2019 Survey Results, so far…

In February we posted our 2019 customer survey. A collection of questions to learn what you think about what we are doing and what you would like to see us do in the future. We presented 10 questions, some simple and some more engaged.

First up were 3 questions picking your brain on our brand representation. Which of our brands you primarily buy from and how often. We asked if you understand our mission with J&L Apothecary being gender neutral in presentation and concept. 75% of our responses demonstrated an understanding that our intent is to include everybody, regardless of how they see themselves or represent gender. For those other 25% who selected Unisex, you’re very close and generally get it. We wish to say that we see gender neutral go deeper and reflects a non-binary approach. We feel we project our mission by having a generic and simple packaging style and the use of bold primary colors that differentiate product categories.

Our 4th question wished to see if the men knew they could get their favorite J&L Pogonotrophics scents in other products. When we introduced this crossover between brands it was not clear that we offered these fragrances across many products in both brands. We wish to continue this crossover but we do not wish to overwhelm ourselves, and you, with too many options.

Q5 brought up a big monster for us. It referenced back to our 2018 survey where a large response indicated that some of you want to see our products on Amazon. We have constantly kicked this idea around. For us there is a huge negative that would affect our brand – a dramatic price increase would be required for many of our popular products. Such a price increase would change our “value” image we are working to establish. Many items would see a 17-25% price increase. Amazon as a strict policy that your own website must sell at the same price it is listed on Amazon. So their policy is to force a price increase through their fees and hidden costs that may deter established customers from shopping with us. We did not receive a single very positive response to this, and we did see a 20% very negative response. We will not be selling our products on Amazon anytime soon. We are among many small bootstrap businesses that are not willing to put up with Amazon’s policies that put too much pressure on small maker/sellers. There is only one workaround we see, and that is to offer unique products only through Amazon – different sizes or packaging.

We asked about what new branded products we could offer with Q6. Some of what we listed are things we are working on, some are things people have asked for and some are things we tossed in just to gauge your thoughts. Hair Styling products was the top response at 62.5%. We have been seeing into this but we have one huge drawback, how to keep these items as natural as the rest and still be a quality product. Many natural styling products literally don’t hold up, the best products are full of ingredients that are bad for the environment or just aren’t all that natural. We will still keep looking. One item that scored well we just introduced. A wash in Beard Conditioner was something we had been working on but with our Pop-Up, we were not able to devote time to developing such. Deodorant and Eye/Skin toning creams are under strong review and have been for some time. With the positive response they are more likely to become a part of the family.

Similar to Q6, Q7 asked what new 3rd party/accessory items you would like to see. The top responses were a tie between travel accessories and “swag” (shirts, key chains, hats, etc.). Early on we took a stance that we would not load up our store with branded swag. Despite it being free advertising for us, we felt it was just not something people would want and seem like an act of desperation for us. We did place one caveat with that statement, we would do it if money was raised for a charity. So, this may happen… The other top response needs more attention to sort it out. We do have a plan for more travel size versions of our most useful products and we hope to have this in place by the end of summer. But that would not be accessory type items. More discovery will need to be done to determine exactly what items would be beneficial.

Q8 asked about Primp & Jol and if there is interest in such a store. 62.5% of you said YES. This is still a concept and will require some major investment to make happen. And, we do want to make it happen. Our plan is to seek out a permanent production facility that we can open to the public. A place for us to make and present our products, allow you to shop everything we have, provide an order pick-up location and a place to test Primp & Jol.

Q9 related to the types of products we would seek to offer in such a store. The top response was “Lazy Day” – things to read, sip and create a retreat. Tied for second was “Dinner + Drinks” and “Spa Day”. Spa Day overlaps Lazy Day in many ways but leaves room for sharing some too, while Dinner + Drinks promotes intimate social situations. Our take-away from this is that many of you like the idea of small, simple moments whether alone or with others. This is at the heart of what Primp & Jol is about! As we go forward in our planning these will be the framework categories for us to work under.

Question 10 dealt with creating a “membership” program to provide perks to those who buy from us more often. Such perks as small discounts, free shipping on most orders and special promotions – much like Amazon Prime. 75% of you see a value in this. With this positive response we will dig deeper into seeing if we can make this happen. The infrastructure is there, we just need to craft it to our products and services. And, find the right price point for the membership fee that continues our value mission.

We really love the engagement and feedback. This survey will remain open for some time and we hope that more people tell us what they are thinking. If you have not taken the survey, we have a link below. Thank you, J&L

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KPNHJTG

New Beard Shampoo & Conditioner

We are really excited to bring 2 very new products to our J&L Pogonotrophics line; our all new Beard Conditioner and our improved Beard Shampoo which replaces Quotidian Beard Wash. These are all new formulations designed from the bottom up to meet the very specific demands of beard hair.

While others will take a simple shampoo formula, natural or other, and bottle it as a beard shampoo. We dug deep into the needs of the average beardsman and paired the right ingredients, in the right amounts to address those needs. We began with our organic wash base, which in itself is an awesome liquid soap and as good as any other premium wash, and added key moisturizing oils that can penetrate the cuticle of the hair and nourish it from the inside out. We also added Pro-V B5 (aka Panthenol), which is found in many quality hair care products. Panthenol works by improving effects of hair elasticity, moisture retention and flexibility; and can improve damaged hair. Beard hair often takes a lot of abuse from the environment and from grooming habits.

This new Beard Shampoo is an example of the leading edge we take when it comes to quality premium beard care products and is priced very competitively. Compare to Bluebeard Shampoo’s ingredients and right away you will see the difference. You won’t see Hemp, Avocado and Macadamia Nut Oils – all proven to be amazing hair moisturizers! Nor will you see the number of organic ingredients like we offer. You also see they use Propylene Glycol, which can irritate the skin.

A sensible pairing for our Beard Shampoo is our all new Beard Conditioner. A super luxurious and THICK conditioner that is packed with all the best moisturizing agents you can find for nourishing hair. It took months to work out the idea conditioner that can penetrate the beard hair and leave it soft and manageable. This conditioner is so amazing that you may not need to use a beard oil as often. We bring over many of the same conditioners you find in our Shampoo, but kick them up with Jojoba Oil, Mango Butter, Shea Butter and Coconut Oil. You will also find a more Pro-V B5 to help ensure those moisturizers get to do their best work. There is no serious comparison to the quality of this conditioner!

Both of these new items are in stock in our store today! Each are only $10 for 120ml – 4 fl oz bottles. While the Beard Conditioner is unscented, the Beard Shampoo comes in our 8 core fragrances.

Again, we are setting the bar high for what beard care can be!

Original Beard Butter performance issue

First, I wish to state a couple important factors that underline this post. We are a very tiny company. That does not mean we are not trying to be bigger or that we should not function as if we were. It purely means that the smallest of “hiccups” can have a bigger ripple effect than if we were bigger. And as we state in our values, we wish to always be open and honest about all that we do – the good and the bad.

The last few months have been extremely hectic for us. In essence, it is growing pains. The Pop-Up store we operated dramatically increased our customer base and sale velocity. It also means some areas of our business did not get all the attention they deserve. What I am communicating here should have been disclosed sooner under the umbrella of our honesty value.

ORIGINAL BEARD BUTTER quality issue:

First it is important to know how we make our Original Beard Butter, and many of our products. We make an unscented base in bulk that is then dispensed in smaller measured quantities to make scented variations. This is how we are able to offer so many scent options for many of our items. In the fall of 2018 we produced a rather large batch of unscented Butter base to meet the increased demand during the autumn.

The facility in which we store our bases and finished goods is not adequately climate controlled. It is an old building that uses radiant heat that is also not well monitored. This situation lead to our Original Beard Butter warming and cooling in constant cycles; melting and setting over and over again. The Original Beard Butter is a mixture of fats, oils, butters and waxes that each have their own melting point and densities. The constant melting and cooling caused the heavier components to precipitate out – in simple terms, to separate away from the rest. This mainly affected the beeswax.

We took steps to melt and re-blend the base, which is permissible by industry standards, to ensure the parts were well mixed. Then we store the base in a cooler location that is less affected by the temperature fluctuations. We also inspected all our finished goods at that time for signs of the wax “crystallizing” withing the butter. All affected units were re-batched.

It came to our attention that a few units continued to be affected and we handled each of those issues on a case by case basis. Either offering to replace or giving advice on how to handle the product – whatever satisfied the customer.

It is important to know that there is nothing unsafe about continuing to use this product when this happens. It is not a desirable experience during application, but it will not cause any harm to your hair, skin or anything else it comes in contact with. If this happens to your Original Beard Butter at any time, you can simply warm it and whip it a little. Best scenario is to prevent this product from experiencing such temperature fluctuations.

Like many of our Beard Care products, the Original Beard Butter is 100% natural and contains no emulsifiers or additives. This is by design and not something we wish to change. In our 5 years we have never encountered this situation previously and were able to deduce the exact cause once discovered. We believed we had caught all affected product but it appears we did not. We have taken the following steps to ensure it does not happen again.

  • Our remaining affected base has been destroyed.
  • All units that showed signs of being at any stage of separation were also destroyed.
  • Any customer that reports this issue will receive a fresh new like item or a store credit. We must be able to validate your purchase and see evidence of the separation in a near full jar.
  • We are looking to reformulate the product. This has been in the works as we wish to add more premium butters and switch to a vegan friendly recipe. It is likely we will add Lecithin as an emulsifier to help prevent this from happening.
  • Original Beard Butter base is now being produced in smaller batches and stored in a more temperature stable environment that is regularly below 75 degrees.
  • All current inventory is fresh and stored in the same manner as the base.

If you have an Original Beard Butter or any other product from us that does not appear as usual or as described, please contact us immediately. The sooner you reach out to us the better we are able to correct the issue. Please note, that all our products are hand packed and naturally have imperfections from our production. These imperfections are only visual as we can assure you that we are using the purest of ingredients, naturally sourced wherever possible in a safe and clean environment. As we grow, we will be able to improve our production through more automated processes that remove these imperfections and irregularities.

We appreciate everyone’s support of our tiny business and hope that you have the most positive experience when using our products and working with us when things are not up to our standards. But do give us a chance to make things right before coming to a conclusion of how we operate. We take a level of pride in our very low defect rate and the absence of “bad” reviews on social media and Google. It is with you and this support that will allow us to constantly improve and grow.

Thank you very kindly,
John C Dodge
Founder
J&L Pogonotrophics LLC


Pop-Up Aftermath

With the closing of our temporary retail location in Andersonville some have had concerns around our business. First we need to make it clear that this was a legitimate Pop-Up and always meant to be temporary. Initially to be for a couple weekends and we stretched it into 3 full months. Our decision to close when we did is attributed to 2 factors. 1. Our license is set to expire within days. 2. We have a few other activities on our schedule that would leave us with nobody to staff the store for a few weeks if we were to renew our license today.

It is very likely we will be back and in that same space. We are currently looking at a 2 weekend stretch in April. The space we have been using has been on the market for a permanent tenant and it is possible there is one ready to move in come May. If the space is available in May, we could do another weekend or 2. From there we will take it a week at a time.

We already have 2 festivals lined up and are working on 2 others. There are also a couple events we are working with for fun activities to bring awareness to a customer segment that is less familiar with our brand. July will be a busy month for us, personally, as we have family obligations to attend to. More details on these matters to come.

This Pop-Up is an exercise for us. Although we have a lot of retail experience without our leadership, it is a different matter when you are the “boss” and responsible for the budget and performance. We needed to see how people would receive us, and to do this without much fanfare. We wanted to rely upon our established customers to shop with us as well as acquire walk-in traffic. Having a barren space, with unfinished walls and no flooring, may not have been very inviting for some but we still had a lot of people come in and check us out. We made to friends and some loyal customers. We counted and weighed everything. Doing little nuanced changes to see how it would impact traffic and sales.

All of this information is being reviewed and distilled down. Then we have to scale it to the known costs of acquiring our own space. This Pop-Up was very successful, but that does not mean we can merely walk into a lease and know we will do well. The reality is, the area we wish to open a store is pricey and we most likely cannot afford the initial costs to get into such a place. Our biggest need is for a production space and that is what started the idea of having a retail space. The simplicity of it all is that if we are paying rent for a space to make our products, why not open it up to sell our products as well. To have a factory store.

If all goes well with our plans for this summer, we will start looking for a space that may not be on a main street with lots of foot traffic, but may be a space that is easy to get to and will permit public access to our space. With such a space we can create a “retail” zone in front with “factory” in the back and still have space for activities and events. Such spaces are a lot cheaper than a high profile commercial space. In time, we could expand from there to then open a genuine stand alone store. Our mission has not changed, we still hope to have such a space for the 2019 holiday season.


Product Development: Conditioner Bar – Part 1

Today we began testing our first formulation of a hair conditioner in bar form. Purpose is to provide a more natural environment friendly conditioner that performs equal to or better than a bottled conditioner.

Development began with studying known recipes and competitor products. Aligning learned data with our own internal data around properties of natural ingredients for hair care. To date, we have spent over 6 months studying existing formulations before attempting our first test product. Our studying has led to the addition of new ingredient items to our inventory. Some of these ingredients may appear in revised or all new formulas of other products. New ingredients include Mango Butter, Cupuacu Butter, Panthenol (ProV B5), Cetyl Alcohol – a thickening/hardening agent for fats (oils & butters), BTMS-50 [50% behentrimonium methosulfate with cetyl alcohol & butylene glycol] – an emulsifier and conditioning agent.

With the addition of Cetyl Alocohol and BTMS-50 we wish to assure everyone that these are in fact natural plant based ingredients that are proven to be safe. BTMS-50 is made from rape seed oil (aka canola oil). Cetyl Alcohol, which is not to be confused with distilled spirit alcohol, is made from plant oils and shares no properties with common alcohols like ethanol or isopropanol. It has the ability to thicken or harden oils as well as give a great slick feel to lotions and conditioners.

Test Candidate 1

This formula is targeted as our “dry hair” formula. To be released as SKU# CNB001, a 130g round conditioner bar. Ideal bar will be solid but not too hard, soften easily when rubbed in hands under warm to hot water in a shower or bath for creating a creamy lather to apply to hair.

This formula contains
71.4% Active Ingredients of assorted butters and oils
10.4% BTMS-50
2.2% Panthenol
16.0% Other ingredients (beeswax, cetyl alcohol, fragrance)

This first test bar set firm with a slight greasy feel to the bar. This is caused by the melting point of the combined ingredients. Bars set rather rapidly at room temperature.

In shower, the bar did not easily create a creamy “conditioner” in my hands when rubbed in hands under hot water on the first attempt. This led to the conditioner being too thick, waxy even, when trying to apply to hair. Second use found that the bar created a much creamier conditioner in my hands and rubbed into wet hair more easily but still not the desired consistency.

It is believed that the percentage of beeswax is too high which is causing it to not “cream” correctly. Beeswax is a common ingredient found in bar conditioners but those recipes we found with higher percentages of beeswax did not contain cetyl alcohol or BTMS-50. It is suggested that we replace a portion of beeswax with proportionate amount of cetyl alcohol for our next test.

Overall, the conditioner did a good job of softening hair, it is apparent that the negatives are the consistency before use (slimy feel), thickness of formula does not soften properly to produce desired conditioning cream for application to hair.

We will further test this candidate and confirm results after multiple uses then adjust formula for Test Candidate 2.

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!

Update: Inventory Constraints

We are still dealing with supply and raw goods inventory issues with our suppliers. This is normal this time of the year but we are impacted more so than in the past as we are moving more product than our forecast. This is 100% due to our Pop-Up Shop. Yes, this can be seen as a good problem to have – in the short term.

Current products that may see Out of Stock notices over the coming weeks:
LIP BALM
HAND + BODY LOTION
AFTER SHAVE CREAM (both brands)
“Oxford” fragrance
BENTONITE + CHARCOAL MASK

We are diligently checking in with our suppliers for related materials to ensure we can have these popular items back in stock. Some of these items are currently in stock at the time of this notice but we predict they may sell out before we will be able to replenish supply.

Third party products are still seeing restraints caused by observance of the Lunar New Year in China. It may be March before we are able to receive inventory of the Travel size Brush and Shower Poofs.

Thank you for your understanding as we work to overcome these new challenges.