We’ve been working with Beardbrand for about a year-and-a-half. During that time we’ve witnessed their explosive growth and national media attention as well as a cultural shift in how society views beards. It’s one of the most striking examples of the power of community I’ve seen in business. I sat down with Eric Bandholz to better understand how they engage with their audience, earn their trust, and operate their business—the Beardbrand way.
From the beginning, you’ve had an incredibly strong belief that Beardbrand would be successful. How were you able to stick to your guns, even when people told you it was a crazy idea?
Eric: I don’t know any other perspective but mine as an individual. I figured what I’d gone through was likely experienced by other men out there. I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew there had to be a large community of men out there who wanted to grow a beard or didn’t like shaving.
How can I help make that experience better? It really wasn’t thought of from a business standpoint first. It was thought of from my individual standpoint first, followed by connecting with professionals who want to grow facial hair. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was solving a problem, but rather looking into the root reasons for uniting our audience.
You often mention bearded persecution in the workplace. Was that something that was present in the early days of Beardbrand?
Eric: Yeah. Before Beardbrand even existed I wrote a couple of guest articles on Business Insider in 2011 where I talked about bringing the beard back to the corporate environment and what a person has to deal with when they grow out their facial hair.
The culture has changed in the past few years (at least from my perspective) to be much more accepting of beards. Do you think that’s the case?
Eric: Yeah. Society is definitely shifting to become more tolerant of facial hair. I’d like to say we’ve had a part in helping with that transition, but we’re definitely not exclusively responsible for that. We have inspired a lot of guys to grow beards, though. I can confirm that. I don’t even know the number of emails and letters I’ve received from guys over the past three years who have been thankful for our words, our help, and our products.
You understand your audience very well. Does that come naturally or is it something that has improved over time? What’s your secret?
Eric: I think I have a good foundation in that I’m passionate about our products and the industry. We do our homework to make sure that we formulate the best products. From there I think it’s about engaging with our audience.
For example, I’ve read every single comment on my YouTube channel that’s been posted to any of my videos. On Reddit I’ve read every single comment and response to any posts that I’ve had. It’s not specifically going out there looking for feedback. It’s just simply being involved and immersed within the community.
I’ve gone to over a dozen beard competitions around the nation and talked with with a bunch of bearded guys. When you’re connected—when you’re in it—it’s not work. You learn by doing.
Eric: For me it comes down to expressing my emotions as they come to me, usually related to some kind of talking point of the day. Like today, I was talking about an article referencing the supposedly high concentration of poop in beards. It was important to come out quickly to say that’s a crock of shit. Our article [rebutting the poop in beards theory] was posted yesterday and has already received 400 shares on Facebook, which is a good response for us. With YouTube, it’s mostly listening to the community and providing what they want to know.
From a tactical standpoint, we’ve brought on an editor. That’s helped with both the day-to-day side of things and our long-term strategy in both the type of content we create and the platforms used for distribution.
How is your communication on Reddit different?
Eric: I don’t use Reddit as a way to drive sales at all. I use Reddit to share cool content that we’ve created and to connect with the community. The moment you use Reddit to drive revenue you’ll find the complete opposite result. It’s about being authentic and sharing your passion.
How do you adapt to the quickly evolving social media landscape?
Eric: The platforms have ebbed and flowed for us over time as we’ve grown. Facebook was really good for us in the beginning. Then it became irrelevant for a long time. But lately it’s picked back up. To me it’s being able to react to the trends, measure results, and adapt quickly to get the most impact from your message.
In the year-and-a-half we’ve been working with you, we’ve received very little pushback to our recommendations (perhaps more than any other client). Is that part of a strategy or are you trustworthy by nature?
Eric: Our company is built on trust as one of our pillars. So, we work with vendors that we trust. There is no point in paying a vendor to do something if we thought we could do a better job in-house. If a vendor says we should do something, then we do it. If we think a recommendation is not appropriate, we’ll take the time to help educate them on why it won’t work for us.
We trust the people we work with. We also know that there’s a lot to be lost in moving slow. So I’d rather occasionally get things wrong and move quickly to fix them than move slowly and miss an opportunity.
You’ve put the brakes on us before when we’ve recommended online conversion tactics we’ve seen work well for other clients. Is that (not being too salesy) an important part of establishing trust with your audience?
Eric: Yeah. I mean, it’s a tough line. Ultimately we are a business and want to use our growth to spread the message and change the way society views urban beardsman.
In your opinion, are there online sales tactics that break that trust?
Eric: From my perspective as an online consumer (and as Beardbrand’s #1 avatar), I don’t like pop-ups when I go to a website. It tells me something. It tells me they’re desperate, lack confidence, and are willing to needle and beg me to make a purchase. I’d rather buy from companies who are confident in their products and don’t need to beg.
That’s the strategy we’ve had from the beginning. It’s tough, though. I want to make sure we’re dong the best, but it’s a long-term play. We plan on being in this business for a very long time. We don’t plan on doing this for a couple of years, make a quick buck, and ride around on yachts all day.
How important is customer service in maintaining that trust?
Eric: That’s really important to us. We know that anyone can go to Amazon.com and get something that’s going to be cheaper than our products. Where they can’t beat us is our ability to educate the audience, help them beyond the product purchase, and really provide a first-rate customer service experience. We’re always working to improve and I think we’re getting better all the time. Everyday we get photos from guys that are growing their beards to let us know about their journey. For us, customer service isn’t just about making sure the product gets there on time. It’s about getting to know our customers better, too.
Beardbrand has been featured in the New York Times, Men’s Journal, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes, and many others. How have you gotten so many bucket-list PR opportunities in such a short period of time?
Eric: We definitely invest in PR. We work with a firm called Pistol PR that has helped with a lot of those connections. But it also goes back to my personal style of trying to build relationships and never burn bridges.
For instance, the Fast Company article started when I did an interview with an intern at the Wall Street Journal for a little project I was working on called Bingle back in 2009. I maintained that relationship over the years. I was able to connect with Rob Brunner when my contact took a job at Fast Company because of that relationship.
There are stories like that where, as you get older, and grow your network, opportunities present themselves. Like I said, we invest a lot in PR. Some months you get a lot of articles, some months you don’t. But it’s part of a systematic process for us. It’s another example of a long-term play.
Of course we can’t have a Beardbrand interview without at least one Shark Tank question. Your “Ultimate Shark Tank Guide” on Reddit is, well, the ultimate guide to Shark Tank. Can you summarize why you went through the time-consuming process to appear on the show?
Eric: Shark Tank, for us, wasn’t necessarily a solution to take us to the next level. We were going to get there, with or without Shark Tank. But the risk was that another competitor was going to get on Shark Tank first and get that national exposure and awareness.
We obviously knew it was a great opportunity to share what we were building in front of millions of people as well as gain access to very successful, talented and knowledgeable investors. It was a really good opportunity from that standpoint. But we never wanted to ride on the coattails of Shark Tank and have that be the reason for our success. We wanted it to be one of the things that helped us get there.
Anything you’d like to add in closing?
Eric: I think the thing that I’d like to point out is that this isn’t an easy flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. It’s been very purposeful and meticulous work with a lot of time and resources behind it to get where we are today. It’s absolutely been a journey of labor and of love. I’d also like to say that success comes from simply being a member of your community. Imagine going to a bakery and getting to know your local baker. Think of the special items your local baker will create for you over the years and the feeling that relationship creates. We want to do that on a national level with our customers and our products. That’s our goal: to be part of a community and connect with them as best we can on a personal level.