Graham Fish discusses the Male Grooming Industry

While the male beauty industry poses enormous potential for salons, current research and trends indicate that it’s worth educating yourself about the reality of the market before diving in head first. Graham Fish, director of U International Ltd, spoke with Professional Beauty’s Lauren Carter about the widely believed hype and myths surrounding the men’s grooming industry and where the male market is really headed.


Q: How would you describe the current market climate in men’s grooming?
A: Confused, slow growing and certainly nowhere near reaching its potential. The good news is that if the men’s grooming market starts to reach its potential, it is the biggest opportunity in beauty globally, bar none.

Market information sources have shown that the men’s grooming market is only growing slowly in the more developed countries such as the UK (of the order of 1-2per cent per annum) and talking to some key outlets in Australia suggests it is similar here in Australia. Mintel has shown that premium toiletry products are in decline in the UK by as much as 11.8 per cent over the period 2008-2010, which is of huge significance.

We have always felt that guys who say “this modern grooming is not for me!” are in the majority despite them believing they are in the minority. A consumer survey by Datamonitor highlighted a distinct lack of interest in men’s grooming products by as many as 66-72 per cent of men in the US, Australia and the UK. I bet most people reading this article will know men who are what we have termed “grooming cynics or sceptics,” however, if you ask these guys if they know how to shave properly, almost all will admit they do not. If asked about the benefits of a good shave, such as exfoliation a woman can only dream of, they will know very little, if anything. So, importantly – they have very significant needs.

No one has all the answers and this includes manufacturers, such as ourselves, and salons alike. I have not come across an outlet yet for whom introducing more men to quality grooming is not a major objective.

Q: The media often speculate that men’s grooming and male salon attendance is through the roof. Do you really believe this is true, and in your opinion what is the reality of the men’s grooming market?
A: The UK has experienced a recession and a well documented credit crunch that Australia has not experienced quite as badly. Despite this, men’s grooming and salon attendance is growing in good outlets, but not that significantly, which was again backed up in conversation with some key outlets in Australia. For some reason, certain parties seem intent on talking the men’s grooming market up as if everything that is happening right now is the optimum. I think the opportunity of men’s grooming would be better served if it was treated in a more business-like manner and with more open communication. If this were the case, we would see far less outlets and manufacturers making the same mistakes around the globe.

Language and recognition of the fundamental differences between men and women is vital in terms of men’s grooming. Most men want 80 per cent of the benefit in 20 per cent of the time, so keep it simple. Another finding is that most men do not want to be in touch with their feminine side, so do not complicate things with terms such as “metrosexual.”

Q: What types of men’s products are showing the largest signs of growth and why?
A: Skincare is by far the biggest growth category in men’s toiletries. The most significant growth in UK men’s grooming has been with e-tailers (companies that sell online). They have approximately 75-85 per cent of their business in skincare, including shaving products, whereas in salons and barbers it is approximately 85-90 per cent in hair care. We think this highlights a very significant business opportunity that salons and barbers are missing out on.

In qualitative research we have described to groups of men two equal problems: firstly, a degree of flaky, itchy scalp as opposed to the second problem being one or two spots on the face. Then asked which of these they want to avoid the most, and invariably they will say they do not want either, but when pushed for an answer they will look to protect the area they know least about – the face.

It is important not to forget the main element of salon business; which is of course hair care. Although we believe there is the need to be brand focused, be receptive to trying different products in order to ring in the changes and prevent slipping into a routine of the same old products. Do not look to a vote amongst your own stylists as to what is happening and not – we would suggest looking further afield. Styling is the main component in men’s and men-u clay has become our top selling product based on more matt styles, a great fragrance and the need for flexi-control, texture and definition. We have also been surprised at the number of outlets selling and using our shampoos and conditioners – 100ml bottles of ultra concentrate product are equivalent 400ml of regular product. Presenting shampoos and conditioners that are so different and unique in concept really helps, as selling these particular types of products to men is notoriously difficult.

Q: What are the key factors for small business owners to consider when establishing a salon which caters to the men’s market?
A: Research the proposed area and do not over-capitalise (i.e. do not over-invest in lease, design, equipment and staff), even if you think the business plan could justify it. We all go into business ventures and believe they will succeed and go according to plan, but by being investment cautious you are more likely to optimise your return and have a healthier cashflow. Most of what is achieved in the salon is about the service, and thus revolves around staff attitude and performance.

Look at the skill set you have to offer along with your team. It is not always about offering a premium service. Being the very best is usually limited to one area. I have seen what I would imagine are good barbers in small and large shopping centres in Australia that were not necessarily offering premium services, but did have healthy queues. You also have the likes of Detail for Men in O’Connell Street, Sydney, which is owned by Andrew Chim and does just what it says by offering very detailed and quality services with a highly talented creative director and a high degree of staff training. It makes the most of being in a very affluent, CBD area.

My philosophy in business, as in life, is to minimise the number of mistakes I make and I know I am going to make them. Better to learn from others’ mistakes where possible, as it is quicker and far less costly. Rather than being self-taught like a ball in a pinball machine bouncing off some good experiences and some bad. Being self taught is a much more time consuming and costly way to learn.

We strongly believe it is better to be brand-focused if the brand encompasses the range of grooming products most clients need rather than have a large number of brands and large number of products which add to the confusion for the client.

Q: What additional advice would you give to those considering establishing their own salon which caters to the men’s market?
A: Go look at as many outlets as you can and try to talk to those that appear most successful. Have your hair cut there or have a shave or facial.

When you do open an outlet, without exception your staff will have down time when the business is quiet. Make the most of this with them. Help them add value to themselves, their clients and your business. The day goes quicker and they will be far more productive – deep down the vast majority of people want to be good at their job and they will need to be stimulated and don’t be afraid to bring in others that may be able to help. We do this and do not see it as a sign of weakness, but one of strength. Make the most of the internet, e.g. making contact with suppliers and picking up on trends. Good internet communication costs very little other than some of your time but it all starts with no one having all of the answers. If a company does not have the resources or time to communicate with you, then I would suggest they may not be the best supplier for you.

Don’t be afraid to contact other businesses in the men’s market – you will achieve far more by communicating with others. They do not have to be local; they can be the other side of the world, thus removing any competitiveness.

Unfortunately, within men’s grooming we do not seem as well disposed to sharing knowledge and experiences as in the female beauty industry, which is why one can see so many making the same mistakes around the globe. Get the best advice you can; attend business seminars and grooming seminars for salon and barber owners. men-u have been running these in the UK and we will be running similar seminars in Australia later in the year through Weston Imports, our Australian distributors.

Q: What direction do you see the male grooming industry taking in the future? What trends do you see emerging?
A: Here’s the good news – when men’s grooming works, it will be the largest opportunity in beauty bar none, and there are real signs that things are starting to move significantly now if our experiences in the UK with men-u are anything to go by. Men will pay for what they want and need, such as entertainment, audio visual equipment, cars, sport etc. The need certainly exists in men’s grooming, but it does require well trained staff to not only provide a great service but to educate clients. Almost every client that sits in the chair shaves on a regular basis.

We will see more products across the grooming spectrum from hair to skin. In general men tend to wear their hair shorter and prefer very different fragrances to a woman, and this will not change. Hair loss concerns will continue to be a major concern for many males, as will grey hair. However, I do not see hair colouring for men becoming anything like the sector it is for women.

I also think the growth in men’s skincare will accelerate. A man’s face could not be much more different than a woman’s – they have facial hair and shave on a fairly regular basis, plus they have oilier skin as a result of larger sebaceous glands.

Undoubtedly we will see more quality grooming outlets with staff having a much higher degree of male client understanding. The client has the need, he just requires educating, but it all starts with the staff and money we obtain for the services provided. To facilitate this education process for the client, the market needs more new, unique products that are not just different but actually make a difference. That’s the key to winning male clients over.

Contact: Weston Imports (02) 9898 0299.

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