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Selling men on skin care

Selling men on skin care

Brian Lau knows that guys hate to shop, so he's selling his men's skin care products in a whole new way.

[photo of Brian Lau]It’s not difficult to make money in the so-called beauty business where tubes of skin-creams with extravagant promises can easily sell for $100.

But if you’re aiming to keep your integrity and sell quality products at an affordable price, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

And if you’re selling to men, who for the most part are hesitant to do more than slap on some shaving-gel or deodorant, you’re really facing a challenge.

It’s one that Brian Lau, Com’01, feels he’s up to. He knows very well what men want -- and it’s not hanging around a sales counter getting the hard sell from a clerk, or worse, no service at all.

Explains Brian, “The biggest problem with selling men’s products is that men don’t like to shop – they hate it.” They also don’t want to be paying a lot of money, nor will they be sucked into buying products they don’t need.

With that in mind, Brian has created a line of men’s grooming products under the name Bread & Butter Skin, sold exclusively on the internet at www.breadandbutterskincare.com. The products provide the basics: face cleanser, moisturizer, shaving gel and lip balm in six- or 12- month supplies, retailing at $49.99 to $84.99.

Brian comes by his entrepreneurship honestly. As a School of Business student, he was president of the Queen’s Chapter of the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs – a global student-entrepreneur organization helping students operate businesses. Brian and his buddies ran a business aimed at harried fellow students. Copying past exams on file at the library, they compiled them into exam books. “It was one-stop shopping. Instead of students having to search for the exams they wanted and copying them, they were able to purchase the book containing all the exams for their courses.”

Not only did the business make money, but it also garnered the Queen’s Chapter an award for the fastest-growing student business in sales and membership in Canada.

After graduation, Brian landed a job with Unilever, a health and beauty products company, working first in Toronto, then in the company’s New York offices. That experience made a lasting impression on him.

At the time, Unilever had just launched its groundbreaking "Dove Campaign for Real Beauty." Going where no grooming products company had ever gone before, Unilever aimed to sell its wares by making women of all shapes, sizes and ages feel better, rather than worse, about themselves.

Says Brian, “It was such an eye-opener! It’s rare to see a company with a true social cause doing well business-wise. Unilever was trying to debunk the stereotypes out there and it benefited their business in so many ways -- not just in terms of the bottom line, but it also attracted better employees. It was amazing to see the network effects of doing something so socially powerful.”

After his time at Unilever, Brian picked up an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago before returning to Toronto to work for a holding company. It was at that company, which made products for high-end skin and hair-care brands -- companies like Burt’s Bees and Aveda -- that Brian became more intrigued with the idea of creating his own line of products for men. “I got a good understanding of what’s in the high-end formulas, what makes some great and others not great. I also learned how to manufacture these things at different costs.”

With that know-how, plus the product knowledge he’d picked up during his time at Unilever’s Dove (“We worked with research and development nearly every day”), he developed his own skin-care products.

They’re different from other men’s products because they do not contain any fragrances, grain alcohol or exotic plant-extracts that aggravate men’s skin after shaving. His moisturizer contains both UVA and UVB sun protection, which he says is a must.

Right now, he’s aiming his product line at two specific groups of men: those who spend a lot of time flying (all of his products come in airline-approved sizes) and those with very sensitive skin.

Brian is confident his guy-friendly approach will work. “Companies try to create need. Our motto is ‘Everything a guy needs and nothing he doesn’t.’ All they need is to wash their face, shave and put something protective on after.”

It looks like it’s that kind of plain thinking that may just provide Brian with his bread and butter.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-3 cover]