The Story Of MENSDEPT.
It’s All About Men
by Michele Elyzabeth
The time has come for men to have their own grooming places again. I am talking about the revival of iconic barbershops, the ones that used to be in every rural community across America. But for the past several decades, barbershops were almost instinct in middle-class and upper middle-class communities. Even though in urban neighborhoods, they were still the place where the fellas congregated to get a “fade” and debate whose team is the best in whatever sports season it is. But in most areas, they were considered anything but hip. However, it seems that retro and old-fashioned is back in style and stronger than ever. That includes the rebirth of the traditional barbershop which is undergoing a massive resurgence. This is a new trend embraced by men who go there to relax, kickback, watch a sports game on the big screen, meet friends and sometimes even play a game of pool. Oh, and of course also get a haircut and a shave. With barbers come products, therefore an opportunity for companies to develop new lines that service male clients exclusively.
According to Kurt Kueffner, who first was VP of Education for American Crew before becoming Executive Director of Men’s Business Development for Aveda, “Men’s skin is clinically proven to be different by nature than women’s skin. Men have a weaker skin barrier function, a 25% higher collagen density, a higher rate of moisture evaporation and higher sebum production than women. Together with David Raccuglia, former founder of American Crew and the most popular men’s salon brand, they formed MENSDEPT, a line of grooming products which is rapidly taking over. The entire product line consists of one shampoo, one conditioner and six styling products.
I spoke to Rob Wilcox, Senior Vice President of Marketing and GM for MENSDEPT, who explained his passion for the job and the satisfaction that derives from it. Rob’s marketing career began in the early 80s at Peter Hanz, which was known for developing repair hair products. He quickly moved to Graham Webb where he assumed the position of Vice President of Marketing, Advertising and Education. It was not long before Rob’s ability to build a brand’s identity was noticed by the founders of American Crew. Wilcox was instrumental in the conception and launch of D:fi Hair, a collection of products created specifically for young adults. He implemented marketing and advertising efforts spent over 10 years at American Crew, the leader in the men’s professional hair care industry, where he was the senior vice president of marketing. American Crew products are sold in over 60,000 salons in North America as well as in over 50 countries worldwide. Under Mr. Wilcox’s leadership, the company became one of the fastest-growing product lines in the professional salon industry. So it is not surprising to find him on the winning team of David Raccuglia and Kurt Kueffner.
What is the story behind MENSDEPT?
Basically, David, the original founder of Laurence of American Crew, and myself were salon owners in ’94. And really, there weren’t men’s products out at the time. Most guys were stealing their wives’ products.
They had to wash their hair.
Exactly, they had to wash their hair, and put stuff in it to get it to stick up and it originally started with the pomade.
And that’s how we launched “the pomade.” Crew being very successful, was acquired by a multinational company, Revlon. And then Revlon sold it to a Spanish company for a period of time — for about 13 years. And then that Spanish company sold it back to Revlon. So Revlon owns American Crew.
And in that period of time, David realized that as Crew was getting bigger, a lot of the salons and where it was sold — a lot of higher-end salons — were looking for alternatives. They really weren’t carrying American Crew. American Crew was sold in chain salons, and — let’s call them lower-tier salons.
David wanted to develop another brand with today’s technology. Out of American Crew, the top 10 products in the line actually sell about 80 percent of the volume. Most of those products were made from about 1994 to about 1996, ’97. He wanted to use today’s technology in the development of those products. And out of that, he wanted to give birth to MENSDEPT, basically go into salons and become the men’s department within the salon. So that’s kind of the transition from David’s passion and inspiration of the men’s category — continuing to grow by utilizing today’s technology in the development of products and then going in utilizing ourselves in a higher-end salon market with the introduction of MENSDEPT.
Is that where the name came from?
Exactly, David being a hairdresser and a true salon owner, he basically wanted to develop a shop within a salon. So by putting a barbershop within the salon, that would be your men’s department. We have quite a few salons that will take on that nuance and they will become MENSDEPT at Matthew Morris. So they put their name incorporated into it and they basically take one, two, three, four chairs within the salon, kind of reconfigure it, get it more comfortable for guys, and then guys will tend to frequent a salon when they start to do better hair, and where they feel comfortable. So it kind of gives you a barbershop feel within a salon environment.
Is there a difference between making products for men versus making products for women?
There is a difference in regards to, first and foremost, fragrance. Fragrance, you know — guys tend to stay away from tuti-frutti and strawberry banana, because they tend to want a cleaner, classic fragrance. And regarding the product, especially in the styling range from whole factors to pomades and creams, guys will use them and women traditionally won’t use a pomade unless they’re into certain hairstyles. Some will use gels, but guys will use more gels, more pomades and creams, where women tend to use more mousse products and sprays and light gels.
You have a clean scent. Who formulates the product?
The fragrance was really inspired by one of David’s personal fragrances that he wears. He really wanted a clean, fresh fragrance. In the shampoos and conditioners, he wanted an active ingredient of stimulation, and so you have peppermint and menthol incorporated in there, and that’s to stimulate the scalp and help hair growth. David’s desires in the development of the fragrance is to improve it and then send it to a large group of salons and hairdressers to test the product before we ever bring it to market.
What is your role in the company?
I’m the general manager and senior VP of marketing. I run the business, I handle the image of the company, the look of the brand after David does our photo shoots. While Courtney runs and handles our marketing and education department.
Do you know your customer who uses MENSDEPT?
Our customer is really any guy. I mean, they have to be able to afford to buy professional products, you’ll have some guys that say, ‘I don’t even use shampoo, I use a bar of soap.’ So you take a look at the demographic and see it’s men that can afford the products, and it’s also men that care about the way they look. In 1994, we had closet groomers; these were guys using their wive’s products in doing their hair. And then Crew kind of came out and introduced men’s products, and that gave birth to the men’s revolution and almost a metrosexual kind of situation, where guys wanted to look better. But now, those guys have gotten older and they’ve had sons. They’re now using products, so you’re kind of in a situation where you’ve got so many baby boomers entering retirement, but still want to look good in their older years. And then you’ve got the youth. So really, the category is all-encompassing. The men who use our products are people who care about themselves, want to look good, and can afford the products. Because professional products are always going to be more than a retail product.
Is there any plan for doing a woman’s line?
No, not for us. We focus on men and Crew was a men’s line. There are some professional brands out there that are women’s lines that do men’s lines, but traditionally they don’t do them very well. We’re a men’s company — MENSDEPT, as well as our barbershop brand Reuzel, which is a men’s brand. Now, women can use the products, and as I travel, I meet women, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I use this,’ or ‘I’ve tried that.’ And if they like the fragrance, and it works for them, they’ll use it. But our target audience is men and that’s what we focus on.
There is a major growing trend in men’s grooming. You are in competition with Art of Shaving, Baxter, etc. So where do you place yourself?
If you look at Art of Shaving, traditionally it started out as a shaving brand; it’s a barbershop brand. Conversely, we are all-encompassing men’s styling products. We will be getting into shaving products, with more kinds of total grooming versus just hair grooming, as well as Reuzel — Reuzel being a barbershop brand that started out with pomades.
And MENSDEPT is more of a higher-end brand, so it goes into the Baxter world, Art of Shaving — even a little bit more above the price of Baxter. And then Reuzel is medium-priced, so it’s very affordable for the youth, as well as for the older generations. When you take a look at price strategy, sometimes you say, ‘Do you want to be a low-end product, a medium-end product or a high-end product?’
A lot of people will take what’s called “the prestige avenue,” and they’ll take the high-end approach, be very expensive, and do very little business, or do very little business in a small amount of salons. Where if you’re medium-priced, you will attract more salons carrying your brand and you will attract more customers because of your affordability. So when we looked at MENSDEPT, we priced it very competitive to Crew, which is medium to high-priced. And Reuzel is a medium-priced product.
How long has the company been in existence?
MENSDEPT launched in 2012.
You’re a very new company.
We’re still a young company and Reuzel launched in March of last year. And Reuzel’s is probably one of the fastest growing companies that we’ve ever had. It’s growing faster than American Crew did in 1994.
Why do you think that is?
A lot of it is because how strong their social media is. The Schorem site and social media built a consumer and barber following. The guys at Schorem, who are our partners on Reuzel, are the most famous barbers in the world. They’re the most followed barbers in the world, barbers look up to them. And then consumers follow them, it has catapulted Reuzel through the stratosphere.
Who are Leen and Bertus?
They’re good guys; they’re up in Canada right now doing a tour across Canada. I’ve actually never, in 30 years in this business, seen other hairdressers flock to get pictures taken with them, touch them, see them and be part of their entourage. It’s pretty unusual. A lot of it has to do with the Internet. When we launched Crew, there was no Facebook. There was no Instagram. And nowadays, because of the Internet, and Instagram, and Facebook, it’s made the world much more accessible to launching things. And though it hasn’t made it easier, it’s allowed for a different style of marketing. Because it’ll either work or it won’t work. If you come out with a bad product or a mediocre brand, the world will know in two seconds. Someone could tweet, ‘Your product is no good,’ and then everyone would know right away. So it’s very tricky, but it has worked well for us.
So you concentrate on social media and the Internet.
On Reuzel, for sure, absolutely.
But not on MENSDEPT?
MENSDEPT is done through a distribution channel. So we have a lot of face-to-face interaction with our salespeople on the street that call on salons. So you do utilize social media, but not to the extent that guys do from overseas. It’s really more face-to-face, getting them into the salons and getting them engaged.
Any male celebrities using your product?
A lot of the times publicists will call and order stuff. We like that they do, but a lot can’t use our names; they can’t do this or that, so we really can’t get into it. But we do like hairdressers that support — we like editorial hairdressers and we try to support them a lot. So we do what we can for that marketplace.
Though it has been conceived for men, I had to try MENSDEPT’s shampoo which left my scalp invigorated and refreshed. No doubt MENSDEPT is a winner.