It all started with a scruffy beard. Ryan Lane was living in Sandusky, Ohio, and shaving just wasn’t much in his repertoire. One day, his wife, Brittany, wondered what he might look like clean shaven. The result was disastrous. Ryan was almost kicked out of bed that night because Brittany hardly recognized who was next to her.
How many guys does this happen to? There’s no telling, but it’s obvious that beards are in, and aside from being more ubiquitous, the beards are getting more elaborate and better groomed.
Ryan’s evolution from sporting a scruffy one to a flowing curtain that goes to his belly is more than just a grooming story — it’s also a surprising entrepreneurial one that has recast him from the woebegone guy who couldn’t find a job to the owner of a thriving business that exports its beard products with the help of FedEx to 80 countries.
This is a story with a happy ending, but it didn’t start out that way.
Four years ago Ryan and Brittany figured they had better move in with her Dad in Georgia. Whatever money they had had in Ohio was pretty much gone and their search for jobs was going nowhere.
“I literally applied to over 300 jobs in a week,” he told Global Atlanta. At the time he was sporting what he calls a “small business beard.” The beard wasn’t helping him get a job, and it was itching “like crazy,” he recalls. He tried to stifle the itching by putting on a variety of lotions, which didn’t help much and which didn’t please Brittany either because the smell wasn’t great.
With free time on his hands, he began to research over the internet how he might stop the itching. Before long he was dreaming about starting a company that sold beard oil, not oils like the few already on the market, but oils that actually stopped the itching and managed all of those whiskers.
The Lanes then got really serious about developing a lotion that turned those scruffy tufts into manageable mats. It didn’t take long for word to get out to men joining the escalating beard boom.
In just four months after launching their company named Dream Beard, they were selling around the world — actually in more than 35 countries. Now it’s in more than 80.
How did they do it? Well, the internet helped a lot. A short conversation with Ryan inevitably leads to descriptions of Etsy, the e-commerce site that launches handmade or vintage items and supplies what it calls “peer-to-peer” relationships. Spotify, another e-commerce site, and Squarespace, a build-your-own website platform, all helped Dream Bread grow.
So did their offerings. By using what they say is “a premium blend of oils and an exclusive method to properly bind the oils together” they have developed a collection of oils that “help to hydrate, prevent split ends and minimize itch.”
“Let us help you take your beard to the next level,” goes their pitch. And, man-o-man, do they ever deliver, offering a collection of scented products ranging from their ‘Lumberjack” brand, “a fresh pine scented oil that will lead you feeling like you’re been chapping down pine trees all day” to their “Gentleman” brand, “a sweet scented oil along with a hint of cinnamon.”
And it’s no longer just about the oils. There now are mugs, decals, patches, flasks, key chains tee shirts, camo bags and hairspray, all for sale on their website. Skateboards are next.
It’s a busy time of year for the Lanes. While the three-person staff can take care of the work that needs to get done over most of the year, that all changes during what Ryan calls “the trifecta,” October through December, when the pace quickens and most of the orders come in requiring the staff to be doubled.
Last year, Dream Beard sold roughly 100,000 bottles of beard oil, and the Lanes expect to sell more than 140,000 bottles this year. That’s a lot of shipping. And like with the internet they had to learn what works from scratch.
With orders coming in from all over the world and their attention to detail — each order gets a handwritten thank you note — they needed a reliable carrier.
It turned out that the United States Postal Service’s international capabilities didn’t work for them. On the other hand, FedEx’s small business services delivering to more than 220 countries and territories has been a blessing.
“They shine for me” — an expression Ryan equates with what his oils do for beards — is the way that he expresses his appreciation. Delivery to the four corners of the earth by USPS could take up to 999 days, he said. FedEx manages to deliver even as far away as Singapore and Malaysia, where surprisingly many orders come from, in 10 days or less.
“Reggie is there for me,” Ryan says of his FedEx client rep. The admiration goes both ways. FedEx awarded Dream Beard one of their $10,000 small business grants based on voting through a contest website.
Bonnie Voldeng, director of Go-To-Market and Content Strategy at FedEx, told Global Atlanta, “At FedEx we recognize that small business owners often face a number of challenges including securing the right financial resources. The FedEx Small Business Grant contest aims to help these owners develop their passions and reach their full potential. Small business owners apply online through our contest site and we choose the winners based on their submission. Those chosen become part of a community of entrepreneurs that gain and share insights from peers, and enjoy great exposure for their business.”
The money was nice, according to Ryan, but more important has been the network of other small business owners to which he was introduced and who have provided advice as he has grown the business.
Firmly established today as entrepreneurs, the Lanes aren’t just about all work and no play. Their earnings have enabled them to travel through the U.S. and even abroad.
Last year they attended the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Leogang, Austria. Any doubts about the beard and moustache bomb being a global phenomenon were immediately quelled.
Most surprising, however, Ryan said, was how the American beardsmen stunned the bearding world by taking first place in six different categories.
In a sport long dominated by Germans, the Americans earned a perfect score in the “full beard, natural” category, the most competitive of all the categories.
They also racked up perfect scores in the “imperial moustache” and “freestyle moustache” categories.
Gold medals also went to Americans in the “Musketeer,” “English” and “Fu Manchu” categories.
Not bad, in a competition that drew more than 300 bearded and moustachioed men from 20 countries.