Hipster chic inspires big growth in beard-related businesses

From beard oil to luxury razors to hipster barbershops, entrepreneurs from coast to coast are eager to cash in on the spending boom emerging from the popularity of facial hair.

Beards are big, launching a ‘renaissance’ in men’s grooming

Matt White of Sussex, N.B., has been growing and grooming his beard for 30 years. His line of beard oils is taking off. (Sussex Beard Oil)

From beard oil to luxury razors to hipster barbershops, entrepreneurs from coast to coast are eager to cash in on the spending boom emerging from the popularity of facial hair.

"Up until last fall we only had one shelf of beard products. Now we have seven. It's absolutely exploded," says Seth Harman, owner of MenEssentials, a Toronto-based retail outlet and e-commerce site that bills itself as a "shave cave." 

Harman notes that cosmetic companies started to target men years ago, but that the trend has recently taken off anew. He points to Hollywood as part of the reason: "Brad Pitt, Ryan Reynolds — they're all sporting some sort of facial hair." 

And having a beard doesn't mean abandoning a shave routine: double-edged razors are used to sculpt facial hair to a neat line on the neck or cheeks. 

Some of Harman's customers admit they've been using bar soap for everything — shampoo, shaving cream, body wash — but once they "get comfortable" taking more time on their shaving routine, they get hooked on higher-end products.

Gift-buyers looking for ideas for Father's Day this year will have no shortage of selection when it comes to men's grooming products.  

Here are some examples of Canadian businesses that are expanding, thanks to men's growing interest in grooming.

Sussex Beard Oil

Founder Matt White is an ordained minister with a ZZ Top-style beard that he's been growing for 30 years. He started making beard oil for himself at his home in Sussex, N.B., using it to smooth his beard and keep it neat, as well as to moisturize his skin to prevent itching.  But when he began to notice more and more bearded men on the street, he recognized an opportunity.  

The market is a little bit swamped right now with beard oils, but it's like any emerging market, you're going to have a ton of new players in the game. — Tyler Johnstone, Fortknight Barbers

"It was a hobby on steroids for a while," he says. "But I have great business people around me who were so excited about it, and they started to say you've got something here. The timing is right, the quality of the products is so good. Then I started to get emails from the U.S., people wanting to try it."

He's now selling his oil in 10 stores across Canada, at $22.95 for a 30 ml bottle.

"There's a renaissance of men's grooming that's taking place globally," White says. "It's not just in one country. In Europe it's the same thing."

King's Crown Razors

Montreal-born Randy Weyersberg descends from a family of famous German sword-makers. His company's website points out that for 500 years, the Weyersberg name "has been synonymous with exacting precision, handcraftsmanship and quality. As men's needs changed so did our products."
Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds sports a beard in this image from February. Hollywood is boosting the fashion for facial hair. (Victoria Will/Invision/Associated Press)

His grandfather shifted the company into cutlery, knives and jewelry. Now the brand has been reinvented again to sell high-end straight razors, shaving tools and skin care.

"Our razors have beautiful handles handcrafted in Florence, Italy," says Weyersberg. "Our leather goods are also crafted there. We've partnered with craftspeople from around the world to curate our collection." The razors cost $100 and up.

Weyersburg worked in consumer products at Nike, Nabisco and Campbell before deciding the time was right to return to the family business.  

"I have kids that are millennials," he says. "And they really woke me up to their lifestyle choices. The focus on how they look and how they feel is a much higher preoccupation than any other [recent] male generation."

The Royal Ontario Museum is now selling the King's Crown collection, as are a number of retail outlets in New York and Las Vegas. Weyersberg has plans to open a barbershop in October in a luxury mall, offering not just haircuts, but also straight shaves and waxing for men's hands and feet.

Fortknight Barbers

Tyler Johnstone of Vancouver took a rather random path into men's grooming.

"I was walking down the street in Gastown one day and saw this run down, beat-up storefront that was empty, and I thought there's so much potential here, I'll lease it and then figure out what to do with it," he recounts.  

He gave up his job as a business developer in the wine industry and opened a clothing store called Fortknight.

When a barber friend suggested installing a chair in the store, Johnstone became excited.   

"I was bam! That's it!" he says. "And now we're 90 per cent barbering."  

Next came a line of Fortknight men's grooming products, including beard balm, moustache wax and hair styling cream. Johnstone wholesales the line across Canada and into the U.S.

"I'm blown away by how much our dealers sell," he says. "We have a dealer in Brandon, Man., who sells as much as we do in Vancouver." (The population of Brandon is less than a tenth of Vancouver's).

Johnstone doesn't believe all the new entrants to the market are going to last.  

"The market is a little bit swamped right now with beard oils," he says, "but it's like any emerging market, you're going to have a ton of new players in the game and then most of them fall off."

About the Author

Dianne Buckner

Dianne Buckner has reported on entrepreneurs for two decades. She hosts Dragons' Den on CBC Television and is part of the business news team at CBC News Network.


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