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

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.


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

What’s happening in August

July was a very busy month around here. We began work on our Subscription service as well as completed development of our new Shampoo Bars which are coming very soon to our store. There has been a lot of work planning and pulling together details for Primp & Jol and we hope to have exciting news to share on that in a week or so. Our long term pop-up for testing will be able to launch once we get all the paperwork together and get our business license approved. To prepare for that, we have been bulking up on supplies and making as much product as we can.

This July was also our busiest July ever for online sales. We like to think it is because of our improved website combined with increases exposure. Our “new customer” percentage grew as well!

Work is also beginning on securing our intellectual property. We plan to contact any maker that has been making or selling a product that they call “beard butter”. We may not be able to claim the formula, but we can certainly make the claim to the name. It is a tough stance that we have to take but it is necessary to ensure a fair marketplace. Our hopes our that we can come to an agreement with these makers to allow them to use the name as long as we are compensated for the use. I am sure anyone out there that created something unique and different would feel the same way we do here at J&L.

Our next Pop-Up at a festival is coming August 11 – 12 at Retro on Roscoe. We had a good time last year and felt we would give it a go again. Classic cars, classic music and lots of good food – plus us!

Keep your eye on our Facebook or the online store for when the Shampoo Bars become available. We will post a story soon as well so you can learn all the details about what you would want a bar shampoo.

Thank you,
John

Primp & Jol is coming!

What is this all about you may ask.

Primp & Jol will be the name we will apply to our retail Pop-Up experiences as we go forward. The purpose is to prepare for a full retail experience that we aim to bring in the near future. Those of you that have been following us have seen us present a different take on the “festival” vending circuit by offering a shopping experience that allows you to browse and explore versus approaching a table to be sold to. We strive for our interactions with you to be welcoming and pleasant and not a seller versus buyer encounter.

We plan to move into a direction where we will offer more than the products we make to further satisfy your needs and offer more than just “products”, but an comforting experience that appeals to more than your personal care needs.

Branching out from accessories for the products we make, we wish to offer tastes of items to help you enjoy the little things in life; family, friends and even alone time. While J&L Apothecary and J&L Pogonotrophics will be the center of our merchandising strategy, we will complement them with little zones that speak to helping you create those happy occasions. This is where the name comes into play: Primp & Jol! Primp – spending time to make little adjustments to one’s appearance; Jol – a word with old Norse roots that means happy occasions (it also has J and L in it).

This will be a testing concept at first, as we learn from you what experiences and items you are most interested in to help us curate our offerings. As we have with all that we have done, we are going to continue to learn from you. It is never in our mission to dictate a lifestyle to you, but with Primp & Jol we are offering mini lifestyle enhancing items for you to pick and choose from as you see fit. It is important to us that it all works together and makes sense for you and for us.

You will start seeing more about Primp & Jol as we transition our retail experience and create our branding. This is not a new company name for our products, it is simply the brick & mortar extension of our brands that will sell our products. Both of our brands will be exclusive to Primp & Jol in the communities we will operate within.

It will mean so much to use to hear from you through comments, social media and in person what you think. Ask questions, offer suggestions and help us build an experience that many will enjoy.