A statement on the current state of our business and what to expect from us going into the new year.
This will be a highly personal and lengthy message where I will share some details about where I am wishing to take J&L/JÖL over the next few months and further into the future. It has been my normal M.O. to be open and frank about what we are doing, why we are doing it and everything else going on behind the scenes. I can’t think of another business small or large that is as open with the masses we we are. Not saying we are alone in this, only that I am not able to think of anyone.
The last 2 years have been a struggle for far too many people and businesses. There is a lot of rhetoric, some of it true, over these months that has an impact upon small businesses nationwide. We are all sharing in the experiences of everything on a personal level in our own ways. My personal situations have limited impact on J&L, but J&L’s situations have an huge impact on my personal life. J&L is my sole source of income and is something very important to me and my family. We are not a profit powerhouse, nor or we losing money doing what we do. The money I make goes back into the business. I don’t have a paycheck, but I do take a draft here and there to cover personal expenses. Being a LLC, my business earning are my personal earnings. At the current rate of our performance, I make less than minimum wage for what I do. This next year I hope to drive J&L harder than ever to achieve a solid, stable, position to grow. Most of the kinks have been ironed out. now it is time to fine tune the details.
There will be some repeated historical information, for those that may be new to us within the last couple years.
8 Years? Already?
It is hard to believe that we are approaching the end of our 8th year. It was only the first days of 2014 that the ideas came together and the “a-ha!” moment occurred. The course we followed has twisted and curved; constantly bending as we carved our path. The earliest vision for J&L was to be a line of products designed for bearded and hairy men. This would start with our 4 beard oil formulas and a smattering of soaps and lotions targeted to those men. Roughly two years later, we were commissioned to create some products targeting a more broad cross section of people following our guiding principles at the time. This would open the door to women being interested in our products. The intent was to make these exclusive to the customer for this commission. When the customer dropped the ball and failed to follow through, we opted to sell our demo products and this led to the creation of J&L Apothecary.
Since that time we have grown both lines tremendously and have worked hard to cultivate a following. To be honest, it has been a cult following. We have true diehard fans that buy our gear and come back over and over again. We are lathered with praise in person and through email. This love is cherished and respected, and is a huge driving force for us to always be better. They are our inspiration for new products, new scents and new looks. Our fans and followers are like consultants and advisors to us.
During these nearly 8 years we have made mistakes, took wrong turns and met some dead ends. Most of our followers stood behind us and encouraged us to keep going. There were times, even before the pandemic, that I was “not feeling it” and sought to chuck it and move on. To either reinvent the business or myself, if not both. I persevered through finding the positives in what was happening. Each setback, every hurdle and every misfortune had a silver lining that gave me strength to push onward.
With the pandemic in place and feeling the crunch of its impact to our sales and operations, we listed to our customers as well as observed the current trends that pertained to what we do. When you have your customers tell you they are not finding a need for your current products as they spend more time at home but still want to enjoy our fragrances along with continuing to support our business, we gave in and decided to offer candles. Candles were never a consideration. They are done well by so many, I figured it was something to leave to others to continue doing. When you customers ask you, and you’re not selling much of your current catalog, you do not say no. So, candles it was…
And… how did that go?
At first, a little rocky. When folks can’t sniff your candles, they are less inclined to buy them. But this is an inherent issue with much of what we make and sell. Candles were new and introduced at a time when we had no means to present them in person. We did our best to offer solid descriptions using methodologies used with wine and whiskey tastings, and we provided a means to get tiny scent samples of our collection to those interested. After just a few months, we were doing quite well.
We were really looking forward to the summer festival season this year to get them out there in front of folks. As we all know, we did not have the usual summer and the festivals were cancelled or postponed. Our favorite event in our favorite location, Andersonville Midsommarfest, fell victim and was scheduled for late September with a different name: Andersonville Homecoming. This would be our first and possibly only opportunity to show off all that was new for us as well as have all the favorites. Upon set up at this event, we noticed we were between two other candle makers; one being well established and quite popular in our area. The other one was rather new, limited in scope and offerings by trying to strongly appeal to a higher end consumer. This left us feeling a little concerned how our candles would perform. The first night, which is always a little slow for a 3 day event, gave us little insight into how we will fare.
Saturday, was an all new game. It was sunny, warm and the perfect late September day. Folks were desperate to get out and be amongst their neighbors. For the most part, folks were keeping themselves safe and distanced from groups. Without the usual entertainment, we had a crowd there for us – the merchants. As guests made their way through the vendors, we were often their second stop as far as candle sellers went. What seemed intimidating ended up being a huge positive. Shoppers could compare us to each other and see how each of us was unique. While the pro lean towards a homey almost country vibe with canning jars for containers, the other newbs were very “packaged” and only had a handful of options. And here we were with paint cans and a large assortment of bold scents and kitchy names for some. As the day moved onward, we saw more and more traffic. Once we had one person smelling our candles it attracted loads more. And soon we were ringing and bagging candles two and three at a time. By evening of day two we were sold out of 3 scents and low on a couple more. The more people who came in to check out our candles the more people shopped our entire booth. Sunday saw much of the same, until we sold out of even more candles scents. We ended the night with taking home less than 10 candles total. Along with all these candles, we had Wax Melts and Rooms Sprays in some of the same scents that sold just as well. When we did the math and checked the numbers, this event became our most successful event to date. We did nearly twice our previous best for a festival appearance.
The following Monday I was ordering wax, cans, fragrance oils and more. Immediately making more of every candle scent I could. Looping in my head was all the immediate feedback from our new customers/fans. The can was genius, our scents exotic and the price was unthinkable. Myself and those who helped me beamed with pride and excitement. We hit a home run when we were only hoping to get to 1st.
And then what?
As Holidays drew near, I focused and making sure we had a sufficient amount of candles and other items in stock for Christmas shoppers. Exhausting most of our supplies to make sure we were in a good position heading towards December. A Thanksgiving weekend sale plan was in place, and candles were a part of it. well, just a few weeks later we learned of a Holiday Makers market in Andersonville. No hearing of any other like event in our area, I registered to take part. Once I sent the application, a few other such markets in our immediate area were announced. Thinking too many makers markets on the same weekend and doing another event in Andersonville so soon after the Homecoming Fest might lead to very light sales; less if the weather was bad.
Wrong again! The first night was nicely attended and we had decent traffic. Then Saturday, we were back to ringing and packing up candles, often 2 or 3 at a time. As well as those melts and sprays. Not a lot of attention went to the rest of our selection, but it all did well. After all, we presented only our most popularly gifted items from our other categories. In the end, we sold even more candles than before and this event became our second best outing; coming very close to being first. If we had more candles to sell, it would have easily been our best. Oh, and we were set up directly across from the candle pros. Like, withing 10 feet of them.
I said I would never make candles…
Well, not exactly. I had always said to those who had inquired in the past about offering candles I politely explained that it is not in our plans as so many others do candles and do them very well. My focus was to continue making personal care and grooming products. When a business is faced with a challenge, how they rise up to meet it can easily define that business. By doing what was asked of us by our customers, we gained new customers. By revisiting our position and doing something that we felt was not really fitting of our goals, our character even, we are coming through these challenging times better and certainly stronger.
The introduction of candles did not take away from sales in our other categories. At these last 2 events, our personal care and grooming business fared very well and performed in line with how it always had before. This is why these 2 specific events were so successful for us. We gained customers and did not cannibalize our sales in any way. Maybe this was serendipitous, or just good timing and smart planning. I would like to believe it was smart planning, executed well, presented at the right time. With this new category, I applied the same mission and objectives I have for everything else we do. Make it great, make it affordable and make it not very much like the others. The timing may have been the time of the year – nearing the holidays – or the time in our history. Just like when I introduced J&L at the peak of beard popularity when there was too few choices in beard care products, maybe introducing candles at a time when people are spending more time at home or other intimate environments with those dearest to them was the right time. Only time will help determine which, if not both.
Doing our own (re)THINK!
As these times have marched on, I have consistently been thinking about what needs to change within this business. As we have grown and the market has flowed, we are finding that some things are less popular while other things are increasingly popular. After spending time to change our look, and in the case of J+L Apothecary, changing our name; it is time we need to start looking at what products need to change. And what about our overall presentation and offerings? Do we keep adding new until we feel we met max capacity or do we seek what is the best assortment and options to maintain our current success while trying to be even more successful. There is a lot to think about, and a lot to re think.
I will be executing some drastic decisions over the next couple weeks. There are long time products I am going to bring to an end. Their demise is likely permanent, but some may return later in a new way or under a new light. As JÖL has taken its position as our non beard care brand, it needs to be tightened to present a cohesive image that people can connect with. JÖL will refine the message that was behind J+L Apothecary, which was all about personal care basics. Under JÖL, those basics will be more purposeful and clearly defined. JÖL will be where UTILITY + SIMPLICITY meet. We are not going to over think or over do what JÖL does, its purpose, or being specific about how it should perform beyond its intended use. Simplicity will be in its image, its composition and its options. Where we currently make 7 different hand & body lotions, we will cut that down to 2 or 3. In other categories there may only be 1 offering that has a much more universal appeal and purpose. Scents will be reduced to the absolute most popular for year round appeal, with select items getting seasonal or limited time options.
Items formerly sold as J+L APOTHECARY that we feel do not meet the refined vision of JÖL are being removed from our store. The create your own Clay Mask system and some of the advanced skin care products are ending. Scrubs and Bath Butters will be revisited and simplified with new variations and formulas. Shampoo Bars are discontinued in their current form, all new style and variations are to come in Spring 2022. SHOWER GEL has been so negatively affected by supply chain issues, we are ending these liquid soaps. Along with them, liquid shampoos will also cease production and development. We are slowly launching a new line of HEAD 2 TOE mild 3-in-1 liquid soaps. These will be ideal for skin and hair, using formulations that are good for both without being a negative on either need. We had test marketed a few of these at recent events. we will finalize the line up and relaunch soon.
JÖL for Home will be expanded to more items to suit your life. This will be done through reselling some accessory items and introducing a few more options in scented items (Candles, Room Sprays, Melts). This may include new types of candles or sizes.
Pushing further to be greener. We are looking into ways to dramatically decrease plastics. This can be by changing packaging material to glass or metal, or to find packaging that uses less plastic in its make up. Expect to see our refill pouches increase into other areas. Possibly only offering pouches to refill the bottles you already have. To assist this move, we are going to offer more choices in dispenser bottles to include metal, glass or other renewable packages. For bar soaps, we are going to migrate to compotsable cellophane wraps made of natural oils. Through all of this, we will work hard to keep our costs down so we can retain or improve our pricing position. Sustainable or environmentally friendly packaging may not work with what we make as there are performance or quality issues with what has been available on the market. Having to throw away good product because it reacted with the packaging, causing it to degrade, is not sustainable or eco-friendly.
What about J&L?
This is where some of the most drastic changes will occur. First, all shaving items are discontinued at this time. We are going to overhaul the line, focus on what was best and refine its image like we have the rest of the J&L line. Once we have our new shaving products ready, there will certainly be more fanfare. This will not be quick. Time will be spent to make sure we have a complete line of products that suits today’s shaving trends and needs. Our leaning towards “old school” products with a modern appeal will still be there, just not as obvious with some items.
We are going to 2 beard oil formulas. Although QUOTIDIAN is by far our best formulated beard oil, it is not connecting with the intended customers. This is a perception issue with bearded gents. Many believe their beards are too dried out and they need a stronger/thicker beard oil when realistically they may need a lighter oil. To help fix this, we are placing a strong focus on OIL FIVE as being the ideal beard oil for the vast majority of men as it provides the right level of conditioning for the most common of beard types. BULWARK is in need of being reformulated due to our drive to a 100% Certified Organic formula. There are ingredients we use that do not have a viable organic option and can be replaced with an equally as good organic ingredient. To keep BULWARK our beard oil formula for men with the absolute driest of beards, to recondition them to be in top shape, we need to ensure we have the best penetrative oils that will not leave a greasy beard. We don’t want our customers of our beard oils to feel we are letting them down, we want them to know that we wish for them to have the best beard possible without the negatives of a greasy beard because they are potentially using too strong of a beard oil.
After the dust has settled on the demise of QUOTIDIAN Beard Oil, like a phoenix it will be reborn in an all new form. We will then bring forward something I have been working on for a very long time. That is a misting spray moisturizer for beards. This new Beard Oil Spray will carry the name QUOTIDIAN. It will be the ideal refresher moisturizer for any bearded gent, as well as the ideal moisturizer for those with the finest and softest of beards. This spray will be made exclusively in our 5 top selling scents.
Both remaining beard oil formulas will start to see a new blend of highly specialized premium oils added to their formula. These oils will take our beard care to the next level and stand out as the best example of beard care there is. When we came onto the scene nearly 8 years ago, our formulas were revolutionary for the blend of core ingredient oils we used. Yes, they were all very common; but the beauty was in the blend. Creating the right balance of Omega fatty acids to achieve the desired goal for your beard. Today, there are a lot more oils on the market that can do even better. Use of Tomato Seed Oil, Broccoli Seed Oil and more offer some superior benefits to hair strength and condition.
This is going to be scary for us. We have to be clear in our communication on why we are changing the beard oils. Men don’t like their favorite products messed with. We can easily be scared of change and assume it is always for the worse when it is presented to us. If we clearly show that we are making these improvements to make their beards even more epic, and they get a chance to see who great it is, we are sure they will remain our customer.
Mustache waxes and Beard Balm are being discontinued. By being the originators of Beard Butter, we introduced the best beard balm possible. Offering the old style STATESMAN Beard Balm is no longer necessary and our customers are no longer buying it. We find balms hard to apply and not more effective than other methods to style and moisturize a beard. As mustache wax goes, we have relied upon a modernized version of a 140 year old recipe. It is a very troublesome recipe to keep consistent and maintain high quality. These items are not meeting our premium quality expectations and are not selling all that well anyway. so we must say goodbye. Work will begin on a new mustache wax formula, if it meets our specifications we will certainly bring it to you.
JUNK OIL will see some growth. This last year we introduced JUNK GREASE, a lotion variant that contains natural deodorizers as found in our stick deodorants. We wish to add a couple scent options that will compliment our NATURAL DEODORANT STICKS fragrances in both JUNK OIL & JUNK GREASE. New scents will be added in the coming year and an entirely new look to the product. We are in debate whether this should be sold as a JÖL branded item as we wish to market this to women as well. It has long been a liked product with women so why not everyone know they can use it too. The product names of JUNK OIL and JUNK GREASE will not go change! They are too iconic for us and carry trademarks.
There will be more to come under the JÖL for Home banner
When we first started using JÖL as a branding header for our retired retail concept, we felt it was the perfect umbrella to house anything else we could make or sell. Years back we presented a survey that asked the participants what other categories of items they would like to see from us. The highest voted response was more specialized cosmetic items. Right away, we started doing research and introduced a Hyaluronic Serum, Toner, Acne Face Wash and a few better lotions. Other options were accessories to work with our grooming products. So we tested selling razors, shower sponges and a few other items. These all had mixed outcomes due to our struggling to maintain profitability while being competitive.
We mentioned lots of different ideas, and one was items for the home and entertaining. Candles certainly fall under that category. An idea was mentioned for fun items for game nights or cocktail parties. We do not wish to get into prepared foods or anything that requires the higher standards to make them as we have limited ability at this time to do such. It does leave us room to make some items that support those activities. I have toying with the idea of making Bloody Mary seasoning mixes as well as popcorn seasonings and dip/sauce seasonings. My culinary aspirations are coming forward and with continued growth it may be possible to add this category. If what I talk about next can happen, then it will certainly happen. In the meantime, I have considered sourcing similar items from other premium makers to offer as a test – much like we did with the razors and such.
Having found a marketplace for specialty goods from around the world available at wholesale prices, we can start offering more accessories that work well with what we already offer. Soap dishes; soap dispensers; bath/vanity caddies and organizers; spa linens and more. After the holidays, we will start to source some things we find that we think you will enjoy. Doing this during our slow season gives us more time to select our options and build out their store on our website.
To do more than online, more than festivals…
I will be spending a lot of time crunching numbers, looking at trends and keeping an eye on the social and business environment of our community. I will also be creating a couple business models to test virtually against our sales trends for our website, past pop ups and festival participation to see what it will take to create a permanent retail and production location in or near Andersonville/Uptown areas.
We want, and may be approaching the need, to secure a one stop place to make and sell our products. This is the dream, and the time may be right to start this process in earnest. The ideal location will be easily accessible and adjacent to our local customer base. With the need for production capabilities, we will have to find a location that can be licensed for manufacturing. For those in our area, we are thinking along the Ravenswood Metra line would be ideal, but could be out of our budget. To achieve this, we will consider partners to share the space, or seek additional capital. Having a partner in such a space will allow us to share expenses and drive cross traffic to each other. For this to work, the partners must not overlap products or directly compete in any category. A good fit for us may be someone who makes jewelry, pottery, household items, clothing or artwork.
This will also fulfill a desire of having a community space for educational and outreach in our community. We will also wish to hire from within the immediate area and capture the diversity of the neighborhoods we would serve most closely.
Capital may be a necessity to sustain such a jump in growth. To make sure we can do this and survive an unsteady climate will need to be addressed. This is why a strong understanding of our sales history in every channel, knowing our customer base and our potential draw of new customers is important. To make it smoother, growing our online sales outside the Chicago area is imperative to any level of success. Before we make such a bold move, we must know that we will generate a profit from our existing sales levels to pay the related expenses at the start, with the necessity to grow our sales to then expand into increased business hours and related staffing needs. I have experience in labor/staffing modeling, so this will be fun.
If we do open a storefront, we will certainly continue to do some of the events you have seen us at. These have done wonders to attract new customers and present ourselves more casually. They are fun, though they can be grueling for us, and we wish to continue with our favorites.
With this said, there is no plan to bring our products to other retailers. Although many of our products would do very well with some specialty retailers, our experience has not been favorable. We have had resellers over order, despite requesting they avoid doing so, and hold onto old expired product because they did not put care into managing their inventory. Customers were buying old products and holding us accountable instead of the retailer. Do you blame the dairy when the milk you just purchased has expired? Or, do you take it back to the store? Another issue we have is that retailers are not able to refine their selections of our offering to best suit their business. We offer too many options to pick 3 or 4 things to sell – especially if they are not smart choices for their customer base. We are proud that we are a self contained business and one stop shop for all that we make. It gives us that sense of exclusivity that allows us to be special.
And our wishlist:
There are a few services we would like to offer but there are limitations to what we can add to our website or otherwise manage in our current state.
Consultation of and customization to many, if not all, products. For some items it is easy to “finish to order”. For example, we can bottle up our beard oils without labels and have them ready to scent and label to a customer’s request. We already do this in a limited manner for seasonal scents, but to expand it to allow tweaks to scent levels and offer way more scent options or even custom blends is not easy to do at this time. Especially in an exclusively online environment. Anything we make that involves a little science, like lotions and soaps, wouldn’t be easy to customize. Lotions need to be heated and whipped to blend. We could make an unscented base and blend in fragrance oil and bottle as ordered, but we currently don’t have the space to do it. Next level stuff, like tweaking a formula to add or remove specific ingredients based upon needs or preferences, as well as adjusting scent level, will not work for online ordering as our eCommerce system would become clunky and hard to shop.
Logistically it would be a challenge to offer consultation on a broad scale. When we do receive emails asking for advice, we do take the time to promptly work with the customer to help them make the best choices for them. We have even turned away a sale as we knew we did not have the best item for that customer’s needs. Other sellers will try to “save the sale” at any cost. That’s not us, we respect our customers too much. To staff a phone, messaging app or even email to be available during any level of business hours to tackle this as a service is not feasible at this time. If we do obtain a retail space, there will be a consultation bar and hopefully staffed by a licensed esthetician (skin care professional). This will allow us to have the best way to find the perfect means to address any skin and hair concerns you may have.
Recycle, bottle return or refill directly into your container/bottle would be wonderful. It would allows us to save your money and promotes a very green agenda. Anything glass, we could take back but we don’t have means to strip off labels easily and to then wash and dry on a larger scale. If we achieve having a retail location as we described, this will certainly be added to our offerings. Offering the ability to drop off an empty beard oil bottle to save $0.50 off your next bottle would be an ideal way to get return customers and lessen the environmental impact. If we offered this in a store, we could also convert to glass jars for many other items to expand this service. We would not be able to do this through the mail. The cost of return postage would be astronomical and force a substantial price increase for products that fell into this program. But in store, we could make this a standard operational procedure.
I cannot guarantee all these future plans will come together. It will take a lot of work and a lot of support internally and externally to make it happen. The climate for small businesses needs to also improve and be more inclusive of all types of businesses and business owners that are genuinely small and local. While local and big chain/multi-location business give instant name recognition; new upstarts are better for all by giving more choice and more opportunity and presenting real innovation. A small business climate that supports this will certainly be of assistance to our plans as well as other like businesses.
Your input is crucial as well. Telling us what you would like to see from us, what you like about what we are doing and even what you want to see us stop doing