Winter is near, which means guys are trading in their blankets for beards and swapping shaving cream for beard oil. In the U.S. alone, 49 million men wear facial hair. And to keep their beards in dapper shape, these follically adventurous men are flocking to The Beard Club, a grooming subscription service created in 2015 by a group of facial hair aficionados. With the motto “Don’t Grow It Alone—” and on their way to a million subscribers—The Beard Club underwent a makeover in October, expanding its reach beyond bearded men to those who are curious about growing facial hair. The Beard Club’s goal is to foster growth beyond the follicle, cultivating a community of other fellow beard devotees. 

With the millions of beards currently being grown in America, it may not come as a surprise that women aren’t the only consumers comfortable with the commitment tied to a subscription. Guys see the value in receiving products on a recurring basis too, according to McKinsey & Company, who found that men are more likely than women to have three or more active subscriptions.

At the helm of The Beard Club is chief marketing officer Peter Dille, who held previous roles as marketing vice president at littleBits, CMO of Tapjoy and senior vice president of marketing at PlayStation Network. Alist spoke with Dille, who joined The Beard Club in February of last year, on the challenges a niche subscription service faces and how the company’s recent rebranding and forthcoming gift subscription will keep beardos—and the folks who love them—coming back for more.

Tell us about The Beard Club’s No Shave November efforts and how the company is measuring the success of that initiative.

There are 49 million men in America alone who have a beard. You really can’t walk down the street or go to a restaurant or go anywhere, frankly, without seeing one. It’s just such a part of the culture today. No Shave November is this one time of year when everybody gets on board to sport a beard.

When I joined The Beard Club, just last February, and I started telling my friends about it, a lot of them were like, “Hey, are you going to work with No Shave November?” And it just seemed like the obvious next step, and I have to agree with them. We now have a special promotional code, No Shave November, that when you use you’ll receive an additional 10 percent off. We’re happy to share some of the proceeds with the friends at No Shave November who are doing great work to raise funds for cancer prevention.

How do you think the subscription industry overall is performing or has evolved to what it is today?

I read about a new company popping up every day in particular with some of these direct-to-consumer brands. Amazon changed the world and consumers’ comfort with shopping from home, avoiding going to a brick-and-mortar retail and the notion of having a subscription offering. That said, I think you have to be a little bit cautious. There are products that we can all agree that we love, but are you committed to wanting to subscribe to them month-in and month-out, and for all the different things that you have interest in? 

Not everything makes sense for a subscription. Grooming is a perfect example because whether you’re a male or a female, you’re spending time grooming each day. For some, they’re curious about a beard, but for a lot of guys, they don’t know what to do with them. The hair comes out of their face, but then you have to tend to it. Some guys actually have difficulty with growing their beards, and our growth product is going to help with that. Even the guys who have an existing beard, they’re not quite sure what look to go with. Our whole business isn’t just about selling the product each month, it’s about that unfiltered approach to give them access to articles, videos and a blog that show them different beard styles, how to use a growth oil versus a beard spray or a wax. There’s this approach to have folks learn from others in the community as well, and that’s where some of the power of the club comes into effect.

“For a lot of guys, they don’t know what to do with [a beard.] The hair comes out of their face, but then you have to tend to it.”

One of the things that we’ve talked about in the company to combat subscription challenges is: what about gift-givers? The feedback that I got from some of the folks on the team regarding the challenge with that is that, say you want to give a gift to a significant other, your brother or your dad, you’re basically giving them something that they have to continue to get the value out of it. And then they take on the ownership of that subscription. 

We’ll have a couple different offerings with different price points: small, medium and large. We want to make sure we get people who just want the subscription for a small taste, so there’s less friction there. And if someone wanted to spend a hundred bucks or more, we have gifts for them as well. We’re rolling that out in the next couple of weeks. I think it’s going to be a nice way to drive additional subscriptions while also help us tap into a brand new market by marketing the product to females and other gift-givers.

How does a niche subscription service like The Beard Club acquire customers?

There are several different parts to it, but largely there’s a build off of Facebook, YouTube and performance marketing. The YouTube videos were wildly successful. The company started in 2015, and we kind of mimicked those of the Dollar Shave Club. But then we’re really just getting the word out there via digital advertising and the same dynamics around that marketing funnel where you’re paying for clicks, getting folks into your funnel and then re-engaging them with content. Content is a big part of the strategy and so is convincing people to subscribe and try it out. So those parts of the marketing machine really haven’t changed in terms of the tactics we’re using. 

The company was very successful when they launched, but they were kind of one-dimensional. They were appealing to a certain type of guy with a certain type of beard. A lot of them were these amazing beards that were almost intimidating, very masculine brand positioning, which is fine for some guys, but was not really all that inclusive. Like I said earlier, there are 49 million men in America and not all of them have that type of beard, so we want to make sure the brand can speak to every guy who wants to grow a beard, not just a certain slice. And that included different beard styles, but it also meant different ethnicities that we weren’t really talking to. So I think we’re trying to open that up. The new website and content we’re creating reflect that.

What is your take on some of the marketing challenges the subscription industry faces? 

When you talk about subscription and challenges, obviously the first thing that most people talk about is churn. And for obvious reasons, it affects our lifetime value and affects everything that we do. If we can keep folks engaged in the brand longer, then that’s obviously going to have a huge impact on our bottom line.

I think the thing that’s a little bit different about growing beards versus shaving is if you’re someone who is committed to being clean-shaven, you need a razor every single day of your life. The thing about guys with beards is sometimes they experiment with different styles, they may grow a beard on vacation, they may want to shave it off or even grow it seasonally, because it’s colder out. When they shave it, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer interested in beards and are gone forever. 

“Grooming is a perfect example [for a subscription], because whether you’re a male or a female, you’re spending time grooming each day.”

When I just got to the company, we commissioned some research to understand our customers and I found this really interesting paradox that was going on. Our customers were showing high brand loyalty, 90 percent or more, but when looking at our churn rates, they weren’t where we wanted them to be—after X number of months, they were signing off.  Or at least that’s what we thought. In their minds, they weren’t really churning.

What they were doing was reflecting a shortcoming on our website, because the website didn’t offer the ability to pause your account. What happens sometimes is if you have enough beard oil because you didn’t use it all last month or you decided to shave it all off, but you’re going to re-grow your beard next month, there’s a desire to pause your account. From their perspective, they were still displaying this brand loyalty through the survey, but their behavior showed that they wanted to put their account on hold, and we weren’t allowing them to do that. 

It became a straightforward thing for us to direct our product team when dealing with the website to offer a lot more flexibility for account management. Now you go in and you have a much more powerful experience that shows you when your next “beard box” is coming, what’s in it or if you want to pause it for a month and have [the box] come the following month. All that is now extremely easy to use, and I think we’re going to see some really terrific results in terms of churn from that perspective. 

The other thing we did was we introduced the brand new rewards club, for which our goal was to make guys feel like they belong to something, and at the same time, reward them for their participation, not just for the dollars that they’re spending with us, but for other actions as well. For example, when they engage with us on social media, after dropping a review, when making purchases or if they’re referring to friends. All these things allow them to earn points, and those points let them save money on future purchases. Combined with what we already know about the customers’ love for our product, I think the rewards club is going to have really great results for lifetime value and retention and combat that problem of churning and subscription.

How do subscription companies differ from other business models in their approach to customer service?

For our company, customer service is vitally important. Historically, The Beard Club has done a great job with the beard part of the business. And what I’ve tried to do since getting here is really dial up the club aspect. You’re giving up your money for a product, but also you’re becoming a member of a club. As such, I think there’s a certain obligation for a level of service, and that we take very seriously. So we’ve got a customer service team that is very active with our users. It could be anything like, “Hey, I’m not sure where my box is, it should have arrived and can you check on it?” or “I’m curious about growing a different style of beard, can you point me in the right direction?” Both of those questions are important. I won’t speak for other subscription companies, but I would eventually guess that most of them take customer service very seriously, and we certainly do.

As far as influencers, is that something the brand is engaging or plans to engage?

It is. We’ve worked with influencers in the past, some of which are actually investors in the company. But we’ll dial that up as well, as we just relaunched the brand. We’ve actually got a couple fires in the oven to expand our influencer programs.