‘It makes little to no sense for a start-up looking to manufacture safety razors, of all things, to commission a specialist machine shop that’s cut its teeth producing satellite bits for the aerospace industry to do it for them,’ Brad remarks as he guides me past a handful of half-million-dollar mills and lathes operating at full steam. ‘The costs would be prohibitive – let alone the fact that machines tooled for aerospace applications would be overkill for manufacturing an everyday item like a razor. Yet,’ he continues, as we pass by a state-of- the-art lathe that’s at least the size of my truck, ‘that’s exactly what Henson Shaving is doing here.’ Letting out a deep laugh, Brad continues: ‘It’s funny how things unfold.’ Indeed. 

It’s a Thursday morning in early October, and I’ve met up with Brad Jantzi at the Cambridge machine shop that he – along with his brother, Ryan – have been operating for over two decades. Until recently the Jantzi brothers’ shop was renowned as a place where hi-tech aerospace outfits from Waterloo Region and beyond would bring fabrication projects that stumped other shops. But then the pandemic hit, and a massive contract was canceled, and the Jantzi brothers needed to figure out how to put their machines – sitting idle – back online. And that’s when they had an epiphany: safety razors. Specifically, they decided that they would design and produce the world’s greatest razor – engineered to extremely tight tolerances, machined from aircraft- grade metals, and manufactured right here in Waterloo Region. Oh, and designed with only one blade, too. 

‘The efficacy of any safety razor shouldn’t be measured by the number of blades it has,’ Brad tells me as we meander across the shop floor, ‘especially if its blades are held in place by flimsy plastic like so many on the market are.’ He continues: ‘The best-performing razors are those with the stiffest blades – held tightly in place with metals like aluminum or titanium. A razor with a single rigid blade held in place by metal will shear for an effortless shave, while razors with multiple blades that shift about will pull – causing bumps and rashes.’ Makes sense to me. And goes against every bit of marketing that the biggest players in the shaving game have produced ever since they convinced me as a teenager that I needed a razor with as many blades as possible. Three. Four. Five. More. It seemed that the sky was the limit, as far as the big players were concerned. Smoke and mirrors. 

And so the Jantzi brothers experimented, and before long Brad and Ryan (along with Kevin Enter, a member of the tech team) prototyped their safety razor. Crafted from billet aluminum (they experimented with brass and stainless steel, too, but found that aluminum was more nimble in the hand) and engineered to hold tight a generic ten cent double-edged blade that extends just 0.0013 inches from the razor (less than the thickness of a single hair), the Jantzis’ razor worked exceptionally well, and was poised to explode the shaving industry. No gimmicks. There was just one problem, though: the two brothers had never marketed a consumer product before. Luckily enough, Brad and Ryan just so happen to have another brother, Daniel, who just so happens to have cut his teeth working in digital marketing and e-commerce for a number of Waterloo Region start-ups and technology companies. And so the brothers who manufacture approached their brother who markets and asked him for a hand. And that’s when things got rolling. 

The first two things that Daniel (along with Ashly Knox, who worked with Daniel in digital marketing and e-commerce) did to help his brothers market their razor was design a website for it and come up with a name for the new business. ‘We decided on ‘Henson’,’ Ashly, who has joined Brad and me at the machine shop, tells me as we make our way up a stark staircase to the second floor, ‘named after William Samuel Henson, a British nineteenth-century adventurer-type who worked in early aviation and also, in 1847, invented the T-handled safety razor.’ And so Henson Shaving was born. Between July 2020 (when the first Henson razors went online) and June 2021, the business grew so fast that both Daniel and Ashly quit their jobs to work full- time as CEO and COO/CMO, respectively, of the business. The company also hired five full- time employees to help them continue to build out the shaving brand. Meanwhile, Brad and Ryan – along with their forty-plus employees at the machine shop – had their hands full keeping up with production. 

‘In the past two years alone,’ Brad tells me as we pass by more giant instruments as well as a room filled with at least a half dozen people packing razors in boxes and fulfilling orders, ‘we’ve invested almost five million dollars re-tooling machines and purchasing new equipment for razor production.’ I can’t even fathom how many razor sales are needed to pay this off. Brad gives me a clue: ‘Currently,’ he notes, ‘we’re producing almost twenty-five thousand razors a month.’ Ashly chimes in: ‘And we’re on track to gross north of twenty million in sales this year.’ In safety razors, of all things. Sold almost exclusively online through digital marketing and e-commerce. Born out of a pandemic pivot. Everything about this story is fantastic. 

Among the earliest adopters of Henson razors were so-called ‘wet shavers’ – no-nonsense shaving enthusiasts who search for the best shaving products. ‘It was great to hear that they supported what we were doing – and were vocal about the product on their online forums and beyond,’ says Ashly. Today, ‘wet shavers’ make up just a miniscule portion of Henson’s global audience. ‘Currently,’ Ashly tells me, ‘we sell Henson razors to men and women worldwide, with eighty-five percent of our business coming from the States, followed by Canada, Japan, and then the rest of the world.’ 

Brad leads Ashly and me across the shop from the fulfillment area towards two rooms filled with neatly-arranged tanks of some liquid or other. ‘A portion of our investment has gone into building out these anodization lines,’ Brad tells me proudly, ‘which we designed and constructed so that we could anodize razors in-house.’ As someone who grew up mountain biking in the nineties, anything to do with anodization – that is, treating aluminum (and sometimes titanium) with a thin coat that adds colour and hardness to the material – gets me very excited. Back then I dreamed about purple anodized stems, and blue anodized hubs, and red anodized cranks, and gold anodized headsets. I lusted after them. Today I’m dreaming about red, blue, gold, and black anodized Henson razors, and lusting especially hard after the company’s more limited razor made from titanium – the material of the gods, as far as cyclists of my vintage are concerned. 

As a fan of EDC (or ‘everyday carry’), I am certain that a Henson razor is just what I need in my collection of well-built, aesthetically- (and haptically-) pleasing, functional items. ‘It’s definitely built to last,’ Brad tells me when I describe my excitement about owning one. And comes with a lifetime warranty too. ‘And while Henson razors aren’t cheap on the front end, in the long run they’re way more affordable than disposable ones,’ he adds. Less waste too. Indeed, after someone’s become the proud and deeply-satisfied owner of a Henson razor the only ongoing cost is for double-edged replacement blades – which are readily available directly off the Henson website for about ten cents per blade. It all sounds irresistible to me. 

Much like Waterloo Region, which was built on manufacturing (in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries) and the tech industry (in the twenty-first century), Henson is built on industry and technology – the sort of success that follows vision and industry, the ability to recognize and seize opportunity, and the courage to pivot and innovate. As my tour of Brad and Ryan’s machine shop comes to an end, I can’t help but marvel at the Henson success story.