analysis by Clare O'Brien - EDLP keeps market sluggish - men shun unisex for tailor-made - shampoo and facial care cut a dash - fixtures must make for an easy shop Are male grooming products losing their gloss? It's difficult to say with such a wide and uneven market. The £313.6m category covers everything from body sprays ­ down a scary 9.7% this year ­ to facial skincare, which is showing strong growth at 50.1%, although from a tiny base [Information Resources 52 w/e June 17 01]. But, as a whole, over the past 12 months the male toiletries market has been dropping slightly, losing 1.9% in value. So what's causing the slowdown? Are British men just too worried about denting their macho image to browse among the creams, gels, shavers, lotions and sprays lined up on the shelves? A recent Mintel report [April 4 2001] found that more than a third of men are happy to leave toiletries shopping to their women partners while a fifth make do with whatever's in the bathroom. Boots was recently forced to close its two trailblazing men's stores, less than two years after they opened. "Yes, overall it's fairly flat," admits Neil Murray, trade marketing controller for Wilkinson Sword, whose products form part of the largest male grooming category, blades and razors. "But we've had five years continual growth." This year, some market sectors aren't growing at all. Not only body sprays, but male colognes and fragrances are showing a big drop ­ down 22%. "That's really a seasonal thing," says Arabella Skinner, brand activation manager for Lever Fabergé's Lynx range. "We had a very good Christmas and the signs are that 2001 will be excellent too. It's down to phasing ­ we're just getting into the new Lynx promotions now." Other less seasonal categories, like hairstyling, have shown healthy growth. Male hairstyling is up 13.6% and several manufacturers are looking to launch products in the sector, including Sara Lee which aims to review and revamp its styling waxes. However, male shampoos are the real success story ­ up a whopping 63% year-on-year [Information Resources 52 w/e June 17 01]. "Prior to a year ago there was nothing for men," says Skinner, "The last thing a man wants is big hair, and female shampoos tended to be geared to that. The new male shampoos emphasise control and manageability over volume and condition, and are better suited to men's short hairstyles." Most brand managers believe EDLP is the main culprit for the market's overall sluggish performance this year. "There are basically two ways of marketing men's toiletries ­ via price reductions or via innovation," says Murray. "With shaving products, the main market drivers are EDLP and shaving super systems like our Wilkinson Sword Xtreme III or Protector 3D Diamond. These systems appeal to men who are impressed by product innovation, who aspire to have the latest car, the latest DVD player, whatever." But not every man is impressed by sexy design and performance. Some would rather buy the cheapest product that will do the job. There's even some resentment of premium pricing among male customers. "It's fuelled by the public perception that everything's too expensive here, that it's a rip-off Britain," says Murray. "The strong pound means that abroad, everything seems cheap, and people want that value to be reflected when they come home." The problem with a static market and pared-to-the-bone pricing is that it discourages manufacturers from investing in new development. "Everyone wants to be price-competitive," says Murray, "but we spent $69m on marketing our Protector 3D Diamond system ­ we have to recover that sort of expenditure in order to go on developing new products. It gets to a point with price cuts when you can't go any bloody lower." Even more frightening figures are claimed by Gillette, which spent $750m on manufacturing capital, research and development over 10 years before coming up with the Mach3. Marketed as the blade which provides "the closest possible shave", it's perhaps the natural competitor for the blade with "the sharpest edges in the world", Wilkinson Sword's Protector 3D Diamond. When men do go shopping for themselves, it's important that they can find what they want quickly. It's recognised that men don't want to spend a lot of time at toiletries fixtures, especially if there are female products nearby ­ so packaging is more important than ever. Wella Shockwaves ­ market leader in unisex hairstyling ­ has recently reinforced its colour-coded range to help men make their selection quickly, and Wilkinson Sword's Murray agrees that brand recognition is paramount. "There can be confusion among consumers," he says. "For example, men may identify with Andre Agassi's image and want to buy the razor he endorses ­ but when they get into the store they can't remember which one it is. That's why we have to work on the clarity of our offer." That work has resulted in eye-catching PoS units featuring Agassi, for high visibility in-store. Growth areas such as male moisturisers have benefited from clever placing. "Male skincare tends to be placed next to the shaving products," says senior product manager for Nivea for Men Samantha Wright. "There's a natural progression from shaving to after shave and conditioning, and then onto male facial care. However, many men need the advice of someone with knowledge and sales staff can really help to educate customers by offering simple advice on how to look after their skin." Imaginative promotions also help grow the market, especially among younger men who haven't had time to establish a grooming routine. "Men respond to excitement and interest so good merchandising is essential," says Lever Fabergé's Skinner, and Nivea's Wright agrees. "As more men take up regular skincare routines, they'll become more adventurous." There's some evidence that men don't want to buy unisex products. Gillette recently launched new pack designs for its Right Guard deodorants, clearly differentiating between male and female variants. "It's all to do with packaging standards," agrees Murray. "Male products seem to sell best in blue or black packaging, unisex products in green, whereas pink is strongly identified with female products. Of course a moisturiser for men may be exactly the same product that women buy, chucked in a different jar." The growth of moisturisers for men is phenomenal and has yet to show signs of slowing, says Wright. Nivea for Men holds more than half the market share of the £8.1m facial post-shave market [Information Resources 52 w/e June 17 001]. She points to the breakdown in traditional gender roles in recent years and adds: "Men are establishing grooming regimes earlier and with less and less peer pressure." Murray also believes the market for post-shaving skin creams is to some extent driven by the gay market. "They're affluent, they spend more, they tend to be the fashion-setters and they look after themselves a lot more," he explains. Lever Fabergé's Skinner agrees that was true initially, although she feels the growth in the segment means that male moisturisers have now moved into the mainstream over-25 market. "Men understand moisturiser now, and they're happy to admit to using it," she says. Increased spending on lifestyle and leisure is also a factor, as is information. "Men can find information that is tailored to their needs ­ a grooming tip, product specific article or general health snippets," says Wright. She adds that the huge growth in men's magazines has helped build a more sophisticated attitude towards appearance. "As far as specific product trends go, penetration is still quite low. But after-shave balms, moisturisers and cleansers will continue to grow as more men enter the category." Wright believes that high performance shaving technology products will become more important along with real innovations, such as Nivea for Men Refreshing Wipes which have been targeted at 18-35-year-olds. "We've had a lot of product innovation recently," says Wilkinson Sword's Murray. "Now we need to let the dust settle while we focus more on female products. Then there will be more innovation. On the whole it will continue to be a healthy sector, delivering good profits to retailers." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}