Contract Manufacturers for Men's Hair Products?

I'm curious to how the business works. Do brands tend to work with a formulator and then a bottler? Or are there shops that turnkey the whole process, ie. Contract Manufacturers. I've been trying to figure out where some of my favorite brands produce their products or had their formulations done but it all seems very private. Could any one explain the process to me a bit and link me some of the respected names in the business? I've found many business but rarely do I see portfolios on their pages so I have a hard time judging quality. Looking for contract manufacturers I suppose.

Appreciate it.


  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    That information is typically private, although within the industry people might figure out who's making what.

    The process really can go a number of different ways.

    1.  Some companies do it all from building the brand to formulating to production. If demand exceeds their capacity, they hire contract manufacturers to produce for them. The company gives them the exact formula, suppliers, procedure, etc and the Contract Manufacturer makes it.

    2.  Some companies are just a brand and hire a contract manufacturer to make everything. They pay to have formulas that are customized & unique.  Paul Mitchel started out exactly this way and didn't have any R&D or Manufacturing for a long time. (They do now).

    3.  Some companies make their their own formulas then hire a contract manufacturer to scale it up. Often, the CM will change the formula slightly based on the raw materials they can get. They also try to lock in the customer so they can't get their formulas made somewhere else.

    4.  Some companies pay independent chemists to make the formulas for them. Like some of the chemists listed here  These chemists then develop formulas and provide them with contacts for manufacturers who can make the products for them. 

    5.  Then there are private label companies who make products but put whatever brand name you want on the bottle. They have stock formulas that all their customers can use with minimal customization.

    I'm sure there are more situations but that's pretty much how most companies work.

    Finding a good contract manufacturer is a challenge. There are a lot of bad ones out there. But the main reason is that start ups are not the business most CMs want to get. It's not steady business and startups usually want to do everything on the cheap.  CMs would much rather make products for companies like P&G or Unilever because they make great quantities and are reliable high paying customers.
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    Perry makes some great points above.

    On point 3 Perry touches on the issue of ownership of the Formulas. We work with clients to do their Formulation Development and then source out manufacturing. It is very important to be clear with the Contract Manufacturer about this issue. Also, to expedite this process, have a Formulator do your project or at MINIMUM have one experienced in Contract Manufacturing review the Formulas. I have had numerous Contract Manufacturers send us clients because the Formula "wasn't ready."

    On Point 5 Perry touches on Private Label. For many lines, this is the best way to start and allows one to minimize the costs as well as any liability. The Private Label Formulations are for the most part quality products which will have your branding.

    Lastly, my best advice when sourcing out Manufacturers is to start first with the HAPPI Contract Manufacturer Directory ( This is somewhat searchable for product type and location. While it is nice to have someone immediately local, I will say that for a novice a Site visit is of minimal value. After ensuring the manufacturer can produce the number of pieces needed, can produce the type of product and has any needed certifications, I would urge you to look at their programs (cGMP, ISO, OTC, NSF). This will indicate that they have in place at least some QA/QC programs and are credible. 

  Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • DuncanDuncan Member, Professional Chemist
    I'll wade in from a contract manufacturers point of view - I work for one in the UK
    What Perry and Mark have said is pretty much on the money - it depends on what you want, and how you want to start your brand.
    (And Mark I apologise for taking your name in vain, but I'm using you as the example of employing a custom formulator)

    We deal with a range of customers from start ups to branded.

    If you're OK using white label products with your label on it - that's fine, you'll find many people that will do that. We have some stock formulations and have done this many times
    My company tends to favour custom formulation and manufacture, so that is what we do for most clients
    However, if you have a formulation that somebody like Mark has done the work on, we'll happily talk, however, we'll want to make sure that we can make it in the lab first.
    Just because Mark can make it with his water and his materials doesn't guarantee that we can without slight tweaks. If possible we will want to use our grades of common materials, makes it easier for us if we use our equivalents. However, there can be variation - it's not unexpected

    To get a good rapport with a private label manufacturer - or a formulator like Mark, you'll need to have done some homework beforehand, so I'll give a few hints that we find useful, and marks you as serious rather than somebody with a good, but partially formed idea
    - think of it like preparing for a date

    Have an idea of what you want - benchmarks already out there are good

    Have an idea of the service you are looking for - are you looking for something with your label on, or do you want something with specific claims that will need some TLC from a formulation expert.

    Formulation ownership - as above

    Lead times: Be realistic. White label products can be turned reasonably swiftly as it's just artwork and manufacturing.

    Custom stuff will need at least 3 months stability testing from the point of approval of the prototype.

    Thats if everything goes right and passes first time. If it doesn't there will be delays When you factor in lead times of packaging etc, and getting production scheduled, realistically you're looking at 5-6 months before your product is in your storage facility

    Have a realistic idea of how many units you will want to order. We will go as low as 6000 units, a lot of manufacturers won't look at anything less than 10.

    Have a realistic idea of what you will need to pay per unit
    For instance as a rough guide - if you see a product in a store for £12, the store will be making 100% markup minimum. Means they will buy from you for £6, and you need to be paying the manufacturer maximum £3
    If you want a fancy bottle hand crafted by artisans that costs a fiver, well that isn't going to work

    In the end you need to have a successful partnership with the formulator and manufacturer, and a lot of times it comes down to communication
    UK based, Over 20 years in Toiletries, After a 5 year sabbatical doing cleaning products, back in the land of Personal Care
  • Interesting. I wonder where/how Paul Mitchell got their formulas fine-tuned with no R&D dept whatsoever. Many people swear Their products are pretty unique. But I wonder if that's just because they're heavily marketed at beauty salons, or if they're truly special.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @Gunther - Well, they have R&D now. They just didn't for a very long time. While they are fine products, there is nothing particularly impressive about the formulas or performance. I suspect you are correct that the fact that they are heavily marketed to beauty salons (and the salon owners get a kickback from sales) skews their perception a bit.

  • phillipc421phillipc421 Member
    edited July 2018
    Thanks for the replies. Are there any companies that stand out as being better than their competitors in the US? Have been going through Happi looking at multiple companies.
  • EVchemEVchem Member
    Does anyone know how the process works to get on Happi's directory? Is there any cost to register?
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