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Birchbox’s Strategy For Hooking Men On Grooming Supplies

Because marketing beard oil to men is not like marketing anti-wrinkle cream to women.

Birchbox has big plans for American men.

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For three years now, the brand has offered men a taste of grooming products like beard oil and face scrubs its monthly mail-delivery program, and just announced its plan to launch a Birchbox Man brick-and-mortar store in 2016. The question is: what will it take to get the average dude into a store that specializes in beauty products?

The answer, Brad Lande, the general manager of Birchbox Man, tells Fast Company, is to distract men with things that do make them comfortable: gadgets, virtual reality headsets, alcohol flasks. And when they feel like they are in safe, masculine territory, introduce them to things that they are less comfortable with, like facial peels and under-eye gel.

Brad Lande

These are lessons that Lande and the rest of the Birchbox Man team have learned through creating the monthly boxes for men. (Birchbox has over a million subscribers, Lande says, although he declined to say what the breakdown is between men’s and women’s boxes.) Birchbox sells the men’s box for $20 a month, which is double the price of the women’s box, primarily because it includes a full-size product that is completely unrelated to grooming. This might be a pair of headphones or a leather card case or a money clip. “Our hypothesis from the beginning was that the accessory or the gadget or the lifestyle product in the box was going to be a core part of his experience,” Lande says. “This was how we could introduce grooming into his life.”

In August, for instance, Birchbox Man is including a customized cardboard viewing kit much like Google Cardboard in every box that will allow customers to have an immersive virtual reality experience. Birchbox partnered with River Studios to create original, uber-manly content that they can access through an app. They’ll be able to experience driving a race car, surfing through the barrel of a wave, motorbiking on a dirt road, and riding a helicopter over a city.

By taking the focus away from beauty products, these lifestyle products give men something to talk to their friends about, Lande explains. “They help to introduce the conversation about Birchbox, because we knew that guys were not going to talk about shaving cream in the same way that women would talk about a new fragrance they just received.” Ultimately, men and women speak about beauty products very differently. While many women enjoy talking with their friends about the items they are using, most men tend to be much more private about their grooming routines. Birchbox needs to work extra hard to create a brand that makes skincare products just one component of a broader masculine lifestyle.

That said, Lande points out that a segment of the Birchbox Man consumer base is comfortable with grooming and enjoys talking about his skincare routine. “There are many guys who share what they receive in their box every month on Instagram,” he says. “But I wouldn’t say that this kind of social sharing is as core to the growth of the brand as it was for women.” The key is to create a brand that appeals to both the guy who has a medicine cabinet full of the latest anti-aging creams, as well as the guy who only owns shampoo and a bar of soap.

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Lande believes that part of the reason Birchbox Man has been successful is that boxes arrive at men’s doors, so they don’t need to enter the uncharted territory of a department store or skincare shop to learn about new products; they simply fill out a Birchbox questionnaire, answering questions such as whether they have a beard or not, and receive customized products. “For women, I would say the Birchbox experience is meant to be delightful,” Lande explains. “For men, the word I would use is ‘efficient’.”

So how will all of this work when Birchbox launches its first Birchbox Man store in 2016?

The first question is where the new store is going to be located. To answer this, Birchbox is doing a road trip to three U.S. cities, testing pop-up locations of Birchbox and Birchbox Man. The Birchbox Man pop-up will include services like haircuts and trims. The company invited customers to vote on which cities to visit. “We are starting to craft our retail strategy,” Lande says. “This will help us to determine which city will be the best fit for our first permanent brick-and-mortar Birchbox Man store. We’re also collecting feedback from customers to decide how we will design this new space.”

The Birchbox Man team is also testing out different strategies to determine what might appeal to male consumers. For instance, they are planning to include a tech lounge in these locations. In some ways, this is taking the lifestyle strategy they have used with their boxes into a physical space. They are leading not with beauty regimens, but with male-oriented gadgets and gear. “Lifestyle will be intermixed with the grooming products,” Lande says. “This will make it a more inviting and engaging space for guys.”

With a physical store, Birchbox hopes to further tap into the male grooming market, which is valued at $6 billion in the U.S. and up to $33 billion internationally. Lande feels like they’ve got the right approach to tap into the male market. “It’s all about making sure there are plenty of familiar things next to the unfamiliar ones,” Lande says. “We’ve found that to be the recipe for success.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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