In 2018 Wakse reinvented the dated waxing category through a social media lens, creating a new sensorial and highly visual approach to home waxing. The global market for Hair Removal Wax was estimated at $9.8 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach a revised size of $16.9 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 8.1% over the period 2020-2027, and Wakse is carving out its piece of the market.
Digitally native but bullish on brick-and-mortar and the professional channel, Wakse is in growth mode, riding the pandemic-induced resurgence of DIY beauty, seeing website sales surge by 1100% and rolling out with Ulta in Target this month. BeautyMatter spoke to Wakse co-founders Andrew Glass and Shayan Sadrolashrafi about how they are self-funding their success by listening to their gut and trusting their instincts.
What's the backstory of how "two hairy guys" came together to reimagine at-home waxing?
AG: Shayan and I met while working for the same beauty company nearly 5 years ago, and we hit it off right away. I was managing the brand as a whole, and Shayan was in charge of the creative side. One day, we were talking about our horrible experiences getting waxed, and that somehow led to us doing some market research and realizing there was an opportunity for innovation within the space. That's how Wakse was born. As two fairly hairy men, we thought that the slogan "Made by Two Hairy Guys" would be funny and help make the experience seem a little less intimidating for first-time users. We also wanted this to speak to the power of our formula, and for customers to know that if our formula could remove our thick hair, then they would have no problem!
What was it about the waxing category that made it ripe for reinvention?
AG: Once we started looking into the category, we noticed that there hadn't been any real innovation in over a decade. The products looked like something from the ’70s: they were dated, they smelled horrible, and they were not esthetically pleasing at all. With my background in product development and Shayan's design background, it was a perfect mix to create a great-performing product that was visually appealing for today's world of social media.
You didn't stop at the product itself—you've created a whole professional waxing experience that goes beyond the efficacy of the product and the proficiency of the technician. Why was it important to take the brand experience to that level of detail?
AG: From the beginning, we utilized the knowledge of Shayan's sister, Shay, because she was a licensed esthetician and an expert in hair removal. This really helped us develop the best wax formula. Once we launched our website, we immediately started receiving emails from salons, spas, and estheticians who wanted to purchase our products to use in their services, and that is when we realized that we could be more than just a retail product. We began developing the "Wakse experience" and have really elevated hair removal for both at-home and professional use. Before Wakse, you could never walk into a spa and request a Rose Gold & Chocolate waxing appointment, or a Cotton Candy brow wax ... but, now you can.
How have you managed to balance the needs of both consumers and professionals, as well as being agnostic to gender?
SS: Once we realized that we could expand into the professional space, we immediately started building a "pro" section to our website where licensed estheticians could log in and purchase pro sizes (5lb or 15lb buckets) of our waxing products at wholesale prices. It's an easy way for both consumers and professionals to shop in one place. We definitely see Wakse as a gender-neutral product line. We keep our packaging designs fairly minimal and sleek, and we have a huge variety of wax colors/scents that appeal to all genders.
How have you funded the launch and growth of the business?
AG: We are completely self-funded. We were able to accomplish this by managing our growth and making smart decisions along the way. We've said no to huge retail opportunities because we simply weren't ready, and didn't want to have to get a loan or bring in an investor. I think that's an important lesson for all emerging brands—do not rush growth.
"We definitely see Wakse as a gender-neutral product line. We keep our packaging designs fairly minimal and sleek, and we have a huge variety of wax colors/scents that appeal to all genders."
By Shayan Sadrolashrafi, co-founder, Wakse
Given the visual nature of the brand and product, this could have been a very compelling DTC business, yet you're very bullish on retail. Can you share a bit about your distribution strategy?
AG: This didn't necessarily happen on purpose. We were extremely lucky that fairly soon after launching, we secured a couple big retail meetings—retailers with hair removal categories were just as excited to see innovation in the space as we were. We launched at Ulta Beauty stores nationwide less than a year after we launched, and have been extremely successful there. Our retail partnerships are what really catapulted the brand, and our DTC business followed. COVID is what really blew up our e-commerce sales, as consumers were forced to look for DIY solutions and alternatives to aesthetic services they would normally pay for.
Most brands tap outside capital to fuel growth once they land a major retail partnership. Do you have any tips you can share on how to self-fund this type of growth?
AG: One of the first big sales we got was with FabFitFun, and we used up our entire personal savings to make that happen. We also used the money from that order to fund the Ulta opening orders. Anything is possible as long as you're open and honest with the retailers. If you can only launch in half of the stores at first because that's all you can afford, they will be OK with that if they truly believe in your brand. Don't miss an opportunity to partner with a large retailer because you think, "Oh, there is no way I can afford to launch in 1,000 stores." Tell them, "Hey, we need to start in 200 stores, and develop a growth plan to make this happen." They will be open to it.
You expanded your partnership with Ulta as part of their rollout with Target. From the brand's perspective, what are your thoughts on this retail partnership?
SS: This is a massive opportunity that we are so thankful to be a part of. It was intimidating, honestly. Target is a beast of a retailer, and the process has been challenging, but in the most amazing way. Both teams have been incredible at holding our hands through the setup process and making it as simple for the brand as possible. From our perspective, the partnership between Ulta and Target is a perfect marriage. It's a natural crossover for consumers—Target customers most likely shop at Ulta, and Ulta customers definitely shop at Target. Now we're able to reach a much larger audience than ever before.
DIY products and businesses were a category that received a pandemic bump. How did you ensure you captured this opportunity while also navigating the supply-chain issues everyone has been struggling with?
SS: Honestly, this isn't something we were expecting at all. At first, we were scared of the unknown, just like every other business. One day our website sales increased by 1,100% ... and it kept going. It wasn't a gradual increase, it was like an explosion, and it caught us all by surprise. It wasn't until after the bump that we started putting plans in place to keep these new customers coming back for reorders. We offered one-on-one classes with our in-house esthetician to ensure these new customers understood how to use our products properly and get the best experience and results. We knew that these customers were probably used to paying for waxing services, so offering free lessons was a huge success. We also bumped up our how-to videos/tutorials and social engagements to ensure everyone had the resources they needed to get the most out of our products. We had issues maintaining stock levels, and STILL have issues getting stock in on time; the ports are congested and there isn't much we can do but place more orders with our manufacturers and wait.
Can you share some of the best advice you've received on your founder journey and examples of the impact it made on your business?
SS: For us it's always been listening to our gut and trusting our instincts. Those are words we've always been told throughout this journey. Whenever we have a new idea, we try to put ourselves into a consumer mindset. As fairly "normal" or standard consumers ourselves, we think, "Okay, if we want this, there must be plenty of others who do, too." If we have a super-fun idea, but don't really think it will appeal to the masses, we don't do it.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs contemplating the launch of a beauty or wellness brand?
AG: There are SO MANY new brands coming to market, so make sure your brand stands out and offers something different. Especially if you want to break into retail—you have to give buyers a reason to consider your brand out of the hundreds of others they're reviewing on a monthly basis. Also, get the brand name trademarked ASAP. Don't wait, because if your brand gains any kind of traction, there will always be someone who sees an opportunity to take advantage.
What's in store for the business in the future?
SS: We're always innovating, and for Wakse we have a ton of exciting things in the works–most we can't talk about. We're launching a new skincare brand together called Joos Cosmetics—a clean beauty brand inspired by fresh-pressed juice drinks, and it is beautiful. We'll be offering full-sized products as well as mini Joos Shots. The first few products are launching this month. We're also working on a luxury, clean fragrance brand called Kemestrē (pronounced chemistry) along with a third partner, Angela Kennedy, that will be launching in Spring 2022. Kemestrē takes a modern twist on the heritage and history of the world's very first perfumes, and pays homage to the original notes used in the various regions around the world where they were found.
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