18.21 Man Made Raises The Bar For Men’s Grooming At Ulta Beauty
Sophisticated fellows shopping Ulta Beauty are in for a pleasant surprise. The upscale grooming brand 18.21 Man Made is rolling out to more than 900 of the beauty retailer’s locations.
The launch is the culmination of five years of assembling distribution across an array of partners from salons to department stores, where 18.21 Man Made is demonstrating men are open to elevating their personal maintenance. It’s an important driver of growth that’s putting the brand on track to generate $3.5 million in wholesale sales this year, up from $2.25 million last year.
“At Ulta, it’s for the guest looking for special things,” says Aston LaFon, co-founder of 18.21 Man Made. “The product is a premium offering for people who care about performance. A lot of their customer base is female, and a lot of them might have special gentlemen in their lives. We have a very giftable product for them, and we’re counting on being highly giftable, but also attractive to men who visit the store, where we can catch their attention with something that looks so uncommon.”
The brand’s uncommon design is rooted in its prohibition era inspiration. Named for the constitutional amendments that established and repealed prohibition, 18.21 Man Made exudes the dark refinement of a speakeasy. Its bestselling wash, for example, appears to be housed in a whiskey bottle replete with a whiskey label. Most of 18.21 Man Made’s products, including the wash, beard balm, shaving glide, and clay, pomade and paste styling products come in glass packaging. Sweet tobacco is the products’ signature scent.
“At Ulta, it’s for the guest looking for special things. The product is a premium offering for people who care about performance.”
The brand’s assortment spans around 12 products priced from $24 to $80, and there are plans to increase it. A deodorant and travel item that’s a shampoo, conditioner, body wash and shaving cream combo are in the product pipeline. “We want to center the brand around pride of ownership. We don’t want to do a throwaway shampoo. We want to create something that people haven’t seen before,” says LaFon. He hints a women’s collection could arrive as soon as 2020.
LaFon and his 18.21 Man Made partner Angel del Solar met while working at the professional haircare brand Enjoy. Del Solar was an art director concentrating on education, and LaFon specialized in sales and marketing, but the two discovered they shared similar sensibilities. They sought to heighten the haircare experience for men. They established the distributor Credible Culture in 2012 to spread high-end brands like Reverie and Verb to salons throughout Texas. Two years later, they decided to shift course to 18.21 Man Made. Del Solar’s brother David is a third partner in the brand.
“We saw that most of the products for guys were sitting in the low end, and they all felt the same,” says LaFon. “But it seemed like a conversation was starting with men saying, ‘I want to take better care of my look. I want to take better care of my skin. I want to be better groomed.’ That conversation was getting louder, but the products weren’t matching it. We wanted to be the one that matched it.”
“We want to center the brand around pride of ownership. We don’t want to do a throwaway shampoo. We want to create something that people haven’t seen before.”
Out of the gate, 18.21 Man Made tapped into the network del Solar and LaFon had marshalled at Credible Culture to enter 96 salons and barbershops. Subsequently, the brand advanced its salon and barbershop reach through distributors and, today, has nine distributors carrying it into professional outlets. In January last year, 18.21 Man Made broke into spas at 100 Life Time Fitness health clubs. Recently, the brand traveled from the United States to Australia with a premiere at Beautopia. Domestically, 18.21 Man Made has sold at the retailer Beauty Brands, and Macy’s is up next for it. Digitally, the brand is available at Amazon Luxury Beauty.
Prior to its Ulta debut, LaFon shares Amazon generated roughly 30% of 18.21 Man Made’s revenues, professional distributors 30%, international accounts 15%, and its own e-commerce 10%. Salons and barbershops handled directly and retailers were responsible for the remainder. However, LaFon figures the retail component of the business will soon equal the Amazon component, although he anticipates Amazon sales for 18.21 Man Made climbing 20% this year. On the retail side, LaFon mentions department stores remain targets for the brand. Its website is a focus, too, and 18.21 Man Made is experimenting with paid social media advertising for the first time this year. Affiliate marketing could follow.
“We want to keep growing in the channels that we are working in and acquiring new customers,” says LaFon. “Typically, a brand gets so big that a company wants to buy it out. We have had offers like that already, but we need to grow the business more, and we know that we can.” It’s rebuffed acquirers, but 18.21 Man Made is considering an investor to support expansion. LaFon explains, “None of us has the experience of building a huge, huge company. We are talking to someone with experience building a business who could bring that perspective and help with the infrastructure needed to scale the business.”