Eric Bandholz | The Ecommerce Business That Doesn’t Sell Products

Despite being a successful ecommerce entrepreneur, Eric Bandholz doesn’t sell products. At least that’s how he thinks of his business, Beardbrand.

Instead he believes he’s selling confidence and making his customers feel good about themselves by helping them keep their beard, hair, and body in good shape.

That belief guides the company’s marketing and every business decision, from the manufacturers they work with to where they make their products available online.

Eric talks about how he and his team started the company from scratch with a blog and YouTube channel and how many of the same strategies they used in their early days are still working today.

We also chat about…

  • A free, easy, and very effective marketing tactic perfect for startups
  • Red flags to watch for in potential business partners
  • The importance of core values – and how to make sure they’re not just words
  • Why they don’t sell on Amazon – and have never looked back
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in This Episode: www.beardbrand.com

Episode Transcript:

Joris Bryon: Hey, this is Joris with the ECommerce Excellence Podcast and today I’m really excited to talk to Eric Bandholz. Eric is the founder of Beardbrand. Beardbrand is a men’s grooming company that sells products for the beard, hair, and body. Eric started his company with a YouTube channel and a blog, and he has boot strapped the business to seven figures with the help of his co-founders and his team of course. Yeah. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a very interesting episode. Eric, welcome to the podcast. Honored to have you here.

Eric Bandholz: Hey. Hey. Hey. The pleasure is all mine. I’m excited for our chat.

Joris Bryon: Awesome. Yeah, just to start off, I’d love for you to tell everybody a bit about your background, where did you come from in your career, and how did you get started in e-commerce?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah, my career started off after college in sales. I did sales for about 10 years. There had been various roles; worked for a printing company, worked for Dell Computers. I worked for a financial services bank, and honed in my people skills and understanding paid time versus not paid time, and how to prioritize time, but along the whole pathway, I always wanted to start up a business. I really hard time working for people. It was very challenging for me, so I stopped working at the bank. I tried to start up this graphic design business that ended up being a freelance web design business. I would make $2000 a month on good months.

At the same time, I really had this drive to start a business. I was lucky to have my wife, who was able to be the breadwinner during that period of my career. I had been growing my beard out, and I noticed, through going to all of these networking events, people were calling me ZZ Top or Duck Dynasty or Grizzly Adams. Those are all really cool dudes, but they’re not me. I’m an entrepreneur, sales guy, a dad. It wasn’t until I attended this event that I realized there are other guys out there like me who are rocking facial hair that didn’t fit the traditional stereotype, that I wanted to unite that community and give them the tools they needed to feel confident about, not only so much their beard, but about themselves and finding their own styles, and being the person they wanted to be. Beardbrand was created to unite that community, We started, like you said, with our YouTube channel and a blog, and we even had a little Tumblr site where we provided inspiration to your audience in those early days.

Joris Bryon: Cool, and how exactly did you transition from a YouTube channel to an online store?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. To say we had a YouTube channel was being a little … it had 300 subscribers. It wasn’t like we had really built any kind of serious following on our YouTube channel, or our blog. We had a couple hundred visitors to our blog, so it wasn’t the traditional YouTuber with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of subscribers that roll out a product. We really built our community simultaneously with our e-commerce business. Really for the first year of Beardbrand’s existence, it was really a side project for me. I was doing the graphic design stuff. That was really making the money. I would just upload a video every couple of months onto Beardbrand.

It wasn’t until I met my now co-founders, Jeremy and Lindsey, where we were like, “Hey, let’s make this a little more. Let’s try to monetize it,” and that’s where we were able to find a manufacturer who was selling some beard care products. We just opened up a e-commerce store, reselling those products. We had very minimal inventory. I think it was like a hundred dollar order was our first order requirements for this manufacturer. We just started grinding, doing the entrepreneur big shot thing.

Joris Bryon: Cool. You still do a lot of content marketing, right, especially on YouTube. I saw that you have more than 1.2 million subscribers right now, and hundreds of videos. I know a lot of e-commerce owners they struggle with content marketing. How do you make it work for Beardbrand?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. Going back to what we said earlier, we’re a boot strap company. When you’re boot strapped, you typically have more time than money. That was certainly the case for us, and continues to be the case. We’re not rolling around with millions of dollars in the bank. For us to be successful, we have to figure out cost effective ways to bring awareness of our brand and our products, and content marketing is probably the best bang for the buck outside of word of mouth marketing. You have nothing else to do. You can’t buy anything. What do you do? You spend your own time, so you write articles. You record videos, and to this day, we have over a thousand videos on our YouTube channel. Our blog generates a significant volume of traffic. We utilize this to bring value to the world, and hopefully in return, the value we provide to our audience will result in sales to the company.

Joris Bryon: You say hopefully because I know a lot of e-commerce owners they’re used to looking at money in, money out, and content marketing sometimes is really hard to measure if it’s working or not. How do you do that?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah, absolutely. You need to have a certain degree of faith when it comes to content marketing, especially what you need to do on YouTube and blogs because bottom of funnel content is not really stuff most people are interested in, more bottom of funnel is most stuff that people can’t make. Now, if you’re a tech reviewer or something like that and you sold a wide variety of electronics of different brands on your store, then yeah bottom of funnel might be a perfect solution for that, but for the majority of the businesses and brands out there, you really got to focus on top of funnel, and top of funnel never drives direct sales, but we do like to gather data on how things are working for us. We did a post purchase survey, where we asked our customers how they first heard about us, and it was something like 65% of our customers first heard about us through YouTube. If you think about that, two thirds of our business was driven through just YouTube.

Now, if you factor in the blog and other stuff like that, then it would be probably even higher ratio. In all that, we’ve grown the channel to a size where we’re actually getting paid to create content on YouTube. We’re getting paid to do our marketing essentially.

Joris Bryon: That’s a luxury position to be in. That’s great. Yeah. In our marketing in general, but also in your content marketing of course, you’re an important aspect, right? You’re the face of the brand, and that’s quite uncommon for online stores. Is that something you would recommend other store owners to do as well, and why did you choose to do that?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah, I’d like to say … so we started off selling products to the Urban Beardsman, which is a term we coined, and I would like to self-proclaim myself as Urban Beardsman number one. I understand probably better than anyone else in the world the brand, Beardbrand, and the company, our mission, and what we’re trying to do. I also enjoy talking and doing podcasts like this, and creating YouTube videos. It’s very enjoyable to me, but I also appreciate freedom, and not being tied to the business and, as we talked about before we started recording, I’m here in Denmark now, working remotely for a month and a half as I try to get my team to really feel confidence in making their own decisions without me there. We’ve done the same thing with our YouTube channel.

I am a face of Beardbrand, but I don’t think I’m the exclusive face. We’ve brought in other talent. We’ve got Greg Brezinsky, Carlos Costa, Jack Milocco, and then we have all these barbers we’re working with, all around the world who aren’t Beardbrand employees, who do represent the Beardbrand values and what we’re trying to do. That’s been nice because it doesn’t chain me to the YouTube channel to create content all the time. I’m able to do it as I have the energy, or as I have the freedom. Not only that, the other team members, the other creators, have that same luxury because we’ve spread that burden so wide.

Joris Bryon: Cool. You mentioned a couple of times already values, your mission. I think you’re pretty clear on your mission, and your values. How important is it to have those because I know for a lot of e-commerce owners, it sometimes sounds like fluff at some point, especially in the beginning of their business, but at some point, you have to start thinking about it because it is important. How did that evolve in your company?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. It’s going to be fluff for people who don’t believe in their core values, but if you’re a values driven organization, then it makes life so much easier. I can’t even imagine running a business without core values and a mission. The core values and the mission are the glue that ties your business together. It’s how it helps you hire people. It’s how it helps you train. It’s how it helps you manage. It’s how it helps you communicate to your customers. It’s how it helps you decide which products to carry, and which manufacturers to work with. All that’s driven by your values, and your mission in life. If you’re just completely walking around blind, then you’re letting other people dictate how your business should grow and run. It’s the foundation for your business. Every business needs to have those values because that will help you say no when you need to say no, and focus on the things that you’re really meant to bring value in this world.

Joris Bryon: Yeah, that makes sense, but was it built in the business from the beginning?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah, I’m very lucky that my business partners and I share a very similar philosophical beliefs in life in the sense of autonomy and … our core values are freedom, honor, and trust. We want to live our own lives. We want to really do remarkable things, but because we’re intrinsically motivated for that, that’s just who we are. We believe in the good people. We believe that the world is mostly good, and yeah you’re going to have those outliers that screw things up, but that’s only a small fraction. The majority of people are good, and you’ve got to have that trust within your organization. We had a brainstorming session where we just put out a lot of words. We would have independence. We would have freedom. We would autonomy, and then we would be like, “Okay, which is the best word that represents all these emotions we’re trying to go.” The same thing with drive, hunger, motivation, and perseverance, and all those things, and we figured that hunger was the best word for that. The same with trust. We went through the same process.

The thing that I really love about our core values is they work like a triangle. If you have too much freedom, you may end up hampering trust with your team members because you’re not communicating with them. You’re not doing your due diligence. If you have too much hunger, you may get burnt out, and you find yourself not being free because you’re tied to the desk all day long. You’re working too long. Try to build core values that work in harmony with each other, that balance each other out because we’re also a big, strong believer in having balance in life. I’m not a person that puts work above all other things. I don’t think that’s a very sustainable business model, although I do believe a lot of organizations try to go that route.

Joris Bryon: I totally agree. I’m pretty much the same on that point. You mentioned your business partners, and you were clearly aligned when it comes to the values. You have the same way of looking at life and business. If people want to partner up with someone, is there anything they have to be aware of? What kind of advice would you give to people that are thinking of partnering up with someone?

Eric Bandholz: For me, partnering has been really the only reason I’ve found success in business. I know there’s a lot of horror stories out there of people who have had bad relationships. I would almost … it’s the most important thing of building a business because if you have a healthy partnership, you’re going to be able to solve any problem that comes up in the business; really it is like a marriage. I would almost look at your partners and see how they’re able to manage their other relationships. Have they burned bridges in the past? Have they been divorced a couple of times? Personally, those are red flags that they may be willing to give up on the relationship, or they may be not in it for the long haul. My business partners are very loyal, committed people to their partners or spouses. They stick to their word.

I know there’s a lot of stuff that talk about like, “Hey, find a business partner who compliments your skill set,” so you have your tech founder. You have your business founder, and then you have your ops founder, or whatever. All three of those work together. I would say that’s complete hog wash. What you want to do is find your business partners through who align philosophically. It doesn’t matter if you guys share the same talents or not because if you’re aligned philosophically, you’ll be there to support each other to come up with solutions.

Now, in those early days, it’s very helpful to have a broad set of skills, but if you can grind your way past that first million dollars of revenue, then you’re going to be able to hire out any other skills you don’t have in your founding team. In fact, you should start doing that as soon as possible. It’s not really necessary to have that diversity of talent, but more of that likeness in philosophy. If one person’s a bleeding heart liberal, and one person is a staunch conservative, and you just can’t come to terms with philosophy, but you merge well work wise, I would probably just … in the long run, it may not be in the best behavior because bad partnerships can really be bad. I’ve seen it with some of my friends. Every relationship, every partnership, you’re going to go through your ups and downs as well, and that’s to be true at Beardbrand as well. We’ve definitely grown as an organization as we’ve hit roadblocks, and different things going on in our lives. It’s never going to be roses, but it’s that moral philosophy that you have together that will help you through it.

Joris Bryon: Yeah. I think that’s a great way of looking at it because, up until now, I’ve always been thinking yeah you should complement each other’s skills, but actually you’re right. If you grind your way past the point that you can hire other people to do the things that you’re not so good at, then being at the same level philosophically, I think that’s definitely going to last a lot longer. Yeah. Cool.

I know you’re not really a big fan of the pure online retail play. Can you explain what you mean with that, and why it’s not the best model?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. I think it can be a good model, but I think for the most part, that time has passed. That was something you probably wanted to hit up in the early to mid 2000s, but now with Amazon out there with that business model, it’s a very challenging-

Joris Bryon: Sorry to jump it, but just to make it clear to our listeners, with the pure online retail play, you mean reselling stuff other people made, right?

Eric Bandholz: Yep. Exactly.

Joris Bryon: Okay. Yeah.

Eric Bandholz: You’re carrying the same … let’s say you’re selling cameras, you’re carrying the same camera that you can get on Amazon. Maybe you can get it on XYZcamerastore.com, and the only difference you can really provide is the shipping speed, or better customer service. I think in the pure retail play, again there’s probably still opportunity. There’s probably still some markets that aren’t being served, or they’re not doing a good job. I don’t want to discourage everyone from doing that, but I really feel like there’s a lot of risks to having your product becoming commoditized; someone else starting to carry it. Your manufacturer doing weird things, and not selling to you anymore, or they take the business in-house. There’s a lot of risks. The alternative to that is developing your own product, and then owning the full distribution channel where you develop the product. You sell the product on your website, and you control the experience. It’s more of the Apple business model for e-commerce. I think, if you’re starting today, that’s going to be a more sustainable way to go in the next five to 10 years. Of course, business is always changing.

Joris Bryon: Yeah. I think that makes sense. Your profit margins are going to be a lot more interesting as well. You don’t have compete just on price and, as you said, Amazon is already selling everything, so it’s hard to compete with that. I know you stopped selling on Amazon at one point, right?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. Yeah. We still don’t have our product … our products end up on Amazon, but they’re not authorized on there. We pulled off in January of 2018, and we saw a great boost in our sales on our direct website, beardbrand.com. I think Amazon was really cannibalizing a lot of our business, which is probably not true with the majority of people who sell on Amazon. I think for us, because we’ve invested so much in our content and our brand, a lot of people are searching for Beardbrand specifically, and by being on Amazon, it really hindered the growth of the company; whereas most companies are able to generate business by being on Amazon, and selling on Amazon.

Joris Bryon: Right. What would you say are your two or three keys to grow an e-commerce in today’s environment?

Eric Bandholz: There’s a lot of different ways to skin a cat, and e-commerce is a very similar way. I just said getting off of Amazon … I want to tell you today it seems like you can’t run an e-commerce business without being on Amazon. I want to just encourage listeners out there that yes you can actually build a business that is not on Amazon. You just have to really make sure you’re bringing more value to your customers than they would get through Amazon. Things that we do are better packaging, better customer service, and of course better education, better listing pages, all those things help differentiate us from Amazon.

Joris Bryon: Okay. If you were to start over again, what would you do differently?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. I would actually do the things the same way. Now, the challenge is the market is completely different. Your tactics may modify itself slightly, but I’m really a big believer in content marketing. I think that just brings so much value to the world. You’re able to offer something to your customers before they even buy it from you. They want to thank you for the value you’ve brought to their lives, so they’ll just give you business versus the alternatives out there, which I think is just a cool way to do business.

I think the biggest mistakes that we made were really more on the hiring process, and scaling up our team, which took us a really long time to learn how to screen for candidates, how to ask the right questions, and how to make sure that we brought in the right people that can execute on their task, and really probably held us back 18 months in the growth of the business.

Joris Bryon: I think that’s a difficult situation that a lot of people struggle with. Do you have any tips to share on that, screening for candidates, hiring?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. The golden light for us was reading a book on the subject called, Top Grading. The basic premise of Top Grading is every step of the interview process, you’re telling candidates that you’re going to be doing a reference check with their previous supervisors, and then at the end of the process, you end up doing those reference checks. That’s a good way to weed out maybe the C players who aren’t going to be able to have a good reference check.

What you also do is, when asking about their previous jobs, you ask the same 10 questions or so about each job. How is your reference going to describe you? How is this company’s reference going to describe you, and how is this company’s reference going to describe you? You put it in a third person perspective.

Another way to ask a question that works well for us is what could your supervisor do to improve, and you ask that three times as well, or four times, however many jobs they’ve had. Then, you start to see any kind of trend. If the candidates like, “Oh, this boss was a terrible communicator. Oh, that boss was a terrible communicator. Oh, that boss was a terrible communicator,” then it’s probably not the boss that was the terrible communicator. It was probably the candidate who wasn’t a really good communicator. Those are good ways to see any kind of trends, and how they work.

A good way is to really get in honest answers from candidates as well rather than like, “What do you do best,” where they’re trying to spin negatives into positives like, “Oh, I just worked too hard, and da, da, da, da.”

Joris Bryon: Yeah. It’s funny you mentioned those. Our process looks pretty much the same. The only question we don’t ask is what could your supervisors do, so I’m going to have to write that down. I’m going to add that to our next interview process.

Okay, maybe to wrap it up. What’s your number one piece of advice for people looking to accelerate their e-commerce growth?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. The thing for me is take it back to Nike’s tag line, which is, “Just do it.” If there’s something you want to do, focus on it. Make it a priority. Do it, and then take the time to learn from it, and either keep on doing it, or kill it. I think speed is one of those things in business that can really differentiate your business, and allow you to grow at a much more quick pace than your competitors. The more you’re able to execute in the same amount of time, the faster your company’s going to be able to grow.

Joris Bryon: That’s great advice. Hey, Eric. This has been absolutely amazing. We could probably go on for a couple more hours, but we’re running out of time. I want to make sure that people know how they can find you, and learn more about you. What’s the best place for people to connect with you?

Eric Bandholz: Yeah. Twitter is my best platform to communicate on, which is my handle is @bandholz, and then if you want to look at selfies of me, you can follow me on Instagram, which is my full name, Eric Bandholz, and more than following me and interacting with me, I would love for you guys to take care of ourselves, and go to beardbrand.com, and buy something nice for yourself. We’ve got some amazing products for your hair, for your beard, for your skin. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dude or a dudette. Obviously, we sell to men, but the products will also work for partners of men as well.

Joris Bryon: Awesome. Thank you so much for being here, Eric. It’s been great. Thanks.

Eric Bandholz: My pleasure, man. Thanks for having me.