Lifelong friends Steve Purcell and Luke Newman grew up surfing and skating together in their native Australia since they were teenagers. It was ultimately that bond, and their equal appreciation for what was considered in Australia as a lost trade, that was the catalyst for what is today Uppercut Deluxe, an emerging brand that bridges the gap between the surf and skate lifestyle and the two men’s passion for barbershops.
By the time they were in high school, Newman and Purcell went their separate ways, but still stayed on an eerily similar path. Purcell, who was pushed by his father to learn a trade, ended up ditching school early to apprentice at a local Australian barbershop, while Newman made the move to Portland, Oregon, where he helped a friend build skateparks, but ended up returning home to apprentice as a barber as well.
The community and timeless appeal of barbershops spoke to Purcell and Newman, who also resonated with the trade due to his tight relationship with his grandfather, the well-known boxer Willy O’Shea who went by the nickname “Uppercut” and the motto “a hard beginning maketh a good ending.” O’Shea, who used to take Newman with him to the barber from an early age, made a lasting impression on the youth, so much that it inspired him and Purcell to open their very own shop and go into the barbering business. Frustrated with the offering for men’s grooming products, the duo followed that up in 2009 with their own pomade tailored to the modern barbering lifestyle, and the collection has continued to grow since then.
“We started dreaming up the idea of Uppercut in 2008, and the process of developing the first product took a whole year as we wanted it to be perfect,” says Purcell. “We drove our chemists crazy with the fine details. The branding concept is a product of Luke’s creative brain, and the branding and design process took roughly the same time in the pipeline.”
Today, Uppercut Deluxe is still striving to build community and bridge a gap between their unique niche and the skate and surf worlds, with collaborations with brands like Z-Flex skateboards. Purcell and Newman took some time out from their gigs at the barbershop and focusing on their emerging brand to answer a few questions about their passion for skateboarding, the barbershop scene, and the family heritage and meaning behind Uppercut Deluxe.
How did Uppercut Deluxe get its start?
Steve: Uppercut Deluxe was born through a frustration of using mediocre products that didn’t suit the vibe of our barbershop; products that were either too “Greaser” or that looked like a ladies salon brand. We wanted Uppercut Deluxe to be a core men’s grooming product that was easy to use and that guys were proud to be associated with.
Give us the details on your background-- What’s been your involvement in the action sports industry before founding the brand?
Luke: The brand was built by Steve and myself. We met when we were teenagers through surfing and skating together and both got into barbering. When we decided to open a shop together we wanted to surround ourselves with stuff we were into. The barbershop became more like a clubhouse that had skateboards and and band posters all over the walls. I think that’s why it became so successful because it was just such a relaxed environment that reflected our passions. On Thursday nights we would play old skate videos in the shop which made it really social place to hang out.
Where is Uppercut Deluxe based, and what are its offices like?
Steve: We have 3 offices around the world. The US, UK and our home base in Australia.
Each office has its own local marketing initiatives and sales teams while all the product testing and development take place in our Australian office. We have a great crew of people that really understand the culture of the brand and who also enjoy a roll in the office carpark at lunch.
How many people work for the brand?
Luke: We currently have 15 people dedicated to working with Uppercut Deluxe.
Which retailers carry Uppercut Deluxe products?
Luke: Core skate and surf independents as well as reputable barbershops and boutiques.
Are you looking to expand your distribution, and if so, what type of and how many more doors would you like to be in by 2014?
Luke: We are always looking at expanding our distribution however our focus is on the quality of accounts. We want Uppercut Deluxe to stand the test of time and want to partner with retailers that we can grow with not just meet budgets every month. I think it’s even more important as a new category in surf and skate that you present yourself as a lifestyle brand with strong advocacy not just someone out to make a quick buck on hair wax and grooming products.
Why men’s grooming products? What type of opportunity did you see within this market?
Steve: It just makes sense to be able to be able to offer grooming products as essentials for guys. Grooming products are like candy at the register at a supermarket. It’s a quick impulse buy that completes your look. Many retailers tell me how a guy will come in to buy a pair of chinos or a shirt to go out that night then pick up some hair wax at the counter. Plus it gives customers a reason to keep coming back to that store to restock on a regular basis.
Do you have team riders or ambassadors and what will that look like moving into the future?
Luke: We have been so fortunate in the way that most of our ambassadors actually were using the product before we started to hook them up. However in the coming year we want to really spread the word through supporting a select group of surfers, skaters, and musicians.
What do you think are three key things an emerging brand can do to make them stand apart from the rest of the market?
Steve: I think for us our major advantage was that we lived and breathed barbering so we knew what would make a good product. Its one thing to have an idea but you need to be passionate and educated about what your doing. So I suppose to break it into 3 points I would say you have to be authentic, educated and passionate.
What three words would you use to describe the brand?
Steve: timeless, everyday, essentials
What does your International vs. domestic distribution numbers look like at the moment.
Luke: We have been developing our Australian business for longer then any other region so we have a strong grounding with loyal wholesalers here as opposed to our newer markets. In saying that, we can’t get over the support both the US and UK/EU markets are giving the brand. The sales team in all 3 offices are getting amazing feedback from accounts as a new category and we’re stoked to see the brand grow with them
Is there one particular region that Uppercut Deluxe does better within?
Steve: Not really. All markets have their benefits. The distribution potential in the US and UK/EU is far greater than back home in Australia due to the size of the market. We’re excited to see where the brand can go in all markets...especially with the plans we have in the pipeline for products
Do you plan to branch out into other categories in the near future? If so, what would they be and why do you think they’d fit with your overall brand aesthetic?
Luke: We have a two-tiered focus at the moment with the brand. The first is to ensure we focus on rolling out our existing range into quality doorways globally. Secondly, we aim to keep our customers stoked with product innovation. We are constantly developing new products within and outside of the grooming category that will be revealed very soon! Rest assured they will stay true to the importance of product quality
What are some of the things successful retailers are doing really well right now to move product, and what suggestions or tips do you have for them on successful merchandising in-store and online?
Steve: I think retailers that work hard to educate their customers always have an advantage, so we are always trying to ensure our retailers know the details of our products so they can pass on the knowledge to their customers. Shops that tell a story and create an experience when you walk through the door are always a step in front of the rest and when they have well thought out spaces built on experience and convenience then they’re always going to win. Because grooming is such a new category it is easy to get lost in the mix but we are really trying to make it as easy as possible for stores to display the product well on their counters and to offer incentives that make it as easy as possible to stock the whole range.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Luke: We were just doing what we were passionate about and crafted a product that people really identified with. I think the fact that we based our products around my grandfather’s nickname gives us extra pride in the brand and his story really resonates with guys. His motto was always “a hard beginning maketh a good ending.” In other words you gotta pay your dues in order to really enjoy the good times.