Face value. The booming market for male grooming in Asia8th Oct '17
It’s not unusual for a South Korean man to have a 10-step daily skincare regime – an opportunity that one British brand has been quick to tap. As Bulldog expands overseas, Rebecca Burn Callander hears more about a market worth almost $50bn – two-thirds of which comes from Asia
Company: Bulldog Skincare for Men Trading in: South Korea, Thailand, Japan Sector: Male grooming
“Asia is not a monolith; each market is different. The products that do well in Korea won’t necessarily do well in Thailand”
Why would an Asian consumer want to buy Bulldog? This is the question that Simon Duffy found himself asking six years ago, as he embarked on a long-term strategy to crack the Asian market with his male grooming brand.
The skincare entrepreneur’s range of nature-inspired products is sold all over the UK, making it the nation’s third-favourite male skincare brand. But the exponential growth in the market was coming from the other side of the world. “Two-thirds of the value in the market, and almost 100 per cent of the innovation, is coming from Asia,” says Duffy.
According to market research firm Euromonitor, of the top six global skincare markets, which include the US, UK and Germany, three are in Asia: China, South Korea and Japan. The global male grooming industry is worth almost $50bn (£39bn).
Before tackling the major Asian markets, Duffy set his sights on a smaller target. “Korea is the beating heart of male skincare in the world,” he says. “In Korea, 19m men buy skincare, which doesn’t sound much compared to half a billion men in China, but those 19m are way ahead of male consumers anywhere else on the globe.”
In the South Korean capital of Seoul, the Myeongdong shopping district boasts 20 department stores dedicated to skincare and cosmetics. “We have fast fashion here, but in Korea there’s fast fashion in skincare,” says Duffy. “Shops change their assortment every three weeks. There’s always a new cute packaging trend, like panda-shaped bottles, or a hot ingredient such as snake venom or snails.”
Men in South Korea follow up to 10 steps in their daily skincare regime, Duffy reveals. They may cleanse, scrub, use a mask, tone, emulsify, moisturise and use blemish products or dark-circle relievers.
Succeeding in this fast-paced environment would be no mean feat, he realised. “This is when I started thinking really hard about our proposition, how we could fit into the category and what newness we could bring.”
Back in 2011, natural skincare was a booming trend in South Korea. This was fortunate for Bulldog, which manufactures products that are totally free from parabens, SLS, artificial colours, synthetic fragrances or ingredients from animal sources. Leveraging his natural credentials, Duffy managed to secure a meeting with high end Korean department store Olive Young. “It’s very difficult to break the market on your own,” he says. “We knew we needed a partner to help us overcome all the regulatory hurdles, and help us register our products locally.”
Duffy did his homework before flying to Seoul to meet the Olive Young team. “There’s a useful website called eDiplomat, which helps you to understand cultural no-nos,” he says. “For example, in Korea you mustn’t ever touch women, not even to shake hands. There are also rules around gifting – you must give small and inexpensive but beautifully-wrapped gifts to your hosts.”
Duffy tried and failed to learn some Korean, he admits. “I saw a tutor three times, but it was just too hard.” However, his business-card etiquette – “You receive the card with two hands, really study it and place it carefully in front of you” – helped him to secure a deal. In 2012, Bulldog launched in Olive Young’s 850 stores, and Bulldog’s moisturising lotion remains a bestseller to this day. Duffy returns to South Korea every year to re-establish the relationship. “You have to go out there and spend time with your partners,” he says. “It’s important to show your commitment.”
Following his success in South Korea, which now contributes more than £1m to Bulldog’s turnover, Duffy decided to tackle Thailand. Euromonitor has identified the nation as an emerging contender for the male beauty crown. Thailand’s male grooming market has experienced double-digit growth year-on-year and was valued at £56m in the researcher’s last report. “Asia is not a monolith; each market is different,” says Duffy. “The products that do well in Korea won’t necessarily do well in Thailand.”
By studying the Thai complexion, and taking into account the temperatures in Bangkok, Duffy handpicked the products that would perform well. His strategy landed him a deal with Boots in Thailand, which has provided a useful test bed before targeting Japan. “We’re learning about the Asian consumer all the time,” he says. “It’s an innovation-rich, dynamic and busy environment, and for skincare it’s the place to be. By testing as we go and listening to our customers, we’re proving that a small British brand can make an impact in Asia.”