Gareth Edwards and Jo Lehndorf, co-founders of a men's skincare brand, talk about their coffee and whiskey-infused face products and how long it takes to create new items for the range.

What does your business do?
Edwards: The Dark Heart Beard Co is a handcrafted men's skincare brand which morphed from a beard care business into a skincare offering in March 2017.

What was the motivation for starting the business?

Jo and I have been friends for a while. I used to use the skincare [products] from her other business, and as beautiful as it is, I didn't want to tell anyone so I said to her that we should collaborate on a men's range but she didn't have time and wasn't interested at that point, so I went away, grew a beard and decided that beard care was the way forward, but we later collaborated on the men's skincare idea.

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How big is your team?

Just the two of us. I handle product development and the making of the products, and Jo handles back-end operations such as Shopify and the website.

How much did you invest to get the business up and running?
Lehndorf: An outlay of about $6000 got us off the ground and enabled us to create enough cashflow to start making our own money, and for the business to generate its own time and pace. The challenge around cashflow has really forced us to be creative and putting parameters around our budget has meant that we've had to think of different ways to get our business off the ground.

What's so different about your skincare brand?
Edwards: The key ingredients in our products are coffee and whiskey, both, what I feel are fairly gentleman-y ingredients and enjoyable scents. We have three coffee products and a whiskey-infused aftershave, a collaboration with Thomson Whiskey, and a custom blend facial serum and moisturiser which is non-coffee based. Our products range from $25 to $35 for the beard care and aftershave, and $69 for custom blend products.

Product customisation and personalisation has been touted as a huge incoming consumer trend in New Zealand - how are you tapping into that?
Lehndorf: Product customisation is trending a lot in the US at the moment, largely around artificial intelligence and big companies, and how they streamline their existing production processes to put customisation on to an existing product run.

The customised idea was something I had a long time ago for my other business Love Skin, and something I wanted to create as an in-store experience. I thought of ways we could do that online, because in-store it is wonderful, but obviously not scalable. Creating something online for a small business such as ourselves is a challenge in the sense that customisation for a website can be expensive. However, I managed to take a creative approach by utilising a questionnaire software which we have bolted on to our website and create a seamless experience that has a personal feel.

Gareth Edwards hand-pouring Dark Heart Beard Co products. Photo / Supplied
Gareth Edwards hand-pouring Dark Heart Beard Co products. Photo / Supplied

A customer can go online and select from a variety of different questions which asks about their skin type, environment they live in, the things they want to work on their skin and finally the scent they like; that comes through to us, and then we hand-blend the product to order.

How long does it take to develop product and where are they made?
Edwards: We're based in Auckland's North Shore and everything is made and hand-poured by me, with all of the ingredients locally sourced. It takes between three and four weeks to get the formulation of each product right.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced running this business?

With any small business, it's capital, and comes down to cashflow. If we had plenty of cashflow then the business may look a bit different but as a small company, we're very conscious of where we spend our money. I think that's kind of created the quality of product that we have as we have put a more time into the product to make sure it's right in terms of the ingredients and the message because we're looking at every dollar we are spending.

The challenge around cashflow has really forced us to be creative and putting parameters around our budget has meant that we've had to think of different ways to get our business off the ground.

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Skincare five years ago wasn't really a thing, it was obviously on shelves in the supermarket with all of the usuals, but it wasn't a go-to for a guy and they certainly would not be talking about it on Instagram, so getting the message across to men that it's okay to look after your skin and that there is nothing girly about it has also been a challenge.

Are you using social media influencers to market your products?
Edwards: Influencers are kind of a funny one for us. We are of the mindset that having a brand ambassador has been watered down - everybody's a brand ambassador now, and what does that actually mean - whether they are getting paid or not paid for the product endorsement. It's hard to find somebody who is truly passionate about the product and wants to talk about the product, and not really expect anything for it.

Getting the message across that skincare is important for men and not just for women was a vital part of building the Dark Heart Beard Co, Gareth Edwards says. Photo / Supplied
Getting the message across that skincare is important for men and not just for women was a vital part of building the Dark Heart Beard Co, Gareth Edwards says. Photo / Supplied

Everybody's out there trying to make a quick buck on YouTube or Instagram, but being an influencer, they're a dime a dozen - it's the same guy with abs or a pretty girl with plumped lips all selling fit tea and all that kind of stuff, so we've been a little bit more choosy in terms of who we associate our brand with by just finding people who do love the product and have a really good following.

Lehndorf: The other interesting thing about influencers is because [many] get given products, they don't necessarily value them. For example, when Art Green came to us, Gareth made him buy a scrub - he didn't give it to him and it was kind of an interesting tactic, and I don't know if it was considered that at the time, but the reality was Art seemed to have a bit more respect for the product as a result.

Edwards: As official on-the-books influencers, we have Luke Patrick from Shortland Street, we've met with Colin Mathura-Jeffree who we'll work with on some things this year and also Duncan Heyde from The Rock.

What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own firm?

Find something that you're passionate about and find a way of monetising that. If you're not passionate about something, people aren't going to buy it.