How One Man Listened to His Community, Then Built a $40k Per Month Ecommerce Business in Under a Year


Eric Bandholz has one serious beard.

And he's not alone. 

Just look around any major urban center these days and you'll see more beards and mustaches than ever before.

In fact, beards, mustaches, barber shops and male grooming in general are all undergoing a major renaissance right now. Especially with Movember in full swing.

Being a member of the beard community (and blogging about it), Eric was aware of this demand and realized he and his peers we're being underserved both from a content and product standpoint.

So he decided to create Beardbrand

Since launching the site this past January, Beardbrand has built a loyal community, has been featured in the New York Times, and is off to a racing start. 

I was lucky enough to catch up with Eric and ask him some questions about how he's achieved his amazing success in such a short period of time. 

Describe your business and product(s) in 1-3 sentences.

Beardbrand fosters style for the urban beardsman. We sell beard care products as well as other items associated with the bearded lifestyle. We are located in Spokane, WA with customers globally.

How much revenue are you currently generating per month?

We launched on January 28th, 2013 with only 3 products and no established sales. We've grown from $1000/month to most recently $40k in October and we are on pace for $60k in November. With the exception of March, we've seen growth each month.

How did you come up with the idea for your business? What kind of market research did you undertake?

I had actually launched Beardbrand as a blog / community in February 2012. I talked a bit about beard care, the lifestyle, and always had a vision to build the business.

Beardbrand was formed after I attended the 2012 West Coast Beard & Mustache Championships in Portland, OR. I had an absolute blast and I realized there is a community of like minded individuals that wasn't being serviced.

Not one to wait; I created Beardbrand. I didn't do any formal market research other than becoming immersed in the community. We are entirely bootstrapped, and our startup costs have been extremely low. We are growing organically and because the risk for loss is so low the need for market research isn't needed. I suppose that our entire business is the market research.

Because I have been blogging about beard care products for a while I have had access to products on the market. I contacted a manufacturer of beard oil and mustache wax and asked if he was interested in wholesaling his product and he was. We made a very small initial investment and grew from there.

Because we don't drop ship, we haven't added all the products under the moon. It's been slow, deliberate growth and we are really focusing on high quality products that our customers will love.

How did you create, manufacture or source your product(s)? What were some key lessons you learned during this process?

We spend a lot of time on social media platforms and have found that Tumblr is a great source for product ideas.

We partner up with other smaller, quality manufactures as well as building our own products. I am a designer by trade so I've been able to develop a lot of the product design and labeling for our products.

The hardest part of this process is figuring out which companies are able to handle your growth. I still feel like we are doing very small volumes and it is a bit frightening if we want to add another zero to our monthly revenue that our vendors won't be able to handle it. It's a good problem to have, I suppose.

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

Well, we really got lucky with Beardbrand. I had been contacted by a reporter from the NY Times about beard care products. A few friends and I were trying to figure out what business to startup and I mentioned we could turn Beardbrand into a store with the article from NY Times coming in. So we were able to hustle and launch our store one day before the article posted. It resulted in a nice initial boost - but wasn't like a Niagara Falls worth of business.

Since then my face has appeared on the front page of Yahoo, we have been mentioned by a few celebrities, and sold to Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox. In fact, we think our beard oil is part of the reason they won the World Series. We just hired a Public Relations Manager so we are hoping to get even more coverage in the future.

What channels are currently generating the most traffic and sales for you right now?

Social media has been good to us and we get a lot of our business from YouTube and Facebook. It's hard work creating valuable videos - but it's much needed in the community. We are purchasing a good bit of advertising on Facebook and have found that it drives a lot of visitors to our website.

How do you handle shipping and fulfillment? Key lessons/tips for doing this successfully?

Our shipping and fulfillment has been a dream for us. We partner up with a local business - Pacific Northwest Print & Fulfillment and they handle our fulfillment. We decided early on that our skills are best put toward marketing and connecting with our clients. It was important for us to outsource things that we don't want to master. Pacific has been great in that they were willing to work with us when we were really small and have grown with us as well. Our clients get their orders super fast with everything in tact.

We do pay more for the company to handle the fulfillment for us, but I think it's totally worth it. If we didn't do it; I'd be sitting around in a warehouse labeling orders and sending them out. We have visions to grow large, so it's not wise for me to spend my time managing that process.

What software, tools and resources are crucial to your business?

To stay connected with my business partners and manage our vendor and customer list we use Podio and Google Apps. Those two pieces of software are the backbone of our business.

The ShipStation app for Shopify is really a fantastic app and makes shipping really easy for our fulfillment house. Beyond that, we have had success with a contest management software called Gleam.

In addition, I've found that the Reddit Entrepreneur subreddit has been a great resource for the growth of Beardbrand. Subscribers to that subreddit have provided very valuable feedback to our business. They're a big part of why we have grown the way we have.

What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money?

Nothing is a waste of time or money unless I didn't learn from that move. Part of doing business is making decisions that you don't know if it will be successful or not. As long as we are learning from those investments; it's not a bad move. That being said, I think I would try to hire help sooner than later to take things off my plate.

What other key advice can you offer to entrepreneurs looking to start a successful ecommerce businesses?

I really thing one of the most important things is showing the person or people who are behind the store. Tell the story of why you are building the business and why people should purchase from you. You won't ever be able to win on price; so build that personal presence.

Are you a Shopify merchant with a success story you want to share? Head over to Shopify Stories and tell us about your business!