Robert Hallmark

How a holiday to the French perfume capital of the world put lawyer Robert Hallmark on the scent of a new fragrance range for men

Robert Hallmark likens the decision to quit his job in law to set up his own business as a bit like becoming a dad for the first time. “You think to yourself, everyone’s done it so it’ll be ok. No worries. In fact it’s much harder – a real baptism of fire! But once you’ve started down the path it becomes all-consuming and there’s no turning back.” The 34-year-old former corporate legal eagle decided two years ago to take the plunge and go with a business idea that had been kicking around in his head for the best part of a decade – since holidaying in Grasse, the world’s capital of perfume on the French Riviera. He ploughed in his savings, sold his loft apartment in the Jewelllery Quarter and last September, after two years in the making, Rob finally realised his goal by launched Gruhme, a range of men’s premier fragrance and personal care products.


“I was blown away by what I saw in Grasse and thought to myself there has to be a market for a special fragrance range for men,” he explained. “I’d never liked any of the fragrances already out there on the market and I saw a gap for something different. “I was surrounded at the time by young, self-aware guys but none of us were consumers of major consumer men’s fragrances and personal care products – which I thought was really odd as we were the perfect demographic for those products. So I went for it and thought I’ll give myself two months at the start to see if I could make it work. If not, I’d be looking for a job!” His first task was to thoroughly research the market and do all the nuts and bolts stuff that needs to be done before launching a new business. “I thought to myself that having been a lawyer for eight years in Birmingham and London acting for clients such as Barclays and the Compass Group, nothing would test me. But looking back now, the preparatory work that I did was actually laughable,” he admits.

Top of Rob’s wish list was that his new fragrance had to be made in Britain and had to be organic. Not a simple task as Rob explained most of the manufacturers tend to be quite small, cottage industry businesses. He was looking for someone with experience of working with the ‘big boys’ but who was small enough to deliver the ‘personal touch’ that Rob wanted. He eventually found a manufacturer in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire and says immediately on meeting the boss there they struck a real chord together. “My aim was that I always wanted to become a global business and the company at Wellingborough dealt with both big and small companies,” said Rob. “My mission is to become a recognised UK household name and then grow from there – we’ve already had discussions about going to the US, so I needed to know I could upscale things.”


Currently there are two fragrances in the range, Gruhme Original and Gruhme No. 14, which is a 14 per cent blend of the original scent. Rob said he is planning to launch a third fragrance in time for this Christmas. His range, which he describes as “sensual, aromatic and woody” is found in a number of top hotels in Birmingham and London, including Hotel du Vin. He is also stocked in the Business District at gentlemen’s barber, The Barber House, in Colmore Row. Gruhme is also selling really well online through the website, says Rob. Collaborating with premier car brands is a target. Rob has already had a successful tie-up with BMW and at the time of writing he was in discussions for a collaboration with what he would only describe as “a well-known, still independent car maker” in the West Midlands. “Men and motors is a really good synergy for the brand,” he explained. “The upmarket car brands are exactly what we want our image to be associated with.”