Tabac Original: The art of pop-up marketing

Your brand has a fantastic history and a timeless appeal. It’s a care line that’s been popular among users for 60 years. In short: a great foundation. But how can you ensure that future generations of consumers also get to know and appreciate your products? How do you stand out among the giants in the care sector, especially with a modest budget? Tabac developed a new brand strategy for this. And pop-up barbershops play a key role.

Dos, don’ts, setbacks, lucky breaks and triumphs: Keesjan Risch – Tabac’s country manager UK & Benelux – explains the evolution of their pop-ups and their ongoing European journey.

Authenticity is timeless

Tabac is a traditional brand with a long history. It made its mark in the 1960s, and retained a loyal fan base in the decades that followed. Consumers chose Tabac for its quality, craftsmanship, rugged looks and characteristic fragrance. The brand really stood for something. And we still do. Our unique heritage was, therefore, at the heart of the brand strategy we developed a few years ago. On the one hand, we wanted to introduce Tabac to new user groups. On the other hand, our products and expressions had to evoke a sense of recognition from our trusted and loyal fans.

Luckily, we had the trends on our side. While we were working on a new strategy, men’s care products were on the rise. Shaving was gaining a lot of attention. Self-care was not just for metrosexuals anymore: it was rugged and mainstream. And we saw a real desire for classic products, tradition and real craftsmanship. That’s why barbershops were also gaining in popularity at this time across the world.

Opvallen tussen geurgiganten

Tabac is a relatively small player in the world of care products. That means we also work with a different kind of budget. We didn’t have the money for long-term TV commercials or for millions of free samples. So we needed to be smart. Advertise in a fun, eye-catching way. Everything we did, therefore, had to lead back to four key pillars:

  • We stand out, and are highly visible
  • We make contact with consumers and can tell our story
  • Our activities fit with Tabac’s expertise in the field of male care
  • Our brand is authentic, recognisable and completely contemporary

The Tabac barbershop

Global trends, Tabac’s heritage, limited resources and our four communication pillars: everything comes together in the Tabac Barbershop. It’s the perfect marketing tool, and a logical choice for Tabac. The timing was perfect, it matched with our brand, and we created a place where consumers could experience, feel, smell and discuss our products. The only thing left to do was find a place with enough traffic and an effective reach. Eventually, we decided on Schiphol airside, beyond customs.

For us, the pop-up barbershops aren’t static stands, but more like travelling theatres. We start with a beautiful stand with vintage leather barber chairs from the 1950s, and all kinds of elegant, classic details. Wherever we are, the magic happens. Our barbers make sure of that. It’s wonderful to see them at work with their razor-sharp blades, manly look and sophisticated technology. That makes the pop-up the highest quality experience. And reason enough for consumers to come and take a look.

Taking off at Schiphol

Tens of millions of people travel from Schiphol every year. If you only reach a fraction of that, you’ve already run a successful campaign. But of course, we aimed for the right target groups. That’s why, during the May holiday, we placed our barbershop in Lounge 1: the Schengen departure area. Around 80-110 thousand people were in Lounge 1 every day, representing our primary markets: Germany, Benelux, France, Italy and England.

The public’s response to the stand exceeded all expectations. The barbershop truly stopped traffic. The barber chairs were full from 10 in the morning until 10 at night, and passing travellers stopped to watch how our experts took care of their guests. Soon, there was a waiting list for the free clean shaves, and the visitors eagerly used the promo column for an Instagram moment. That was really an eye-opener for us. Now, the pop-up’s potential was clear. We hadn’t considered traveling through Europe beforehand. It happened because of the tremendous success at Schiphol.

Building the first pop-up

Of course, it makes sense that you’re bound to all kinds of requirements at Schiphol. We literally were accountable for every single screw. And zero concessions were made when it came to safety. This caused a few headaches during production. You think you have a beautiful retro barber chair, but the old leather doesn’t meet modern airport requirements. And how do you ensure that your barbers are allowed to work with a traditional straight razor? The construction of the first stand clearly had to remain firmly planted in reality. But that turned out to be an important advantage. Because if you’re allowed to have a stand at Schiphol, you can pretty much go anywhere you want. From shopping centre to department store, from trade show to festival. Moreover, thanks to the sophisticated materials list, we could easily duplicate and export our stand.

Barbershops in all shapes and sizes

The success of the first pop-up had us eager for more, and there was interest in our barbershops from all over Europe. As a result, we quickly added a number of them – in various shapes and sizes. Right now, we have a total of 40 basic, two-seated barber stations and three complete mobile shops. In addition, we’ve been travelling with a real barber truck since the summer. All in all, you could say that we’ve built up quite a (mobile) barbershop empire.

Collaboration with retail partners

The primary focus of our pop-ups is branding. We don’t sell anything there, and we really see it as a marketing tool. And that’s truly how they work in practice, because we generally don’t earn anything from them. Since we don’t want to disappoint interested customers, we work together with retailers on location. We shave customers, then send them to the store that sells our products. Or we put a barber chair right in the store. We don’t sell at all at festivals and fairs. That doesn’t fit with the mind-set of the visitors. People interested in buying products of course receive a flyer or a discount code instead.

Fine-tuning our formula

The barbershops were a kick-start for our new brand strategy rollout. Everything comes back to that. We’ve toured for a few years now, and went from a single barbershop to a whole fleet. We used trial and error to discover how to best reach our target groups. This past summer, it turned out that our new truck didn’t do so well at busy music festivals like Rockwerchter. But it did extremely well at racing events, car shows and food and theatre festivals. That’s insight we can build on. We continue to develop our shops – and therefore our brand. What form(s) will it take next? That’s a baker’s barber’s secret.