When they weren’t watching movies or walking the red carpet, many of the VIPs attending this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) made their way to IT House, an exclusive lounge that was co-hosted by HELLO! Canada and NKPR. There they found a walk-in closet to explore, a tequila bar and – for the male stars – a chance to experience how Starks Gentlemen’s Supply is transforming the grooming experience.
Those who live in the greater Toronto area might already be familiar with Starks Barber Company, which first launched almost 10 years ago and has since grown into nine franchise locations. Starks Gentlemen’s Supply may represent its most significant expansion, however. While many barber shops are known to peddle grooming and haircare products from a third party, Starks is taking a home-grown approach.
“Our research and development predominantly happened in in the barber shops,” Starks co-founder Steve Tallis told Menswhere. “We wanted to create products in Canada where we can really identify the need. and so our ideas come from all the customers that we have conversations with on a daily basis.”
Having a franchise operation means that Starks’ products — such as its original pomade, tobacco and bourbon beard oil — are then tested by some 100 barbers, Tallis added. This helps the company gather feedback on whether products work best with a particular hair type, and that they will wash out easily.
Starks used to resell third-party products too, but over time Tallis said the team recognized it could potentially develop something better. Another part of the strategy is educating men about grooming. To that end, Starks Gentlemen’s Supply has created an interactive quiz on its web site to help guys identify their hair type and thereby make more informed purchases.
“We decided that it was important to take a consultative approach,” he said. “I think a lot of companies just leave men to kind of figure it out on their own. And so they might buy a product and it’s not right for them. But the thing is, is we can’t get away with that, because we’re positioning ourselves as experts.”
Men’s grooming is also taking on a new dimension as more companies embrace hybrid work policies, where employees may be spending significant portions of their time at home or an environment other than a traditional office. That means many guys might be looking for ways to keep the beards they started during the pandemic, but make them look more professional.
“What COVID has really done is made a lot of things more acceptable, as long as they’re done right,” Talis said. “If you want to wear longer hair in the office, it needs to look like it’s been taken care of. That’s where men have to recognize that there is a difference between being on a Zoom call when everyone’s locked down versus being at a trade show or a conference or a business meeting.”
Starks Gentlemen’s Supply is aiming to show men that grooming doesn’t have to become an onerous chore. Instead, Tallis pointed to the relaxing and possibly therapeutic experience of using its beard oil, or its Tea Tree and Mint Shampoo that can ease dry scalps.
Selling its men’s grooming products online could also be a way for Starks to extend the kind of expertise its hair experts offer when clients come to get a cut in person. For example, Tallis said it often takes a barber’s recommendation for clients to reconsider a look they’ve been wearing for years.
“If you’re trying a new product, then maybe you should endeavor to try a new style,” he said. “I hope that people become more experimental, and they see the benefit of great products that are made in a very thoughtful way, because they can only maintain what you have – you can change your look and your style too.”