ANDOVER, Mass.—Paris Paquette enters a brightly lighted room in a suburban industrial park here and gathers a yellow plastic basket with his assigned tools, as he has done most every weekday for past six years.
He walks up to one of 20 stations and taps a code into a tablet affixed next to his usual spot. Then he begins a precisely choreographed ritual.
Every step—creating the lather, the number of strokes, the amount of pressure applied—is predetermined for Mr. Paquette and the other men in the room. Their task: Assess 45 attributes of the shaving experience, rating some more obvious ones like tugging and redness, to more obscure ones like “blade feel” and noise.
What once seemed like an overwhelming procedure is now a habit. “I’m programmed,” says Mr. Paquette, a 41-year-old who supervises a pharmaceutical lab when he isn’t moonlighting as a lab specimen. The routine “is part of me now.” One thing he has learned: He doesn’t need shaving cream for a close shave.
Mr. Paquette is one of a dozen members of Gillette’s elite squad of shave testers, the Descriptive Analysis Panel. The panelists—at Gillette, they are simply called “The Guys”—have each completed six months of training aimed at transforming them from men who mindlessly complete a mundane task into “analytical instruments” who detect the smallest variations in shaving tools.
Their work is top secret. The input helps Gillette’s scientists hone the razors it sells to three-quarters of a billion men world-wide, helping optimize coatings on blades and lubrication strips on cartridges. It takes years of testing before innovations like Fusion ProShield Chill Razor Blades can appear in stores with proclamations such as “less tug” and “cooling technology.”
Rival Schick also has a team of shaving pros. Testers for other companies adjust the sweetness of sodas and intensity of perfumes. Food scientists use them to study whether “juiciness” can enhance the “salty perception of meat products.” There are panels devoted to smelling soiled cat litter, diaper pails and armpits.
Gillette formed its current shaving panel in 2010, though it includes three veterans from a previous group who have been at it for 16 years.
Mike Gaudette, a 43-year-old accounting manager, joined the panel six years ago after his sister-in-law pointed out a job listing for a shave tester. “I shave every day anyways,” he says, noting that his facial hair comes in quickly. “I get a five o’clock shadow at noon.”
What started as a way to make extra cash has changed him for the better, making him more attuned to what is going on when he drags a razor across his face. “Before, I used to be all over the place when shaving,” he says. “I have much more of an awareness now.”
Friends and family have a familiar reaction to his part-time gig. “First, it’s disbelief,” he says. The next question: “Can I get some free razors?”
While money is often an initial draw—they get $ 50 a shave—some also find the work challenging and interesting, since they are there to sometimes assess microscopic differences in products. “I consider it to be the best job I’ve ever had,” Mr. Paquette says.
Most testers get up before dawn to hit the testing facility for their shave before their day jobs. The toughest part, panelists say, is retraining themselves to be attentive to several dozen attributes they never thought about before. “We basically had to relearn how to shave in a protocol,” says Mr. Gaudette, who started with an electric razor in high school before moving on to blades.
Gillette, a Procter & Gamble Co. PG -0.05 % division, created the current panel by winnowing a pool of some 200 applicants. A visual screening eliminates guys with slow-growing beards or swirls in their stubble. To make the cut, candidates must pass sensory tests that gauge vision, touch and ability to detect subtle differences. One test involves inserting a hand in a box with three sanding blocks and identifying which is different.
Panelists agree to devote at least an hour each morning to the process, four days a week. They are kept on the panel for years to keep data standardized. They must relearn how to shave in an “unnatural, but clinical” way. Most important, they must have the discipline to repeat the same steps, over and over.
“If you’re OCD, you’ll love this job,” says Beth Goodwin, who oversees the panel for Gillette. After being trained, she says, “there is no more normal.” She should know: She spent nine years as a tester for Gillette, coming in four days a week to shave her legs and underarms.
Brian Kelly, a 31-year-old credit analyst at a telecommunications firm who is on the panel, says it is hard to kick parts of the shaving routine he has been taught. “From a protocol standpoint, I catch myself doing it at home.”
Panelists rate each attribute on a scale of 1 to 15. Gillette wouldn’t disclose all the attributes tested, for proprietary reasons. Nicks aren’t penalized.
Inside the testing room, where observers watch the men shave, every aspect is controlled. The only variable from day to day should be two razors, identified by three-digit codes.
There is usually no shaving cream. Bar soap is preferred, as it helps isolate the performance of the razors. Gillette makes the guys use shaving creams or gels if they are testing a shaving “regimen.”
After a pre-wash, they hold the soap beneath a stream of water set between 95 and 105 degrees. After 10 seconds, they roll the bar 10 times between both palms. Then they gently rub their hands together in 10 circles forming a lather, applied in a sweeping swirl.
An average male takes about 170 strokes to shave, Gillette says. These human instruments get 17 strokes a side. A timer gives them a 10-minute pause to assess their work. They repeat the process on the other half of their faces using the second razor.
To stay sharp, most of the guys keep up the routine over weekends and occasional hiatuses around holidays. Dan Gordon, 41, a biopharmaceutical-firm technician, uses those breaks to try something new.
“I grow a goatee twice a year,” he says. “To change things up.”