Making the most of modern masculinity

Be a man. Man up. Take it like a man! These are phrases that we are all too familiar with. “The layered perceptions of what these phrases mean has been at the forefront of societal introspection since the #metoo movement has highlighted the toxic behaviour and sexual violence in various industries across the world,” points out Khumo Theko, the Cultural Identity Trend Spotter at Flux Trends.

Many brands are addressing or discussing the notion of modern masculinity, from much-talked-about Gillette’s The Best a Man Can Be campaign, to Black Label’s #NoExcuse campaign and Lynx #MenInProgress.

It is clear that the idea of modern masculinity has come under a microscope. From a retail perspective, the categories of male grooming, athleisure and sporting goods are on this rise, and this is a clue as to how modern men are spending their money.

An increasing number of men are trading in clubbing, expensive sports cars and other coping mechanisms during what is referred to as their midlife crises, for fitness, health and self-care. More men going through andropause (35 to 55 years of age) are becoming vegans, and signing up to prove their mettle in demanding sporting events, from Iron Man to the Warrior Race; and, to do this they are taking up Cross Fit or the gym and keeping fit.

There are always going to be men who prioritise spending on fast cars and flash, but it is clear that this spend is being diversified beyond a stereotype and expanded as the idea of what symbolises success for men does too. Cycling, for example, is one sector that has been growing a lot locally and people are willing to spend a big amount of money on a quality bicycle. Leading banks will even help you finance your bicycle.

“It is about redefining what the notion of what masculinity is and what products and brands define that. Brands are rethinking how they communicate with consumers,” sums up Theko.

She notes that the rise in the trend of male grooming, for instance, reflects men taking better care of themselves but also reflects how our older generation’s perspective of ageing has become different.

“There is a growing notion that ageing gracefully means that you are able to experience and do a lot more things, things that you could not do when you were younger because of the responsibilities on your shoulders. This is part of what has brought about the shift in men taking better care of themselves and being physically active as well,” says Theko.

One of the urban tribes that can be seen today, she explains, is the ‘anti-retirerers’. Essentially there is an older generation that is not retiring. They are going back into the workplace, and are also being more physically active. More companies are deciding to take older workers back because of the wealth and knowledge and mentorship they can offer.

“I think it is a different appreciation of life. Essentially today’s men have learned from previous generations’ mistakes, especially if their fathers or grandfathers did not take care of themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. They want to live a quality life and embrace ways to divert from the courses that led to poor quality of life for older generations,” says Theko.

This rise in spend on male health and grooming is not a fad. “This is definitely going to persist because it can be seen across generations; it is about the younger generation as well the older generations taking much better care of themselves and their physical, emotional, and mental health. Many of the younger generation, Generation Z, are not drinking alcohol and are generally a lot more conscious about what they take into their bodies, how they treat their bodies, and what they do with their environment,” points out Theko.

Essentially, there are two very big industries that are helping men to redefine themselves by taking care of themselves in a non-selfish way; the male grooming and fitness segments.

Stats SA has reported that the fitness segment is expected to grow to R140bn by 2019. The male grooming industry is booming. Statista reports the estimated size of the global male grooming market to be worth about US$29.14bn by 2024, which shows the massive potential the industry holds as well as the rising global demand.

Feeling good and confident

Sorbet Man doesn’t like to define masculinity and tell guests who they need to be. It accepts whatever version of you that you want to be. “We just want you to leave with feeling confident and good about yourself,” says Zoe Sheppard, Brand Manger Sorbet Man.

The growing category in male grooming was the inspiration behind the Sorbet Man concept. Sorbet man is a full service male grooming bar that doesn’t just offer barbering services such as haircuts and shaves, but tailored services such as massage, manscaping, manicures, pedicures and facials. It also has tailored treatments for boys.

“We have worked hard at trying to create a male grooming space that men would be comfortable in visiting. Gone are the days where men have to enter overly feminine spaces for treatments that may have left them feeling insecure or uncomfortable,” says Sheppard.

As the only male grooming salon chain in the country that has a full bouquet of offerings, the overwhelming positive feedback from customers is behind the quick growth of Sorbet Man.

Of course, it also responds to the changing trends in male grooming. “We have recently seen the global trend of beard growing and the increase in beard care treatments and retail sales. We don’t think the beard is going anywhere soon,” say Sheppard.

“In the hairstyle department, the faded clipper cut is on the rise, and men are starting to see the benefits in manis and pedis too,” she adds.

For Sorbet, which started out targeting women, the shift from female to male grooming space felt like a natural progression. Having had the history of creating a successful franchise model for Sorbet, has helped in creating the concept for the male salons. Sorbet Man has its own academy where it trains barbers to the meet its standards. Like the salon side of the business, the hygiene of the spaces and quality of the treatments are constantly monitored.

What does it consider as the essential ingredients to a great customer experience? Friendly and professional service. “All our customers are known as guests and are treated in that manner. Sorbet, as a group, has a strong servant leadership culture, which is felt when dealing with our therapists and barbers,” notes Sheppard.

Its stores are specifically designed to make everyone feel welcome. “There are many ‘hipster tattooed’ barber shops that have recently opened, which may speak to some gentlemen, but we wanted a clean professional space any gent would feel comfortable in,” she adds.

The Sorbet Man customers are men of all ages, from six to 60-plus, who want a quick and efficient good quality experience, situated at convenient locations.

It also sells its own range of grooming products under the Sorbet MAN brand, including skincare, beard care, body care, and haircare. In addition, it stocks other branded products in the same categories, as well as shaving and hair thickening products.

Sorbet Man’s hot towel shaves and haircuts are the most popular treatments with customers.

All the behind-the-scenes runnings of Sorbet Man operate the same way as the Sorbet Salons and Sorbet Drybars. Sorbet Man get a lot of support from the support office in terms of marketing, operations and training. It works very closely with its franchise partners, making sure that the franchise partners get the right support needed to ensure that their business run smoothly.

And the brand continues to grow in response to a growing demand for its services. It will be opening three or four more Sorbet Man stores this year, all located conveniently for its customers.

It is more than a matter of fit

If you have noticed an increase in organised competitive events and accessible timed sporting events, then you are spot on trend. These events do not only cater to elite athletes but anyone who wants to be healthy and fit at their own level of achievement.

As someone who takes part in marathons, Theko weighs in on this matter with first-hand experience. “This is the third year that I have been running marathons and I can definitely see a trend of a lot more events. One of the drivers of this in South Africa are the points and benefits that you earn if you have certain types of medical cover, which incentivises you to be physically active, fit and healthy.”

Is there an opportunity here for retailers and shopping centres?

“Definitely. When I run a marathon, afterwards we usually go to the mall with whomever I have been running with, rather than just going home. It would be a lot better if sporting events either had starting lines, meeting spaces, main water points, or finishing lines at a mall. Also, malls would be drawing a completely different audience - people that are not necessarily shopping as these malls regularly. Widening markets could help to benefit some shopping centre retailers a lot,” notes Theko.

Some malls are optimising this opportunity already, such as the Critical Mass monthly social cycling event, hosted on the streets of Sandton. The event is for anyone who loves the joy of riding in a social environment. On the second-last Friday of each month it departs from Benmore Centre for a 10km cycle to The Zone shopping centre in Rosebank, where it takes a 45-minute refreshment break, followed by a 6km return to Benmore Centre. Riders meet in the lower ground parking B of the Benmore Centre from 5.30pm onwards for a bit of socialising before the start. Thanks to Benmore Centre, Critical Mass participants park for free.

Corporates and brands, from sporting goods to banks, are also keen to get in on the action. “These brands have shown a willingness to work with the organisations that are catering to people who are physically active. Of course, the size of the event and number of people that it reaches is a big consideration,” notes Theko.

With names like the Warrior Race, The Beast and Iron Man, many of the growing competitions are certainly no easy-breezy sporting events; they’re extreme. Men and women push themselves to their limits and pride themselves on their achievements.

“As someone who runs marathons, I can vouch for that; it is the joy you feel that you’ve been able to push your body to a point. You are constantly learning that you are a lot stronger than you thought you were. It is a great feeling of accomplishment. It is essentially something that you train months in advance for. It comes down to having control of your goals, how you train, how you prepare, and the satisfaction of accomplishment,” says Theko.

For anyone who is competitive, organised sporting events are a great way to compete. “A big part of it is that you’re competing with yourself because you have to wake up every day and go and train. You have to be conscious of what and how much you eat and drink, so it’s that constant reminder of taking care of yourself, being good to yourself and pursuing a goal and you’re actually in control of this. It is more just about being pushing yourself to be a better version of yourself.”

Are consumers happy to shell out for something that helps them be better? Yes, absolutely, they are.

“If something will help people achieve their goal, then they are willing to spend on it. They will willingly part with that hard-earned R800 for those running shoes because the shoes help them work towards something bigger. They are not just buying a pair of shoes that look nice, they are buying something that will help get them to Iron Man in 2020,” says Theko.

This kind of purchase offers more than once-off instant gratification; it keeps on giving. It comes complete with the added value of unlocking personal achievement. “The purchase is not just about the enjoyment of the item; it adds to what you are working towards. It is about purpose.”

Smart retailers can become part of that purpose in every step of the client’s journey.

Inclusive interest-based marketing

So, how can retailers respond to this trend and up the game to make the most of spending around modern masculinity?

The short answer, says Theko, is for retailers to make marketing more inclusive and appealing to customers in terms of interest versus age or gender. “Drawing in people based on interests is likely to be more beneficial for companies, and retail especially.”

She adds: “Any retailer that is not specifically making its marketing a lot more inclusive is behind the curve. Being out of touch with the customer and retail trends is another pitfall. More men are buying products that, for example, are good for their skins. Retailers, however, need to recognise this and respond to it in order to capitalise on it.”

Does mom do the shopping? Or dad? Does it matter?

There is clear evidence that, in the past, retailers and shopping centres alike have stereotyped shopping as a woman’s activity in retail advertising. But this is changing.

Theko notes that many millennial fathers are sharing their experience of raising their kids on social media.

It is clear that child-rearing is no longer a responsibility left exclusively to moms. Many fathers are questioning what it means to be a good dad, how masculinity fits with good parenting, and redefining fatherhood, taking it beyond stereotypes. More and more men are stay-at-home dads, baking with the kids, picking them up from school, doing the shopping - the dynamics are changing.

“Where language is becoming a lot more gender neutral, we are moving into a space where, for example, advertising does not speak to a mom or a dad, but rather a parent. Society has become a lot more open to a diverse concept of what a family is. The modern family often does not conform to the traditional concept of perfect family life,” explains Theko.

“Most families are very different. Brands need to start interacting with real families, and not just revert to stereotypes where it is moms that do the shopping in a household,” she says.

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