Summer 2014
Mad for Men’s Gifts By Kristine Hansen

Pop culture and man-cave sensibilities have merged to create an increased demand for men’s gifts.

When Alan Cadan, founder of Alynn Neckwear in Southern California, began to sell high-quality men’s neckwear in 1979, his moves were bold. He tossed aside convention – such as neutral-hued, simply patterned ties – in favor of silk neckties awash in bright patterns that evoked conversation. Their male wearers – who had no qualms about stopping traffic based on their outfits – became the talk of the town.

“They are perfect gifts for the man not afraid to show off his personality,” says Jennifer Kurz, the company’s director of wholesale sales. For example, elephants dance across a cherry-red tie and lobsters decorate another against a crisp navy background. Other motifs include roosters, anchors, items in a doctor’s “tool kit” and mint juleps.

But like any successful business, no matter how solid its audience or its demographic, products must be tweaked over time to reflect societal changes. “Besides the changes in width necessitated by the latest style, our designs have remained classical in nature with just enough whimsy to break a smile,” says Kurz. “Conversational cufflinks” were recently added and this fall, a line of scarves will debut. “We have a new line of holiday woven silk ties coming in that have some fantastic design elements,” she says.

Pop culture

CamilleBeckmanWhat’s driving the most successful men’s products these days? Pop culture continues to shape perception of fashion and personal care. This includes the hit retro-drama Bravo show Mad Men. Perma Brands is a company based in Toronto that retails grooming products for men, such as double-edge safety blades and skin-, hand- and nail-care products. “You’re seeing (the blades) pop up in a lot of different advertising and a lot of shows on television, like Mad Men and Boardwalk [Empire],” says David Serrano, an account manager at the company. In fact, Perma’s products were featured on both shows. “Men are becoming more aware of proper skin care. A properly groomed gentleman has more popularity. It’s (also) bringing back this nostalgia.”

“It’s been a growth industry over the last three years,” says Serrano. “The younger crowd – under 40 years of age – is starting to get familiar with the old-school style of shaving.” Part of the interest in retro lifestyles is access to information about those periods via the Internet, something that previous generations could not obtain.

In 2011, Samuel Lopez launched The Men’s Soap Shop, another example of a successful men’s grooming line. Fresh out of Boston University – where he earned a master’s degree in economics—Lopez felt a pull towards simpler, nostalgic times. With the help of his wife, an electrical engineer by day, he developed a line of all-natural products that return men to a time before plastic multi-blade cartridges and foam in a can. The company’s retail location is in Worcester, Mass.

Men who walk in the door—or, the women in their life shopping for gift ideas —can find every tool necessary for classic shaving. This includes double-edge safety razors, badger-hair shaving brushes and shaving bowls. For those new to this ages-old shaving technique, there are even kits. “It’s time to reacquaint ourselves with the morning rituals of our forefathers,” says Lopez. “Shaving was a deliberate exercise requiring skill and the right equipment. Disposable blades and electric razors have buried this time-honored grooming tradition.”

RubygirlKurz, of Alynn Neckwear, agrees that there’s been a renaissance in focusing on a man’s personal appearance. “Men are becoming more aware of their appearance and our line helps them express their individuality in a conservative but quirky way. In addition to this wave of fashion-conscious men, women continue to buy our items as gifts for a special man in their life,” says Kurz.

A few decades ago, selling a bracelet for men might have seemed like an offbeat idea but today it’s the sole focus of Teah Mazzoni’s business, Anchor Me Bracelet. She makes two unisex, nautical-themed bracelets that appeal to men: the Oversized Anchor Me bracelet and the Catch Me Bracelet, retailing for around $30 each. Both are a bigger version of the company’s original bracelets but offer a silver or bronze finish with a black or brown leather cord with a clasp. “They are a statement piece for women but a great fit for a man. The large charm is attractive on a bigger wrist and the leather and clasp gives it a handsome look,” says Mazzoni. “I feel that there is no jewelry out there for men. Men typically wear a wedding ring or a watch, but any other jewelry is usually very pricey. The unisex line is a nice fit for a man who wants to wear a bracelet as a gift from a loved one, with meaning behind it.”

What helps sell the bracelets are their sentimental value. “Our products have a story behind them,” explains Mazzoni. “A lot of it is emotional and sentimental, but our Catch Me line has a playful twist. Wearing the hook towards your heart if you are ‘caught’ – and away if you are still ‘fishing’ – is an easy way for a man to wear his relationship with pride, while staying in trend.” To diffuse the notion that bracelets are only for women, Mazzoni constructs her branding very carefully. “Our marketing materials also portray men, women and children, which helps men easily realize ‘Hey…I can wear this!’” she says.

What men want

Charriol1As a retailer, attracting and developing a niche audience can be tricky – and takes patience – no matter what the product is. This is especially difficult if trying to entice male customers who, historically, are not huge shoppers. Bob Phibbs, a retail-industry expert based in Coxsackle, NY, offers a few tips. Some of these relate more to the packaging and in-store displays and are less about the actual product. For example, he says, “Color choices should be stronger, darker, and textures are more important. Use natural items like wood, steel or stone.”

Kurz, of Alynn Neckwear, suggest stores purchase their gift cubes to display the ties in. “Then set up a ‘gifts for him’ table off to the side and stack the ties as a tower or pyramid. We also offer a wooden tie rack to be used as a display item in gift shops.”

Deciding where to place these trinkets for men within a retail setting is equally important. Lopez, of Men’s Soap Shop, has found that “these men’s gifts are an afterthought while waiting in line. When women are waiting in line for the holidays/special occasions they are thinking of checklists. ‘Who am I missing?’ Why not make their hardest present to find be in front of them?”

By placing these affordable products within arm’s reach, sales trickle in.

“Creating a nook or small display table for men close to the front or a sitting area is most effective,” says Roshan Roghani, vice president of Camille Beckman, which started in 1986 with glycerine skin therapy products and has since evolved into products for men. “A lot of men tend to stand next to their wives or sit down while they shop.”

For some products, replicating how it might look at home is crucial. Primitives by Kathy, a Lancaster, PA-based company, sells sign boxes for men, with themes like hunting, beer, fishing, cabin living and sports. “The key to selling the ‘man’ product in a ‘woman’s’ store is how the merchandise is displayed. We suggest the product stand out from the rest, whether it is displayed in a high-traffic area – or ‘manly’ props are used to draw the attention of men to look at the display, whether it be empty beer cans, a deer head, a basketball or baseball,” says Kathy Phillips, the company’s founder.

mustachioAuntSadiesManufacturers are doing their part by being thoughtful about the packaging, considering that the audience might no longer be women. This could extend to color and texture, two attributes that have little to do with the product’s performance but everything to do with grabbing a man’s attention. “A color that’s been very popular is a satin metal, a dull black,” says Serrano, about his company’s blades for shaving. Previously just the handle was in this hue: soon the entire product will be awash in a dull black. He’s noticed this color being used on cars and other big-ticket items too, proof it’s a winning style.

“Messaging should be shorter, on how it saves time or ‘Be a hero’ then describe how,” advises Phibbs. He’s seen too many products focus on the reduced price or why it’s a bargain and that doesn’t necessarily seal the deal for men.

Getting to the point – and not using flowery language or abstract messages – has helped Camille Beckman’s products for men rise into popularity. “We are focusing on the basics of what men want. Men like masculine colors, bold and clean packaging and simplicity. When it comes to product, they want a great scent and results,” says Roghani, the company’s vice president.

Camille Beckman’s “Basics For Men” line includes Deep Clean Body Wash and Ultimate Tough Skin Relief. “Products need to be marketed for men to feel comfortable while also offering them results,” says Roghani. “Men will not continue to use an item if they feel the results aren’t there. Over the years we have gotten thousands of men calling and writing in who use our Glycerine Hand Therapy and claimed it worked miracles. We took our same formula all the men were raving about and created a unique fragrance that would please both those who like clean and spicy scents alike, and named it Basics for Men. The line is basic – one style of packaging and one scent that’s trendy, classic and masculine.”

Cave comforts

MeleandCo1What has also helped spawn the growing market for gifts that cater to men is the rise of the Man Cave. Just like men want a dedicated room within the family home, so too do they want products just for these dens.

“Over the years households have changed,” says Phillips, founder of Primitives by Kathy. “Many homes are based on the man having a room that he can call his own, whether it be a mini bar and big-screen TV, a man cave in the basement or den, maybe even a cabin of his own where he relaxes with his buddies. As the times change so does the desire for the man to be able to decorate the way he wants things to be.”

“We are in business because of this trend. Men’s perceptions of good products are changing. They are demanding better quality products for themselves and they like to have something exclusive. Every product we make is painstakingly handcrafted in small batches from simple ingredients found in nature, not a lab. It takes time to make our products, yes, but producing something this pure and unique can’t be rushed,” says Lopez.

Another reason why men’s products are so popular is that longer work hours inspire a need for pampering. “Men’s working hours are getting longer and longer. Their morning routine is their only ‘me’ time they have left,” says Lopez, of Men’s Soap Shop. “They want that time to be a pleasant experience and are seeking better quality products. We developed this line with the idea of this return in time when grooming rituals made the man and good ingredients were the norm.”

Catering to men involves adding layers to the product that incorporate both function and fashion. Whether it’s shaving cream, a silk necktie, décor for the man cave, skin-care lotions or a masculine bracelet, the most successful sales pitches seamlessly weave these aspects into the product’s messaging.

Kristine Hansen

Hansen writes frequently for business and consumer publications. Her articles have appeared in NWA World Traveler and Garden

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