SECRET MEN'S BUSINESS
Written on the 11 July 2014 by Karen Rickert
LUKE Swenson (pictured) is a man on a mission, turning the plight of bearded men into a successful business.
Swenson recognised a gap in the cosmetic industry after being unable to order products from overseas and The Bearded Chap was born.
The company, established last year, is the first beard grooming manufacturer in Australia and now one of the biggest in the world.
The Bearded Chap’s range, which is available online and stocked in barber shops, includes beard oil and balm, moustache wax, combs and even T-shirts.
The company operates in a small office in Brisbane equipped with a bearded lab, with plans to relocate to a warehouse to accommodate growth.
Swenson left his executive career at one of Australia’s largest wineries to focus on building his business.
“I was chasing something else to fulfil me then I discovered this niche market and quit my job to pursue it,” Swenson says.
“I was working on The Bearded Chap between 60 and 80 hours a week and helping out a bar on the side to pay my rent.
“I did that for about nine months until it was in a better position and I could draw a wage and take on more people.”
The 28 year old contracts two other employees, but expects to hire two full-time staff members in the next month.
Incorporating his background in business management and sales, Swenson conducted nine months of research to ensure it was a viable idea.
“We had to make sure it could stop beardruff and itch as well as have a subtle scent, so men could wear it without overpowering their cologne.
“On the flip side of things, a bearded man needs to get laid and it needed to be attractive to the opposite sex.”
Initial prototypes in the development phase divided the sexes, receiving rave reviews from the men with females saying “it smelled like urine.”
“We went through 32 different recipes and now pretty much 99 per cent of customers – both male and female – love or enjoy the scent.”
The Bearded Chap has attracted a wide range of consumers, from women buying for their partners, the “beard bogan” wanting to look presentable, men attempting to grow a beard, older gentlemen to high-end corporate figures.
The ingredients are locally sourced and supplied, to deliver quality and comply with strict cosmetic labelling standards nationally and overseas.
“We’ve got Australian sandalwood in our beard oil which is ridiculously expensive, it costs $300 for 100ml.
“That’s because it takes 90 years for the Australian sandalwood tree to reach maturity before it can be tapped to extract the oil – we’re making sure it’s done through sustainable methods.
“We’re one of the only ones to be like that because a lot of guys are jumping on the bandwagon now, trying to get a piece of the action.”
He says the advance in competitors is “annoying” in a way, as their quick-fix methods detract from the effort put into his products.
A number of established business leaders have been on hand to provide advice, including Merlo Coffee CEO Dean Merlo and serial entrepreneur Terry Morris of Sirromet Wines.
“Going out and taking action has been the biggest things that’s helped me, you can meet people who know people.
“Getting mentors and speaking to those types of people has definitely prevented me from making huge mistakes and also helped me grow faster than I probably could have.”
One of the most rewarding yet challenging aspects for Swenson has been educating men about the lost art of beard grooming.
“It’s very cool speaking to someone who’s had a beard for their entire life and never been taught the traditions of beard maintenance.
“These older boys are really sceptical and by the end of the conversation they’re walking away having spent $120 on their beard.
“Our very first customer was a 41 year old commercial real estate agent and he had a greyish-silver beard. He used The Bearded Chap for three days and wrote to us saying he couldn’t believe the difference it made.”
Swenson says the products help remove the “stigma created by the marketing guys at Gillette” – associating facial hair with low status or being unkempt.
“This is helping them go back to that stage of acceptance and looking sharp, like all the wealthy and powerful men of the 1800s.”
The Bearded Chap’s growth is set to continue with the European and American markets in its sights, as well the development of a dedicated shampoo and conditioner.
“We’re still going to concentrate growing in Australia to start off with, but the US and the EU are huge markets –they’re game changers.”Swenson is speaking with potential stockists and distributors, hoping to translate his success overseas beard by beard.