James McQuarrie is a UK based Product Leader who helps teams discover, design, build and deliver digital products and services that delight their users.
Many months, and what feels like a lifetime ago now, I asked my connections to spare 5 minutes of their time to help with some research for a new project.
That research proved interesting, confirming that there was a potential gap in a market that needed filling, and encouraged me to pursue what has turned into Tidy. The premium solid shampoo for Men.
To dive right in and see the product and the outcome of months of working on market research, product R&D, branding, etc have a look at the shiny new online shop at tidy.company.
To learn a bit more about how Tidy came to be, read on.
The spark of an idea
In late 2019 I decided I wanted to do something to reduce my use of single use plastic. I’m no eco-warrior but I’m happy to do my bit to reduce the amount of waste our household throws out. If for no other reason than to reduce the need to empty the bins and recycling boxes quite so often.
I decided that replacing my liquid shampoo with a solid alternative would be a simple, relatively affordable, way of making a change. And it would have been, if I’d been able to find a suitable solid shampoo bar to buy.
But I couldn’t, at least not without a lot more research and effort than I’d assumed would be needed.
Yes there are many websites selling solid shampoo bars. Several high street stores stock them too. But none seemed to be made for men. I’m not against using a gender-neutral shampoo, nor one that’s marketed at ladies if it works. The problem was all of the bars on the market seemed to be made specifically to solve a problem that I didn’t have.
One for dealing with split ends. One for making your hair really shine. One for controlling frizz. One to make it smell like flowers. Etc, etc.
I even visited a well known high street brand who specialise in eco bathroom products (you know the one, you can smell them before you see them in many UK city centres). I asked the sales assistant there if they had any solid shampoo for men.
She looked puzzled. “Well, we have solid shampoos, I can show you them.”
“Ok” I said.
She led me to the range. “What type of hair do you have?” she asked.
“Just normal, I think.” I replied.
She looked a bit stumped. “Well, this one’s for dry hair. This one’s for greasy hair. This one stops split ends. Would you like to smell one?”
I ended up buying the most generic one they had.
It worked. It did its job and I’d cut down on the amount of plastic waste I was having to deal with.
But the experience of finding and buying the bar was not what I’d call convenient. Or simple.
That got me thinking: I wonder how many other men there are out there who would be more than happy to switch to a solid shampoo bar, but who haven’t because it would involve too much effort or because they don’t think there’s a product aimed at them in the market?
Then I got super busy at my day job and didn’t think about it again for the rest of the year.
Fast forward to January 2020. My time working at that super busy day job has come to an end. I’m on gardening leave.
We did a couple of short family road trips while we had the chance to spend time together without worrying about work.
Then I started to think about what to do with the down time. Maybe start something new while I had the freedom to do that.
I explored a number of ideas.
Bath, where I live, needs a big indoor soft-play for children. There’s a small one at the local leisure centre, but it gets really busy…
Maybe I could look at a lifestyle business. Open a cafe or a shop of some sort?
Based on my experiences of finding a solid shampoo bar to buy I thought maybe I could launch a web shop for eco products, to help people find suitable solid shampoo bars and other eco-friendly products more easily.
All the ideas had potential. The online eco-shop kind of interested me, but I wasn’t sure how to source the products and a quick bit of research showed there are a number of sites like that (just none that had solid shampoo bars for men listed as available…).
To help think through the problem and try and identify a more considered list of options, I sat down and mapped out the activities that people do daily, weekly and monthly.
In an ideal world you want to be selling a product or service that people use frequently. I thought the lists could help identify opportunities.
I then added to the map listing as many products and services as I could think of that could be related to each daily, weekly and monthly activity.
The monthly list was a bit vague, and probably not frequent enough, so I dismissed everything on it.
The weekly list had potential, but involved quite a lot of activities that were “optional” and might not be things folks really do every week.
I focused on the daily list.
I split the list into two rough groups; things folks do every day, and things folks do most days.
I honed in on the first group:
Eating is an interesting area to look at. The majority of people will eat more than once a day, so it’s a high frequency, big market.
There are many opportunities in the space too, as evidenced by the plethora of food tech startups and well established brands in the space.
The job I’d just left was with a food-focused company, and I wasn’t looking to get back into that area again straight away.
Sleeping is also an interesting area to look at. More people sleep every day than eat (would be my guess given the rising trend of fasting and its associated benefits).
But while sleeping itself is a high frequency activity, there are very few products or services related to sleeping that are high frequency purchases. When was the last time you bought a mattress? And the time before that?
Sleeping was out.
Which left washing. Most people will wash most days, or at least know they should.
The product range available to help with washing is vast, and a good proportion of them are relevantly high-frequency purchases.
And, I might have already identified a gap in the market for a product in the space…
The universe told me to do it
Up until this point in the story, all my time had been spent thinking and theorising about what I could do.
I’d not done anything about it.
Then one Saturday we took our one year old to the library. He loves books and it’s a good way to occupy him for an hour or so if the weather’s not so great.
It was the first time he’d been on a weekend, and I’d not been to the library in Bath before, so while my wife and little one explored the children’s books, I took a look around. I was half thinking it might be a good place to come with a laptop and do some work if it was too noisy at home in the future.
While looking around I stopped at one random shelf that caught my eye.
On it was a small pile of books waiting to be put back on the correct shelves.
Amongst those books was one about how to make soap and shampoo at home.
I took that as a sign.
I joined the library and borrowed the book.
I read the book over the next couple of days and realised that it might be possible to actually make my own solid shampoo.
If I could, I wouldn’t need to worry about sourcing products and competing with other online eco-shops, I could simply make and sell my own product directly to consumers.
Now all I needed to do was figure out if anyone would actually buy something like this.
To find out I did three things.
- firstly, I did some reading to learn how big the market for men’s shampoo is in the UK and what I could learn about launching a product in this space
- secondly I ran a survey asking men to share their attitude towards, and experiences of buying, grooming products to get some primary data
- finally I created a fake shampoo brand, and a facebook page for said brand and then bought some facebook ads to see if anyone would show an interest in the product.
The data says
A lot of googling and reading later I learnt that the market for men’s shampoo in the UK was big enough to be interesting.
£480,585,000 was spent on shampoo in the UK in 2018.
The UK population is split 49% / 51% male / female. Assuming that men account for 49% of the UK spend on shampoo, the market could be worth somewhere in the region of £235,486,650.
But in 2018 only 18,528,000 men said they used shampoo. That’s roughly 30% of the population. 30% of £480,585,000 is £144,175,500.
A market worth over £140 million a year, is still a big enough market to be of interest.
I also learnt that the most popular shampoo, by a very long way, for men in the UK is Head & Shoulders. A brand that sells a specific shampoo for men…
Our survey says
The survey asked men from across my Linkedin and other social media networks to take a few minutes to list the male grooming products they use, how often they use them and what they considered important when buying said products.
The results were interesting, and encouraging for my plan.
72% said they used shampoo daily or weekly.
But 86% said they’d never used a solid shampoo.
When it comes to buying 56% of respondents said they buy at least one product from a supermarket. 43% mentioned buying some items from other high street stores and 30% said they buy some products online. It was very common for respondents to buy specific products from different sources.
When making a buying decision 90% of respondents said that the quality and the effectiveness of the product are equally the most important things to them. Familiarity was also important, but slightly less so.
Interestingly, brand and price were not deemed that important in their decision making process (though several did mention bulk discounts as a reason for shopping in some supermarkets).
The data told me that there could be an opportunity for a new product category of solid shampoo aimed at men. And if it was going to be successful it needed to be focused on being a great shampoo that worked well and one that was made with quality ingredients.
Our testing says
The facebook demand testing I did was a more practical way of determining if there’d be a market for the product.
I created a fake brand called “getsoap” (terrible name, I know) and set up a website at the domain getsoap.uk.
I then designed a series of different landing pages selling solid shampoo for men, each pitching the products in slightly different ways. One was based on a premium look and feel, like Apple products. One was based on a supermarket like brand. And the final one was modelled around a popular subscription service for men’s toiletries.
I wanted to test if people would hit a “buy” button if presented with the product and compare which type of branding / offer would get the most interest.
Each landing page had a call to action along the lines of “buy now” or “subscribe now” that led to a subsequent page that said we were out of stock. The out of stock page encouraged people to enter an email address to be amongst the first to know when the bars were back in stock.
I intended to measure interest by tracking the number of people seeing ads for the brand, the number of those who clicked through to the website. The number of those in turn who selected the call to action. And finally the number who then entered an email address.
I built a series of adverts on Facebook and paid to have them promoted to an audience of men and women who were early adopters, interested in eco / green content and who were between 18-65.
It’s a relatively crude experiment, but one that took hours rather than days to set up and cost less than £100 to get up and running.
The initial results were positive.
The first landing page got a 42% click through rate on the call to action.
The second version had a 27% click through rate.
The subscribe option had a 5.5% click through rate.
The premium branding had the best conversion rate by far. But the test had been very crude (deliberately) and hadn’t included any mention of the price of the bars.
To learn what impact different prices would have on the conversion rates, and to understand if buying traffic for a product like this would be a profitable way of generating sales, I set up some more experimental landing pages.
The new set of pages used the same designs and copy as the first premium landing page but this time included different price points of £4.95, £5.95, £6.95, £9.95.
Long story short, the £9.95 option converted at a slightly lower rate than some of the other price points, but still offered the best ROI when looking at the cost of buying each customer via Facebook ads.
There are still many areas to explore regarding pricing, subscription models and bulk order discounting, but the experiments gave me enough confidence to move forward with the plan.
Making the shampoo. Safely
In parallel to this market research and testing I needed to know two other things:
- firstly could I make the product to a high enough standard to make this work
- secondly could I make a high quality product and turn a profit.
I addressed issue one first.
Having read the book I found in the library about how to make soaps and shampoo, I started reading as much about the topic as I could. I burnt through a library’s worth of kindle books, more blogs on the topic than I can list and started experimenting with making bars at home.
20-30 iterations later I had a shampoo bar that I believed was good enough to put my name to.
My research had suggested that while different people used different shampoos based on brand / fragrance, etc, there was one bathroom product pretty much every man anywhere in the UK had used and would use again. A particular mint and tea tree shower gel. In order to keep things as simple as possible I decided to roll with that as my first (and currently only) fragrance for my shampoo.
I tested the first bars myself and when I finally had a version that I was happy with, and after 3 weeks of use hadn’t made my hair fall out or shown any other signs of issues, I enrolled the help of some willing volunteers to help me test the product.
I sent bars out to 6 people in total. One of whom wasn’t as much of a willing volunteer as the others, but had been volunteered by his wife to test the product without knowing I’d made it. The intention was to get some very unfiltered feedback about the bar.
After weeks of the volunteers testing the bar the reviews were on the whole positive. One tester complained that the bar made their scalp dry (a common complaint about solid shampoos), but otherwise folks liked the bars.
And, most importantly, no one suffered any ill effects of using them.
Crucially, when asked several said they’d happily buy the bars in the future.
One, a long time solid shampoo bar user, went as far to say that he and his wife had been using the bar and that it was “better than the high street brands they’d tried before”.
Next I needed to get the product certified as safe to sell. Regulations dictate that cosmetic products (such as shampoo) need to have a “Cosmetic Products Safety Report” certificate before you can sell them to the public.
You’re allowed to produce and use cosmetics yourself, and give them to friends / family / etc as gifts without the certificate, but you need the paperwork to be able to sell the product legally.
You also need to adhere to a very long list of safety procedures when making and storing the product, and make sure your labelling on the packaging of the product meets strict guidelines.
Getting the certificate involves sharing a detailed list of the ingredients in your product and getting an independent chemist to review the recipe to confirm it’s safe to use as intended.
It took a few weeks to get the certificate, but my recipe was approved as safe.
A sustainable product is pointless without a sustainable business to make and sell it
Now I needed to make sure I could make the bars, and deliver them at a profit.
There’s no point in making a sustainable product if the business making it goes out of business in the process.
Time for a big spreadsheet to calculate costs, revenue and profit.
I’ll not bore you with the details, but the good news (for me at least!) was that the numbers added up.
Even at a relatively small scale, I’d be able to make, market, sell and ship the bars at a profit. Assuming I can sell a minimum number per month.
Longer term if the demand was high enough I should be able to scale production and even possibly lower some costs by buying ingredients and packaging materials in bulk.
This thing could work.
Now I just needed a name and some branding.
What’s in a name
I’m no branding or marketing expert. But I knew that if this product was to stand a chance in the market it would need some very strong branding.
Luckily my friend Jason had caught wind of what I was doing and was keen to help out any way he could.
As he’s one of the most talented designers I know, I jumped at the chance of picking his brain and getting his input on how I should approach things.
He went a lot further than that. The name and the logo and everything you see about the brand has his influence behind it.
We spent weeks going back and forth on the name, and looks etc. He asked questions. I shared thoughts. We had a list of name candidates that’s longer than your arm.
We knew we needed a name that was strong, honest, simple and that we could build an experience around. I wanted to choose something that would become meaningful to our customers. Something that didn’t come with too much preconceived meaning or baggage. Any meaning it did already have needed to be positive and engaging. It needed to be word or phrase that wasn’t every day, but was still familiar.
For a while we focused on finding a name that was strongly associated with one of the founding principles behind the company: Do more, use less.
Jason particularly liked Use:Less.
I liked the concept, but worried it would lose meaning when spoken aloud.
We iterated some more. Eventually he suggested “Clean & tidy”. Which led to “Tidy”.
It ticked a lot of boxes.
I grew up in Wales where “tidy” is used as a general catch all word for anything agreeable or good.
“Fancy going to the pub tonight?” “Tidy!”
“Did you see that film last night?” “Yeah, it was well tidy.”
It’s also simple. Easy to say. Easy to spell. Comes with meaning, but it’s not something that’s used in everyday language (outside of parts of Wales).
It also has connotations with being green and eco-friendly. The “keep Britain tidy” campaign encourages people to put their litter in the bin. Being “neat and tidy” is a positive thing.
As soon as we said it, it felt right.
So Tidy was born.
Now we just needed a logo and look and feel for the brand.
Jason worked his magic. Well, firstly Jason’s daughter Flo (aged 10) worked her magic.
Jason and I worked on this through lockdown. Flo was at home during the period and heard about what we were doing and came up with her own designs for the logo.
I think she gave her Dad a run for his money!
Here are some early versions of Jason’s iterations.
We settled on the exclamation point version because it somehow looked bolder and more solid than the others. I really liked the Whale tail idea, but we couldn’t find a way of executing it that felt as strong as the exclamation point logo.
Jason nailed the colour palette first time too.
So after months of going round the houses (Jason fitted in Tidy work between other client commitments and home schooling!) we arrived at the beginning of a great set of brand visuals.
Which pretty much brings us up to date.
The last month or so has been spent applying the new branding to packaging, websites and other elements that are needed to be able to start selling the bars.
I’ve been learning how to do product photography while setting up a shopify store and getting a Tidy instagram and Tidy Facebook account set up (follow us on either / both if you’d like to keep up to date with how this evolves).
Then, finally, this week we launched the Tidy solid shampoo shop and started selling the bars.
At time of writing, we’ve already had one order without any promotion other than to friends and family.
Now the real fun (and work) begins.