Image of a hand pulling a Black Wolf Nation product out of a toiletry bag on a lakeside.
After launching in 2018 with three products, Black Wolf Nation now has more than 20 and is surpassing $35 million in annual revenue. — Black Wolf Nation

Why it matters:

  • Men have historically lagged women in buying personal care products, but they’re catching up.
  • Black Wolf Nation is a part of the global male grooming market, which is expected to balloon to $115 billion by 2028 from $80 billion in 2022.
  • A strong manufacturing partner and targeted social media marketing made for a successful launch for the startup, helping the company scale to $35 million in annual sales in six years.

Women have historically been the biggest buyers of personal care products, and they still are. On average, women use 13 personal care products a day. But men are catching up. The 11 products on average men use daily is almost double what it was 20 years ago.

It’s a trend fueled in part by shifting ideas about masculinity and self-care driven by social media, just as brands have become more targeted in the ways in which they market to men. When brothers and entrepreneurs Sam and Alex Lewkowict set out to build a skincare company for guys, they started with a guiding mantra: “You got problems, we got solutions.” Rather than mimicking women’s often multi-step skincare lines, they believed their solutions-focused approach to product development could make men comfortable enough to buy higher-end products for back acne or razor bumps.

The Lewkowicts are co-founders of men’s skincare company Black Wolf Nation. The business sells skin and body care products and grooming devices to its over 500,000 customers through salons and barber shops and at retailers like CVS, Best Buy, Macy’s and Urban Outfitters. In year one of the business, the brothers launched three products and brought in $85,000. Now, they have more than 20 products and are surpassing $35 million in annual revenue.

Black Wolf Nation is part of the global male grooming market, which is expected to grow to $115 billion by 2028 from $80 billion in 2022, according to Statista data.

“There’s a huge opportunity in men’s skin care,” said Sam Lewkowict, who’s two years Alex’s senior. “Our mission is to get as many guys as humanly possible buying higher quality skincare products and for them to look and feel confident.”

Lifelong entrepreneurs set out to convert men from using lower-quality skincare products to higher-end ones

Growing up in Montreal, Canada, the Lewkowicts were entrepreneurs from early on. “From eight-years-old, we were always finding new and interesting ways to make money on our own,” Sam said.

In middle school, they bought sports jerseys online at wholesale prices, then sold them to kids at school. The business went well until a school administrator shut them down. But the brothers weren’t deterred. They moved on to a snow shoveling operation, and then sold Webkinz dolls they bought up from stores to collectors on eBay.

The brothers struggled with acne as teens and had no idea how to best care for their skin. They were close, too, with their immigrant grandfather, William (Wolf) Lewkowict who survived the Holocaust and settled in Canada. Their grandfather gave them each their first razor and aftershave and would often tell them, “It’s a man’s responsibility to put himself together and look his best.”

As the male grooming market grew, Sam and Alex, both in their thirties, believed they could make an impact. From conversations with male friends and relatives, they knew many men in their initial target age range, 25 to 40, fell into one of two buckets. Some have a semblance of a skincare regimen that consists of inexpensive big-brand products with lower-quality ingredients, while others might use a single bar of cheap soap as their only grooming product.

The brothers started out by tapping into the former potential customer base, zeroing in on convincing men to upgrade their existing skincare routine. They focused on active ingredients, or ones that specifically improve a given skin condition like acne or aging. While these ingredients add cost, Sam said, they produce results.

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A big part of the reason we are able to survive is that we have a strong manufacturing partner that believed in us. Suppliers can be as good, if not better, than some of the best investors, and entrepreneurs really need to lean on them.

Sam Lewkowict, Co-founder, Black Wolf Nation

Success came from leaning on strong manufacturing partners and suppliers

As novices, Sam and Alex knew they needed a partner to help get them up to speed, someone knowledgeable in the industry who could formulate their products.

“We didn’t know anyone,” Sam said. “So we googled, made a list, called everyone on it and ended up finding our way to an older man in Florida who reminded me of my grandpa.” They flew to Boca Raton to visit the man’s skincare manufacturing company. “We said, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing,’” he said.

The manufacturer showed them how to make and manufacture skin products. Alex taught himself how to source packaging materials from overseas, communicating with vendors in China. “We made mistakes, but eventually we got it right,” Sam said.

They spent hours in the factory conference room sudsing their faces testing sample products. “A big part of the reason we are able to survive is that we have a strong manufacturing partner that believed in us,” Sam said. “Suppliers can be as good, if not better, than some of the best investors, and entrepreneurs really need to lean on them.”

Black Wolf Nation launched in the U.S. in 2018 (it’s more difficult to launch in Canada, Sam said) selling three core products online: a face wash for men focused on acne, a moisturizer for guys with oily skin, and an aftershave and razor bump cream.

“We knew we had to first build a sizable brand before we could go head-to-head with any major companies,” Sam said. The brothers relied heavily on online channels. They created and launched a website, bought Facebook ads, and marketed through social media posts. “It’s really the best way to funnel customers through the door,” he said.

Sam dedicated himself to speaking with customers to learn more about their wants and needs. He put his personal cell phone number on paperwork and chatted and talked with over 1,000 customers in the first few years of the business.

[Read: How Three Startups Scored Millions in Funding]

 Black Wolf Nation co-founders Sam and Alex Lewkowict.
Brothers and Black Wolf Nation Co-founders Sam and Alex Lewkowict wanted to create a solutions-focused line of men's skincare products. — Black Wolf Nation

To scale up, the company leaned on venture capitalist partners, a lean team, and solution-focused marketing

Gradually, the brothers, who both live in the U.S. now, expanded their product line, first into body wash scrubs, then hair care products, and finally grooming devices.

Most recently they launched their Sonic Scalp Scrubber, a device for dandruff reduction and hair health. It joins other products like an ear cleaning device and a sonic scrubber body brush. It’s these products Sam believes can ultimately bring the “bar soap guys” into their brand.

Along the way, the Lewkowicts initially pitched venture capitalists to help with funding. But they grew frustrated when they saw other direct-to-consumer brands raise large amounts of capital at inflated valuations only to then find themselves unprofitable with few exit prospects.

The brothers chose a different path. They sought out venture capital partners to buy in to their business. They recruited David Tal and his family – owners of haircare giant, Moroccanoil – and other angel investors including Lensabl Founder Andy Bilinsky, Morning Brew Co-founder Austin Rief, and PopSugar Co-founder Brian Sugar to serve as investors and advisers.

In 2020, they launched on Amazon with the help of marketing agency Vendo, and in 2022 they started selling wholesale retail in stores like Rite Aid and Walgreens. Their business partner angel investors helped to forge retail connections.

As Black Wolf Nation has grown, the brothers have kept their team small and lean. Current team members number six. This year, all new products will focus on hair and body, areas the brothers believe are ripe for growth. The facial market is somewhat saturated, Sam said, since men tend to buy a finite number of face care products.

As the Lewkowicts expand into additional large chain retailers, they remain focused on their founding creed of solution-focused marketing to persuade men to replace their current products with Black Wolf Nation’s product line.

“Changing a man’s habits is very, very difficult,” said Sam. “Elevating existing products men are already comfortable using is where we think the future is in the space.” As for advice for fellow entrepreneurs, Sam says it’s essential to accept that starting a business goes hand-in-hand with constant hurdles. “If you’re not facing adversity, you’re not trying hard enough,” he said. “Accept and embrace it.”

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