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

To our Chicago friends:

At one point in time we offered a Free Pick Up option that allowed you to save on shipping at pick up your order at one of our resellers. We unfortunately had to end this arrangement when the reseller stopped promoting our products due to changes in their business focus.

It was very sad for us to loose this reseller for many reasons, but it is really sad that we can no longer offer this option. We are continually looking for a means to bring this option back as soon as possible.

We cannot offer Pick Up from our offices. We are a very tiny business where our offices are not in a facility that permits public access, nor do we maintain hours that would be compatible with most. We generally leave our offices the same time most other people leave theirs. During the day we may be in production at one of our “drop in” facilities we use making it even more difficult to pinpoint a reasonable time for us to be available. In essence, it is a logistic nightmare trying to track us down during the day. 

Knowing all these issues is why we are working diligently to open a retail and production space that is all ours where we can have published hours of operation where you can come to browse, try and buy directly from us.

This scenario is why we created the Saver shipping rate. This $3 flat rate is applied when your order is below our Free Shipping threshold and all items in your order are light weight and small in size – must be below 14 ounces. With most of our products being 5 ounces or less, this means we can pass along the lower shipping rates to you when possible.

A note about our shipping rates:

Minimum postage we pay USPS for most packages is $7.25. A package going to the west coast can easily be more than $15.00. We are still too small to qualify for any bulk discounts from any carrier. Our Flat Rate Shipping is now $5 for orders under $50. This means we have to roll $2.25 into the cost of the goods we make and sell. The fee does not cover the cost of shipping labels, packaging and other incidentals. We know other online sellers offer flat free shipping on all orders. In most cases they are comparatively more expensive and ship a higher volume therefor paying less to ship. To offer free shipping on all orders we would have to raise the prices of our goods, not only online but in pop-ups as well.

I didn’t think we needed to say this…

Since our founding we have taken great effort to share every possible nuance about our products, what goes into them and how we make them. Within our niche industry it is necessary as a means to set us apart from the “big guys”.

What is our niche industry, anyway?

We see ourselves among a special segment of the cosmetic and personal care industry that includes the makers of small batch natural personal care products. This is our foundation and where we are today. Although, we are aiming higher to be a strong regional brand of natural personal care products that are all made in-house – versus being made by a contract producer. We intend to always be the actual developer and maker of our goods.

While we often make point to call out that we avoid ingredients that are deemed undesirable or are proven to have a potential to cause harm, we don’t speak about our production and product testing methods.

We are cruelty free!

We do not test any of our products or their ingredients on animals. We do not acquire raw goods (ingredients) from any supplier that submits their products for animal testing. We didn’t think we had to make a big deal out of this as we figured it would be obvious.

With the bulk of our raw goods being 100% natural ingredients that are commonly used for food and soap making there is no point in testing them for potential harmful properties. We follow strict guidelines on how we use each item and never come close to meeting any risk threshold. This can be a concern with some essential oils.

All our testing is done in house with our J&L family. We give products to those close to us, as we trust they will be honest with us about how our products perform and how well they meet our expectations and reach the desired results. Scents, texture, viscosity, and a whole bunch of other properties are reported back to us to ensure we are making a product that works and is not harmful to you or the environment when used properly.

So in addition to our products being as natural as possible and free of the “bad stuff”, we are proudly cruelty free. We honestly didn’t think we had to make a big deal about it.


New Special Subscription Plans Coming for 2019

We have 2 new subscription packages launching soon that will allow you to try new scents or new products.

First will be our “Scent of the Month” plan that will kick off with the first item shipping in January. This will be part of a month long focus on a specific fragrance that will be shared across our most popular scented items from both brands. For those that subscribe, you will select your favorite item and we will automatically ship it to you in that month’s fragrance the same time every month. Some scents will be very limited and only available during that month – other scents that are limited to certain items will be made just for this Subscription plan for your selected item. We will post 3 months out what our scents will be, although we may require substituting a scent if there is an unforeseen issue.

We plan to include all Beard Oil formulas, Original Beard Butter, Bar Soap, Body Mist and 240ml Shower Wash in this plan. You can select more than 1 item type.

Our second subscription plan will be a means to get a new item every month. These will be specially selected sample version of products we currently make, soon to be introduced or a new fragrance we are trying out. The item will be a little surprise designed to introduce you more of what we have to offer. Enjoy the item for yourself or gift to someone special.

There will be a 2 options: Pogonotrophy Series which will include items from J&L Pogonotrophics; and the General Series which will highlight products from J&L Apothecary. Scents and sizes of items will vary, the focus will be on variety so you can try before you may buy.

With both of these services we anticipate offering them at a great value and include appropriate shipping, like our current Beard Oil subscription plan. We hope you will be excited about these Special Subscriptions. They would make a great gift that keeps giving all year!

One man’s trash…

Using glass has many benefits for us and for our products; but there are benefits for the environment as well. We strive to encourage all of our packaging to be recycled. We hope we can inspire you to support our vision with one way glass is being reused.

Glass is one of the most capable packaging items for recycling and today there are so many more uses for recycled glass. Previously used glass was merely ground up and melted into new glass to make more bottles and jars. Now there are some really cool ways that colored glass is being made into surfaces for your home.

When selecting countertops for our kitchen we wanted something more durable than granite and learned about recycled glass countertops while shopping. Similar in nature to quartz surfaces which uses a mix of granite dust and recycled granite pieces into colorful marble-like surfaces. Glass is being used in much the same manner; sorted by color and mixed into a resin base to give a very modern and more durable surface than granite. The glass pieces can be fine to chunky which can give sparkle and more depth than real stone.

Glass can also be embedded into concrete for countertops and other surfaces. This can even be a D.I.Y. project for yourself. First step is to start collecting the colors of bottles you wish to use. It’s easy to find ideas on home improvement shows on TV or articles on the internet.

We strongly encourage the recycling of our bottles, glass and plastic. Just think how amazing they would look as someone’s kitchen counter. If your community does not have curbside recycling, please find a local drop-off location. Let your trash become someone’s treasure.

Be You: Be Epic!

It is a simple statement but with a massive meaning to us here at J&L.

Being gents with rather big beards we often had our beards described by others as being epic. Having an “epic beard” became a thing. Starting out as a beard care brand we wanted to help others have epic beards too; and not just because they were substantially longer or fuller. We felt that every man with a beard was showing their own definition of epic. BE EPIC became our tag line, motto and a big part of our philosophy as we wished to show our support for every man’s unique qualities.

After launching J&L Apothecary we felt that the beard reference hidden in “Be Epic” would not suit the brand. Instead we focused on how these personal care basics were good for all people regardless of their gender or gender representation. We all have skin, most have hair and we all need to take care of it. We went with “Personal Care for EVERY Body” as our tag line.

I was never genuinely happy with it, but it was something that sent a message that anybody can benefit from our products. But, it didn’t send that same positive message nor did it feel inclusive. Where “Be Epic!” was empowering, “EVERY body” was meh.

A good friend and advisor asked why I did not continue to use Be Epic for J&L Apothecary. I described how I perceived its meaning as a reason why I was not using it. She instantly dismissed my line of thinking. She reminded me of what my philosophies were behind telling everybody to Be Epic. That it was not telling people that my products were going to make you epic, its letting folks know to continue being epic because they already are. She said to me that I was sending a message letting people know that being yourself is the best thing in the world they can do for themselves; that personal care is an important part of self care.

Be You – be everything you are. Be the amazing unique you and not feel the need to try to be anything more or less than that.

Be Epic – because you are. You are full of great things and your imperfections make you even greater. Tell your story, it is just as interesting as Beowulf’s and others will appreciate it as it is.

How does our brand fit into this? After all, we are not telling you our products will make you Epic. We feel that there are so many components to help you express yourself through personal care. Other brands directly or indirectly tell you that you need to look, act, or BE a certain way; and that their products will achieve that for you – directly or indirectly. We would rather say you are the best way, YOUR way; and we may have a product that compliments it in a means that you are happy with. By offering choices that most others do not, offering them at a price less than most premium or luxury brands and with equal or greater quality so you get the most out of your personal care routine.

This is why we say:

BE YOU: BE EPIC!

New J&L Apothecary Packaging Coming

Slowly, very slowly, as we make our way through current packaging inventory we will transition to new clear or white jars and bottles for all J&L Apothecary items.

Initially we went with blue as that is what we were using for J&L Pogonotrophics and many of our first J&L Apothecary products were originally started under that brand. As we try to capture the clean and simple nature behind our J&L Apothecary line we felt that carrying that idea into our packaging would be the right move. White is like a blank canvas that lets other parts shine and will be used for many of our lotions, creams and soaps. We will use clear jars for our masks and scrubs to let you see more easily what’s inside. For items that contain 100% natural oils or need to be protected from light we will likely continue to use the cobalt blue glass bottles.

These measures will also help us keep our prices lower as these options are also less expensive than the blue versions. For many of our items, the packaging has the largest impact upon our retail pricing.

As we make this transition over the coming months you may receive the new packaging while our images will be of the previous blue variation.

Also of note is that due to supply issues, there may be times that we need to use an alternate color for packaging of our J&L Pogonotrophics products. A few of our preferred styles can come to be in short supply which leads to our suppliers being out of dramatically raising the prices to lower demand. Our option for J&L Pogonotrophics is to use amber jars and bottles when this happens. Amber provides the same UV protection for our oils as the blue, ensuring your beard oil stays as fresh as possible.