Grooming is a topic that doesn’t get a lot of play around these parts. A few weeks ago the Morning Regimen post elicited a terrific, yet unexpected discussion on shaving. Working to focus more on the subject, I thought it prudent to highlight one of my most-liked skincare and shaving brands, Baxter of California. The company was founded out of necessity (and a void in the men’s skincare market), by Baxter Finley in 1966 becoming the first American men’s grooming company. Fast forward to the year two-thousand when Mr. Finley — who was looking to retire — placed the controls in the capable hands of his family friend and neighbor Jean-Pierre Mastey. Since taking over Jean-Pierre has done an excellent job of streamlining and re-positioning the brand and it now sits as one of the premier players in the space. I had a chance to talk to Mr. Mastey and shed some light on the good things happening at Baxter. Read our Q&A after the jump…
A Continuous Lean: What would you say is the perfect (read: realistic) grooming routine for a guy?
Jean-Pierre: For guys, it’s all about simplicity and results — that is why we offer the skin 123 kit. The kit covers your skin basics: cleanse – tone – hydrate. In addition to the daily regimen, we recommend the use of a scrub once a week and a clay mask for those who have oily skin (which tends to be the majority of men).
ACL: What is your grooming routine?
JP: As the “architect” of the brand, I use all the products we produce, at different times. For instance, I will use the night cream when my face feels dry, and the same goes for the under eye cream which I should start to use on a more regular basis (read: I am getting older). In the shower, it’s the usual suspects: shampoo, conditioner, body wash and the bars. For my hair, I use both pomades: clay when my hair is short, and water when it gets a little longer — on occasion I mix them together for a little ying/yang effect. I do not shave every day, maybe twice a week and that allows me to really take my time to prep with a hot towel and scrub, and I always use a shave brush to apply the cream.
ACL: On top of all of the chemistry that must go into the product, It seems to me that Baxter of California approaches grooming from a design background. How important is packaging and design to the company?
JP: Design is important to me and to the brand, actually “very important.” We see several good reasons to take a design approach. (1) You need to get the attention of the buyer or decision maker at the retail shop; a great design is half of the battle here. (2) On the retail shelf we face a similar challenge in grabbing the attention of our target audience. Overall when given the choice we feel that the Baxter guy appreciates good design. At the end of the day we are selling product not packaging: we could never sustain if the product quality was not on same level as the design. Good packaging grabs your attention, and maybe even convinces you to make the purchase, but product quality is what gives us a loyal following.
ACL: Baxter is sold through some of some really good but small men’s shops. Do you think guys prefer to shop in the comfortable environment of a men’s boutique? And does that give Baxter a different sort of vibe or a competitive advantage?
JP: I do not see this as an advantage, but more of a brand philosophy. We like to remind industry and consumer alike that Baxter is “NOT A BEAUTY BRAND” so retailing in men’s environments… whether that be Blackbird in Seattle, or Freeman’s in NYC, we are able to introduce the brand to what we think is a more relevant demographic than your typical beauty floor at XYZ department store. When it comes to the comfort level, I do believe that small men’s shops are far less intimidating than the beauty counter. In addition to small men’s shops, Baxter can also be found at more traditional points like the apothecary at Fred Segal, and lifestyle shops like Sloan Hall (Texas) and Base (Miami). Baxter has become synonymous with cool men’s shops because we took the initiative to trail blaze that segment, but the brand is not defined solely by this.
ACL: The old time barber shop thing seems to be a pretty strong trend right now in New York with places like Freeman’s and now Tommy Gun’s, but I feel like this has been happening for a while in LA at places like Rudy’s. Do you think LA is cooler than New York when it comes to barber shops?
JP: East coast vs. West coast — we know where that roads leads! Rudy’s is a solid west coast place to get a cut – Freeman’s can offer you a shave in addition to the cut. I will not say which coast is “cooler,” just that both are representing with different vibes.
ACL: Has the decision to keep your production in the U.S. been a positive one for you and the company? Please explain.
JP: Keeping production in our backyard for the most part is vital to me personally. I am very dedicated and want to be hands on as much as possible, whether that be in our lab, or on a press check — keeping it local means keeping our eye on the ball. I am also patriotic and love MADE IN USA. It is not a central theme in our branding, but it is more of a personal commitment.
A few final thoughts from Jean-Pierre:
+ Baxter highly recommends the use of traditional safety razors — OK, maybe a little bit of a learning curve with this one, but once you nail it — you will never go back to a cartridge style razor again.
+ Baxter key philosophy: QUALITY OVER QUANTITY — this applies to the product line up, and the distribution philosophy.