When Birchbox began offering men’s subscriptions in 2011, it was an idea small enough to almost be considered a throw-away. Birchbox Man version 1.0 was a limited collection of products on offer as a special during the 2011 holiday shopping season.
The response was somewhat bigger than expected: The entire line was sold out in three days. And it wasn’t bought out by women looking for a unique gift for their spouse, or perhaps wishfully thinking about a world where their boyfriend had soft skin. Birchbox Man was being bought by the men it was intended for.
“It immediately became clear that men were looking for a new, easy way to learn about and purchase high-quality grooming products,” Tess Hales, vice president of Birchbox Man, told FierceRetail.
Men’s grooming, according to Hale, is and has been a growth industry for the last several years, picking up at a steady five percent annually. And though the assumption that men are buying fancier gendered products – like shaving products – and that does represent a fair share of baseline sales; the growth is actually in products that female buyers are all very familiar with – hair and skin care products.
Because, as it turns out, no matter what one’s gender, looking young is valuable to just about anyone.
“Skincare has grown to be our best-selling category, and the No. 1 skincare concern among our subscribers is signs of aging. Be on the lookout for a future anti-aging kit!”
Moreover, contemporary male ideas about grooming are shifting – and on the whole, men are more comfortable with the idea that looking nice beyond merely appearing to be clean is a worthwhile endeavor. And as men – particularly single millennial men with a fair amount of discretionary capital to put toward the project – are moving toward a more pro-grooming stance – the market is moving quickly to catch up. Just this week, men’s grooming start-up Oars + Alps bagged $1.3 million in start-up funding to address a growing market of men who keep stealing their wife’s eye creams and moisturizers for lack of options on the market.
But tapping into the market for men’s products is more of an effort than simply making a new class of better-tailored goods available – Hales notes – because the male cosmetics consumer doesn’t come to the marketplace at quite the same place as his female counterpart.
Overcoming The Challenges
Awareness is a central issue, Hales says, simply because female shoppers come into the cosmetics marketplace with a fairly sophisticated understanding of what they want and need since cosmetics and grooming products have been marketed to them since time in memorial. Male customers have much more variation when they enter the market – some have very specific routines and are looking for specific enhancement, some wash with bar soap and are wondering if they could buy products that sting less and cause somewhat less peeling.
“We’re targeting men who are open to trying new things, but grooming is not a key part of his life; our objective is to make that area of his life that much more efficient,” Hales said.
Once that customer is successfully targeted, Hales noted they are less likely than a female customer to socially push a brand.
“Men aren’t necessarily talking about their favorite new product discovery to their friends or sharing their monthly box on Instagram. We’ve been creative in finding other ways to get men talking about Birchbox Man by doing things like running compelling sweepstakes or putting virtual-reality glasses in all boxes one month,” she said.
As for offering media that is compelling – Hales notes male customers tend to like to see the visual representation of how the products on offer are folded into day-to-day life – especially with a focus on efficiency.
And, as the firm has seen its men’s lifestyle box sales climb – it’s seen it become an increasingly consistent part of the revenue picture.
A New Opportunity
Marketing to the expanded male audience also carries with it for Birchbox the advantages in the slightly different ways male consumers shop. Men may not Instagram-recommend their favorite products, but they are much more likely to stock-up on things they like and order many full-sized bottles as soon as possible. Hales noted that Birchbox has also seen over time that male subscribers spend more money and tend to convert faster than female shoppers from samples to full-size products.
And that opportunity continues to grow as Birchbox continues to edit its product offerings. Sales of “Beard Cakes” (special soap for beards) have doubled since 2015 and continuing to find uniquely relavant products remains a priority.
Birchbox is also looking to modify the shopping experience, according to Hale, to give customers more direct control of what they order and receive each month.