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Previous attempts at creating innovative retail spaces for male grooming have met strong consumer resistance, but changing attitudes could mean the latest entrants are more successful, says Clare Dowdy


Male grooming is here, promising us the opening up of a new market, as brands position themselves to tap into a formerly neglected demographic segment.

We know it’s here, because we have new terms being bandied about for this audience – ‘metrosexual’ has morphed into ‘hetero-politan’ – and there are the figures to prove it. The UK men’s toiletries market was valued at £751m in 2005, up by 28 per cent since 2000, according to a 2006 report on the market from Mintel.

Both Wholeman and Spruce, which opened recently in London’s New Bond Street and Brighton’s Kemptown respectively, believe that they will appeal to a certain type of modern man.

But we’ve been here before. Over the past few years, innovative retail environments have been launched with much fanfare to take advantage of the spending power of ‘new man’. Those ventures either died (like Boots’ male-grooming parlours and Lever Fabergé’s Lynx barber shops), or didn’t translate into chains (like Space NK Men by Universal Design Studio, Mankind by Michael Sheridan & Company, or The Refinery by Simon Simpson).

So what went wrong last time round, and why should these latest efforts prove any more successful?

The feeling within the industry is that the previous attempts were triggered by a cultural phenomenon that, although hyped up in the press, failed to materialise.

Max Eaglen, director of Platform – which designed Spruce – supports this theory. ‘They believed that they had caught the crest of a wave, but the wave didn’t appear,’ he says.

This supposition is also backed up by Mintel. ‘Men’s toiletries have failed to achieve the explosive growth anticipated since the late 1980s, when Shulton launched its Insignia men’s range, the first integrated line offering men top-to-toe grooming options. This was supposed to herald the emergence of the “new man”, but the reality was that most men were not ready to embrace the concept of a multi-product grooming regime,’ its report says.

That’s not to say that earlier attempts to cater for this market weren’t well-considered, well-executed or well-funded formats. ‹ Jump’s Lynx environment was a strong concept that photographed well, making it suitably PR-friendly.

Howard Saunders, creative director of retail consultancy Echo-chamber, is slightly more dismissive of the £2m Boots effort, saying, ‘like so much at Boots, it was badly timed and lacked impact’. However, he adds, ‘The male grooming pioneers have opened up the market, even though they may have fallen along the way.’

Whatever the market is now, it is unlikely to explode into the mainstream and mimic the women’s cosmetics and skincare sector. Most men, according to Mintel, still only consider shaving and deodorising as the basis for their daily routine. Of the £751m market, 66 per cent is accounted for by the mature sectors of fragrance (44 per cent of the total), deodorants (12 per cent) and shaving products (10 per cent).

However, Mintel believes that there is growth in the niche sectors of skincare and haircare, which each account for 6 per cent of the market. ‘It is these smaller categories which are showing the fastest growth and offer a strong indication that men’s usage of a wider selection of toiletries in their routine is on the increase,’ the report says.

This certainly chimes with the positioning of retail formats Spruce and Wholeman, both of which divide their space to provide a wide range of products and treatments for both skin and hair.

And, when researching the men’s grooming market in New York for the Spruce brief, Platform’s Eaglen noted that the market there is further divided into those who preen at home, and those who want to be pampered on site.

‘We expected Spruce to have an older take-up by 35- to 50-year-olds, because this group is financially stronger and has a desire to combat “wear-and-tear”. But, while these men are purchasing high-end products, they’re not going to salons because they feel it’s not macho,’ he says.

However, Eaglen discovered that 22- to 34-year-olds are more comfortable with coming in for treatment, because it ties in with their feeling that good presentation is linked to professional success.

These are the people Saunders labels ‘heteropolitans’, one step on from the ‘metrosexuals’. He admits that the distinction is subtle, but says, ‘The emphasis is [now] on hetero, it stays well clear of the gay thing. Perhaps this is the key. Lads can be clean and vain and still very male.’

As Mintel suggests, as recently as 30 years ago fathers would have regarded a squirt of aftershave to be rather ‘daring’.

So, if the interior styling and overall positioning of Wholeman – created by JHP and Raylian – and Spruce can be made to appeal to enough of these ‘tuned-in’ heteropolitans, the male grooming retail concept could finally be here to stay.

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