3 keys to winning the booming premium men’s grooming segment

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3 keys to winning the booming premium men’s grooming segment

By Sam Swartz, Duke Cannon - 10/11/2019

“Dude, what shower soap are you using right now?” my friend asked.

“Honestly man,” I answered, “it’s some teenage body wash brand with a scent called ‘Swagger’ or something. I’m not proud of it.” 

“Dude, I know. I use the same brand. It’s so embarrassing.” 

This was the quick, bourbon-fueled conversation my business partner and I had in 2010 that precipitated us quitting our comfortable corporate jobs to launch our own brand of men’s grooming goods. The gap in the marketplace was too large to ignore. On one end, you had large, mainstream brands catering to teenage boys with sophomoric — and sometimes misogynistic — advertising, or you had super-premium brands that catered to Wall Street traders. The everyday, 25-to-45 year old guy looking for quality goods and relevant branding? Well, he was all but being ignored. 

The Duke Cannon brand was born out of a desire to meet the needs of that large, underserved market. We call that market the Mainstream Upgraders, and they represent 1-in-4 males, or more than 10 million American men, between the ages of 25 to 44, according to MRI-Simmons research. These guys are educated with above average income and below average free time. They are the exact dudes who are likely to stop at a drug store to fill their immediate grooming needs out of convenience. 

Of course, we were not alone in our insight to cater to this valuable demographic. Over the past few years, a handful of brands have entered the premium men’s grooming segment, fueling the category and helping to offset the losses in men’s shaving. According to Mintel, the premium men’s grooming segment is expected to grow 8% per year through 2022, while the total category grows only 2% per year. This is a blended rate, however. It’s important to realize that progressive retailers that are placing big bets on premium men’s grooming are far exceeding the category norms. 

We understand, however, that space is even more limited in smaller format environments, so it’s critical to place the right bets. Based on our experience with trendsetting retail partners, here are the keys to winning with premium men’s grooming: 

1. Remember that brands matter 

In an age where almost anything can be contract manufactured, we’ll admit that it’s not hard to launch a SKU of soap or shampoo. It’s hard to launch a brand that matters to an increasingly discerning audience, however, and brands do matter in this category. According to MRI-Simmons, 57% of men would pay more for a purpose-driven brand. Duke Cannon, for example, employs a mature blend of humor, while celebrating positive virtues like hard work and chivalry, and giving back 5% of net profits to veterans’ causes. The brand appeals not only to men, but the women who often buy for them. Similar brands that offer substance to go along with their style are best poised to win. 

2. Offer full assortments to capture the wide swath of grooming needs 

It may be obvious to some, but men often can be creatures of habit. When they find something they like, they tend to stick with it. And if a man likes a brand’s soap, he’s more likely to buy its hair wash or beard balm. Therefore, prioritize generalist brands that offer a full assortment and simplify the decision process instead of looking at a number of specialist brands focused on different segments. 

3. Merchandise prominently

Traditional retail wisdom suggests it’s best to dedicate the most valuable display space to the biggest and most established brands. Yet, we’re seeing the most progressive retailers — the ones enjoying the most incremental growth in this segment — dedicate premium endcaps to newer, up-and-coming brands. Not only does this help drive trial of the newer brands, but it creates a sense of cachet and discovery that elevates the status of the whole store. It’s simple: People like to discover new stuff and want to be in the retail environments that facilitate that discovery. 

Sam Swartz is co-founder and vice president of marketing at Duke Cannon.

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