Made in Britain: Shaving subscription box, The Personal Barber

The Personal Barber

Bradley St John Jones talks to us about his company, The Personal Barber, a shaving subscription box service.

Tell us about your business?

The Personal Barber is a shaving subscription box service based around the classic single-blade safety razor and brush style of shaving, regarded as the best style of shaving to reduce irritation (particularly if you have sensitive skin), and cut back on plastic-waste.

Every six weeks we curate a new selection of shaving soaps/creams, post-shave balms, colognes, moisturisers and more, which we send out to our members along with a restock of ten blades. If you’ve never used a safety razor before, the first kit includes a razor and brush as well as step-by-step instructions.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

It came from my own poor experience using plastic cartridge razors and looking for something better. I think most men start off being excited at the prospect of shaving. It’s a rite of passage that most go through. Unfortunately, the novelty wears off quite quickly as it becomes a never-ending chore you have to do if you want a clean-shaven look. As someone that had long suffered from sensitive skin, I would dread every shave. It would leave my skin feeling uncomfortable and even into my early twenties would often initiate a breakout of spots. I would therefore avoid shaving as much as possible. It was only after I was introduced to a classic safety razor that things changed. Suddenly my shaves weren’t causing irritation anymore and my skin was feeling more comfortable than ever. This was a game-changer for me as I saw a huge improvement in my skin whilst being able to regularly achieve a clean-shaven look, but the most surprising change was when I realised that I was actually enjoying the shave! Whereas before I was shaving at most once in a week, now I was shaving every day. The process of whipping up a warm scented lather and then efficiently removing stubble one line at a time with a clean sweep of the razor was incredibly satisfying.

I created The Personal Barber because I felt like I had stumbled across something great that very few people seemed to be aware of, and I wanted to introduce as many people as possible to this style of shaving. I was, and still am, convinced that learning to use a safety razor will completely change how you see your morning routine. At the time of starting TPB, there was very little marketing going into classic shaving. There were a few quality brands in the space but it was very niche and nowhere near as popular as it is now. I knew that safety razors have an old-fashioned look and feel that could put people off so I created TPB as a subscription to highlight the fun experience of it.

What sets you apart from your competition?

The big brand subscriptions seem to focus on convenience. They send out a plastic razor, not much different from what you’d get in the supermarket, along with some shaving cream and maybe a balm. It’s the same every box and it’s not likely to blow you away with excitement, or change your thoughts about shaving, but they will save you a trip to the supermarket.

The Personal Barber is more focused on the whole experience and making shaving a part of your day you don’t begrudge doing. The razor will ensure you get a comfortable, and enjoyable shave, the brush and natural creams adds that luxurious ritual element, and the plastic-free blades give you a clean conscience.

Not only do you get to learn a better way to shave, but the boxes are curated so you’re also getting to try new products, often sourced from small passionate businesses, that you wouldn’t have come across before. It makes each unboxing something to look forward to, and trying each product makes your routine a bit more exciting.

What’s the hardest thing about running a business?

Deciding what to focus the most time on. There are infinite directions to take a business in and deciding what to say no to and what to say yes to can be a constant source of frustration. It can be tempting to try to do everything at once because once you’ve identified an opportunity it becomes difficult to forget about it, but you can only allocate so much time to each project and it’s better to do one thing very well than lots of things poorly.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been getting new customers to overcome their initial hesitation to try out a safety razor. I get a lot of guys referring to ‘Sweeney Todd’ when in fact that’s a completely different style of razor. Our razor is so much easier to use and nowhere near as scary. Fortunately, once they try it out, I’ve found over 90% of members say they would never go back to their plastic disposable, it’s just that good!  By focusing on quality, informative content I’ve been able to maintain a healthy conversion rate on the site but it’s still the biggest hurdle to signing up a new member.

What’s the best decision you’ve made so far? 

Creating The Personal Barber’s own range of products has been immensely satisfying. I was able to take our shaving soap from an idea to countless handmade formulations and finally to getting a full batch of product scaled up at a large manufacturer.

Whilst being a rewarding project personally, it also meant I was able to create a more consistent unboxing experience for new members, lower first box costs, and create an extra revenue stream via wholesale through retailers.

If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?

I would go back to when Facebook ads were cheap and invest every penny I could get hold of into them using the knowledge I have now. Unfortunately, those days are long gone and with the recent IOS changes to tracking it’s becoming difficult to justify Facebook as a significant share of the marketing budget anymore.

What has been your proudest achievement so far?

I never tire of hearing how much of a difference the subscription has made to people’s lives. I regularly get kind messages from members saying how switching to our razors and following the instructions on how to achieve a great shave has completely changed their grooming routine for the better. Men that have suffered irritation all their lives being able to leave the house without a red inflamed neck, or guys that have begrudged shaving for over 40 years and now find it’s their favourite part of the day.

What are your hopes for your business in the next five years?

I want to keep expanding The Personal Barber’s own range, continuing with the focus on products that are plastic-free, ethical, and sustainable. We’re already beginning to get stocked in a number of small retailers and I hope that in five years time we’ll have swapped the paradigm around and you’ll see our eco-friendly shaving products on supermarket shelves instead of wasteful disposable cartridges.

As for the subscription, the focus is to keep growing our subscriber base. We’ve already started working with independent brands to create unique products that are exclusive to members of the club. As our base grows, we’ll be able to do even more exciting things like that.