I am taking a moment to look back at our journey as a business and a brand. The path was never easy, filled with personal and professional challenges.
What started out as a notion that I can make my own beard oil to save money and to make something better than I could buy. At the time there was only a tiny smattering of craft makers out there and one behemoth brand that was getting all the attention. My intent was not to make this a business, but a tiny side gig to add a little income while I made something for personal use and for friends. Right away I knew that I needed to make more than 1 formula to suit my specific needs and those needs of others who would benefit from my hobby. To me, this was a no-brainer; anybody could tell you that not all hair needs are the same for every person, nor for one person all the time. A little science and understanding of natural ingredients helped me create all our beard oil formulas to target varying needs.
It wasn’t long before we had a local barbershop interested in our oils. Ordering up extra supplies, I made a few dozen to sell through there. This is when it went from a hobby to what could be a business. The landscape was still rather barren for such items and I figured I could do well regionally by selling them online and through other barbers in the area. This is where the first challenge came about. Getting barbers, here in Chicago, to offer beard care products. There were not seeing the need or demand, nor do they see themselves as sellers of such products. Barbers may stock a few items to sell, but they don’t actively sell products. They are placed on the shelf and if the customers wishes to buy something they initiate the sale. Many of the barbers were saying that beards were just a trend anyway.
Within the very first months I started creating balms and mustache waxes as well as a beard shampoo. Intended to compliment the products I was already offering with the intent to be a complete beard care solution. Taking a clue from products some friends were using that they found at local beauty supply aisles, I started working on a cream like leave in conditioner for beards. At the time there was not a single item out there designed just for beards. By July we had our first Beard Butter available. It was revolutionary! Men loved it and it sold very well from the start.
After being in business for a year, I started to see more and more beard oils popping onto the marketplace. Still one-trick ponies in a variety of scents; many were downright inferior products. Folks were looking to capitalize on a trend and making products as cheaply as possible and charging a premium price. Makers were throwing around flashy words like premium and luxury to justify their pricing but when you read the ingredients it was clear they were low-balling it. Glycerin, olive oil, castor oil – all very cheap and not all that awesome to use. Glycerin is outright damaging to your hair if left on. The signs were there that this would become a crowded market.
During this same period of time it became a necessity for me personally to make this enterprise perform. Unemployed and no real prospects I needed an income as my savings was eroding fast. First step was to expand the brand and offer complete masculine personal care and grooming products. I added body wash, a couple bar soaps and what would become our single most popular product – Junk Oil. Another innovation created to meet an unmet need. Intended to be an alternative to using powder to keep your boys fresh after a shower that would not rely upon pore clogging powders and ingredients that are not good for the body or the environment. A natural oil that fights odor, keeps things fresh and is easy to apply. It also had other uses as a massage oil and skin softening oil. The name made folks giggle and buy it on a whim, only to come back and sing its praises. We had another hit!
After a year we learned of a street festival focused on locally made products. Learning about it a bit late we inquired about information for the following year. We lucked out as there was a cancellation and they had space for us in the current year’s line up. City Made Fest was a huge boost for us. We shared our booth with another local maker of fashion accessories, not thinking we would do all that well. Not only did we do great, we gained a couple leads on resellers and a ton of new customers.
From here we entered more festivals. Initially just this one but after a couple years we tried out a few others. City Made Fest went away, but within the same neighborhood was an even biggest fest in early summer that exploded our brand. It was at Midsommarfest that we had the best sales ever for a festival and we launched our new brand J&L Apothecary.
Why a new brand? Women. Ladies were buying our products for themselves and were requesting more favorable scents for them. By this time we had launched shampoo, salt scrubs, more bar soaps and hair oil. Women loved these products. We crafted a new label and made a few items geared just for women. They loved the products, but didn’t like that it was our “women’s line”. So we went back to the drawing board and overhauled the look to differentiate it from the rest. By the next fest we introduced our new J&L Apothecary line as you see it today. In time we kept adding more and more items and offerings to the line and made it a complete assortment of bath and body products for all. It is all gender-neutral – meaning that nothing is geared for women or men. It is just solidly performing natural products in a broad variety of fragrances and formulas that can appeal to anybody.
Through these first few years we have changed a lot. Our labels and packaging evolved as our brand evolved. Today we are confident that we have an awesome array of products for everybody. J&L Pogonotrophics will remain our line of facial hair maintenance products along with our most masculine of items. J&L Apothecary will be our brand of items for everybody, including men.
This brings us to today. We are now a leading local maker and seller of personal care items. We are working diligently to gain trust in our brand and products to solidify our place. We have put work into improving our eCommerce side, redirected our focus to end users over wholesale and continuing to improve our current offerings as we expand into new areas. All this leads us to Primp & Jol, but more about that in the next segment: A Look Ahead.