“When it comes to men’s skin care, it’s really the current generation teaching the previous. Our fathers never taught us how to take care of our skin, because their fathers never taught them!” Dale, founder of Zuse, explains, “Girls learn about skin care through their mothers, boys just aren’t exposed to that. It’s really in the past decade, with the birth of social media, that men are becoming more and more cautious of their appearance. They see other men looking good and they want to look like that too.”
Dale Millstein, a CPA with an MBA, quit his job to start Zuse after he noticed a very obvious gap in the market. “Honestly, I was a guy’s guy. I would use whatever soap and whatever shampoo and a moisturizer maybe couple times a week. I just got to a point in my life where I wanted to be healthier – through diet, through exercise – so naturally I wanted to find better products for my face and hair too.” In search of better grooming products, Dale went where anyone in Toronto would go for such advice – Sephora. “But when I walked in it was very obvious I didn’t belong there. There wasn’t too much selection for men and the entire retail experience was just not designed for the male consumer. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to the associates, I didn’t feel comfortable in the store. In my head I thought ‘I wished they had something like Sephora but just for men’. I couldn’t fine one, so I decided to create one”.
Dale named his company Zuse – a variation of Zeus, the Greek God of sky and thunder – because it invoked confidence. “Everyone deserves to feel confident,” he says, “I wanted to be the company that made men feel confident, or restores their confidence if they’ve somehow lost it.”
Zuse now operates mainly as an e-commerce site. Its only retail space currently stands on the corner of College and Montrose Street. Every aspect of the store – from it’s minimalistic design to it’s straight forward messaging – is tailored to provide men with a stress free experience. Dale’s group of 10 gentlemen curate, test, and stock only the tried and true “We don’t stock entire lines from any one company. It’s so curated that we only stock the ‘hero products’ from the lines we test. This way we know we’re giving customers something that works and that will actually solve their problems.” Some items are so obscure that you won’t find it anywhere else in Canada. “We went to great lengths and searched all over the world for the best grooming products. In terms of men’s grooming, Toronto is actually far behind places like L.A. or Europe. Those markets are flooded with products for men, but we sort through all of it to bring Toronto the best of the best.”
When it comes to advertising, Dale has a different approach than most e-businesses today. “I’ve done a couple sponsored ads on social media but, I don’t want to keep doing that. My focus is on building a loyal user base by delivering content with substance and offering actual experiences. Like the master classes we hold, for example – how to make your own beard oil, how to craft your own scent, even how to mix a good martini – are a great way to make meaningful connections with our clients. Although these things take more time and effort, it nurtures a much deeper bond between the customer and the brand. I want to build a brand that stands on it’s own with products that speak for themselves. At the end of the day, if your brand doesn’t resonate and your products don’t work, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on advertising.”
I asked Dale what he felt was his biggest achievement so far. “Actually, just the fact that I opened the store feels like my biggest achievement. You have no idea how hard it is to leave a salaried job to do something that may or may not pay off. The amount of blood and sweat that goes into building a business is crazy. And the amount of doubt you have – do it, don’t do it; open, don’t open; it’s a good idea, no it’s a terrible idea… That’s why I think, for any business, the fact that you can “open” already says a lot about you as an entrepreneur. It means you overcame all that uncertainty and stuck by your idea.”
Visit Zuse’s Online Shop today to satisfy any grooming need you could possible have.
This interview has been edited and condensed