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The Long And Short Of A Beard Facial hair is no more uncouth, untidy or a sign of poor grooming, but men today feel instead of removing it, beard should be kept neat and tidy.

By Sugandh Bahl

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Ozone Salon GK - II, Naveen Sharma

Call it the Virat Kohli effect or Ranveer Singh cult, a new trend has emerged in the male grooming world where many can be seen sporting a stubble or beard of different lengths. This has also thrown
an open box for entrepreneurs into the beard grooming category. Facial hair is no more uncouth, untidy or a sign of poor grooming, but men today feel instead of removing it, beard should be kept neat and tidy. This is where the beard care products come in, forming a bridge between hair care and skin care. Male grooming products like facial hair oils, wax and conditioners are flooding the market. Though critics assume that the trend will fade away with time, several start-ups are building an industry around the beard.

The Blades Are Out

From David Beckham to Kit Harrington (a.k.a John Snow), the bearding styles have invaded salons and barbershop. Men can be seen sporting a stubble, a goatee, a flowing beard, a gruffy, a french even in the suave circles of corporates. It is so, that according to Associated Chambers of Commerce of India, the male grooming business is projected to reach $20 billion mark by 2025.

Working as a chartered accountant in London, Karan Chadha could wear his beard to office, provided it was well groomed. This triggered the idea of launching a beard grooming platform in India, called Gangs of Beard. Karan recalls, "It actually gave me an idea to get such grooming products in the Indian market for men, who would like to keep beard." Growing and grooming a beard is fun when it's a new experience in life. Grooming start-ups are targeting the audience between 18 and 35, as men in this bracket are usually more conscious of their appearance. While the white space created in the male grooming market is quite enormous, the existing sector holds immense potential in the women's space too. Looking at the opportunity, Chandigarh-based Siddhartha Oberoi launched LetsShave in 2015- the first such platform in India. With over two lakh customer in one-and-a-half years and almost 40 per cent repeat customers, LetsShave aims to go headto-head with Gillette.

Meanwhile, Bombay Shaving Company's founder, Raunak, believes in giving out a new experience to all those men who perceive shaving as a mundane task. Having raised Rs 4 crore ($600,000) in seed funding from Noshir Kaka, and Subramanian Ramadorai (MD, McKinsey India) they wanted to bridge the loopholes which existed in the male grooming market. While building the brand, they focused on the fact that products used by men are apparently not for men. They created videos and also started their subscription based sales model to promote their products.

With coming in of companies like The Man Company, whose annual turnover is over Rs 40 crore, even women these days are trying out men's products. Rohit Chawla, Founder, The Man Company, says, "Women have started buying products, not just for gifting purpose, but also to try on themselves as these are chemical free products," adding, "We have grown 25 times in last one year. All this happened without raising any VC round."

Priyank Shah and AshutoshValani initially started their online market place, which also sold beard products. They soon realised it as an untouched section, perhaps smallest category growing by leaps and bounds. And, hence they formed Beardo, which exclusively deals with beard products.

According to Aporva Ranjan Sharma, Founder, Venture Catalyst and investor of "Beardo", "Beard keeping is not a trend. Twenty two per cent people across the globe are Muslims and they all have beard, 30-40 per cent Christians keep beard and all Indian Sardars have beard. The market is huge, with over 150 crore people as their potential clients." Therefore, such start-ups are emerging in this sector to cater to the existing beard keepers and potential clients.

Retail Through FMCG

I nitially, it wouldn't have been easy for any of these start-ups to be able to penetrate into the Indian market, so they prefered to expand by "word of mouth'. Market expanded further, when few FMGC brands bought stakes and tied-up with such start-ups. "I started approaching Dorco, which manufactured razors for Dollar Shave Club, while I was still in college. I got acquainted with the company when I went to work in the US. Later, I got into an exclusive collaboration with them to start a bootstrapped company called LetsShave," said Oberoi. In a recent development, Marico has bought a 45 per cent stake in Beardo, to expand their reach and market across all borders in India, similar to the way Unilever acquired Dollar Shaving Club for $1 billion in July 2016.

Figuring out few pain points while carrying out research, Chawla figured out certain loopholes in Indian market and decided to bridge the gap. There was not a single brand focussing primarily on men grooming products and companies which were emerging in that sector were not catering to the price bracket of Rs 200 to Rs 1200. Moreover, there were no products which were chemical free. "It took us three months to get the exact chemical less composition for the hair wax or hair styling wax. We contacted a number of manufacturers in India but none of them matched our brand ethos. Finally, we had to travel all the way to Dubai to get the desired composition.

Although, it did cost us a bomb but we were happy that we didn't compromise on the quality." Getting such niche and exclusive products to the market, along with a huge cut-down over the price range, it was initially difficult for them to survive in India. Their decision to make their online presence their USP has driven them a long way. Breaking away all these stereotypes, Beardo founder, Ashutosh Valani wanted to instil in minds of people that beard keeping is no longer a sign of poor grooming; instead it is another area to cater to. It took them nine months to establish the statement. Initially, they started with forums on Facebook and Instagram, pointing out the achievements of bearded men and then came live with their products in October 2016.

Way Forward

Investors are of the view that for any company to flourish in this sector, it depends on the brand on how powerful and quick they are in utilizing their distribution capabilities for penetrating into the offline or online market without compromising on quality. It also depends on how they plan to target and engage with hordes of untapped consumers present in India. Post demonetization, these start-ups incurred huge losses in terms of their product sales. Therefore they had to join hands with other e-commerce shelves to sell their products apart from their own portal. With ability to build a market through digital mediums, like Facebook and Instagram, capital investment into any business takes a step back.

(This article was first published in the April issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)

Sugandh Bahl

Former Feature Writer, Entrepreneur India Magazine

Journalism has been in my roots since my school days. Beginning with a content specialist at CRY organisation to landing up being a Feature writer/correspondent at The Entrepreneur Magazine, life has experienced ups and downs fairly well. A foodie by nature and pet over at heart, currently I am thoroughly enjoying my tenure at The Entrepreneur!

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