Birth of a brand: the SKNHEAD story


Birth of a brand: the SKNHEAD storyAward-winning celebrity hairdresser and serial entrepreneur Adee Phelan tells us how he developed his new male grooming brand SKNHEAD

One of the many things that was liberated in the 1960s was men's hair. Before then, men had just two choices: a side parting or all slicked back. Brylcreem was mandatory. Then the '60s rolled around, the Beatles became hippies and everyone let their hair down... literally.

A few decades of "anything goes" later and the first male celebrity haircuts appeared on the scene. Men were given fashion styles to emulate. The media began commenting on footballers' haircuts. Everything changed.

At the same time, men started experimenting with gels, waxes, creams, clays, pomades and putties. Cosmetics companies released shampoos aimed at men. And, more recently, there has been an explosion of YouTube tutorials aimed at men who want to try different hairstyles.

Growing up through this shift has been really exciting for me; and, as a hairdresser, I am proud to say I helped kick off the recent trend with that David Beckham haircut back in 2000.

So why did I wait 17 years to launch my own men's hair care range? Why these products? Why now?

Waiting for the ideal opportunity

Even though the male hair care market has been growing steadily since the 1990s, it's only in recent years that it has really taken off. Celebrities have been a major influence. According to a 2014 survey, around 13% of men in the UK said that they got style inspiration from people like David Beckham, Joey Essex and David Gandy.

YouTube tutorials for men have also grown exponentially over the past five years. In 2015, Google reported that searches for men's hair care tutorials had overtaken searches for women's hair tips for the first time. Now we have YouTube sensations like Aaron Marino offering no-nonsense grooming advice for men. His channel, Alpha M, has over 2.7 million subscribers.

But why am I telling you all this? Because if there's one thing that will make or break your business idea, it's timing. Come into the market with the right products at the right time and the chances are you'll find success. Jump too early or too late and you could miss your opportunity.

My new hair care range for men has been in development for a good few years now, but until the male grooming market matured, there was little point in launching a range of technical products - there just wasn't a huge market for them. Now, men are more aware of the products they use and the benefits and drawbacks of each - and they are ready for products tailored to these new and emerging needs.

Understanding your market

Even if customers are actively seeking out your products, it's still vital that your product appeals to your target audience. Male grooming may be booming, but men don't want to feel too girly about it. They want to feel the same way women do when they're pampered: attractive, confident, and powerful in the world... but in a manly way.

Of course, men are also less likely to grow their hair long or use dye to change its colour. So, there is less need for shampoos that maximise highlights or fix split ends. They are, however, concerned about using harsh and potentially damaging chemicals, perhaps trying to delay baldness. That's why we went with a more natural range, capitalising on the "no-poo" trend (washing hair in water or natural products instead of using shampoo).

I think men have been over-exposed to women's shampoo ads promising that some chemical with a made-up name will achieve the impossible. That scepticism has permeated. When so many people are switching off shampoo altogether, having a product that keeps natural oils intact while cleaning your hair really stands out.

Our launch range consists of seven initial products, including SKNHEAD, a coconut oil-based skin moisturiser that can also be used to control and structure hair, and Co-wash, a conditioner that also cleanses the hair.

To develop the SKNHEAD brand, we brought all of this research and first-hand market knowledge to an experienced designer. He turned my ideas and vision into sleek, minimalist bottle designs in an attractive dusky blue colour that will catch a man's eye and look good in their bathroom.

Ultimately, if you develop the right products for a growing market and release them in the early growth window, you'll set yourself up for success. Once you've dominated your market you can begin to branch out into other product ranges, capitalising on your brand equity. It all starts with spotting the right opportunity at the right time.

Adee's top tips:

  1. Get the timing right. Use Google Trends, keep an eye out for news stories and track the zeitgeist (eg through social listening) to identify whether your market is growing, shrinking, or staying level. Your ideal launch window is during a period of rapid growth.
  2. Spot gaps in the market. Which product types are over- or under-saturated? Establish a firm position in a popular yet under-serviced niche.
  3. Listen to customers' opinions. Are they craving a particular type of product? Are certain ingredients on trend? Are customers reacting against a particular type of product?