After several decades out of favor, with the dawning of the 21st century and especially in the 2010s, beards began to make a big comeback. Big enough, in fact, that razor makers have been reporting declining sales in the last several years, citing (among other reasons) the fact that American men no longer feel quite the same social pressure they once did to be clean-shaven, or as close to it as humanly possible, at all times.
“Today, men are not judged negatively when they skip a shave — it is not considered lazy or disrespectful," Massimiliano Menozzi, vice president of Gillette North America, told CNN last year.
Beards, however, can still be divisive despite the trend toward their adoption over the last several years. Enthusiasts refer to beards as “makeup” or “contouring” for men — an easy way to create the appearance of a strong jawline or hide facial imperfections, and one that ultimately will improve just about any face. Detractors counter that beards don’t quite have the appearance-changing magic their fans say they do, and note that they tend to absorb food, moisture and ambient smells in a way that makes them more gross than appealing.
Beardbrand Founder Eric Bandholz is, perhaps unsurprisingly given his brands’ name, in the former camp. In fact, he’s so firmly in the pro-beard camp that in 2011 he left his job as a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch in Spokane, after the millionth crack about his early attempts at beard growth from his co-workers made him realize corporate life might not be for him.
He started working for himself as a freelance graphic artist and began pursuing what he refers to as the “urban beardsman” lifestyle. But it wasn’t until he attended the West Coast Beard and Mustache Championship in Portland in 2012 — basically a beauty contest for facial hair — that he realized beard love was a much bigger phenomenon, and one he wanted to stake an entrepreneurial flag into.
“I realized there was a community of individuals like me. I called them urban beardsmen,” he said in a 2018 interview. “Beardbrand was going to be the organization that united urban beardsmen and provided the tools they needed to feel confident.”
Those efforts started as a content operation with a YouTube channel dedicated to beard grooming and growing tips. About a year later, it expanded into an eCommerce operation with what Bandholz described as premium beard care products for all types of beards. And because there are various types, the first thing the Beardbrand website invites visitors to do is take an entry quiz to determine exactly what beard products are right for them before they dive into the world of beard and mustache oils, balms and styling waxes — as well as the host of other men’s grooming products now featured on the site, like shampoo and conditioner, sea salt styling spray and something called a utility bar for the super-efficient shopper that acts as a body wash, shave soap, face cleanser, beard wash and hair shampoo.
And more than the brand’s offerings have evolved. Since its launch Beardbrand had sold on Amazon, but in 2018 decided to remove its presence entirely.
“I understand that it makes sense for a lot of companies to put their products on Amazon — and we were selling on there for several years. But when we took a closer look, we found that we couldn't provide the true Beardbrand experience through Amazon,” Bandholz said in a 2018 blog post, noting that in taking a closer look at its data, the firm realized its non-Amazon revenue, mostly generated via its eCommerce site, was growing 36 percent year-on-year, so that was where its focus ought to be.
The brand has, however, expanded in wholesale partnerships, most notably with Target, which stocks its goods on shelves.
And the goal going forward for the firm, according to the CEO, is about building and generating an audience for the brand over the long term — and creating the relevant content that draws consumers back to the core line of beard products. Because ultimately, Bandholz believes, the way to succeed with an up-and-coming eCommerce brand for a niche community like beard enthusiasts is to not just build a commerce destination, but a community for shoppers to rally around.
“We are inspired to build a brand, vision and mission that is bigger than the products themselves. Make the world a better place. We think once you figure that out, the customers will follow,” he said. “They will be a part of that mission.”