Soap Bars: Hand cut vs. Molded

When we first started making bar soaps we went with using molds for forming each bar. They were much easier for us to produce small quantities and present a very neat solid shape. We took a new approach to our bar soaps with our re-launch last Spring. The thoughts were to give them a hand made look by forming a loaf in a mold to then hand cut for individual sell-able units. This process was also thought to make the process faster and the ability to produce more bars at once. Our sales had increased enough that we needed to make a dozen or more at a time to be efficient.

We sourced loaf molds and cutting boxes and went to work producing our new bars. They were a hit right away. People loved the fragrances as much as the look. Behind the scenes we had a problem; consistency. The loaf molds were not perfectly square and would bulge in the middle from the weight of the soap. When cutting the bars we found wide variations in the weight of each bar. The cutting process also caused minor fluctuations in thickness as well. And, there was a lot of waste from trimming off the edges. Those trimmings were able to be re-batched, added to the next production run so not to be a total loss.

It is very important for us to maintain consistency as much as possible in weight or volume of our products. We still hand craft everything we sell, so there is bound to be some minute inconsistencies but these bars were varying 15 to 20 grams within a batch. Our call was to mark them at the lowest average weight. We also came to realize that the hand-crafted look is not what we want. Despite being hand crafted we still wanted to keep a smooth “produced” look to our products, knowing that as we grow it will be the natural aesthetic by default.

When we launched our shampoo bars we decided that the round molds would be best. Making it an ideal size and shape for user experience. If molds were good for the shampoos then they should be good enough for the body bars.

It became apparent that the changes we made were not the right step for us and decided to return to forming each bar in its own mold. This allows the polished edge to 5 of the 6 sides of the bar. The bottom side, which is the top side when pouring into the mold, would not have a perfectly smooth surface. We are OK with that. Having an “unfinished” side to the soaps supports the “natural” nature of our products. Having one rough side versus 6 rough sides.

By using a mold for each bar gives us consistency without any waste. The variances are minimal, with each bar being at or above our target weight. There is less labor involved, no cutting up a loaf is needed just pop the formed bar out of the mold, smooth edges and bag. We are migrating back to using block molds for each bar as we replenish inventory. New inventory is already in stock, we will get new images up to reflect the changes as all our current options convert.

With increased growth we are able to tighten up our presentation, to put forth a more polished look so we can truly put reflect a premium image along with out already premium products.

New for March

Customization returns to our Beard Care combos!

Our popular “create your own” bundles have returned. Now even more customizable! Our Beard Oil 3 piece Set can consist of any 3 Beard Oils – any formula, any scent. The Beard Nourishing collection sees the return of the ability to mix and match scents between your Beard Oil formula selection and Original Beard Butter. When our revamped Beard Shampoo launches, we will bring back our Beard Care 101 collection that lets you add a shampoo to our Beard Nourishing collection.

New Hair Care in R&D

Our shampoo bars have been immensely popular. Since their launch we have looked into creating complimentary Conditioner Bars. We will begin the testing of these products in March with anticipation to launch before June.

The shampoo bars have also led us to rethink our liquid shampoos. With a renewed focus on core benefits of the ingredients for targeted hair care, we have developed 4 new liquid shampoos we expect to launch by the end of March. Of these formulas you will find 3 of our Bar formulas made in liquid form joining our reformulated FORTIFYING Shampoo. Expect to see QUENCH, FIXER and BALANCE Shampoos in liquid form soon!

Behind the Scenes

As we have grown, many of our model number/SKUs have become convoluted. Most of you may not shop by model number when browsing, but they are extremely important for tracking of our inventory and designating their “department” within our store. You will find that those little letter & number chains bear product descriptions are changing and may not match the label on the item you just purchased. It will take time for us to complete this transformation. Once it is complete, you may find that those SKUs make sense by defining the product, size and sometimes scent of our products.

Pop-Up Shop may be coming to an end

We have had a blast with our own little store. From the start we knew this would be very temporary. Our occupation of the space will end as soon as a permanent tenant signs a lease. Now that spring is coming, available commercial properties are sought for those wishing to expand or move before summer. There have been some interested parties looking at the space we are in. If anyone takes the space, we will have a very small window of notice and may close without warning.

This is not a sad thing for us, but we know it may be for those who loved shopping our space and finding new and exciting options in beard, bath & body products. It has been wonderful to talk with all of you that came in and we hope that once we close you become a loyal online customer. We are still seeking a pick-up location for local customers to save on shipping. Once we make such an arrangement we will make an announcement. Festival season is right around the corner and we have plans for taking part in a couple of the larger events. Keep a watch on our Facebook to see where we may end up.

Thank you all! Please share with us if you have any feedback related to our posts or products.

Changes to US shipping rates

This year a dramatic increase to USPS shipping rates took effect. This increase was even more than we had anticipated. Our recent price increases on a few items was motivated in part by the anticipated postal rates increase; which we based upon the percentage of increase for 2018. These new 2019 rates increased 3 times what we had planned.

Until we are able to create a shipping rate structure that applies a fair discounted rate for all without necessitating an increase to the prices of our goods, we have decided to cease the “Free Shipping for orders over $50” option.

To be transparent on this topic. The heaviest items we make are also the items with the smallest profit margin. Any order that contains one of these items costs no less than $11.00 to ship and completely erodes any money we make if that order qualifies for free shipping. The lowest USPS rate we pay for Priority Mail is $8.00, Parcel Select is $4.00, with rates going as high as $18 for our largest orders. We do not treat Shipping Fees as a profit generator, nor do we wish to inflate prices for all, and it is a necessity that our online prices match our retail prices.

This past summer we introduced a $3 “Saver Rate” that applies to any order that only contains our lightest of products – no matter how many are in your order! At the same time we added an $8 rate if an order contains our heaviest of products. Our $5 rate is applied to any order that contains our lightest of items along with our “average” weight products. We feel that these rates are rather fairly distributed and help keep costs down for our products while providing a value to our online customers.

We rely upon USPS as our carrier for many reasons. Not only are their rates far lower than UPS and FedEx., their services integrate flawlessly with our eCommerce system. Most often, our packages will fit in your mailbox. For those that live in dense urban areas, there is a higher chance your package will get to your home when you are not there, not tag left on the door. To date, we have never had a complaint about a package tossed over a fence, hidden behind a bush or stolen off the porch. USPS provides reliable tracking and if you use their mobile app you can get consistent updates on your order’s journey to you. I personally have worked in Shipping, Receiving and Fulfillment for longer than I care to mention and I can tell you many reasons why USPS is far better to work with, even when they mess up.

There is discussion among us here at J&L about creating a Membership Plan, akin to Amazon Prime, where you get free or greatly reduced shipping and modest discounts on our most popular items. Once we iron out the best price to charge for this service and exactly what the policies will be, it will be brought to you to give us more feedback. This may be the only way we can provide Free Shipping to our higher volume customers.

Thank you for your understanding,
John C Dodge
Proprietor
J&L Pognotrophics LLC

In with the new, out with the old

With the introduction of our ABSINTHE fragrance we will be retiring a couple of our original fragrances in our beard care products.

ATHENS and FIRENZE have been around since the earliest days of J&L. Formerly called CLASSIC SPICE and BAY & ROSEMARY respectively, their popularity has faded over the last couple years. Both will live on as custom order options, but remaining finished goods will be pushed out. Once sold through, these items will no longer be available at Pop-Ups or Festivals.

We are also saying good-bye to our current QUOTIDIAN Beard Wash. We have an all new formula coming soon that will be even more awesome for your beard with addition of HEMP SEED and MACADAMIA NUT OILS. It will be available initially as an unscented variant, with select scents to follow. Expect to see these available beginning of March.

ALL current liquid shampoos are retired and out of stock. We have 4 new formulas coming soon, 3 of which will be liquid versions of our most popular shampoo bars: BALANCE, FIXER and AMP. The FORTIFY Shampoo will be an updated version of our former FORTIFYING SHAMPOO. Following shortly will be revamped versions of our liquid conditioners when we introduce solid Bar Conditioners.

Before summer, expect to see new beard shampoo and conditioner bars. We will also be launching a liquid wash-in conditioner for beards. Formulas are still in testing and we hope to have them ready before June.

There are other changes and additions in the works. We are very focused on providing a robust line of beard, bath and body products. We are striving to be a one-stop-shop for quality personal care products!

A Look Back

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.

New products coming for 2019!

Over the next few months you will see us expand our accessory offerings as we work to build a “complete solution” to complement our own products. Our first foray into brushes and combs has been well received so far. Look for our expanded grooming product offerings as we add shaving basics to our J&L Pogonotrophics line. J&L Apothecary will see the addition of items designed to help create a home spa with towels, wash clothes and other simple necessities.

We are also looking to build other lifestyle offerings that promote a transition to natural and environmental friendly ways for daily life. These will be curated products we can acquire and offer and a savings over other on-line sellers like Amazon.

All of these new products will be a part of Primp & Jol as we further our plans for our permanent retail concept. New products will trickle in as we are able to source them from 3rd party manufacturers. Most items will be commonly available elsewhere, but we will strive to offer a more attractive price while remaining competitive. It is always our goal to offer choice, now we are striving to offer a level of convenience.

In the realm of new branded products coming next year, we are still working on ideas to expand our skin care with more premium lotions and creams; deodorants, toothpaste and possible fragrances. We are also partnering with a close friend to bring a ultra-premium beard oil to market with an exclusive arrangement that will permit us to be the exclusive seller of their products. We are working to ensure this new beard oil fits in well with our brand but will stand alone as its own brand. Look for product by Aristos this coming spring.

With our 5th Anniversary coming and all the new opportunities and products, 2019 is shaping up to be a very good year for us and for our customers!

2018 Year in Review

2018 is wrapping up very soon and for us it is a time for looking back as well as looking forward. It is our custom to be fully transparent about our journey and to share the good and the bad with all that care to follow. Our reasoning is multi-faceted but centers around 2 principles: 1. To be as genuine as we say we are. 2. To help inspire others while letting those who wish to start their own business as a genuine bootstrap start-up know some of the reality they may encounter.

At the start, 2018 was offering great promise and presented some growing pains. We had a rocky start to the year as we lost a reseller as they focused on other areas of their business. This was a minor setback, but still a setback that affected our local Pick-Up capabilities. Early in the year we learned from service providers related to our website that they will no longer be supporting their product leaving us in a pinch. This had a deep impact to how we manage our website and eCommerce. In the spring we painstakingly built an all new website and shopping system from the ground up with all new graphics and product images. The new shopping system gave us the most trouble as we had to trade off some features that we knew our customers enjoyed while having the capability to add bigger and better features as we moved forward. At launch of our new site in late April we had a bare-bones store that met the core functionality we needed. By summer we were able to add more features; such as subscriptions and memberships. There are still some things to come that will make your experience better when shopping with us and allowing us to offer more options.

In the spring of 2018 we started the logistical process of planning for our own factory and store. This was presented as a near necessity for our business for this stage of our growth. Soon to outgrow our current production options and storage space it is near time to find a secure space that is 100% ours for doing all production of our products. Chicago rents are very high and to justify the expense it has been a logical decision that any production space be open to the public for direct retail sales as well as offering local order pick-up. With having such a space we can also can offer more products that make what we do even better. Like everything we do, we are methodical and analytical about the required planning. Slow and steady is our style. We have decided to call this future brick & mortar space Primp & Jol.

During this planning process we were presented with an option to practice our ideas for a store. A friend with a soon to be vacant store front in a high traffic area presented us the offer to use the space until a new tenant is acquired. It was expected that the space would be available at the start of June. Due to some issues beyond our control it took many months before we were able to open our doors with a long term Pop-Up Shop. During this time we opted to not commit to many of the festivals we had previously planned to take part. Once we learned the space was not going to be available for some time it was too late to get into the better festivals. This was a huge blow to our incomes as we normally do great business and gain many new customers during these events. The loss of revenues created a challenge for us.

The new website also created a small setback. New site meant new links and causing previous saved links to not work. Many established customers were confused despite our efforts to ensure the changes were well communicated in every possible channel. A few that eventually found us had assumed we had gone out of business. It has taken some time to bring back that momentum we had with out internet sales.

In the fall we prepared our largest sale event ever. We are not fans of doing sales as it distracts from the real value of our products; but they are a means to gain exposure and new customers. The sale offered daily big discounts on key products over the Thanksgiving Weekend. It was well received and kept us very busy.

Immediately following this event we had a couple awesome surprises. First, our Pop-Up Shop was finally happening. Opening December 7th in Andersonville, Chicago, IL with our entire selection of products presented in an easy to browse and friendly environment. It also brought a lot of attention form local government, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, the media and best of all the people of the community we serve. It has gone well beyond our expectations. The only negative was the lack of ability to fully prepare which has led to a challenge of keeping our most popular products in stock. The second event was being presented with the opportunity to advertise in a very well known British men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine that has strong international readership. There was no way we could pass on this opportunity and we will be a part of the Spring Style issues coming soon. Once the magazine has gone to print we can share what magazine we will be featured.

At the beginning of the year we decided to make a big change to the look of J&L Pogonotrophics. It was time to tighten up our packaging and refresh our logo. We also took a big risk when we renamed many of our current fragrances for beard care. This was a big necessity as the scent titles were rather lengthy for some options; making them hard to read or easily fit on the labels. The new look has been very popular and we love how we have truly captured the image we were looking for at the start. As for the scents, people are coming around to learning all the new names. We promise we will not do this again! It was our belief that we were small enough at the time to make this change without too much of a negative affect.

J&L Apothecary continues to grow will all sorts of new scents, new products and new looks. To further distinguish the lines we are changing out packaging to showcase certain products better. We introduced our Clay Mask Creator System; a means to buy individual pieces to combine with common items you may already have in your home to allow you to craft the ideal clay mask for your needs and be able to change your mask recipe as your needs change. This is part of our support of providing choice when it comes to your personal care. We also introduced our new Shampoo Bars to much fanfare. An economical and Earth friendly means to get great hair. Skeptics are enjoying the ease and convenience these bars offer. Our bar soaps were overhauled to match our fragrances for Shower Wash and many other items to bring consistency to our scenting. Even popular Beard Care fragrances are now available in our soaps.

2019 will bring a lot of new great things. Our Pop-Up Shop will continue until further notice; operating with limited boutique hours at the end of the week. This gives us a couple days to focus on production and other back of house requirements. We will introduce new products that are currently in development and our first new fragrance since Tarocco was introduced last spring. A couple scents will be transitioned to custom ordering only through our Expanded Assortment program. We will announce these scent changes later next month.

With the current economic situation, causing an increase in our costs, we will be raising the prices of a few items. We hate having to do this but it is greatly necessary. Freight, raw goods and other businesses expenses have increased exponentially while our prices have pretty much remained the same for the last couple years. Shipping rates are also increasing again next month to add another cost. To offset these increases we are forced to raise prices a dollar or two here and there. Original Beard Butter will increase to $18, Beard Oils to $16. Masks, scrubs and other items will see a 5% to 15% increase. We will also lower our flat shipping rate to $5, but will add a $1 charge for our heaviest of items. Our Saver $3 shipping rate will remain for the lightest of items like a single beard oil or bar of soap.

The new year also brings our 5 Year Anniversary. Expect to see a touched up version of our logo just for this occasion. We will have a private celebration with our local friends, family, big supporters and our most loyal local customers. Those attending will get the first look at all that is new for J&L Pogonotrophics and Apothecary and be taken down memory lane with a look back at our beginnings. This is a huge milestone for us and one that at times we thought we would never reach. With all the great things that are happening and with what we have planned, 2019 will be a great year for us if all goes well. It will be the biggest step we have had to take and it has come at what seems to be the right time.

We look forward to sharing more with you and we love all of you that give us your time to learn about us and give us your hard earned money to buy our products. We know there are plenty of options out that and the fact that you choose us means so much.

Much love from John & Larry and the rest of the J&L Family

Pop-Up Shop affecting inventory levels

Due to our Pop Up Shop point of sale system not able to sync with our website inventory customers may encounter limited stock of popular items. There is also a greater chance of an item being unable to be fulfilled if we are sold out before the website is updated with any sales data.

Many of our items can be made quickly to prevent backorder situations. There are some items, such as bar soaps and shampoos that cannot be made quickly enough to satisfy an order if it becomes out of stock. If we are unable to fulfill your order we will contact you to either offer a substitute product or issue a refund.

The success of our Pop Up has been far greater than we could have ever expected and we apologize for any troubles it creates for our internet customers. We are a very tiny operation and are without the tools available to us that would prevent these issues going forward. In the event that we are unable to fulfill your order we will do our best to present you favorable options to ensure your satisfaction.

Thank you, John C Dodge

PRIMP + JOL Holiday Pop-Up Shop

Kicking off this Friday, December 7, 2018 we will be hosting our own brand specific holiday store. Located in the heart of the Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago. We will have everything from both our brands available as well as in-store only specials.

Our initial hours: Friday 12/7 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM; Saturday 12/8 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM; Sunday 12/9 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

Location: 5307 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640 MAP

Further operating hours will be posted later as we are still working out the details. Please follow the link to our Facebook page to see current hours and dates.

see FACEBOOK for up to the minute details

On site you will be able to select from any of our products to create a gift box with exactly what you wish to include, grab one of our HOLIDAY scented products while they last; and you can “meet the maker” and support a small local business.

Thanksgiving Weekend Sale Details

With most things in life there are some fine details that may easily be overlooked. We try our best to be open and honest about everything we do so we will share the fine print related to our 2018 Thanksgiving Weekend Sale Event

Free Shipping offer: Any order placed between the start and end of this sale will be eligible for Free Shipping if their cart total at time of payment is equal to or greater than $10 after all discounts are applied and before tax.

Sale starts Wednesday (today) November 21, 2018 and will end Midnight Monday November 26, 2018. Each day of this sale there is a new ONE DAY ONLY item placed on sale. The daily item will only be discounted for the 24 hour period starting at 12:00am on that day. If one wishes to purchase more than 1 day’s item they must complete a new transaction/order for each day.

If an order is placed for more than 1 day’s item, and any 1 of those days did not meet the minimum $10 threshold for Free Shipping, we will refund any paid shipping if all orders/items are being shipped to the same address for the same customer – regardless of payment method. We want you, the customer, to reap the full benefit of this event.

All orders will be consolidated and fulfilled starting Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Our shipping center will be closed as of 12:00pm Wednesday, November 21, 2018 and will reopen Monday, November 26, 2018.

Customer Support times will be limited. We will do our best to respond to all questions as quickly as possible. Best time to contact us is between 10:00 am and 6:00pm CST. You may email us at support@pogonotrophics.com or use Facebook Messenger to reach us.

Other details:

Sales are limited to current in-stock quantities at time of purchase. Shopping Carts are not being stored – that means, once you leave the site your cart will automatically be cancelled within 2 hours. This is to ensure our products are available to those who will be buying them and not tied to incomplete or abandoned shopping carts. No other discount code or coupon can be applied to these products (Most other discount offers exclude Sale Items already anyway). All items will be shipped to the address provided. If you wish to place orders as gifts to be sent to more than 1 address, please contact us before placing an order.

Thank you, J&L