This week, I thought about the need for me to learn something new about the Current State of the Personal Care/Grooming Industry and go up to Chicago to revisit Q Brothers. This was an important step for me for a few reasons.
It has been a while since I’ve been to Q Brothers, and I thought that if I need understand & comprehend the Personal Care & Grooming Industry, going to a retail store I have been familiar with would be essential in that process. I will plan more visits to stores and various events in the coming months, so the more information I can gather about upcoming Artisans and Vendors, the better.
Last year, I didn’t get to go to the meetup and this year, I have been on the fence about it. When I went to the 2015 Windy City Meetup, I had met a lot of Wetshavers and Artisans and we all got along. We filled Q Brothers and some of us bought some stuff. We broke bread with one another at the restaurant a few doors down where we all had fun just enjoying each other’s company.
I headed into Lincoln Square where I slowly walked up to Q Brothers. This time, there wasn’t Arley Canterbury outside having a smoke and there wasn’t David Gonzalez inside to recognize me when I walked through those doors. There was Ramon Vela (Q Brothers Shaving & Grooming Specialist) who had been there the previous time I had gone in alone to discuss things about the upcoming meetup with Kurt (who has since moved on). He recognized me right away, as we are in similar groups and commented that he reads Wet Shaving Times. As I looked around Q Brothers, I felt the quiet, sacred feeling that sometimes I’ll get when I go into a chapel. It’s now streamlined with fewer products and wasn’t busy when I was in the store.
Ramon told me they are still busy on the weekends, and they get a lot of repeat business, but many times, it’s these first-time customers who come in and just got curious & interested in Wet Shaving that bring people through the gate. The store clerk then shows them the DE razors and the brushes and Ramon said that sales have gone up on the brushes lately.
I looked over at the shelves and saw some familiar brands and products in their Artisan section. Fine Accoutrements had practically a whole shelf. Catie’s Bubbles, Wet Shaving Products, Tabula Rasa are there, and many other recognizable brands are there as well. Some Artisan brands are in other places. There is a rack that is in the center of the store which carries Stirling products visible right from the checkout counter.
Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements weren’t up on the shelf and it did hit me a bit strange. I know they carried it and even at the 2015 Windy City Meetup, they had him there in the store, promoting his product. I already knew that RazoRock were not being carried, but PAA? That seemed very weird to me and I asked about it. Ramon was very helpful to me in understanding the situation and due to concerns about private decision making within the shop regarding product ordering, we discussed it without going into too much detail. In the end, it’s simple really.
The retail marketplace is all about supply and demand. The customers want what the customers want. As inventory managers & owners of the store, they have to decide what they think will sell and what they think they don’t. They have numbers they go through as well as their personal experience of what they see is selling in the store Also, a few Artisans stopped making and delivering the product, so they just never replaced the stock with new products.
On a personal note, I understand this because my parents owned Gray’s Hallmark for 15 years. In those early years of the store, we would go to Gift Shows with Mom and Dad where they would be exposed to many different products and decide to place orders based on what they saw and who they talked to. This decision process got refined over the years and I think they always didn’t have an easy time deciding what to carry. This discernment process is done carefully and sometimes on instinct. Companies certainly realize that business is business and every business has a right to make their own decisions but they also want to cater to their clientele. Some may get a little peeved that they can’t get their product in the store, but you must be on good terms with delivering the goods. From what I heard, they had this problem as well with some Artisans. What was also discussed was the bottom line in wholesale costs. Every store has their own policy on how much they are willing to pay for wholesale and some companies just don’t allow for wiggle room. If it doesn’t make sense to the store owner to carry the product based on markup and how much profit they will make on the product, they might not carry the product. That’s just common sense to the store owner.
The Windy City Meetup 2017 Dilemma
The Windy City Meetup is coming up in June, so the big question is that well, is Douglas from PAA coming or is he steering clear of it this year? The Big Shave West 3 is happening in April and that takes a lot of work, so I imagine he would be busy with other events as well. I also wondered if Q Brothers will be involved with this year’s meetup like in 2015? The answer is that Q Brothers likely will not take a role in this year’s Windy City Meetup. This poses the question…. What the hell is a Shave Meetup in Chicago without a Shave related activity at Q Brothers one of GQ’s top 100 places for Men’s Grooming Needs in the Country? Esquire has named them as being one of the top 25 stores.
This concerns me. Is the idea of the Wet Shaving Meetup dissolving or are they now just becoming casual get-togethers of online friends and fellow hobbyists?
Wet Shaving consumers have an interesting dilemma. They form personal relationships with Artisans by getting together with them and crossing that line of personal and business and then the Artisan is dropped from a store, there tends to be a sense of loyalty to where an event is held in relationship to who is coming to the Wet Shaving Meetup. This boils down to the boundaries of a consumer. If the consumer doesn’t care about this kind of thing, then it’s not a problem. What I have noticed within the Wet Shaving Community is that Wet Shavers are a very LOYAL bunch of consumers. They will stop at nothing to take a stand if they feel an Artisan is being slighted. This was true when RazoRock had a similar issue with Q Brothers before we had the 2015 Windy City Meetup.
If you remember or don’t remember correctly, a well-known YouTube blogger and influencer would not step foot in the store because of the issues that RazoRock had with getting their product on the shelves again. It was not the Blogger’s fault that he didn’t get the full story, it’s just that if he investigated it enough, there was more to it than just the Vendor’s point of view. I said at the time that as a consumer, I don’t know if I really want to get involved in an argument between a Vendor and a Retail Owner. However, as someone who is covering the Wet Shaving Community and Industry, I am curious about these issues because it is an important part of how we feel about shops and Artisans that we love so much.
If Douglas Smythe from PAA is indeed coming to the Windy City Meetup, then the problem that could happen is there could be an argument or an uncomfortable situation right before our eyes when it comes to the store owner and Douglas. It is kind of like when a friend has been 86’d from a bar and someone attempts to bring that friend in then finds out what could go wrong. We certainly would not want or encourage that kind of experience as consumers. We simply want to know that a fair shake is involved and perhaps a better understanding by all parties could take place.
I’d like to stop there and just get some feedback on the various things I’ve brought up in this article. If you would like to weigh in, please comment below because I would love to get your thoughts or concerns on the matter as either a Vendor, a Shop Owner or Consumer. I believe that dialogue is necessary for me to “get the facts straight,” but I also don’t want to be a burden to anyone involved as you all have work to do as well. If you care to, please comment and I’ll do a follow-up article.*
Have a great day and shave intelligently, my friends.
*Note: This article has been edited.