Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

Michael Baker
Smarter Writer

Michael Baker is a retail consultant and vice-chair of the ICSC's Asia-Pacific Research Council

Retailers in women’s categories are expanding their options by introducing men’s lines. Here’s how to do it successfully.

If you are in the business of selling primarily women’s merchandise, extending your product line to men may be anathema. Yet for larger retail chains searching for new growth areas, selling to men often becomes a serious consideration. 

Man with axe shaving face

In the beginning, baby steps

It usually begins with a relatively small commitment – allocating a corner of the women's store to men's products. Initially, the only purchases are made by women themselves for their male partners. Then, if there is enough interest, the retailer expands the product assortment and devotes more shelf space to the new category. Eventually, word gets around and men themselves start appearing in the store.

At the same time as this is happening, the retailer is market-testing men's products online. What are the sweet spots in terms of merchandise preferences and most favourable geographic markets?

Finally, if it really works well, there is the possibility of opening stores dedicated to men. The men's business then takes off under its own steam in its own retail format.

The case of lululemon

This has been the experience for women's sports apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica which has been incubating men's technical clothing lines in its existing stores for a number of years. However, this year, the company announced plans to roll out men-only branches. The first of these opened in the heart of New York’s SoHo neighbourhood in November, shortly after the launch of a number of social media channels tailored exclusively for men.

Lululemon has a good chance of getting the men-only strategy to work, since it uses technologies and styles that now have fanatical devotees among men and because it has been patient and persistent in its in-store and online marketing efforts. It will need every advantage it can get because the competition is now intense in the women's arena with retailers of the calibre of Lorna Jane, Lucy, Gap's Athleta, Nike, Under Armour and Victoria's Secret all trying to grab a piece of the action.

Beauty products

Beauty products such as skincare, haircare and fragrances is now a US$33 billion global market according to Euromonitor. Growth in the category has accelerated as manufacturers broaden the assortment of products available while spicing them up with ingredients adapted from women's cosmetics products.

Meanwhile, distribution channels have expanded. Supermarket personal care aisles have allocated more shelf space to the products. While department store cosmetics floors have remained largely devoted to females, more contemporary cosmetics retailers like Sephora, which just had a hugely successful Australian launch on Sydney’s Pitt Street, are carrying their own line of men's products in stores.

Of course, the big problem with selling beauty products to men is that although many guys want to use them, they rarely want to be caught shopping for them. True, the stigma attached to buying these products is diminishing somewhat but marketers are still carefully nuancing their approach.

For example, many men perceive skincare issues in the same way they might perceive weeds on the lawn or a blocked drain, making them more inclined than women to want a knock-down solution that involves the most powerful ingredients. Grooming for them is not usually a pleasurable experience as it is for many women; it’s a chore that has to be endured in order to do away with a problem. For this reason, marketing needs to emphasise the problem-solving nature of a product rather than the therapeutic benefits of actually applying it.

Marketers also give men’s products names that you wouldn’t try on women, like Kiehl’s Facial Fuel “Heavy Lifting” skincare line, Aveda’s “Pure-formance Dual Action” aftershave and L’Oréal’s “Men Expert” moisturisers.

Despite the more male-friendly stores and masculine-sounding product names, the men’s beauty category seems like it will continue to reside mainly online for the time being. However, that will change. The demographics of men’s personal care spending are currently weighted toward younger age groups who have fewer foibles about grooming themselves. As these men gradually become the bulk of the consuming public, men’s beauty products will be the specialty of more and more retailers.

Key takeaways

  1. Men do it too. Selling products to men that are traditionally targeted to women is becoming increasingly viable as traditional gender roles relax
  2. Understanding the male market. Retailers can test the water first by allocating some store and website space to men’s lines. The assortments can be fine-tuned, edited and expanded to find the right formula. Selling online also provides the opportunity to understand the male customer’s preferences
  3. Predicting the next big thing. E-commerce has the additional advantage of helping the retailer to understand sweet spots in terms of geography – where are the products selling best and is the interest strong enough to warrant the possibility of stand-alone stores?
  4. Make blokes welcome. Where some space in women’s stores is turned over to men’s products, the latter should be as welcoming as possible. The quality and approachability of the staff will be critically important in ensuring a positive shopping experience
  5. Masculine expansion. Introducing and incubating a men’s line can be an excellent way for a retailer to freshen up a store, bring in a whole new demographic and overcome market saturation

Verdict

Despite the more male-friendly stores and masculine-sounding product names, the men’s beauty category seems like it will continue to reside mainly online for the time being. However, that will change. The demographics of men’s personal care spending are currently weighted toward younger age groups who have fewer foibles about grooming themselves. As these men gradually become the bulk of the consuming public, men’s beauty products will be the specialty of more and more retailers.

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