Army veteran Joe Cotton knows all about shaving products. After serving his time in military bases all over the world and adhering to strict army rules about staying clean shaven, he built up an encyclopedic knowledge of the best shaving brands and grooming retailers in the world.
When he returned to home shores in 2002, he set up Carter and Bond, a high-end men’s grooming etailer, to help other well-kempt fellows keep their chins fluff-free and fresh.
"We were only the second company to take advantage of the niche," says Cotton. "I had a background in dotcoms and mailorder so an internet business was right up my street."
However, earlier this year, Cotton decided to open a high-street boutique, selling all Carter and Bond’s online products and offering cutthroat razor wet shaves on Saturdays. "There are a number of brands that we wanted to stock who were averse to supplying online retailers," he explains. "No matter how profitable or established the online business, they just wouldn’t supply them. They must have got their fingers burned in the dotcom crash. But they had nothing against working with businesses who had an online presence as long as they had a shop too."
The Notting Hill branch of Carter and Bond allowed Cotton to sign lucrative deals with these luxury brands. And also brought extra revenue into his distribution business: Carter and Bond is both a retailer and distributor for a number of luxury brands. This makes for an interesting business model. "We actually supply products to a number of our competitors," he says.
Turnover at the store is still significantly lower than the online side of the business but Cotton hopes that business will pick up with the introduction of an old-fashioned barber service three days a week. "While people might balk at paying £30 for a wet shave on its own, if they already use our barber and like the store, they may treat themselves to a shave too," says Cotton.
The recession has also helped Carter and Bond stay in the black. "In recent years there was a huge surge of companies coming into the online grooming market," says Cotton. "But the recession slashed their numbers: virtually all of our new competitors have died in the past six months. The marketplace now looks much like it did seven years ago when I started out."