Diane Mastrull: Skull Shaver shows promise as an innovation

The Skull Shaver comes with attachments to trim nose and ear hair (left) and mustaches (right).
The Skull Shaver comes with attachments to trim nose and ear hair (left) and mustaches (right).
Posted: March 26, 2013

The first thing you think when you see John Lyles is: "Boy, is he bald!"

That makes the South Jersey entrepreneur the ideal pitchman for a product he designed out of necessity - the Skull Shaver.

And at least one home-products industry analyst thinks this gleaming head from Cherry Hill with no experience in product development has what it takes to be a success in a market ruled by such big blades as Norelco, Braun, and Remington.

That is, if Lyles sticks to emphasizing the head, as his creation's name highlights, said analyst Debra J. Mednick, executive director at market-research firm NPD Group, who also happens to be married to a bald-by-choice man.

Until now, Mednick said, the dry-shave market has been about the face.

"Nobody that I know out there is focused on a dry shave for the head," she said. "His competition is really wet blades."

Lyles, 46, isn't quite on this journey alone. He's joined by a partner with a receding hairline and neatly trimmed mustache, Neel Kulshreshtha, 56, of Burlington Township, with whom he has worked in the government- and corporate-travel business since 2005 at Airtrak Travel Group Corp. in Mount Holly.

It was that work, which has had Lyles frequently living out of suitcases in the United States and Europe, that provided the impetus to design a shaver. From the time he first rid his head of hair 14 years ago, Lyles had been using shaving cream and blades to achieve a smooth dome. It was more fuss and muss than he had time for.

"I wanted something I could shave real quick with, maybe in the car," Lyles said of his inspirational moment. "I was thinking to myself, 'I wish there was a shaver I could just rub across my head, without lather.' "

He was in Europe at the time. When he returned home in August 2010, he sat down with pen and paper to sketch out his thoughts. Then he went to A.C. Moore, bought some clay, and roughed out a model of his dream shaver. By December of that year, Lyles and Kulshreshtha had formed Skull Shaver L.L.C.

Then came the 21/2-year effort to secure a patent for what Lyles said is the key to Skull Shaver - its horizontal handle. It enables the rechargeable shaver (3 inches by 3 inches and weighing 12.8 ounces) to be cupped by the hand while in use - and enables the user to feel and cut intended areas simultaneously. Battery life is 30 minutes.

In a world dominated by vertically oriented shavers, the horizontal design provides easier access to the back of the head, as Lyles demonstrated.

Despite its name, Skull Shaver, with five rotating, flexible heads that capture and cut hair, also is intended for use on the face. A utility patent is pending, as is a trademark for the name.

"Legal stuff is the worry," Kulshreshtha said. "Too many imitators out there."

Kulshreshtha will be in China in the first two weeks of April to meet with manufacturers - making the shaver in the United States is not economically feasible, said the 14-year Air Force veteran - to help ensure enough supply to meet demand.

Skull Shaver is not in stores yet, but Lyles and Kulshreshtha said they had started to get inquiries from big-box retailers.

Since sales started through Amazon.com in December at $60 a shaver - discounted from the suggested retail price of $99.99 - "several hundred" have sold, Kulshreshtha said. He praised social media as a powerful and affordable marketing tool that enables small start-up companies to avoid the market-entry barriers of costly traditional advertising.

With the help of Kulshreshtha's 26-year-old, tech-savvy son, Wesley, word about Skull Shaver has reached consumers via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and the company's own website, www.skullshaver.com.

Among Skull Shaver's more than 3,000 Twitter followers are barbers, athletes, everyday bald guys, even television personalities. On Feb. 24, Hugh Douglas, football analyst for ESPN and a former Eagles defensive end, tweeted about Skull Shaver: "Bald guys dream right here!!"

Women are on there, too, talking about using the Skull Shaver on legs. For them, Lyles and Kulshreshtha are designing a Lady Contour, which will probably be pink and smaller than the black Skull Shaver but with a larger chamber to store hair. They also expect to have a waterproof version of Skull Shaver out by summer.

Complaints - the shaver is too light, it makes an unpleasant sound - have been few, Skull Shaver's founders say. Dissatisfied customers get full refunds.

"We don't want anyone to keep it unless they love it," Kulshreshtha said.

For amateurs in a market of pros, he and Lyles are showing no signs of jitters. Kulshreshtha pointed out that he moved to the United States from India in 1978 "chasing the American Dream."

"In travel, we were able to challenge the big boys," he said. "We're going to be able to do the same thing here."

Diane Mastrull:

John Lyles shows how his Skull Shaver can keep you bald at www.philly.com/business

Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or follow @mastrud on Twitter.

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