BearBrand Reddit Story

Original reddit thread here

Hello fellow entrepreneurs! I figured I’d jump in the boat and share my latest startup.

The Background

I would consider myself a serial entrepreneur, except I haven’t had the successes to back it up. So, I suppose I can say I’m a serial starter-upper. As in, I like to start projects but find it difficult to finish.

My first real venture was back in 2009 when I tried to create a vinyl wall graphic business. Built all the infrastructure, but got too scared to market it. After doing that for a few months I jumped back into the corporate world and worked at Merrill Lynch for a while.

I got the bug to be on my own and started essentially a freelance graphic design / web design business. It’s just myself and it brings in cash – but it’s not anything to really brag about when it comes to building a business. What it does provide is the ability to start projects on the side and I’m going to share with you my most recent and to me, my most exciting project.

The Beard

When I left Merrill Lynch I decided to grow my beard out for a year, or as the say in the bearded world – a yeard. As my beard grew I got connected with various bearded communities online and IRL. I found the people who are passionate about the bearded lifestyle are pretty much epic. (find some of them over at /r/beards)

I went to a beard competition in Portland in January of 2012 and had one of the best times of my life. I shit you not, before you die you must go to a beard competition. It was shortly after that event that I decided to startup a blog where I talk about the bearded lifestyle and help shape my vision of an urban beardsman.

The Vision

I want the company to be more about just beards, and about the lifestyle. My vision has always been to sell products beyond just beard related products. Ultimately it would become an apparel company that caters to the urban beardsman. I called the company Beardbrand

The goal was to build a community of followers through various social media platforms and then when ingrained in the community, build products that they want. I started with a partner when he was in between jobs and he lost focus when he took a full time job. After a bit of time it started to flutter away. I maintained consistent content on Tumblr, but beyond that didn’t do much work.

Fast forward to Nov/Dec 2012 and I get contacted by a reporter of the NY Times who is doing an article on beard products. We chat for a while and she says the article will be published in a few months. Well, at the time I figured it’d just be nice to see my name in the paper and just keep Beardbrand on the back-burner.

It was around this time that another side project with 3 other business partners was struggling to get off the ground. It was a big idea with lots of investment and an unknown timeframe for revenue or profit. Our goal was always about getting income coming into the door as quickly as possible, but we couldn’t seem to get it to work.

The Execution

So it was at this point we decided to scrap that project and put our heads together for Beardbrand. Knowing the NY Times article was coming out soon I connected with a bearded buddy who is making mustache wax and beard oil and negotiated a wholesale deal for only 3 products.

While I am a web designer by trade, I wanted to lean on the infrastructure and security of Shopify. I have built a website on Magento before and I’m not impressed with the ability of WordPress to scale and be secure.

Using one of their free templates I setup the website in a couple of days and launched it a day before the article posted. The timeframe was so tight that our first orders were being drop shipped by my vendor.

With the release of the article we were able to get about $500 in sales in the first week. This is very exciting for me because I have never gone from launch to revenue so quickly. It’s also encouraging because the people ordering are individuals that I don’t personally know.

The Future

I’m in week 3 or 4 of the business and I am working to build a more steady stream of sales. We are working to develop a strategy for new products and will be attending beard competitions around the nation to help promote the brand.

I’m sure there are struggles ahead, and I’m not selling enough to pay myself, but the thrill of revenue is probably one of my favorite experiences.

TL;DR

I launched Beardbrand using Shopify right before the NY Times published Taming of the Beard. Was able to generate $500+ in sales in one week.

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So, back in February 2012 I went to a beard competition in Portland, OR. I had an absolute blast and just loved the culture of the event. This was about 9 months into growing my yeard (aka year long beard). I had been writing about my beard growth journey on my personal website and Business Insider for a while and noticed there was a market that wasn’t being served.

Basically, there are a lot of bearded people are very passionate about their beard and subsequently the style associated with the beard. I came up with the name Beardbrand and with the help of a friend we started to post content on Tumblr and my blog. The goal was always to sell products that identified with the bearded lifestyle, but not something that was kitschy like a lot of products out there. We wanted to focus on quality, on style, and “coolness.”

After about a month, my partner got bored with the project and ended up taking a full time job. It stalled for a few months, but I continued to post sporadic content to my blog, YouTube, and tumblr blog. I pretty much shelved the project. Well, in November 2012 a reporter from the NY Times contacted me about doing a story on beard products. We talked for a while and the article was going to come out in January.

Meanwhile, I was working with another group of entrepreneurs on a project that wasn’t taking off. We decided to halt that project and turn our efforts to Beardbrand in anticipation of the NY Times article. I had been a customer of the product line I currently carry and the manufacturer was willing to sell to me wholesale. I got the store up 1 or 2 days before the article was posted with only 3 products. That was January 28th, 2013.

We had a nice boost from sales from the article, but dried up quickly. I did some tweaking to the store layout and design and almost immediately sales seemed to pick up. It’s amazing what fonts and colors do for a website.

As of today, we’ve had customers purchase from 5 different continents, 9 different countries, and all over America. In just a couple of months we’ve already had several repeat customers.

Been writing about the bearded lifestyle for a long time. Saw no one was selling quality, stylish products for the market and wanted to help out. Launched store in anticipation of NY Times article.

February was $25 shy of $1k, March was only about $600, and then April. I really started seeing a boost in sales after tweaking my website design. Hopefully next month I can do $3 – $4k. I want to get up to about $10k/month so I can feel confident working on it full time.

No one asked this question. We purchase and fulfill our own products. That has kept our product listings low, but margins high. We are going with the slow but steady growth strategy with attention to each product.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to run a business on low prices – but I’m pretty good at high quality, high service type of business.

I resell the beard oil and wax, so those photos were handled by the manufacturer. I personally took the photos for the button, decal, and t-shirts (after spending a bit too much on a lens). I used an Olympus Pen Mini for the photographs.

I’m trying to bootstrap and find people passionate about my brand where I can exchange products for good photos. Some stuff is in the works – but we’ll see how it turns out.

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Original reddit post here

My business: Beardbrand

My last post in April was about how we passed $2k and the growth continued into May. I wanted to send a thank you to this wonderful subreddit for all the help and tips y’all have provided.

I learned so much about my online presence through the feedback I received. My store looks completely different than when I started because of the advice from y’all. For instance:

  • I started off with 3 products and a slider.
  • Removing the slider and adding products instantly increased sales
  • I tweaked my product descriptions based on the suggestions from this group
  • Ultimately, we purchased a new Shopify template that integrates video and makes it easier to find information about our products

Company Updates

We originally had 4 founders, but one of our founders has stepped back to focus on his primary business so we are down to three. I am developing our own line of beard oils and will be releasing those products this month. If anyone has recommendations for launches of products – I’m all ears.

We purchased banner ads on ArtofManliness.com, but didn’t see the same results as Google AdWords and other retargeting. Our marketing strategy is built primarily on YouTube, AdWords, Retargeting, and social media marketing.

We will be working with a fulfillment house to handle our orders. We did this because of our own personal desires to have a location independent store. We’ll be dropping off our inventory tomorrow, so hopefully it allows us to focus on marketing and growth rather than shipping.

Any other questions or suggestions, please comment away!

EDIT: Also, my business cards came in today! :D http://imgur.com/a/3NZnT

We’ve been pushing more of the “bearded” care products over the shaving products. Lots of competition in the shaving market. I haven’t shaved in 2+ years, so I don’t even know what it’s about anymore. Ha!

We essentially want to become the “Art of Shaving” but the “Art of Bearding.” We’ll be adding products over time and a sample kit is in the works. We just want to make sure it’s done right and stays at our high standard.

I don’t have much flexibility with pricing for the Woodsman line, but when we role out our own products I’ll have a lot more control w/ kitting them up and building packages for customers.

What fullfillment house are you using? Ive been looking for a new one for quite some time. Did you find a local shop or a national chain? thanks!

I went with a local guy. Their prices were a lot better than Amazon’s shop. Although we will probably take a hit shipping out of the Northwest rather than being centrally located in Chicago or Texas or something.

I also feel like I have a little more control with the fact they are local.

Moo has great cards and that’s where I get my stickers from, but I don’t print my business cards there because they are European sized – just one of my OCD habits.

I print it with a commercial printing company in Charlotte, NC were I was employed for several years. It’s first class service for unique projects and very reasonably priced. The company is Boingo Graphics and if you want the contact information for my sales rep shoot me a PM. I can confidently say he’s the best in the industry.

Can you explain your thinking when you removed your slider? Was it that it was taking up prime space on your homepage where you could display more products, or does the public generally not like sliders? Thanks!

It was just product photos and didn’t really entice people to buy (no pricing or information or anything). It also pushed the product listings to below the fold.

Guys on this subreddit helped me realize that my store is about selling products, not necessarily looking pretty. I needed to make it as easy as possible for my customers to find the products they were looking for and buy.

Our customers don’t necessarily buy for the product, they buy for the experience. They want to be part of something that is new and up coming and something their friends probably haven’t heard of. They want to identify with the “urban beardsman” movement. They also value design and a clean look from the online store they are shopping from.

When one shops on Amazon they see a long listing of competing products. The value we bring to the table can’t be accurately displayed on an Amazon storefront. If they pull up the products on Amazon, they won’t know anything about urban beardsman and the bearded lifestyle. Only the products.

Is it normal to lose 80% of your potential sales from cart to payment like that? Seems like people are getting cold feet for some reason, and if you could correct that you’d be exponentially richer.

I really don’t know. I’m sure a lot of it has to do w/ people wanting to know how much shipping is. We haven’t focused any energy on improving these numbers, but will be on our list.

Google remarketing is the easy way. It basically makes people who dropped out of your funnel see ads about the beard oil they left hanging everywhere they go for a few days. It’s no more expensive PPC than AdWords, roughly, and it targets the specific people who almost bought.

The hard but fun way is focusing your collateral efforts on relationship building. Giving away guides in exchange for an email address, you can build a good database of people who visit your site. Then, when one of these known accounts drops out of the cart, you can automatically email them.

Starting with a friendly “you forgot your oil in our cart. We’ll save it for you, click here to claim it” a day later, “Sorry, I used one of the products in your shipment, but I put a new one in, plus a free something” a few days later, and eventually a “20% off your saved order later on”.

Once you start tracking your regulars and making sure they’re happy, you’ll be able to manage your return purchase rates as well. Remember, getting a new customer is 6x as much work (and costly) as getting a return purchase from an existing one.

Our gross profit is about 50%, but we are constantly dumping money into new products, marketing, fulfillment, and other business expenses so we aren’t actually pulling out any money right now.

We want to build the business without taking on debt. Lean startup baby! :D

“It’s not terrible but it could stand an improvement. Considering you are selling a very niche product I would expect that to be higher. Also, the checkout to purchased rate could be worked on – that is after you find out the shipping costs.

Suggestions:

  • Set up Google Analytics goals to get more detail on the conversion rates throughout your funnel.
  • Add the shipping cost estimator before the cart page, on the product page as a modal popup or a link perhaps. That should make the product page to cart conversion more accurately reflect actual purchase intentions.
  • When you add something to the cart, and then checkout that cart, you’re presented with account registration first. If you can present that passively you’ll see better conversion – i.e. collect shipping and/or payment details before account creation. You can do this here by making the checkout click go directly to the checkout as guest form (starts to collect the data) and having a “Create an account” checkbox (default checked) in that form. That way the customer flow is not as broken by account creation.

That’s as far as I went in checkout. If you want some help with the goal setup in GA or whatnot, feel free to PM. I do ecommerce consulting for a living and hold a PhD in this stuff. I’m actually on vacation and should not be on reddit! Best of luck with the store.”

We used Forward Printing because of their printing process. It allows for a softer ink feel on the shirt. The only downside is they are 100% cotton t-shirts.

When I want to go with the Anvil Sustainable T-Shirts I’ll likely use Blue Button who uses water based inks (very soft) and help at risk teenagers get on their feet.

“Hey guys! I love supporting manly startups! We offer strategy and technical implementation of online ad campaigns. We haven’t launched our proposed Adwords changes on Beardbrand yet, but here is my 2 second general adwords advice:

  1. Google setup is fine if you’re just getting started, but the campaigns they build out generally are optimized for Google revenue vs. your revenue. Use them for free, and then:
  2. Change broad match keywords to phrase match or modified broad with a “+” sign
  3. Make sure to setup conversion tracking and get switched over to CPA bidding as soon as you can
  4. Develop a LARGE negative keyword list. Start by guessing about what could be irrelevant then add more based on actual feedback from searchers using the “Keyword Details” link – it shows the actual search terms you’re paying for.
  5. Write lots of ad variations with only a few keywords per ad group. Varying capitalization, offers, sentence order, etc can yield really great results.
  6. Work on your site so the pages PPC traffic land on explain your brand as if they’ve never heard of you before (they haven’t) and try to have the keywords you’re targeting on those pages.

I’m late for a trip. Hope that is a good start. PM me or better yet dm me on twitter @reilly3000 if you have any Q’s”

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 Original reddit post here

My Store: Beardbrand

It’s been a couple months since my last update so I figured in to what’s going on with Beardbrand and our successes and challenges. Before I get into the details, let me share some things that make me really excited about this business. Yes, watching sales grow gets me excited, but these comments from our beardsmen really take the cake.

  • I have a 23 month old son who has never been a fan of my beard; so it is hard to get some good hugs sometimes. So I purchased the Morocco beard oil and he was watching me put it on the other day and was fascinated to smell it (he likes to smell things). He then wanted to smell my beard. That night when I was putting him to sleep he put his head up and smelled my beard on my cheek and gave me a big kiss and said ‘Good!’. You and your Beardbrand made me a happy father!
  • Hey Dude(s) and Dudettes? Wanted you to know my order is already here. Damn that was FAST! I appreciate the super quick shipping. As a person who almost exclusively shops online, this leaves a great first impression. I also wanted to thank you for making a presence in the clean-shaven world and supporting those of us rocking great and epic beards. The Youtube videos really left an impression and caused me to change my buying decision to you folks instead of a faceless Amazon merchant. The personal touch means a lot to someone like me. Keep making vids!
  • Just wanna say, I have the beardbrand pin on my backpack and have gotten recognized by a few of your customers in the city.

What’s New

  • We developed and launched our own product line
  • We stopped using Google Adwords and stick with PPC (Banners & Social)
  • We got our first celebrity hookup (Ricki Hall)
  • We’ve decided to stay small and try not to hire employees, instead outsource things that aren’t our core compentancies
  • We acquired our first retailers
  • Our urban beardsman are really awesome
  • We upgraded to the top Shopify plan
  • Tweaked our website navigation to highlight our Tumblr page

What’s working

  • Being social has been very good to us. Our Email, YouTube, Tumblr, Blog, and Facebook pages are big drivers to our store and our brand.
  • Our outsourced fulfillment has been great. We are getting products out very quickly.
  • Our urban beardsmen (our customers) are really identifying with the branding and vision
  • Adding products has helped drive our average sale from $30/order to about $55/order
  • Our lifestyle advertisements are more effective than our product ads
  • I wouldn’t want to be business partners with anyone else but the two partners I’m working with. They are great

Challenges

  • We are having a hard time keeping our locally made wood products in stock. We don’t want to sacrifice quality and finding people you trust and that charge a price that we can make a profit on is challenging.
  • I’m not 100% sure our marketing dollars are breaking even, but I feel like they are. We have pulled back our adwords budget and are sticking with remarketing and social media advertising. Analytics shows $589 revenue for $1100 spent on advertising.
  • I want to have everything ready before selling, and I am somewhat scared of getting a big wholesale order for our beard oils.

The Future

So, as of today, I still have not paid myself and it would be nice to make some money for all my hardwork. I’m very lucky to have a wonderful wife to help support us during the lean startup phases and my goal is to build beardbrand to a point that I can be the breadwinner. We’ve got a little girl on the way so I am definitely on the clock! I’m thinking at about $20k in monthly sales, we’ll have a comfortable margin to reinvest in the company and start paying me.

We will be rolling out more lifestyle products for our beardsman. We will stay away from clothing and focus more on accessories. We will be sticking with high quality products and a custom experience.

I am debating about selling shaving equipment. It would be for our mustache’d and partial beard beardsman and I have some Shave Oil in stock – just haven’t put it on the store.

I’m sure there is a lot more, so just ask away and I’ll answer anything.

We are trying to build the company to be a lifestyle company and influence how others will interact. The big vision is to do what DC shoes did for the skater scene as what we can do with the bearded lifestyle. We’ll see how feasible that is.

That being said, we are continuously rolling out new products and testing new markets. Much like any industry, there is a chance the market deteriorates so we will adapt based on that. Also, our target demographics are probably late 20’s to early 40’s which I don’t really see as “youth.”