FLY. It’s not just brand, it’s a lifestyle. Combining the swagger of Steve McQueen with the classic elegance of Clooney, Gosling and Reynolds, FLY goes back to basics to give men grooming products steeped in time and tradition. Founded by Ted Hoffman, who gave up a career on Wall Street to start the company, FLY owes its origins to a vintage Airstream, where the entrepreneur launched an old-school barbershop. Soon, a growing clientele of style conscious men who appreciated the throw-back vibe of the trailer convinced Ted there was more to FLY than just a location. It was an attitude. Where bravado could become something better. Independence. Control. Aspiration. Flight. Starting with two blends of hair pomade, he expanded the FLY line to shaving cream and then a candle with its own sexy, signature scent. Now available online and in select grooming salons across the country, the FLY line will expand in 2019 to include more essential products to the modern man’s lifestyle.
Q&A with FLY founder Ted Hoffman
Question: What is FLY?
Ted: FLY is a men’s grooming product company with the goal of evolving into into a lifestyle brand. This is multi-billion-dollar marketplace, and we see a niche in providing quality, classic products with a modern twist. Guys aren’t looking for over the top marketing or packaging. They want something cool, stylish and a bit retro/vintage.
Q: What is your differential?
Ted: First, our origin. We started this brand as mobile barbershop on a vintage 1969 Ambassador Airstream in Dallas. I saw firsthand how men approach grooming. It’s about simplicity and style without the fuss. Habits have definitely changed — we are more conscious about appearance. But not overly so. I knew that if I could create a product line that captured this, it would resonate. Guys can still be guys and pay attention to this stuff. Also, consumers want a story behind their brand. I’m a New Yorker with a finance background, and I moved to Dallas for a job and wound up starting a mobile barbershop with my girlfriend at the time, even though I had no experience in that area. I was working at a hedge fund and did this as a passion project in my spare time. Out of that evolved the brand, and our new product line.
Q: What is unique about the product?
Ted: We started with the basics: What works? What do guys need and want and how can we make it better? I have an amazing talented chemist, formerly of Kiehls, who is as passionate about creating great products as I am. The formulation process is challenging; matching the portfolio to market needs and market opportunities is harder than you think. Sourcing is so important — you want the best ingredients from the best makers. Something that is effective, safe and will help and accentuate the hair and skin. And we tweaked it a little. Users will know and feel the difference with FLY. Especially when shaving — it has to be seamless and painless, but also feel good. Our Shave Creem, FLY No.4 does all that, and then some. Ingredients do matter and we think the addition of silicon and cocoa butter were great add-ons. And the pomades are a great finishing touch to any haircut/hairstyle. They add a smooth matte finish and stylish touch. And it stays. Vitamin E and Coconut Oil were great add-ons to our pomade. I may be the founder of FLY, but I’m also a consumer. I wanted to create a hair product that was water based, held great and smelled even better. I think we represent that with FLY Pomade No.1 & No.2.
Q: FLY also includes a candle among its first products. What is the thinking behind that?
Ted: Our fragrance has become a key trademark/buzz creator. I kept getting feedback from customers, barbers/barbershops and of course all of my female friends that the fragrance was too good to not attempt in a candle. We have a great relationship with the best candle makers in Texas, Manready Mercantile (Houston), to we moved forward. In essence, we wanted something signature, and nothing makes that statement better than a powerful, knowing scent. Candles are intimate, personal and romantic. They evoke so many emotions and memories instantaneously. And that was important for us to distinguish the FLY brand. Because we are looking to create more than just products but an attitude and way of life. Our candle has a very unique scent. It almost has a taste. And it’s disarming and unexpected.
Q: What about the Dopp Kit?
Ted: We felt (like the candles) that FLY as a brand has a lot of flexibility and room of a variety of products. We created the leather dopp Kits a) because we wanted to keep all the FLY portfolio products together when we traveled, b) most of the alternative travel dopp kits were too big and c) we wanted to create a sexy size with FLY Foiled Stamped/embossed of course. Every guy needs something to carry their products. But something elegant. You don’t need too many bells and whistles. Our customers are on-the-go, they are constantly moving. And in this day and age when you’re going through TSA and they’re moving items out of your bags, you want something cool. Our Dopp Kit is 100% leather, lined and perfectly sized is a head turner for the right reasons.
Q: Why did you make it FLY?
Ted: It was really important to us to create a barbershop experience that was “COOL”, and we felt the best inspirational icon was Steve McQueen. Since our Airstream was vintage, we wanted our name to be vintage cool. Once we launched products, our name played an even bigger part of our ethos. A brand that is cool, vintage and independent will resonate with Americans, especially the millennials. Also, flying to me says freedom. You are going in any direction you want, you’re in control, and you are limitless. Flight is about aspiration. Knowing you can go anywhere and having that ability. There is also the pop culture reference of something being Fly, which is of the moment.
Q: Is it still the age of the “metro sexual?”
Ted: I hate that phrase because it’s elitist and implies that only guys in dense, big city populations care about grooming. Wanting to look and feel good is universal. Straight or gay, people want to be their best. Men’s grooming is exploding around the world, especially in the US. Men as a whole, regardless of labels, are buying for themselves, and as a result we have seen big moves by retailers like Target and Ulta Beauty to seize that demand.
Q: Who is your audience?
Ted: We like to think FLY will appeal to everyone, regardless of age. But the market has shown that men 18-49 are the most consummate consumers of grooming products. We know that FLY will have broad appeal because we are building a big tent. Our ingredients are time tested and effective, our price points are super reasonable and accessible, our packaging is classic without being pretentious and our message and brand is inclusive. Since I personally fill every wholesale and retail order, I’m always interested to see who is actually buying. The biggest new category are moms buying for the younger sons age 10-16. We always send thank you emails to our customers once purchased and ask them how they found out about our brand, including as much data as they feel comfortable sharing. We are also excited to mention that 90 percent of our customers online reorder again.
Q: Who is the customer you envisioned when creating FLY?
Ted: Hands down, Steve McQueen. He was the arbiter of cool and the most versatile of men. He was a guy’s guy but cared about how he looked. He was rugged, but it wasn’t spontaneous. He put some effort into it. And that’s cool. Even in that time, men wanted to look their best.
Q: How does that apply today?
Ted: Everywhere. It’s a timeless sentiment. Look at the red carpet. Guys like Clooney, Gosling, Gyllenhaal can look dapper and masculine at the same time. That never goes away. And it’s not exclusive or unattainable. You don’t have to be a celebrity to look like that. A clean cut, close shave or well trim beard with fit clothing is a look anyone can achieve. It’s a state of mind. A level of confidence you carry with you.
Q: You started your career on Wall Street. What inspired you to create Fly?
Ted: I have had one heck of a career and journey thus far. Since graduating from Syracuse University in the 1990’s, my resume has been so diverse, from teaching boxing in New York to institutional sales/trading on Wall Street, and then being a partner in a Hedge Fund in Dallas. FLY was really a fun passion project for me and a former girlfriend. The idea came during our first trip together to Santa Fe when we visited a gallery with great vintage LIFE Magazine photos from the 1970’s. At the time, barbering was trying to make a comeback and we felt the Dallas market really needed an authentic, cool barbershop. We also thought having it mobile was a great twist. We were early and right on both fronts. FLY is a culmination of all my life experiences. I have self capitalized the business, I fulfill every order, I have created and shaped the portfolio, made every sale, update the website and create the social media ethos. When I can afford them, I have a talented bullpen of friends I plan to bring on board to help build FLY into a formidable and sustaining business model.
About Ted Hoffman:
Ted Hoffman is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of FLY, a men’s grooming company based in Dallas. A 20-year veteran of finance, Hoffman has grown the business into a global lifestyle brand with products sold in 60 retailers around the world, including Hong Kong, as well as through Amazon and its own online store. Hoffman has also created strategic partnerships with major brands like Fossil, Equinox, Lululemon Athletica, Haagar and Trunk Club, among others. Under his direction, FLY has grown its collection to include shaving cream, two hair pomade products, candle and leather Dopp kit, with plans to add more in 2019.
FLY began as a men’s grooming salon housed in an Airstream trailer in Dallas, where Hoffman worked in the wealth management sector as an investment analyst and asset gatherer for Merrill Lynch. As business at the salon continued to grow, Hoffman seized the opportunity to transition it into lifestyle brand and left put his finance career on hold. He had previously served as a senior member of Morgan Stanley’s Park Cities Wealth Management Group where he helped steer a $200 million fund for Preston Hollow Capital. Before that he founded Corknsligo Holdings, LLC, a commercial real estate warehouse investment firm which had a major role in developing the Dallas Design District. He was recruited to the market by Delos Investment Management, where, as Managing Partner and Head Trader he launched a global shipping-based hedge fund with peak assets of $50 million.
Hoffman spent much of his formative years on Wall Street, including as Partner and Managing Director of Nollenberger Capital Partners, heading its equity sales and trading desks; Wells Fargo Securities, where, as Vice President of Institutional Sales, he helped grow its New York and Dallas institutional client base; and Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. Inc, also working in Institutional Sales. Before veering into finance Hoffman worked with Town Sports International, where he served as both Program/ Finance Manager and a boxing instructor. While there he developed and solely administered the largest health boxing program in the country.
Hoffman graduated from Syracuse University, where he majored in political science and collegiate amateur boxer. A fitness enthusiast his whole life, he plans on climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in June 2019.