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Published May 7, 2021
Published May 7, 2021

All eyes were on women’s beauty trends during the pandemic, especially the downturn in makeup sales. But what happened to the men’s market over the past year? What’s the road ahead? Men, it seems, aren’t all that much different than women.

Like their female counterparts, they paused on some category purchases but stepped up at-home grooming regimens and funneled dollars into online or “essential” mass market doors. Paralleling the women’s market, the challenge for mass merchants is to revive the momentum that was building before the world shut down. Rewind back before COVID-19, men were extending grooming rituals beyond shaving and basic grooming. There was a buzz about skincare and even makeup for men.

The mass market reacted with build-outs of men’s departments at chains such as Target, Walmart, and CVS. Overall, the global men’s grooming business was on a trajectory to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5.4% on a path to $57.7 billion by 2023, according to Inkwood Research. There are few numbers to access how that lofty goal was tarnished by the pandemic, but retailers are ready to press the restart button on the men’s business.

“With a full year of opportunity to launch new items at retail lost, the large personal care manufacturers are hungry. Retailers’ shelves are packed with multi-sku, new brand launches competing for the attention of the consumer that is now able to more freely shop at the shelf,” said Stan Ades, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Pacific Shaving Company.

Waiting for them are upgraded departments that are the culmination of the past three years of money pumped into the men’s business at mass stores. Buoyed by success with Harry’s, Target expanded its assortment to include more than 600 products, including its own Goodfellow & Co. (which it also cross-merchandised in apparel) along with hip lines like Beardbrand and Cremo in a new concept design. The retailer expected to double its business in men’s grooming. A Men’s Beauty Box was initiated that is being phased out for something new, according to Target’s website.

CVS made a splash in its BeautyIRL format (and in other stores) with what Duke Cannon executives called a “disruptive” endcap. The goal was to woo men into the newly stocked aisles of men’s products. CVS also became the first mass merchant to offer The Art of Shaving.

Capping that off, CVS made a major commitment to men’s makeup with the addition last year of a corrective range called Stryx. The line isn’t about bold color—rather, the lineup includes a $20 concealer and a gel cleanser. Still, the addition of the brand was seen as an indicator makeup was poised to go mainstream. Trends especially among young men in Asian countries pointed toward adoption in the US. Sales of men’s cosmetics in China soared 31% last year, according to a MakeUp in Shanghai report.

Walmart beefed up its men’s department including an edgy London brand born in a men’s barbershop in Topshop called Johnny’s Chop Shop. The nation’s largest retailer also added Harry’s three years ago along with premium brands such as Every Man Jack, Cremo, and Gillette’s Enrich.

With their new assortments and ambience in check, retailers were ready for the surge in men’s. Then the world changed.

The men’s mass-market category “took a hit during the pandemic,” said Tara James Taylor, Senior Vice President Personal Care Vertical at NielsenIQ. One bright spot was “premium men’s products,” sold in multi-unit doors, which expanded 4.8% in 2020. An example is Raw Sugar, which was the top performer, adding $5.8 million in sales in 2020. The top-performing categories were bath and shower, deodorant, and haircare, Taylor added.

Men were starting to buy more. “Prior to the pandemic, men’s grooming was continuing to slowly expand up and down the body into what felt more like testing the waters of men’s beauty instead of simply men’s grooming,” said Pacific Shaving Company’s Ades. “This included items that had a focus on skin health, beauty, and anti-aging, with ingredients and ‘active ingredients at the forefront.’”

But much like in the women’s arena, during COVID, men became more focused on managing and caring for hair growth, rather than removal, added Ades. The “pandemic beards” were emerging and, as in all categories, online sales shifted into overdrive. The mass market, however, also benefited from its stature as an essential retailer. CVS executives, in fact, said men’s remained strong during the “stay-at-home” period.

The category also fared well online, as stores reopened at Ulta Beauty. Ulta Beauty Chief Merchandising Officer Monica Arnaudo told WWD that social media drove greater inclusivity in skincare, making it the fastest-growing category for men. Arnaudo expects men will continue to adhere to skincare rituals.

Paralleling women’s, men started buying more DIY items like beard trimmers, hair color, and skincare. It seems women aren’t the only ones worried about looking refreshed on a Zoom. “They [men] are more concerned about looking after their skin than they used to be, so skin care is on the up,” said James Wilkinson, Head of Sales and Marketing for Rock Face, a leading brand in the UK, launching this year in the US online and on Amazon in the US with a goal of larger retailer distribution in 2022.

“Men’s grooming needs to start early with simple and effective products and boys understanding self care is cool and it is okay to look good and take care of skin."
By Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, Co-Founder, Stryke Club

One difference in men’s, however, that bring both challenges and opportunity is that men are not as well versed in skincare as women. “Skin care is not growing as quickly as many predicted with a lot of men saying they get confused and are skeptical about all the claims that are made, they want something that they can understand without needing a science degree to understand what it does, they also don’t want to spend the kind of prices that women do,” Wilkinson added. Men also aren’t as wooed by celebrities as women, he noted. “Men look for more authentic brands with a clear purpose.”

There’s tremendous potential, especially when comparing America to other parts of the globe. “Men’s skin care in the US is vastly underdeveloped versus many international markets,” said Michael Law, Chief Commercial Officer at Eagle Labs, which produces RSVP Skin Care for Men, a premium skincare brand for men with natural and organic properties.

A few other interesting observations about men over the past year was that they spent time online searching other brands beyond the limited selection at a local drugstore, according to Ades at Pacific Shaving Company. That bodes well for nascent brands looking for physical space to augment online sales. “Men were getting introduced to new, emerging brands they might not have otherwise heard or tried,” he said.

That could present an advantage for emerging brands like Pacific, Rock Face, and Scotch Porter, a line that has been gaining more shelf space. Founded by Calvin Quallis, the brand is now in about half of Target’s doors and it entered 1,900 Walmart doors in March. Online exposure was a big boost that helped Scotch Porter expand its consumer and revenue base by 80%, according to Quallis. People stocked up—buying five products versus about two before, he said, adding that brands like his fill market gaps.

“When we look at what’s available to men with shorter cuts, like waves or longer styles with curls and kinks, there are just two options: either the legacy brands with heavier, less friendly ingredient profiles or products with scents and messaging targeting women,” Quallis said. “The male shopper still has limited access to an assortment of enhanced products and a shopping experience that addresses his needs … products that were created with him in mind, that speaks to him in a language that he understands. We believe it’s an area where he can be served better, and we are well-positioned to be the go-to brand for boys to men’s textured hair care needs.”

Every Man Jack is expected to expand with the support of The Carlyle Group, which bought a majority stake in the men’s grooming brand. Products are sold at mass powerhouses including Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, and Kroger.

Recent IRI data suggests men might be ready for “revenge shopping,” or at least shaving. Last August, sales of razors in the mass market were down 6%. In February of this year, sales jumped 6%. Perhaps that attention to grooming will cascade into overall skincare.

There are also untapped men’s needs that retailers could address. Consider Ballsy, a men’s grooming line created for below-the-belt issues such as sweat, odor, and chafing. The line includes Sack Spray, Nut Rub Solid Cologne, and a number of other products. Founder Adam Hendle noted that men have been slow to catch up to women’s where there has been a surge in products for female grooming and hygiene.

Some think the key to building men’s volume in the mass market is to start young. That’s the hope of a quartet of women who founded Stryke Club, a line sold at Target. “We started to notice our girls’ bathrooms were overflowing with products with multi-step beauty routines. With the boys there was pressure to look good, yet there was a discrepancy that there were no products for them,” said Stacy Blackman, co-founder and CEO of Stryke Club.

Along with Darci Rosenblum, a former GM and VP with experience at brands such as Olly and Yes To, Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, a pediatric dermatologist, and Nicole Brooks, a family therapist, the women have 11 children—perfect testers for the products. The lineup is designed with young men’s needs in mind, like a Stryke Stick that is an acne zapper, Wipe Out cleansing wipes, and a three-in-one that includes shampoo, body wash, and acne medication.

“Men’s grooming needs to start early with simple and effective products and boys understanding self care is cool and it is okay to look good and take care of skin. Our products are ones they are proud to own, and it takes away any stigma,” Maguiness said of the products that don’t look like other female-centric brands.

Another entry into the tween and teen market is TBH. Created by Risa Barash, cofounder of Fairy Tales Hair Care after she noticed her own son’s growing need for specific products like acne and oily hair, TBH includes body wash, deodorants, wipes, and haircare. Starting males even younger is Young King, a brand for young boys with textured tresses available at Target. Founder Cora Miller launched the line in 2019 for the “pre-shave set.”

With refurbished departments and shelves brimming with innovation, the mass market hopes for the long-awaited men’s boom. “Men want specific products for men,” confirmed Wilkinson at Rock Face. Because men’s grooming products are becoming a bigger part of their lifestyles, they are shopping at food or mass stores where they go for other needs, he observed. Research from Prosper Insights and Analytics validates that men like physical spaces—Walmart, in fact, was the number-one location for personal care and hygiene products in the report.

There are categories with tremendous upsides—especially for shoppers who were funneled into mass doors when salons and prestige doors shuttered. Skin, hair, and tools top the list of categories with promise. Devices to trim hair that rocketed during COVID are expected to have staying power. “Analysts are predicting category growth of over 40% in the next several years,” said Bruce Kramer, Senior Vice President of North America Consumer Division at Wahl Clipper. And even though it might take time to trickle to drug, food, and discount stores, Morning Consult said about one-third of men in American under the age of 45 are interested in trying makeup.

After years of fits and starts, will the mass men’s business finally explode?

“While the Men’s Personal Care landscape has cooled in terms of growth, opportunities remain to further convert men, particularly within skin and hair care,” said Nielsen’s Taylor. While P&G and Unilever dominate the space, “the ceiling for an opportunity for a more focused entry into the space would likely be in the $200-$250 million range as that is where many of the other players sit today,” she said.

The obstacles to conquer, including lesser engagement by men coupled with a potentially less productive assortment at retail for skincare relative to woman’s/unisex, may prove challenging. That said, Nielsen still sees a “runway” to cultivate the men’s category. Seventy-three percent of households have a man present, but far fewer are buying men’s products in most categories, she said. The big players like P&G and Unilever dominated the business, but there are opportunities for emerging brands, Taylor said.

“Every point of share in men’s represents a $62.7 million opportunity. Even achieving a 2% share would represent $125 million,” Taylor said, adding brands specializing have a solid shot at success.


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