Procter & Gamble is turning to a startup to help reach African-American consumers who are frustrated with a lack of shaving and shampoo choices.
On Wednesday, the consumer products conglomerate announced that it bought Walker & Co. for an undisclosed sum.
Walker & Co. is a health and beauty startup founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Tristan Walker. It makes razors, trimmers, shave kits, lotions, and grooming products geared toward people of color. Its men's line, Bevel, is designed to reduce razor bumps and irritation for men with coarse or curly hair, while Form, a premium shampoo and hair care line, is tailored for women with textured hair.
Walker was an entrepreneur-in-residence at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and head of business development at Foursquare before he started Walker & Co.
Earlier this year, Walker told CNN Business that large, mass-market companies have neglected people of color as an important demographic.
"That second-class citizen experience of having to shop in an 'ethnic' beauty aisle, which is really the small shelf that's right next to the official beauty aisle, was just an incredibly frustrating experience," he said at the time.
The Walker & Co. deal gives P&G (PG) a chance to expand its presence in black beauty care, a market that is worth $4.5 billion in the United States.
The company — which owns big brands brands like Gillette, Braun, and Venus razors, as well as the Head & Shoulders and Pantene shampoo lines — has already been making an effort. Pantene Gold Series and Head & Shoulders Royal Oils are marketed toward people of color.
But partnering with Walker will help P&G grow that business, and develop new products in the future.
"This is a deliberate strategy on P&G's part over the past few years to more authentically serve consumers of color by designing products to meet their unique needs," said Damon Jones, vice president of global communications and advocacy at P&G. "This is a play for the long term."
Toya Mitchell, a senior multicultural analyst at market research firm Mintel who studies consumer products, said that many black men feel uncomfortable using Gillette or Dollar Shave razors and often have to rely on barbers to shape their facial hair or give them a shave.
P&G and Unilever "see black men as an untapped grooming target that is willing to buy products made for him on his own," she said.
Walker will continue to run the company as a separate business from P&G. The products are sold directly online, through retailers like Amazon (AMZN) and Target (TGT), and at a variety of beauty and barber shops.
In an interview Wednesday, Walker said that gaining access to P&G's tech, research and development, and supply chain infrastructure would help the company's brands build scale.
Walker has "zero worries" that his startup will clash with a global giant.
"Procter & Gamble wanted us to be in a position of autonomy, where we could maintain the agility and flexibility that we have always had to reach this consumer," he said. "I care very deeply about this company that we spent blood, sweat and tears on. I feel very comfortable and excited about this partnership. Everybody should get ready for what's next."
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