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VOL. 42 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 19, 2018

Do real men really need soft, sweet-smelling beards?

Nashville entrepreneurs hope so, betting on men’s grooming products

BY Vince Troia

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The business of men’s grooming is on the rise in Nashville, growing not from the hair on top of the head, but from the hair in front of it.

Beards have sprouted on many former baby-faced gents and the nests of facial hair have become more acceptable, if not downright trendy. Nashville, for a variety of reasons, has a slew of new businesses – both brick-and-mortar and online shops – taking advantage of this rise in the number of men who have decided to stop shaving.

April Dixon, who in 2008 opened The Moose, a men’s grooming lounge on Music Row, was one of the first entrepreneurs to recognize that men “wanted a place that they could relate to” when needing a haircut or a shave. The Moose, co-owned by April and her sister, Taylor, has barber chairs to be sure, but there’s also a basement game room, a sports lounge with a poker table and widescreen TV, a parlor with a pool table, and ample supplies of whiskey and cigars.

Obviously, it’s no Supercuts.

Dixon came up with The Moose concept more than a decade ago while cutting hair in an Irvine, California, salon. The decor has more than hints of the Old West. Her father, who sports a shaggy beard, served as inspiration, along with her favorite television series (“Lonesome Dove”) and favorite movie (“Tombstone”).

From the longhorn skull on the wall to the hot stove on the floor, the shop caters pretty much exclusively to men. “We just have what guys want,” Dixon says. “Of course, the growth of all these beards has been a bit of a surprise.”

Inside The Moose on Music Row, a men’s grooming lounge, master barber Johnny Sunberg, left, attends to Brian Hansen’s hair, while Mark Young, also a master barber, trims Patrick Moody’s.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

This country has elected Presidents sporting beards (though not in the last century), the hockey world embraces playoff beards (though many are atrocious) and we have athletes and musicians who have taken beards to a new level of modern art (i.e. the NBA’s James Harden or Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top). Now, however, we are seeing them in boardrooms, retail establishments, schools ...

With a bevy of beards comes the need to care for them. Many shops and salons, along with myriad online stores, sell an assortments of beard oils, beard conditioners, beard balms and beard butters. Many of these products contain elements that men historically would never mention in conversations with other guys; things like essential oils and aromas.

“It was stigmatized for so long, but men are realizing that women like it when they smell better,” explains Andi Whiskey, who runs the Whiskey Neat Barbershop as part of her Whiskey, Ink & Lace business on Elm Hill Pike.

In addition to cutting hair and trimming beards, her team “makes products for beards and the men and women that love them.”

“We use the term ‘significant-other approved’ all the time,” she explains. “We make sure men smell good for the people around them.”

April Dixon, owner and barber at The Moose, works with  Zack Turner, who has been a steady customer of Dixon’s for more than two years.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

The beard surge is gender-neutral, too. The New York Times recently reported on a 2017 study that showed both women and homosexual men preferred men with beards over clean-shaven ones. It wasn’t exactly the same preference – women liked longer beards; gay men the shorter ones.

All this attention to how beards look, feel and smell has raised Nashville’s status as one of the most “facial hair friendly cities” in the country.

Wahl, a company that’s been making home grooming products since 1919, placed Nashville 13th among 100 cities in its 2018 poll of “Most Facial Hair Friendly Cities in America” – up two spots from 2017 and four from 2016. Wahl refers to Nashville as a place for anyone “who prefers a rugged mug to the clean-shaven look.”

Nashville native Michael McCurry, who first sported a beard almost by accident, can attest to that. Seated in a barber chair at The Moose, he remembers being stopped on the street by someone who needed to comment on his dark mane.

“This lady came up to me and says, ‘I don’t like beards but yours looks really good.’ I decided then the beard stays,” McCurry recalls.

McCurry, who has Dixon cut his hair and trim his beard every two weeks, says beards are “more accepted now, like tattoos,” but he has his for a simple reason: “I look better with it.” And he swears by The Moose’s beard butter, which he uses after every shower.

Sisters April, left, and Taylor Dixon, owners of The Moose on Music Row, a men’s grooming lounge.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

The Brentwood High alumnus was a clean-shaven, thirty-something scout master when he embarked on a weeklong camping trip with his Boy Scout troop. McCurry says he’d never tried to grow a beard, but he liked the way the seven-day stubble looked and let it grow for a while. That was five years ago.

In that span, Nashville has seen retro-styled barbershops appear, such as Hawkins Barber Shop in East Nashville, and Scout’s Barbershop in several Nashville-area locations, many of them moving into more facial hair grooming options. They join Whiskey Neat and The Moose, as well as old-school barbers, as being primarily focused on the male client.

“We get that men want to have a place for themselves. Our customers love that they can sit and sip whiskey and be away from the wife and kids for a while,” Whiskey says. “They can’t get that at Supercuts where you have kids running around everywhere.”

Of course, men will have to fork over more cash than they do for those all-ages, drop-in places. A haircut at these Nashville grooming locales runs between $30 and $50. Beard shaping and trims run around $15-20, and combos run in the $55-65 range. The Moose and Whiskey Neat offer a few complete packages (cut, grooming, skin therapy and choice of cigar or glass of whiskey) for about $100.

Another place men can find solace in grooming is the bathroom and shower of their own homes, and some Nashville online groomer businesses are tapping in to that, including Tame the Beast and Beardition, albeit in very different ways.

Nashville-based Tame the Beast, launched in 2015 by founder John Cascarano, injects humor into a print and video marketing campaign that separates itself from the traditional brick-and-mortar.

Its products, Cascarano says, “recognize every man’s desire to graduate from the youthful grooming products of yesterday to embracing his more mature inner beast.”

While Cascarano has beard oils, shampoos and conditioners, Tame the Beast doesn’t stop at the head with its products. His is an all-body venture with the goal of energizing “the entire male grooming routine,” he explains.

His unique approach helped earn Tame the Beast’s selection earlier this month to participate in the Capital Innovators Accelerator Program, a 12-week program that provides $100,000 in seed funding. Only six companies out of 360 applications were selected.

While Cascarano, who has worked in the women’s beauty industry and is married with three daughters, claims Tame the Beast was hatched because he “felt the need for more testosterone in my life,” another Nashville entrepreneur got the idea for his start-up while taking a month-long trek on the Appalachian Trail.

Beardition founder and CEO Mark Williams is a business-savvy health care professional who on his 30th birthday decided his life needed to go in a different direction.

He had no clue what that might be, but the Appalachian Trail hike gave him a gnarly, itchy, unkempt beard and a question: how would he keep his whiskers under control when he got home?

He figured there had to be a way to soften his beard, like with a beard conditioner of sorts, and Beardition was born.

However, it took a friend and Nashville neighbor Kristin Schleihs (now Beardition’s chief creative officer) to buy in to the idea and do a little creative marketing to give it the push it needed.

The company now offers three varieties of beard oil, beard shampoo, beard conditioner and gift sets. in addition to beard-themed T-shirts. It even has its own magazine, Bro. Seriously, that’s the name. Bro.

These companies’ successes may be linked to their location. All acknowledge Nashville as being a hub for innovation and startups, as well as a leader in men’s fashion. Some credit the city’s growth for building a customer base, others simply like the vibe its people give off.

“When I first visited here, I fell in love with it,” Dixon says of Nashville. “The feel of the city was awesome; the people were so cool. I figured we had a niche business, but we saw growth potential. It worked out well.”

Business publications “spit out statistics about growth, the number of people moving here every day, the buzz and feel of the town,” acknowledges Cascarano, but he sees Nashville as a city that’s very representative of the country as a whole. What works here works throughout the United States and vice-versa, he says.

Personal-care Consumer Packaged Goods is a $600 billion-dollar industry, which bodes well for the grooming products being made, sold, packaged, and shipped out of Nashville. Loyal customers to Whiskey Neat, The Moose, and others like it, will keep those brick-and-mortar spots flourishing.

“I think the environment is good for us,” Cascarano says. “Tennessee whiskey is damn good, but we are giving the Volunteer State something new to be proud of – men’s grooming products (and services).”

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