How Detroit’s Beard Balm Makes Entrepreneurship Look Good

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It’s safe to assume we know at least one person who is really into their beard. We all know that beards are cool and it takes more than gravity to make them look good. Enter Beard Balm, the Corktown-based company that is gaining momentum now that chain stores are wising up to what we have known all along.

Beard Balm at The Detroit Mercantile Co.
Beard Balm at The Detroit Mercantile Co.

“There’s a big change this year because someone at a grocery store finally put a beard product on their shelf,” said Jon Koller, Beard Balm’s self-proclaimed Big Brother. “It was instantly a best seller. Now it is on everyone’s radar. When we approach people, they are like, ‘yeah, beards are trending.’ It’s like, ‘we’ve been telling you this for years.’”

Beard Balm is conditioner for your beard that replaces the natural oils your beard makes after washing it strips them away. The formula is based on a cuticle salve his ex-wife used. Jon knew he had something special after reactions to his beard were night and day.

“It was new for me and it was really apparent how with this one thing, nothing else matters,” Jon said. “Soap. Bullshit. Shampoo. Bullshit.”

Beard Balm is made from some seriously high quality natural stuff. Beeswax from a cherry orchard in Northern Michigan. Dr. Bronner’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, which they buy by the ton.

“We just found out we are the only company Dr. Bronner’s wholesale their coconut oil to,” Jon said. “They only agreed to do it because we sent them a picture of 600 empty coconut oil jars. It is the only coconut oil we use.”

Jon Koller pushing 1 ton of coconut oil into the workshop.
Jon Koller pushing one ton of coconut oil into the workshop.

Beard Balm gained its following in reverse. Because one of the first things they did as a business was set up their Instagram, they are bigger in Europe than they are in the U.S. This is the year that might change. While they are in over 700 barbershops and men’s clothing stores in Europe, Beard Balm will be found at the men’s grooming sections of natural food stores in the West Coast and the Midwest. Whole Foods Detroit just ordered a bunch of cans.

The machine that packages hot Beard Balm into cans.
The machine that packages hot Beard Balm into cans.

“In this country, distribution is different. Distributors are more logistically focused, and less product facing,” Jon said. “We are not in any sort of stable sales pattern right now, but we think we can move 150,000 cans in the fourth quarter. [Beard Balm retails for $16…so you do the math]. We just picked up a broker who is helping us tell our story to stores.”

Beard Balm is a small outfit, with a staff of five. They can make 3,000 cans in a shift at their production facility in Corktown’s Ponyride, which is a workshop/co-working space buzzing with the kind of hip innovation angel investor-types salivate for.

The vats of lanolin, coconut oil and beeswax needed to make Beard Balm.
The vats of lanolin, coconut oil and beeswax needed to make Beard Balm.

Their workshop is a lot like their origins story. Just like no one could make a beard product Jon was happy with, no one could manufacture Beard Balm the way Jon wanted, so he shoestringed together a tiny factory with his staff. It doesn’t hurt that he was a structural engineer in a previous life.

“In my mind, a good beard is a beard you don’t cut,” Jon said. “All men should, at least once in their life, shave their face clean and not touch it for at least six months. See what comes out.”

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