Grooming Entrepreneur Talks Transition from Helming Corporate Brands to Brand of His Own

Michael James, founder, Frederick Benjamin Grooming (Iamge: James)

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Entrepreneur Michael James decided to take his years of Corporate America experience in building beauty brands for companies like Revlon and L’Oreal to fill a void in the market: grooming products for men of color. The founder of Frederick Benjamin Grooming was able to successfully transition from his full-time job as a brand manager to found his own multi-ethnic product line for modern men, offering consumers and clients something that wasn’t too readily available in years past. caught up with James to talk about how his experience in Corporate America helped him see success in entrepreneurship and his advice for young black men who aspire to be leaders in business themselves.

What led you into your current role as a men’s grooming entrepreneur?

Out of business school, I started with Revlon, managing their antiperspirants and deodorants portfolio, and then I moved over to L’Oreal, managing Mizani and Biolage. I was marketing everything from deodorant to cosmetics to haircare, and one thing I noticed is that no one was speaking to my needs. I’ve always been into taking care of my hair and skin, but nothing was fitting what I liked—from the smell to the packaging.

I saw an opportunity and thought, ‘What better way to fulfill a need and get into a category than entrepreneurship?’ —all the while using my background to help me get there.

The beauty industry is one where women are the dominating target market and oftentimes women dictate product marketing and sales. Why did you choose this industry to start your career?

I’ve always wanted to get into general management by way of marketing. I studied marketing in undergrad and always had dream of becoming an entrepreneur. I knew going to business school would be a great start for me, and after being there, I was able to get a glimpse of the different avenues I could take. Brand management was appealing because it has the general management and marketing in there.

As the brand manager, within a corporation, you are essentially the CEO of that respective brand. Handling P&L or budgets or trying to grow the business, you are the champion of that brand within that corporation. There was an opportunity to achieve my career goals in general management in the beauty industry, and it was a great one.

The male grooming industry is one of the fastest growing, especially in terms of ethnic skincare. How did you go about branding and getting into the market, and, most importantly, getting men of color into grooming?

While we don’t talk about it, guys are constantly in the store and on the Web trying to figure out the right products for them. We’re becoming more engaged and getting educated, but not as open about it as female consumers.

I love the male consumer because they’re extremely loyal, and they will stick to something they like. Our approach is a simple package design that’s masculine, that can live in a shower or gym bag, and one that a guy won’t be shy about pulling out. We also partner with barbershops to push the good word of grooming and serve up the option of using our products.

Male consumers aren’t on this endless quest to try everything. Women will have multiple brands because they’re always moving on to the next. But once men find something they like, they’re more likely to just replenish.

What advice would you have for young men to transition from the 9-to-5 into entrepreneurship, especially in the beauty and grooming industry?

First, understand the business. For me it was staying in Corporate America long enough to learn the process—product development, marketing and general management. That way, you’ll have a foundation for taking that leap into business for yourself. Investors and consumers want to see that you’ve got experience. You can troubleshoot while working your 9-to-5 to prepare you for starting your own brand.

Be a team player. Being a boss and leader means putting your team first. You have to take the “I” out of the whole equation. In leadership, you have to be able to visualize the end game and how to get there. You have to clearly demonstrate those goals verbally and visually to the people who can help you get there.

Know your personal goals. You must be really clear on what you expect to come from your efforts. You have to know for yourself what you want in order to translate those ideas and see results from others.

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