A Nanaimo company is making bank on beards.
With facial fuzz in fashion, beard products brands have sprouted like craft beer microbreweries. Big City Beards is one of at least two beard-products makers to take root in Nanaimo.
The company started in Montreal in September 2016 – its logo is a silhouette of the Montreal skyline – and moved its operations to Nanaimo in 2018. It produces men’s facial hair and skin-conditioning oils and balms.
A common condition from sporting a beard ZZ Top or Rubeus Hagrid would be proud of is dry skin underneath it.
“Probably one of the top reasons guys shave them off is because they get itchy,” said Jeff Weigel, company CEO. “Mainly, the skin below the beard is not conditioned properly … I have multiple guys who have come to me with severe beard itch … and with proper nutrition to that skin that itch will disappear.”
Weigel said Big City Beards’ product formulations arose from not finding existing ones company founders were satisfied with.
“Of course, that’s back when the all-natural swing was just starting to happen, so there was a lot of synthetic blends at that time, which is extremely heavy, extremely greasy and 12 hours later your beard is still dripping, almost,” Weigel said.
The company opted to create a product line from organic ingredients. One of the founding partners had a relative who worked in a cosmetic lab and whose expertise helped the company bring to market a range of oils and balms created from a minimum number of ingredients.
“That’s probably one of the main things that set us apart,” Weigel said, “The majority of our competitors will have the same base and just add different fragrances. Each one of our oils is a different weight, so you go from very dry to a more of an oily shine and everything in between.”
Big City Beards sells on the Island from Courtenay to Victoria, but an early focus on online marketing gained customers across Canada and the U.S., the U.K., Greece and Italy.
“Mainly what we did up until the last 9-10 months, was spend all our time online,” Weigel said. “The reach was farther, it allowed us to get a bigger pool to draw from for feedback … being featured in British GQ definitely allowed us to get some awareness on the other side of the pond, if you will, so that’s definitely helped.”
But for a new company selling online, marketing presents challenges.
“It’s really hard in the beginning because you have no social proof, if you will,” he said. “Nobody has tried your product. Nobody can vouch for you … it’s a lot of pound the pavement and get out there. We started again locally, more in Montreal at that time, where we did a lot of stuff like pop-up shops with Lululemon out there, which we’ve carried over to here out of Victoria as well … you really need to know that you’re on point too, before you go too hard spreading it out. Challenges-wise, it’s just a lot of work. It’s not a ‘build it and they will come.’ That’s such a false statement. If you don’t keep striving to innovate and be better every day then you’ll just keep falling farther and farther behind every day.”
Weigel wants to support the local economy and keep the company operation close to its “roots of what made us from when we started.” The products are hand-mixed, hand-bottled, shipping boxes hand-stamped and supplies, as much as possible, are sourced and produced locally.
“In my eyes, it just adds that little extra to it,” he said. “If it happened to explode … the way that we’re structured is that we can just keep bringing on more people and it is sustainable that way.”
But if the facial frock fashion fad flags, could the firm flop?
“There’ll always be that manly man who wants to sport that beard,” Weigel said. “We have some clients who are going on 15-plus years of wearing their beard … it’s still on the uptick right now and I think it will continue to do so.”
Ultimately, he’d like to see the business move into a storefront retail setting where customers can see the products being produced while they’re making purchases.
“The new way, like in the bakeries where you can see everything done along the way, that is the ultimate goal,” he said.