shaving oil
King of Shaves, he faced a problem. Using the words ‘King
of’ was deemed to be a laudatory trademark implying that
his product was the best, and so was not allowed.
Undaunted, King simply hired a patent attorney and
argued his case in the European Patent Court. He won.
King has never been one to give up easily. Brought up in
Lowestoft, Suffolk, where both his parents were teachers, he
learnt to sail while still at school and soon became passion-
ate about it. By the age of 15 he had become the UK’s young-
est sailing instructor. He says: ‘I was quite introvert at the
time and I was not that happy at school because my dad
taught there and I took a bit of stick for being a teacher’s son.
But then I found something that I was really good at.’
His passion for boats led him to apply for a degree place
at Southampton University studying ship science and yacht
design. But he didn’t get the A level grades he needed to get
on the course and suddenly found himself adrift. He
managed to get a place on a naval engineering course at

polytechnic but while he was away in New Zealand on a
gap year the course changed to mechanical engineering,
something he had no real interest in. He says: ‘It was design-
ing gas turbo engines and my maths wasn’t that great so I
really had to work very hard at it.’
Things went from bad to worse. He found out that Simon
Le Bon, the lead singer with pop band Duran Duran was
hiring crew to sail his boat Drum and so King decided to get a
place on board and run away to sea. But he got to the boat-
yard a day too late. He says: ‘If I had gone on Thursday after-
noon instead of staying for a maths lesson my life would have
been completely different. I was absolutely distraught.’
After a few days staying with friends on the Isle of Wight
he decided to ring his parents and ask their advice. They
told him to go back and finish his degree, so he did. When
he graduated in 1987 his parents told him it was time for
him to get a job. So with no idea what he wanted to do King
applied for a job selling advertising space for a marketing

magazine which promised a big salary if he met sales targets.
He threw himself into the challenge.
He says: ‘I have always believed that persistence is a good
value to have so I started making 220 calls a day to have nine
effective calls to close two or three deals. It was very eye-
opening. I learnt a huge amount. If you didn’t put in the
volume of the calls you weren’t going to get the sales.’
King found he was good at selling and after three months
he was offered a job with a conference company selling
events. He set himself a target of doubling his salary, learn-
ing to drive and buying a flat within his first year. He
achieved all three.
But then things started to go wrong. Recession hit and the
company he worked for found itself in trouble. King had to
make people redundant and was then made redundant
himself.
He realised, however, that although people had stopped
spending money on conferences, they were still buying
small essential items such as batteries and razors. So he
decided to find a product he could sell himself. He says:
‘I decided that however bad things are people will always

need a product of some sort. And I wanted to be master of
my own destiny. So then it was just a matter of deciding
which product.’
He soon found that his big idea lay right in front of him.
King had always had trouble shaving because he had sensi-
tive skin and the razor would leave his face itchy and bleed-
ing. So one day his girlfriend suggested that he put some
bath oil on his skin before shaving and see if it made a differ-
ence. It did. He says: ‘It felt fantastic. I didn’t get any razor
burn. I thought if this works for me, it will work for other
people.’
Inspired by the discovery, he bought a selection of exotic
and essential oils from an aromatherapy shop and mixed
them together at home to create a shaving oil. Then he
tracked down the supplier and bought large quantities of
the oils, funding his venture by taking out a £10,000 loan
and borrowing £30,000 from two friends in return for shares
in the business.

He says: ‘I filled 10,000 bottles by hand at home. It took me
two weeks.’ He initially thought about calling his shaving oil
Sunrise, because the sun rises in Lowestoft, where he lived, as
it is the most easterly point of the UK. But one day he was
playing cards with his father who turned over the king of
spades and suggested he called his oil King of Shaves.
King quickly decided that if his oil was going to be a success
it needed to be stocked by Harrods. So using his cold-calling
techniques he managed to talk to the owner Mohammed
Fayed in person and persuade him to take his oil.
However, making the business a success was hard work.
By the end of the first year King had made sales of just £300,
with most of the oil sold to friends and family, and had
racked up losses of £30,000. When he needed £10,000 to pay
for a publicity campaign he had to sell 12.5 per cent of the
company to a friend’s brother.
He also had to overcome much scepticism. He says: ‘We
had this tiny little bottle of oil and nobody believed it would

work. When I told people I was going to go up against
Gillette and change the face of shaving, they would yawn
and say: “How are you going to do that?”’
Indeed, people were so convinced he was heading for
failure that King started up a sideline business selling surf
clothing called Bodyglove, which had featured on the televi-
sion show Baywatch. It was a bad idea. He says: ‘It was a
nightmare. Everybody thought the clothing business would
work really well but none of the surf shops paid their bills
and it was hugely time intensive. After two years I closed it
down and then I realised I had nearly mucked up King of
Shaves because I was juggling too many balls.’
Fortunately, in 1994 he persuaded Boots to stock his oil
and by the end of his second year in business sales had risen
to £58,000. He says: ‘It sat on a Boots shelf with a sad little
home-made label stuck on the front of the bottle. But it
worked and because it looked quite amateurish people said:
“I’ll give it a try.” I would get phone calls and letters from
people saying how it had transformed their life.’

King also worked hard to get editorial coverage in the
new wave of men’s magazines such as FHM and GQ.
In 1995 he launched a second shaving oil and the follow-
ing year he launched a range of men’s skin care products. By
now he had run out of money so he managed to get a
£100,000 loan and started invoice discounting to bring in
more money.
It was a turning point for the business. King of Shaves
products began to be stocked in major supermarkets and the
company started making fragrances under licence for the
clothing chain Ted Baker.
King launched a men’s razor, the Azor, in 2008 which has
done extremely well. The business, in which King has a
substantial minority stake, is expected to have sales of at
least £30 million in 2010.
Now 44 and divorced with one son, King thinks the
secret of his success has been to create a product that

people actually need. He says: ‘You have got to be able to
demonstrate that there is a reason for it in people’s lives.
Why isn’t there a five-wheeled car? Because people don’t
need it.’
It also comes down to a large dose of self-belief. He says:
‘You can do anything if you believe you can do it and you
have the persistence to actually get on and do it. I enjoy the
challenge of doing what people might think is absolutely
impossible. People think that Gillette is completely unassail-
able sitting at the top of the tree. But big companies were
small companies once and people forget that.’

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