Five years in, Birchbox Man is boosting education and interest in men’s grooming

Five years in Birchbox Man is changing men's grooming industry
By Hilary Milnes. Source: Glossy.

After selling monthly subscription boxes full of sample beauty and skin care products to women for a little over a year, Birchbox heard from female customers that the men in their lives had voiced interest about a similar product model geared towards men’s grooming.

“We were really surprised to hear that; it wasn’t something we were sure we would ever do at Birchbox,” said Beauchamp. “Overall, the question was: Would there be demand here, and would it be from the men themselves or from women? We wanted to see if men would be a direct Birchbox customer.”

Birchbox soon discovered that the customers were, in fact, predominantly men, and in 2012, Birchbox Man officially launched, targeting a similar customer already addressed on the women’s side.

Since, the men’s business has grown 15 times its size in the first year. (Birchbox doesn’t disclose specific revenue figures, but a source close to the company told Recode that the company does about $200 million annually in overall revenue.) It has also found that its Birchbox Man customers are likely to spend more and convert faster once they’ve started receiving subscriptions than women. What’s more, average order value in the online store for men’s products is 10 percent higher than women’s.

Birchbox is playing into a market segment that is seeing steady year-over-year growth. According to Euromonitor, the global men’s grooming market is projected to reach $21 billion in 2017, having doubled its size over the past 10 years, and is seeing an annual growth rate of 5 percent. Men’s-specific startups like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, which sold to Unilever for $1 billion, have also left their mark on a new space that’s playing into men’s newfound interest in skin care and grooming, as well as cosmetics.

Tapping into a newly interested customer
“Guys are funny. Years ago, they didn’t have an opinion on product. Whatever they used was their favorite thing,” said Ian Ginsberg, president of C.O. Bigelow, a beauty and personal care apothecary and retailer that sells and samples men’s product through Birchbox Man. “Then they started to develop an opinion, because there’s so much information out there, and now they’re actually interested.”

The growth trajectory of the men’s grooming space is an avenue of opportunity for Birchbox, which hit some speed bumps in 2016. The company went through two rounds of layoffs last year, cutting 15 percent of staff in January and another 12 percent in June. After being unable to secure a round of funding from new investors, it landed a $15 million round from existing investors in August to help tide it over until it could cross into profitability.

To help drive it to that point, the men’s side of the business is a priority, as Birchbox has found that men are more likely to make purchases post-subscription box in the Birchbox online store. Right now, store purchases account for 35 percent of revenue, something that the company hopes to boost through both its online stores and its physical stores in New York City and Paris.

“Sampling is the best way to sell”
According to Luke Harrison, senior manager of marketing for Birchbox Man, typical customer behavior revolves around building a regimen. Rather than being driven by the idea of endless product discovery, the way Birchbox’s women customers are, the men tend to find a product that works and then convert to shopping online. The goal for the brands that work with Birchbox Man is getting the physical product in the hands of men, and not just any men: potential customers who have already shown purchase intent by agreeing to pay a fee to try new products.

“For the men’s industry, sampling is the best way to sell product,” said John Cafarelli, founder of premium men’s skin care brand Ernest Supplies, which sells through Birchbox Man. “Get it in their hands and they’ll use it, and they’ll probably like it. Guys are less choosy.”

Ginsberg of C.O. Bigelow said that Birchbox Man customers are more open to product discovery than customers who casually shop one of its other partners, like Nordstrom or Saks. Plus, he can mine the company’s product reviews in order to get direct customer feedback from a typically closed-off customer. One shaving cream sold through Birchbox from C.O. Bigelow has more than 1,000 reviews online. Ernest Supplies’ Protective Matte Moisturizer, a top-selling Birchbox moisturizer in the men’s category, has 2,000 reviews.

Birchbox Man also works with its brands to use customer insight to improve offerings. After realizing men like to buy a lot of one product at once, they launched several skin care value packs with brands that didn’t previously make them. They also tend to buy in bulk, something that led to exclusive value packs available online through brand partnerships. A surge in popularity around charcoal products led to an exclusive product launch with skin care brand Levels for a charcoal and vanilla bar of soap.

Educating and demystifying men’s grooming
The key to getting a customer to convert, Harrison said, is education. The Birchbox Man channels frequently post tutorials on its Instagram Stories, and show the routines of men in the office or at the brands they partner with. An online content site called the Guide stores evergreen how-tos around topics like shaving and skin care.

Elsewhere online, similar content is on the rise. Pixability’s 2016 Beauty report found that men’s grooming videos on YouTube saw the most year-over-year growth.

“There’s a big paradigm shift happening,” said Jenifer Ekstein, consultant at branding agency Vivaldi. “It used to be that grooming and skin care for men were not as talked about, so there was a lack of knowledge about it to most men and a lack of products out there. But with tutorials becoming so popular, men are able to learn about products and how to use them.”

Beauchamp believes Birchbox’s role in “demystifying” men’s grooming products, as interest around them swells, will play a driving role for the category.

“There’s untapped demand, and what we’re showing is that there’s a way to introduce this customer to a different level of grooming routines,” said Beauchamp. “Brands are realizing men are more engaged than ever. The industry was excited for this.”

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