Starting A Men's Grooming Brand And Growing Your Online Presence

The Story of The Gentlemen’s Lounge

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi there! My name is Jack Scrimshire, and I’m creating a men’s grooming brand that promotes men’s health, grooming, and the lifestyle of the modern gentleman.

Our products are all centered around beard care, and we sell to men who take pride in caring for the way they look and use natural products to do so.

Right now our monthly earnings are at about $1,000 with huge month-over-month growth. By the end of 2018, we expect to be averaging $10,000/month.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The idea was a long time in the making. Around my second year into my college business degree, I got really into the idea of becoming a true gentleman and learning all of the skills and traits that makes someone a "man".

About a year later, I realized there was no one way to be a man, and started looking for communities to learn a grow with and be a part of, to surround myself with likeminded people.

As my passion for entrepreneurship (and my fear of working for others my whole life) grew, I began looking into options of what kind of businesses to start. Ecommerce is obviously huge right now, and I figured I’d combine that with my passion for manliness and style.

I had a long beard and had been buying beard products for a few years, but always had a few issues with them: they weren’t always effective at controlling the irritations that come with beard maintenance, it was hard to find organic products, and when they were they tended to get really pricey.

I’m still working full time as an operations analyst, living a modest lifestyle, prioritizing my earnings and funneling absolutely everything to aggressively paying off student and car loans, and I’ve reinvested every penny of the business income back into the business.

So, I started researching suppliers, ingredients, and recipes, and realized there was absolutely no reason that a bottle of healthy, natural, organic beard oil should cost as much as companies were asking. So, I ordered my first batch of ingredients and got to work!

I started out handing them out to friends and coworkers and they all loved them. I went ahead and created an Instagram, which quickly grew to around 8,000 followers and I started running giveaways there to further validate the products with people I didn’t know. When they told me they were the best beard care products they’d ever tried, I knew I was onto something.

At the time, I was making very little money having just graduated college. I’m still working full time as an operations analyst, living a modest lifestyle, prioritizing my earnings and funneling absolutely everything to aggressively paying off student and car loans, and I’ve reinvested every penny of the business income back into the business. I don’t plan to take a salary until loans are paid and the business is sustaining itself.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

I’m a pretty do-it-yourself kind of guy (and frankly don’t like spending money when I don’t have to), so when I realized how essential quality beard care products are, I started making them for myself.

As I tried different recipes and batches, I was able to use them on myself to see how they worked. What’s great about beard products, is if something doesn’t work it’s, objectively obvious. If my beard was flaking after two weeks using particular oils, I knew that recipe wasn’t great.

All in all from packaging to ingredients my startup costs were around $2,000.

I spent about 4 months developing the best recipes I could come up with using cheap ingredients off Amazon, then when I had something worth using (and people were begging me for more), I found the absolute highest quality ingredients I could find.

When I made the first batch of real product, the results were unbelievable. When it comes to beard care products, it typically takes about a week to see if they help in preventing itching, flaking, skin irritations, and brittle hairs. But my products had results almost instantly. It made my beard crazy soft in seconds and the irritations that developed from lack of use were all gone within a few hours to a day. I gave some samples out to friends and a few of my Instagram followers and they all shared similar stories.

All in all from packaging to ingredients my startup costs were around $2,000.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

In November 2016, I officially got my license and became a legal entity.

It was at this point that I created social media accounts and started building my online presence. I tried growing organically using hashtags, relevant content, and engaging with my users and saw decent numbers but not much traction.

I then switched to an app that would follow/unfollow people on Instagram in the background, which got me to around 5,000 followers, but got me really low quality followers. I will say however it gave me the initial credibility I needed to not look like that guy who started a beard care business using some ingredients he found in the kitchen.

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People like to see that you have a few thousand followers, so in that sense I think it helped a lot. My engagement is low as a result so it’s something I’m working through and have been seeing some decent results from testing new strategies and being more personable.

I financed the business out of my own personal savings, and have used my low limit business credit card to float transactions right up until I’m about to get charged interest to let money flow in before I spend the actual cash. I never let the interest hit and I always make sure I keep the balance within my set budgets, but this really helps keep cash on hand for what-if cases.

My costs for the full pre-launch phase were around $4,000. This includes the $2,000 from product design and testing, to creating the first batch. Getting a logo made, domain, website hosting, supplies and tools to make products, packaging, shipping for test batches to customers, and a few small marketing campaigns.

I launched officially on October 1, 2017, and began by hyping it up on social media.

I did a count down where every day I would feature a follower by posting a picture of their beard with an overlay saying how many days left until the launch. In the background I was scrambling to get labels printed properly (wasted a bunch of money on low resolution labels since I didn’t know how to make them properly), and literally finished my launch batch of products on September 30, with only two days to spare for launch. I took the product photos and was editing them right up until the moment my site went live. Within the first 15 minutes, I had around 400 visitors to my site coming from Instagram, and a few sales. The sales kept trickling in over the next few days and this gave me hope that this was worth pursuing.

The biggest lesson I learned was that you can do it all yourself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. After launch I spent the next few months tweaking the site, fixing product photos (which were horrible, by the way), writing automated email flows, and doing all those one-and done tasks that take a lot of time but have to be done.

This doesn’t sound like much, but when you only get a couple hours a night to work on it after work and the family is in bed, it takes a long time to get done. Once they’re done, they really don’t need to be focused on aside from updates over time to maintain them. The thing is, if I’d have hired someone to do these things, it would maybe have cost me around $1,000 but I would have been months ahead of schedule and had a much more professional appearance from the start. So figure out what you’re good at, do those things, and get help with the rest.

Since launch, what has worked to attract new customers?

Traffic comes mostly from social media still, and a decent amount from SEO, although now that my site is where I want it to be I am switching gears over to paid marketing.

The site has been profitable every month since launch, but now I want to get new eyes on us and really start to see how this performs with people who don’t know us. I know I will have to be very tactful with my marketing because our market is very saturated. It’s going to take strategic effort to show that we’re the real deal and have something that’s better than what they’ve used before.

I’d say email flows are huge. It lets you personally reach out to someone to welcome them without having to lift a finger. You just set it and forget it. I’m big into automation and this is easily the most powerful personal interaction you can automate.

Right now we use automated email flows and they work great. I have a pop-up on my site where you can opt in and every month we give one person on our list a year’s supply of beard oil. It’s got a good conversion rate and gets surprisingly high quality leads. When they opt in they get a 7 day flow of introductory emails that indoctrinate our brand, introduce the company, talk about our values, our products and how great they are, and makes them feel as though they are now a part of our community/family. We really want high LTV so community is huge for us. We have also set up automated flows for first-time purchasers, repeat purchasers, people who haven’t bought anything in a while, and we send weekly campaigns that talk about what’s going on, links to new blog posts, give sneak peeks of new products and an occasional sale.

I’d say email flows are huge. It lets you personally reach out to someone to welcome them without having to lift a finger. You just set it and forget it. I’m big into automation and this is easily the most powerful personal interaction you can automate.

Social media is also huge, and Instagram is a large chunk of our revenue right now. If you’re not using Instagram to showcase your company’s values and the lifestyle around your products, you need to. Don’t just post photos of your products, people want you to entertain, educate, and enlighten them. Do this, and they’ll feel a connection to you and to your products. They’ll want to support you because they know you and they believe what you believe.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

As mentioned above, the next step is serious growth and customer acquisition. I believe that once a customer purchases from us they will continue to come back for more, and we have our email automation set up to keep them actively engaged with us for a long time to come. So the next step is Facebook ads and email collection. Overall, we are right about at break even, so I’m looking to test the best ways to spend what we need to in order to get quality customers to join us, while still trying to scale enough that we push ourselves into the green.

Operations-wise, it’s still pretty hectic as I’m a one-man show. This means I do all content creation, social media management, customer outreach, order fulfilling, etc. so automation is huge. I use software that allows me to schedule posts to Instagram, facebook and twitter, and I’ll spend a few hours each month scheduling out the next month of content. Being able to automate processes like this make it way easier to keep everything under control and really chunk your time in manageable buckets to still be able to get things done and keep your focus on one thing at a time.

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Eventually I’d like to hire customer experience specialists who fulfill orders, manage social media, and respond to customer support inquiries. That will free up a lot of time to work on the bigger picture items and the revenue-driving aspects of the business. I’d also like to start wholesaling to high end barbershops and salons to get other people selling products for us.

In the near future we’ll be releasing handmade wooden beard combs and boar’s hair brushes that are being designed and built by a master woodworker, and from there we’ll move onto beard soaps and conditioners.

Short term the goals are just to get our names out there and start building a buzz. Long term, we’d like to be the premier provider of hand-crafted men’s grooming supplies in the US, ranging from beard care to skin care to hair care and beyond.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the biggest thing is to avoid wasting money on things you don’t need.

I’m very financially sound but was still able to talk myself into some purchases that have not yet served the purpose I thought they would. I had to learn a lot about a wide variety of topics, so if you plan to start a business in the future, start learning now. The more you know the better off you’ll be and when you eventually do hire help you be able to talk to them more effectively since you have a basic understanding of what they’re doing. Be honest about your capabilities, and if you’re not good at something, get help. A good freelancer will be able to guide you in the right direction and take your vision and put it into play in a way you never thought possible. Make sure you vet the people you hire and do your due diligence and you’ll be really happy with the results.

And of course, there might just be lucky breaks but you have to put yourself out there for them. A few months ago I emailed a large subscription box service about having them use my products in a box, and now we’re discussing a recurring wholesale agreement with them. Things like this do happen if you put yourself out there. So seize opportunities and never view yourself as "too small" to do the things the big guys do.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way and will continue to learn every day. The education I’ve gotten out of this experience have made it worth every penny and every second spent building it. If you’re worried about the expense of your idea, just try to view it as an expensive course on life and business and go for it. If it goes well, then great! If not, then at least you learned something. Be open to learning, listen to your customers, and take what your peers have to say with a grain of salt. A lot of people will doubt you and some will believe in you. Just expect that there will be people you never expected that will doubt you, and it’s going to suck, but you just have to keep moving forward.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use Shopify to host my website. Their customer support is unparalleled and the platform is super easy to use. I recommend you purchase a paid theme for it.

I use Motion, but Turbo by Themeforest is really good too. The out of the box themes are going to make you look just like everybody else and that’s never a good thing.

As for Shopify apps:

  • judge.me reviews, because for $15/month my customers can receive automated emails, post reviews/photos, and ask and answer questions. They have really good support and they’re always enhancing the product.
  • Easy Contact Form by Zotabox, as it is pretty good looking and easy to use and definitely an improvement over the standard one from Shopify.
  • Klaviyo to create better looking order notifications for customers so that they are branded according to my other email flows.
  • Semantic3 Analytics. Still not sure how accurate their reporting is, but it shows a pretty good picture of what’s going on in your store.
  • Ordermetrics.io. I don’t use the paid version yet but will as soon as I’m able to. It shows a breakdown of your earnings and expenses on each order to give you profit/loss reporting. The pro version even pulls in your marketing expenses from facebook and google.
  • Lucky Orange. This allows me to see what users are doing on my store so I can find holes in my funnel or areas where they may have questions.

I use Klaviyo for email marketing, because the way you can set your flows is so advanced. I can send an email to every guy named John who bought a beard balm on a Tuesday, and have it send every time that happens. Obviously this isn’t how you’d use it, but it’s truly very powerful and worth the expense.

I use Hootsuite to schedule and automate social media. It’s around $250 a year, but the amount of time it saves is well worth the expense. They have a free version which I think allows you 35 scheduled posts at a time, but I have around 150-300 schedule at any time.

I use G Suite for their business suite. Google drive allows me to work from anywhere and keep everything organized. Calendar lets me book video calls with freelancers and stay on schedule with my limited work hours. This also gives me my domain’s email address as well. This product has helped a lot with appearing professional and staying organized.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

To be honest, I can’t really say that any book in particular inspired my business. I love to read business books and try to apply any learnings I like, but can’t say anything has really been influential in particular.

The 4-Hour Workweek had me focusing on how to automate processes and keep my time on my hands. I have used YouTube a lot to learn the things I had questions about as far as marketing, coding, and sales.

I really think in the beginning you should just get out there and do it. Start learning hands-on what works and what doesn’t for your business, then as you continue to read and learn you can try new things, but you’ll also be able to weed out the things that won’t work based on the experience you already have.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

First thing’s first, just get something started. Even if it’s only a tiny portion of what you want to eventually have, at least you’re doing something. Don’t be afraid to lose money on something you believe in, you can always get it back. Try things and learn what works, and view it all as one big lesson in life, and really figure out why you’re doing this. Entrepreneurship is hard. Like, really hard. I’ve spent the last year and a half working towards some mystical place I call success, not really even knowing what that is or how long it will take to get there.

All I know is that I really love what I’m doing and it makes me happy as hell. I also know that I may wake up some days and wonder why I’m even bothering, and doubting that this kind of thing can take off. I know that there’s one thing that is driving all that I do, and that is to be able to provide for my future family. It is me and my fiancée right now, and it kills to me tell her we can’t do something because I can’t get off work, or my bank account isn’t set up right (a.k.a. they forgot to put the money in it). So until the day I have the financial and time freedom that I’m searching for, I’ll keep doing whatever it takes. Find out your "why" and go for it.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can find me in quite a few places.

Business:

Personal

(I love to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and would be more than happy to assist anyone in any way I can):

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