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Historically, people have bought haircare in two places: at the drugstore or at their local hair salons. That’s changing now thanks to retailers like Sephora and, of course, Amazon. Business of Fashion reported recently that the luxury haircare industry is “ripe for disruption,” with brands like Ouai and IGK selling outside the realm of hair salons and leveraging social media.
But there really isn’t much at a price point that falls in between $3.99 Pantene and $31 Bumble and Bumble. Ouai shampoo costs $28. Living Proof shampoo costs $25. Enter Verb, the five-year-old brand that sells every single one of its products for $16. (The price had been $14, but it’ll increase to $16 in September.)
Its founders saw this hole in the market and created a brand that manages to be cool yet have broad appeal — it was recently covered in the same month in Family Circle and Town & Country. It’s sold at places like Sephora and Urban Outfitters, as well as 6,000 local hair salons in North America and on its own website; it just launched internationally in southeast Asia and Australia. It’s the cheapest shampoo in Sephora by a good $10 to $15. There are several lower-end heritage salon brands at Ulta, like Joico and Nexxus, that sell in Verb’s price range, but you can’t find them outside of there and the salon setting. (Ulta can sell salon brands because it has a hair salon in every store.) Brand differentiation is also a bit of an issue there — they all sort of seem the same when you look at them on the shelf.
“Getting a stylist to fall in love with Verb and a 16-year-old girl and a 28-year-old dude is something that we’ve somehow managed to do,” says Claire Moses, a founding member of the brand, when asked who the demographic for Verb is. She calls it “shareable.” Verb’s core customer is a 17- to 32-year-old female, but “that being said, we had an Urban Outfitters event the other day and the store manager came up to me and said, ‘We’ve never had so many men at a beauty event before,’” says Moses. “You have a shampoo and conditioner in your shower that your daughter can use or husband can use or boyfriend can steal and you’re not hoarding it. It’s the perfect roommate shampoo and conditioner because [of the price].”
Verb’s story starts in an Austin, Texas salon chain founded by two guys who aren’t hairstylists. Jayson Rapaport and Michael Portman, friends with backgrounds in finance and writing, respectively, ended up in Austin and decided they didn’t like any of the salon options there. So they started Birds, a salon concept that charges a set price, ranging from $15 for a buzzcut to $45 for a bob, based on hair length and not, like most salons, gender. “There’s a lot of guys with very long hair in Austin. There’s no reason why they should get a discount. And there are also a lot of girls that shave their heads,” Moses explains. Macklemore and Elijah Wood are clients.
There are now 11 Birds locations, 10 in Austin and one in Houston. Moses says that she was brought on when the founders decided to start their own haircare brand to go along with the concept of the salon. In the six salons that operated at the time, they were cutting about 1,000 heads per week, but they were selling products from salon brand mainstays like Paul Mitchell to only about 2 percent of their customers. “People coming in getting an $18 haircut and us trying to sell them a $28 shampoo? In Austin, that just did not fly,” says Moses. “We wanted to figure out a way to bridge that gap. Price point is a huge part of it, but also making sure our formulas could stand by those higher-end products was really important.”
Verb launched five and a half years ago with six products, most of which have now been discontinued or reformulated. It originally launched in salons and at Ulta, but had to pull out of that retailer after about six months because it was too small at the time to sustain such a huge retail account. But according to Moses, it was great for national exposure.
The brand now offers over 20 products, with four more coming in September. Ghost Oil and its hydrating line are popular, though best sellers vary by market. Verb just released an expanded “Sea Texture” line that Moses says gave them their best week of sales ever at Sephora. (The Sea Texture Cream, which you can add to wet or dry hair to enhance texture and manageability, is truly fantastic.) The brand’s packaging and scents are meant to be unisex, and Moses says that it uses 30 percent less fragrance than other haircare brands so that the scent isn’t overpowering. “People don’t want to smell like their shampoo.”
Moses acknowledges that Verb has to sell a lot more product than a more expensive brand like Oribe to make the same amount of money. She says that it’s having great success in the salon setting, where its price point is making it a “gateway product” for salon clients who may have been wary about buying products at salons in the past. Being in Sephora and Urban Outfitters also means that salon clients may already have some awareness of Verb.
Ultimately, the haircare market is really fragmented and confusing for shoppers. But for $16, everything is pretty damn simple.
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