Hitesh Dhingra, Co-founder and Managing Director, The Man Company, a leading 'Men Only' premium grooming essentials brand, is a serial entrepreneur who has gathered in-depth knowledge of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, with a series of start-ups in various domains. Starting with Tyroo Media, a contextual advertising network; online retailer Letsbuy.com, which Flipkart acquired in 2012; TrulyMadly.com, a new-age dating app, and finally The Man Company in 2015, where he has found his niche, Dhingra talks of breaking stereotypes, igniting conversations around men’s grooming and his aim to make The Man Company a global brand.
Looking back on your entrepreneurial journey across Tyroo Media, Letsbuy.com, TrulyMadly.com and now The Man Company, what have been your biggest learnings through it all?
One of the interesting insights I got while working on TrulyMadly, a content-based app, is that men initiate the conversation by just saying 'Hi' but don't know how to hold on to the conversation—they fade out after that. Men need a lot of grooming, not just in Tier II or Tier III cities, but also in Tier I and metro cities. Etiquette and confidence about what to do, what to wear, what to order during a date—everything is an alien concept for them. When I finally decided to move on from TrulyMadly, it was because I saw a huge gap in the men’s grooming community. Our idea was to launch a platform like a grooming buddy. A place where men can ask the most basic questions and get answers. At that time, not many brands worked for the men’s grooming community. Only a handful of female-oriented brands offered a few products like shaving and fairness creams or deos. No one was talking to these millennial men in the language they understood.
Our initial market research indicated that men have actually started spending a lot on grooming. That they are far more conscious about how they look or smell than their predecessors were some 25 or 50 years back, and ready to spend on beard grooming, pedicure, manicure and haircut. As per our research, an average man goes to a salon twice a month. In contrast, women tend to visit salons after 40-45 days. So, we thought, why not launch a brand that provides head-to-toe products manufactured especially for men? Finding women-centric brands, and trying on their products in real-time is fairly easy. Now, The Man Company has been able to give that experience to men. Today, if you visit malls, you will find The Man Company at Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Pantaloons and other top-level hypermarkets across the country. We are also present in major retail chains and pharma outlets, besides exclusive brand outlets (EBOs) at all major malls across the country, where men can experience the products. Going ahead, we are in discussion with several potential partners. As of now, we already have more than 55 partners on modern trade and nearly 50 EBOs, in addition to 3000+ offline touchpoints.
My previous work experience, including my time as a management trainee at a Singaporean firm, where I learnt about different verticals and an Indian advertising firm, where I joined as a founding member, gave me immense exposure. Through these experiences, I learnt how to build a company and make it work. The Man Company’s ground-breaking journey is proof that our initial hypothesis and agendas were on the right track. We are planning to expand our footprint across India and become a one-stop shop for all men-centric needs.
What did it take to normalise grooming and skincare conversations for men, break taboo around stereotypes and launch a premium grooming brand for men in 2015? What were the challenges you faced then, and what are the challenges today?
A man talking about skin or hair care would have been frowned upon until a few years ago, but now things have changed drastically. Particularly since the pandemic, customers have become far more conscious about their health, self-grooming, and its impact on their appearance. Gone are the days when female-oriented grooming and beauty products used to dominate the market. Today, the men’s grooming market has a separate space that specialises in developing products catering to the needs and wants of modern-age men. The global men’s grooming industry is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 6% between 2020 and 2027, signifying that such stereotypes and discrimination have no place in this era. Initially, it was difficult to onboard men to talk about basic beauty and grooming practices, typically believed to be a woman’s prerogative. However, over a period, people have started breaking these barriers. We also initiated several campaigns like ‘Gentleman kise kehte hai’ and ‘Gentleman tumhi to ho’ to ignite conversations around men’s grooming.
Despite all this, some issues are still the same. More awareness and learning are required. Men still shy away from having an open dialogue about grooming with peers. While women can easily talk about their lipstick shades, men won’t talk about shampoo details or beard grooming kits. We plan to encourage the change to normalise this.
You recently entered the nutraceuticals category. Tell us about your plans to foray into other categories.
Even before the pandemic forced people to pay proper attention to their overall health, we at The Man Company were already addressing men’s grooming-related needs that affect both mental and physical health. However, we decided to take a step forward and become more involved with men’s holistic wellness. By venturing into the nutraceuticals category, we are concentrating on more than just external grooming aspects. With the MINS range of products, we are providing modern-age gentlemen with products that will uplift their overall well-being and elevate fitness levels.
What are the pillars of your marketing strategy for The Man Company? What is in the pipeline?
The three major pillars of our market strategy are Content, Community and Collaboration–the 3Cs. In terms of content, we focus on the commerce aspect and provide information through the same medium that millennials use. We optimise the content on The Man Company’s official website by posting relevant vlogs and blogs. We also have our exclusive blog–The Man Mag–with weekly updates about ingredients used in our products or about grooming. We also interact with our community through social media (Insta reels) or YouTube by posting informative videos. One has to make sure that a unique voice and visual appeal is being created through every piece of communication that goes out, irrespective of the platform. For instance, while we use Instagram to build a community of evangelists, creative-wise, we stay high on static visuals and short videos. In terms of community engagement, we aim to create a community of evangelists, as we like to call it, the gentleman club. This is primarily pushed through social media. Similarly, for collaboration, like-minded platforms help us reach a larger audience with an affinity towards the platform. Also, grooming or lifestyle influencers add immense value. These influencers have proven themselves to sway followers towards a particular brand through entertaining and informative content. They not only provide the brand with more visibility and positive word of mouth, but creative content that leads to more traffic, which ultimately converts to higher purchases.
How do you see the grooming and beauty industry for men evolving in future? What are some requisites essential to the growth of this category?
From being a category that was not even considered an entity, the quintessential men’s grooming industry has become a multimillion-dollar market over the last few decades. Moreover, rising awareness about the harmful effects of UV rays and pollution has also played an instrumental part in driving the growth of the men’s grooming and beauty industry. This category itself needs more awareness. Here, experiential marketing, informative content, innovative products and marketing play a big part.
Going forward, what is your vision for The Man Company? What will be your priorities in the long and short term?
Our ultimate vision is to become the most loved brand in the men’s grooming industry. Our short-term goal is to focus on the beauty and wellness segment. We have already launched our wellness range MINS, under which are MinStrips. Our plan is to launch more such products and encourage inside-out wellness. Our long-term goal is to make The Man Company a global brand. We have the right ingredients. Now it is just a matter of time.