Richie Finney is the warehouse-coated right hand man to Captain Fawcett, the fictional figurehead of the beard and moustache care company of the same name. As the latest in its star-studded signature series launches, Richie describes why it’s important to provide a bit of fun
If this year had been different, more than 300 beardy types would no doubt have descended on Captain Fawcett’s Marvellous Barbershop Museum in King’s Lynn last month, to celebrate the beard and moustache care company’s 10th anniversary. ‘We have parties once a year and last year people came from Russia, the US, Sweden, Germany, and Italy,’ says Richie Finney, Captain Fawcett’s ‘right hand man.’
But who is this Captain Fawcett? Well, he’s an intrepid and eminent Edwardian explorer, who disappeared whilst attempting to navigate to the source of the Ubangi, a major tributary to the Congo River. He’s purely fictional, but as a character, he has certainly come to life over the past decade.
When Richie first started making moustache wax in his kitchen in the West Norfolk village of Terrington St Clement, he could hardly have imagined that 10 years later he would be employing 14 people and selling his wares to 40 different countries around the world. ‘We even sell to China,’ says Richie.
‘I think we are Norfolk’s best kept secret.’ Closer to home, you can come across Captain Fawcett’s distinctive grooming products in Jarrold’s and London Selfridges.
He had ‘no idea’ of what was to come with his business idea. ‘I used to make my own wax. Then it got too much for my kitchen.’
The company still makes all the products in house, but now it is based in an industrial estate in King’s Lynn with a truly marvellous museum inside.
It looks like a film set, a nod to the fact Richie used to work in the film industry. ‘I was in the sound department and worked on Billy Elliott, Memphis Belle and Chaplin.’ Plus a number of other films: ‘Some good; some rubbish.
‘I’m known as the right hand man – I never own up to being Captain Fawcett because he’s an Edwardian explorer whereas I’m a bit of a hairy biker type.’
Richie will don an Arkwright from Open All Hours style coat to get into his character. ‘My brown coat is made in Yarmouth,’ he says (from Yarmouth Oilskins, in fact). The Captain Fawcett stand at trade shows is kitted out like an old chemist shop.
‘The whole thing is a bit tongue in cheek,’ says Richie. And that clearly appeals to him. ‘I’m 63 but I’m very young and childlike for my age.
‘Captain Fawcett has been ahead of the curve, really. Gentlemen’s grooming has become quite the thing in recent years. ‘The beard thing was extremely popular three or four years ago.’
The company goes in for a Signature Series with various hirsute personalities getting involved over the years. ‘We appeal to a broad demographic.’
Ambassadors over the years have included hipster Ricki Hall, actor and comedian Rufus Hound, for your ‘Radio 4 literati types’, barber Sid Sottung and The Jodhpur Company. ‘I’ve been to India and if you have a good moustache it’s like a badge of honour,’ says Richie.
And, as of yesterday, an American rock icon has signed up. ‘Virtuoso guitar player John Petrucci approached us,’ says Richie. The result is the Nebula series – complete with limited edition nebula FLOW pick with the nebula beard oil!
‘People are far more style conscious than they were 30/40 years ago,’ he notes. Barber shops have surged in the past four or five years.
But what about this past extraordinary year? Back in March, when ‘everything stopped, it was a case of ‘oh my giddy aunt – what on earth are we going to do’,’ says Richie. ‘We were going to launch a new shampoo in March. Nobody knew which way to go – we decided to press on. One of our trademarks is keeping a stiff upper lip, regardless.’
He likens businesses coming out of self-imposed hibernation to ‘if you’ve got a really old motorbike in the garage. You change the oil and kick-start this reluctant machine into life.’
Although the company did furlough five staff for six weeks, to start with, all were back to business by May. ‘We just kept the engine running and frankly it’s better for it.’
Sales are up, and it’s not all online sales either. Because of overseas sales, with different countries coming out of lockdown and reopening barber shops at different times, he says: ‘It’s been like a Mexican wave across the world.’
Lockdown has led to lots of ‘wild growth’ on the bread front. For his own part, he says: ‘My beard is quite long, but I know a couple of guys who have beards down to their knees.’
Sales of Captain Fawcett’s handy sanitiser produced more than £1000 for NHS charities earlier this year and now 10 per cent goes to the Lions Barber Collective, which trains barbers to raise awareness in mental health and suicide prevention. ‘There’s a wonderful opportunity for a barber to recognise problems – with the growth of mental health awareness,’ says Richie. ‘Lots of barbers are at the frontline.’
He may have a stiff upper lip, but Captain Fawcett – up for two awards in the forthcoming Norfolk Business Awards – has managed to put a smile on people’s bearded and moustached faces this year. Richie says: ‘It’s quirky and fun. It’s really rather splendid.’