Before starting The Bearded Chap, Luke Swenson was an executive in the alcohol industry. Always wearing a suit and tie and remaining clean shaven, Luke wasn’t happy with what he was doing, plus he hated not being able to grow out his beard. When he left his job and started growing out his beard again, he saw an opportunity to start his own business. Thus, The Bearded Chap was born.
“I had a great job title but hated what I was doing, so I wanted to find something more rewarding. When I grew my beard out, I would start to get what we coined “Beardruff” and so I started looking for a solution. I asked my barbers and searched the internet and found some products in the USA, but when I tried to order them they didn’t have any stock due to high demand.”
“I had a real lightbulb moment. I did three months of research making sure it was a viable Idea and then I started to work with a pharmacist to develop our Original Beard Oil. We went to market in September 2013 as Australia’s first beard grooming product. Now, we’re stocked in barbershops all across Australia and have customers in over 120 countries around the world.”
Luke is currently has distributors for The Bearded Chap in Sweden and France and is working with distributors to get The Bearded Chap’s products stocked across 37 countries in Europe, Canada and the USA.
Luke wants his customers to feel confident and feel their best and takes great pride in the quality of his products. The Bearded Chap doesn’t skimp on anything from raw ingredients to packaging, making sure their product is only premium quality.
“We are one of the most expensive brands in our category, not only in Australia but worldwide. We are proud of our product and don’t cut corners anywhere; everything from the raw ingredients in our oils to the packaging is top quality. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.”
The premium ingredients used in The Bearded Chap’s oils are all sustainably farmed or collected. Luke makes a point to ensure anything that goes into his products, down to the packaging, is environmentally friendly and sustainable. He developed his ‘Green Beards’ program to align his business’ environmental goals and encourage his customers for being environmentally friendly.
“All of our products are 100% natural so when they are washed down the drain or the packaging is rinsed out, we’re not putting any chemicals into the environment. We encourage our customers to reuse our containers for day to day things and all our brown cardboard packaging is made from recycled paper.”
“The 375ml flask we use for our beard wash can be used to put your favorite alcohol in to sneak into a footy game (not that we would encourage that!). We also have a recycling program for our beard oil bottles, so if a customer sends back four empty beard oil bottles to our factory, we’ll send them a free bottle on us!”
With a wave of beard culture in the last few years, beards are becoming more acceptable in even traditional workplaces. Luke loves the fact the beards are making their way back into popular culture and thinks it’s a great way for men to express themselves and feel confident.
“Beards have been around for thousands of years in pretty much every country and culture in the world. It was only pretty recently, with the creation of the safety razor and mass marketing, that beards started disappearing. I think it’s great for men that beards are making a comeback, and as long as they’re kept neat and tidy I think they can be very professional.”
With the beard resurgence in full swing, many gents will be growing their facial hair out more than they have before and some for the first time. Aspiring beard-growers can sometimes disregard beard hygiene and Luke knows all too well how important grooming is when growing out your facial fuzz.
“With a big beard comes a lot of maintenance to keep it looking sharp and tidy. Even with a short beard, it’s really important to take care of your beard so you don’t get things like beard itch or beardruff. Proper beard care is key to keep your beard hair thick and healthy for a nice dense look. A lot of chaps, particularly if they’ve never grown a beard before, won’t realise that products like beard oil, beard balm and beard wash are crucial to keeping your clean, healthy and looking great.”
“If you are serious about growing your beard out, you probably shouldn’t buy anything you see on the shelves of your local supermarket. Let’s just say you’ll end up shaving your beard off! Invest in some quality grooming products from a reputable company. Visit your barber regularly for a trim to keep everything neat and tidy too.”
When Luke went to market in 2013, basically no one, barbers included, had really heard of beard oil or beard grooming products in Australia. So, when over 150 people turned up at the launch of their Original Beard Oil, Luke was overwhelmed with the support and interest in his business. Since then, Luke has continued to grow and expand his business, with new products and expansion into new markets overseas. Like many business owners with such rapid growth, Luke has had to balance it with his cash flow and working capital.
“When they say cash is king, they are not wrong! Being a product-driven business, most of our cash is tied up in inventory which creates a massive problem trying to fund growth. We had some massive orders in the third year of business, and we had to pump all our cash into stock. This was great for business, but short term it meant we had little cash for regular overheads. Balancing this is tough for any business owner.”
Prior to starting his own business, Luke had always considered giving entrepreneurship a go but had been ‘comfortable’ in his role. Looking back now, he admits that running his own business and being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest things he has ever done, but it’s also the most rewarding.
“I take responsibility for my own life. I don’t want to just exist, I want to live! Being an entrepreneur is probably the hardest thing you could ever do. The stress, always being out of your comfort zone, the responsibility, and the chance that one mistake could cost you everything. In saying that, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The things I’ve been able to do are amazing: travelling all around the world, meeting the most incredible people and customers. Amazing experiences that I would never have dreamed of when I just had a regular job. Its seriously the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done and something that I’ll never regret doing.”
The Bearded Chap is turning five years old this month and has outlasted a lot of their initial competitors. Luke is now looking to expand even further and is in the process to start distributing across another 40 countries in Europe and Canada. Last year they also took out the Best Product stop in two categories for the Swedish Men’s Grooming Awards.
Luke has put in a lot of long hours and a lot of work building his business, brand, and team to achieve such growth in only five years. He attributes a lot of his business’ early growth especially, to social media.
“If you’re not on social media, you’re dead. Instagram was vital in the early days for us to build our customer base and without having Instagram and Facebook to interact with our customers, we probably wouldn’t be here. We even discovered, organised and met for our first sales meeting with our big European distributor through Instagram.”
Despite growing The Bearded Chap to an established business, Luke still puts in long hours and, like many business owners, running his business is still a 24/7 job. he’s come to accept this and loves what he does, but still makes sure he finds time to relax and clear his head.
“I don’t know how many times I have only slept four to five hours a night or pulled 48 hour days – it doesn’t really change. But it’s my life and I love it. I’ve met some incredible people through my business and they have turned into friends, so business can be social, too. If I’m feeling burnt out I’ll also try and work in a few days of holidays into a business trip so I can get the best of both. If I need to really switch off, I love to go hunting and off-roading to relax, and I also don’t mind the odd Netflix binge.”
With the expansion of their distribution network already underway, Luke is looking to The Bearded Chap’s future.
“In the next two years, we want to expand The Bearded Chap into as many countries as possible and branch out into all men’s’ grooming products, like shave, cologne and hair products. Our five-year goal is to be a $20 million company with offices in the USA and Europe. I will probably never retire so even if I eventually sell The Bearded Chap, I think I’ll just create another company and start again.”
In his first year in business, Luke worked out of his house to save money. He would even work 6 am to 1:30 pm on The Bearded Chap and then go and work a casual bar job from 2 pm until 2 am, just to make sure he wasn’t taking cash from the business and reinvesting it back into growth. Since starting The Bearded Chap, Luke has learned a lot about business and a lot of lessons he wishes he knew before he started.
“Keep your overheads down and be patient. Don’t spend all your cash chasing something new and shiny. If I could start over again I probably would have gone harder in marketing and leveraging our social media influences – we probably would have had a bigger market share globally. Hindsight is an amazing thing though!”