For years, Brian Lau dressed up women's creams and cleansers in dainty jars and pastel packaging, trumpeting their benefits with details of the contents.
Yet little of that experience prepared the packaged-goods specialist for the world of men's beauty products. Now running his own men's skincare firm, Bread & Butter Skincare, he's had to turn his back on past practices and march to a different beauty beat.
The challenge in the fast-growing men's beauty segment is to find ways to wrap a quintessentially feminine product in masculine hues and lingo. It's a world in which eyeliner becomes "guyliner," anti-wrinkle cream turns into moisturizer, and bronzer changes to "power bronze."
"Some men will call it 'skin care' but no one calls it 'beauty care' or 'beauty products,' " said Mr. Lau, who has worked on Dove women's skincare lines at giant Unilever. "It's not the word they want to use."
Mr. Lau's small business, based in downtown Toronto, is not alone among companies stepping into unfamiliar male beauty territory. Powerhouses such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever are racing to satisfy the male itch.
As an entrepreneur, his biggest challenge is taking on far larger competitors with armies of employees and massive marketing budgets. When he struck out on his own, he used the talent he'd built from his experience at Unilever to develop products that sell. But he also conducted research and discovered that men are much more comfortable in cyberspace and can't be bothered to do much in-store shopping. This enabled him to avoid trying to stand out among the dizzying array of options offered by a product wall and focus instead on selling his product mainly online.
He also keeps it simple for his customers by bundling moisturizers and cleansers into summer and winter kits for an annual $85 "subscription" fee.
Young men today take their cue from celebrities such as David Beckham in wanting to take care of themselves, said cultural anthropologist Victor Barac, a marketing consultant in Toronto. To compete in a youth-obsessed job market, men need to look their best, he added. And Dave Lackie, editor of trade publication Cosmetics, said: "There's a perception that if you look dated and tired and old, your ideas are tired and old."
These trends have helped bolster the estimated $579-million Canadian men's beauty product market by almost 70 per cent between 2003 and 2008, according to market researcher Euromonitor. In the high-end domestic beauty sector alone last year, men's skincare sales surged at three times the rate of the overall market, beauty titan L'Oreal estimates.
For the companies, the numbers tell a tale of opportunity and challenge: 61 per cent of men believe it's important to always look their best, but just 27 per cent of them are willing to spend more to get their desired look, P&G found. To spur men into shelling out more, beauty firms count on women to be their initial recruiter. Women are responsible for about half of men's beauty product purchases, snapping them up for their boyfriend or husband, said Marie-Josée Lamothe, a vice-president with L'Oreal in Montreal.
"More and more men are 'borrowing' their wives'/girlfriends' beauty products," added Jenny Frankel, co-founder of Cover FX Skin Care, a Toronto-based firm whose products are sold across Canada and beyond.
To draw men, however, the look of packaging is paramount. Among the popular male colours are grey, black and brown. Nivea for Men's containers are shifting to a deeper blue from the line's signature royal blue, said Larry LaPorta, general manager of its maker, Beiersdorf Canada.
It communicates to men partly by presenting the products in pumps and tubes, which men are familiar with from shaving, rather than jars, which they associate with women's makeup, he said.
Other corporate initiatives are focused on retailers. P&G has enjoyed encouraging results at chains such as Shoppers Drug Mart by stocking the products in a separate store aisle called the "Men's Zone," said Damon Jones, global communications director for P&G's male grooming in Boston.
Cosmetics retail giant Sephora later this year will create a "men's corner" close to the entrance for all men's beauty products, said Julie Hache, director of education and development. That way they don't have to traipse through the whole store, and female shoppers, to get to the male merchandise.
Join Bread & Butter founder Brian Lau for an online discussion today at noon (ET). Go to globeandmail.com/yourbusiness.
Marketing to men
Men often "shop" for cosmetics in the bathroom cupboard of their wife or girlfriend.
Beauty companies often use women as their ambassadors to persuade men to use their products. BreadandButterSkincare.com markets its men's line partly by handing out product samples at women's clothing stores.
About 2 per cent of Cover FX's annual beauty product sales are purchased by men. Men buy face foundations, powders, concealers and tinted moisturizers. But Cover FX thinks an even higher percentage of its users are men.
Men with skin concerns are more apt to seek advice and help than in the past.
Men's skin is thicker than that of women, and thus oily and acne-prone. Men don't like greasy products; they seek oil-free, fragrance-free skincare options.
Men seek cosmetics to camouflage under-eye circles, rashes from shaving, redness/rosacea and vitiligo (loss of pigment).
Sources: Cover FX; Bread & Butter