A 33-year-old entrepreneur and marketing professional from General Santos City, who lost 11 outlets of his barbershop chain amid the pandemic, refused to give up. Relentless and persistent, he used the crisis as an opportunity to reimagine his business, leading to a direct-to-consumer retail model that is now disrupting the male personal care industry in the Philippines.
Ralph Oliver Layco is the founder of Noah Solutions which provides a wide range of products for men. Noah is regarded by Lazada Philippines as the top 4 personal care brand for men and by Shopee Philippines as one of the potential “movers of the personal care for men”. Noah Solutions emerged as a strong brand this year based on Layco’s deep understanding of the segment.
A successful entrepreneur prior to the pandemic, he established at a young age General Santos City-based Sonny & Marsha Holdings Inc. which is behind several brands including Macho Mucho Salon, the largest barbershop chain in Davao City and the whole of Mindanao. He received various awards such as Asia’s Most Outstanding Young Marketer in 2019 from the Asian Marketing Federation and one of the top young entrepreneurs in 2017 from the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He is a tourism provocateur, having helped rebrand SOCCSKSARGEN to SOX. Layco is also the founder of New Bold U—a weeklong pop-up school for entrepreneurs and passionate individuals. He graduated from the University of the Philippines-Visayas with Bachelor of Science in Business Administration Major in Marketing and Communications in 2010. He received the 2009 Most Outstanding Marketing Student in the Philippines award from the Philippine Marketing Association.
Layco’s businesses were doing well until the pandemic struck the country in 2020 and forced the government to restrict mobility and close business establishments such as barbershops.
“I was initially scratching my own itch when I was thinking of a way for us to get back on the horse as our current businesses were affected by the pandemic. Having lost 11 branches last year, we were challenged, but nevertheless became relentless to start anew in a new space,” Layco says in an email interview.
“Growing up, I suffered from bullying because I had severe acne and acne marks. I also suffered from hair loss triggered by the pandemic. Rather than taking these challenges emotionally, I used my product development hat and learned formulations and ingredients, worked with teams of chemists to counter these challenges that also men of today are going through,” he says.
“I used my former and current struggles into a creative challenge. I believe the men of today, represented by Millenials and Gen Z which are 75 percent of the Philippine market, respect continuous innovation and are also after genuine, fresh brands that are into the narratives of self-care, inclusion and debunking outdated models of living,” says Layco.
“As a millennial myself, I want to live in a world where men are not being marketed to with narratives of objectifying women, and getting the women to bed’ but narratives of self-improvement, growth and reinvention. This we try to build day by day through Noah Solutions,” he says.
Layco tries to move away from the label of ‘entrepreneur’ and believes that it is his curiosity to find solutions to everyday problems that brought him to where he is now. “I simply consider myself as more of a curious individual. I am naturally drawn into seeing problems as opportunities ever since I was a 10 year old. I’m amazed with the actual exchange of value, from a unique offering that eventually enriches the customer. I sold play cards of Power Rangers when I was 10,” he says.
He established his business at 21. “I borrowed money from my dad to start a barbershop chain. I eventually launched different businesses since then, from a flight congregator app to magazine publishing. I’ve been through multiple failures which I believe prepared me and made me resilient and understand which ideas and business models work and don’t,” he says.
When the pandemic derailed most businesses, Layco looked at the DTC or direct-to-consumer model which sell products directly to the consumer, skipping the wholesaler, retailer or middlemen in the process, making it less third party dependent. He says this allows for a more enriched customer experience, increased opportunity for SKUs or product offerings.
“This leads the way for more innovations, not restricted to retailer shelves. This also allows companies, like ours, to truly offer to the customers through niches with more customer service as the current marketplace is crowded by first movers and companies with bigger capitalizations,” he says.
Since launching Noah Solutions in January 2021, the business quickly took off and reached national exposure, thanks to online shopping platforms. “We’ve grown 1,300 percent since we started nine months ago, with 20,000+ customers and counting. We reach 400+ orders a day with 60 percent plus retention rate,” says Layco.
Noah Solutions is now the fourth top personal care brand for men on Lazada, after multinationals such as Nivea, Unilever and P&G. Layco links the success of Noah to their understanding of men’s evolving preferences. “First of all, we highly differentiate Noah because we’re on a mission to reimagine the ‘men care’ space, not just an afterthought or a brand extension. Men today are different from 10 years ago. They are more values-oriented, they read the label first before they purchase. They check the brands’ integrity first online before they give their loyalty. They listen to experts and also make active conversations openly about problems such as skincare and even mental health. It is something unheard of a decade ago,” he says.
“Men’s needs have always been the same but their lifestyle, goals and values are evolving and different. We reverse engineer from that insight and truly have them centered in the products we create and the messaging we communicate. Also, we’ve leveled up our customer service experience, making it more personal and responsive. Rather than just pure transactions, we believe in lifelong relationships with our customers,” says Layco.
“With Noah as a men care space innovator, we get to have a great opportunity to serve the market vs other brands that add ‘men’ in the brand and often sees men as an afterthought,” he says.
Layco expects this segment to sustain its growth in the coming years as the personal care space (skincare to haircare) market in the Philippines is expected to reach $2.4 billion by 2025. “The personal care for men space worldwide has been growing since 2017 with a 35-billion-euro value. In 2015, the personal care for men space has grown by three folds and will grow by folds especially with the emergence of the Gen Z market,” he says.
This will also be supported by the growth of the e-commerce sector. The Philippines’ e-commerce market was valued at $3 billion in 2019 and is estimated to reach $12 billion by 2025.
Layco says that over the next couple of years, they plan to increase Noah’s product segments, become a strong player in the personal care space and be known as an innovations company. “Our goals are to expand our product portfolio to respond to strong customer needs and to be a top of mind brand to Gen Z and Millennial men,” he says.
“Next year, we will be offering innovative products for haircare, hair loss, nutrition and even sexual health, using internationally-available formulations with strong efficacies. We see there are not many strong brand leaders in the said categories devoted to the younger men and we believe that we could lead this space with our intention of innovation and genuine care with a brand savvy messaging,” he says.
“We also plan to be available in partner physical big box retailers should the time come so we can be increasingly accessible and convenient to our market and for other customers in inaccessible areas by current couriers,” says Layco.
“Noah is not only a skincare brand that people know now. It’s an innovations company that will encompass more areas of men’s needs. Our customer’s wellness is our business. Without a strong reliable brand leader in many male care segments, Noah has great potential with its speed of innovation and current DTC/e-commerce facility to handle growing needs of our customers wherever they are in the country,” he says.
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