Hey there. I’m John Pitts, owner and founder of the eCommerce business Firehouse Moustache Wax, LLC. I’m also a firefighter by trade as well as a farrier/horseshoer on my days off. Can you say looking forward to retirement? Lol
We offer 3 kinds of specialty, handmade moustache/beard waxes: Light, Dark & 'Wacky Tacky.' Wacky Tacky is our best seller/customer favorite. ('Tacky' for short) Each small batch is personally/specially made, hand-poured, and hand-tested by me at our home in Mississippi. Generally speaking, the Light is for blonde/gray hair, the Dark for brownish/reddish, and the Tacky for brown/black hair. There are no added fragrances or dyes in our waxes so both the color and scent come naturally from the waxes used. This is a "real" wax and not a cream or paste, so it is stiff and has an excellent hold. It will help tame, train, and style any unruly hairs!
We sell to individuals through our website as well as various retailers. We sell and ship to all parts of the world, but the majority of our sales are here in the U.S. Our Amazon retailers also provide a nice portion of sales. We started out as website sales only to individual customers, and the business grew exponentially from there. We basically started the business as something to try for fun on the side, and never dreamed it would become the business that it has.
We started in March of 2006 with just a website that my wife self taught herself how to create. She was eventually able to quit her full-time job to run the business after many years of juggling both. I make the product on my days off from the fire station and she runs everything else! The business has required a lot of hard work and time spent but has created a good way to make a living.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I’ve sported a moustache since 1987 and have used moustache waxes off and on during that time. Twice I ran into the problem of finding a moustache wax I liked, only to find out they no longer were selling/gone out of business. I tried various other waxes but just couldn’t find any that could withstand Mississippi’s heat/humidity or damp/cold. So I experimented in making my own moustache/beard wax for a couple of years, but always would give up and let the idea rest. Eventually, I was bound and determined to make a product I could use, so I sometimes would knock around ideas with my buddies at the fire station. They loved the idea and would offer ideas and help. Thus the name for the moustache wax was created, Firehouse Moustache Wax. For the next month or so I added and took away ingredients and came up with today’s product.
Never surrender and don’t give up. You’re going to have disappointments and setbacks, but keep persevering. Don’t be afraid to fail, but learn from your mistakes. Again, be willing to work hard, put in the hours, and have patience."
My goal was to make a mustache and beard wax that would have a good hold, but be workable and easy to apply. Since I work outdoors as a fireman and a farrier in Mississippi, where the year-round humidity and summer heat wreak havoc on moustaches, I had a challenge ahead of me. It didn’t happen overnight and took a while to come up with the right formulations, but it was worth it once I did.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
As mentioned, I formulated the wax after 2 different waxes I used were no longer available and I just couldn't find anything comparable that worked. I decided maybe I could make my own wax to withstand the heat and humidity in Mississippi as well as the damp and cold. After many trial and error batches, I came up with the formulations of Firehouse Moustache Wax. As I said, many of the guys at the fire station also got in on the fun and experimentation. In addition to my using the wax, I also shared it with friends/co-workers and family who thought it was great.
Back in 2006, I stated to my wife, "I think I'll try to market this on the internet." She nonchalantly told me, "Sure, if you want to" while also saying, "Who in the world is going to buy moustache wax??" Well, she ate those words as we now sell all over the world and, for a small 'mom and pop' business, have had significant growth over the years. As a side note, my wife has never been particularly fond of my moustache and has never seen me without it since we first met in 1990. To my satisfaction and her dismay, she now can't say anything about my 'stache, particularly since she's running the business end!
I hand-make, hand pour, and hand-test the wax in a quaint, rustic 2 bedroom/1.5 bath cabin on our property. The cabin is meant to generally be a guest cabin, but has become Firehouse Moustache Wax Central! All wax is made in its kitchen area, which can get quite messy, so the wife is happy it’s not in her kitchen. There is no central heat or air in the cabin so I heat my working area in the Winter with the large brick fireplace along with a gas heater that's in the wall. I like to keep the windows open to have ventilation from the constant smell of wax, so it can stay quite cold in there despite the fireplace/gas heater. In the very hot months that Mississippi is known for, I use a wall/window a.c. unit in the main area to cool things off, but still keep a couple of windows open. So it can get quite toasty in the warmer months when making the wax.
We have considered expanding to renting a building for more room etc., but we live out in the country so we can’t beat the convenience of working from home as well as saving money on not renting a space. If I was able to make the wax in large vats and be able to mass-produce more efficiently that way, it would be worth it, but unfortunately, some of the wax ingredients have natural variances where I’m always having to tweak the recipe in order to maintain a quality product that holds well and has the right consistency. So producing in larger amounts would prove difficult to do.
Guest cabin (aka Firehouse Moustache Wax Headquarters) during a very rare MS snow
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We were very fortunate to market our wax when we did. It took a while for it to get started, but we had the luxury of not needing it for an income at the time and were just doing it as a little side project. So time wasn’t of the essence and it allowed us to already be established when the big facial hair craze hit. Our foot was already in the door so to speak, and we’d found a good niche in the facial hair market. When we started out, there really weren’t that many moustache waxes or facial hair products. But then there was an explosion of them and we had competition everywhere, and still do. But we were blessed with already being established, having loyal customers that were already fans, and being able to provide a quality product. Make sure you believe in your product and are willing to stand behind it no matter what!
I would say one of the main reasons people found out about us is due to word of mouth from our customers. We have the best customers! They literally are our advertisements. (I remember one customer ordering a 3XL t-shirt saying he was proud to literally be a walking billboard for us. lol) They repeatedly recommend our product and spread the word. That’s the best advertisement and promotion there is! This will sound crazy but we never paid for any advertising/marketing until last year. Our customers have done it for us all along as far as promoting our product. We strive to give the absolute best customer service possible along with a quality product, and it pays off. Bend over backward for them with excellent customer service and responsiveness to their feedback!
We only started paying for Google Ads last year after having issues with our search rankings. That’s a long story that involved major changes to our website and mess-ups from our website provider, and our rankings haven’t been the same since. So we started paying Google Ads to help make us more relevant in the search rankings again. Until then, our 1st page SEO rankings and sales were primarily based on word of mouth from our customers and organic searches.
Things have leveled off since the facial hair explosion years, but since I can only make so much wax we will always be limited on how much we can make/sell. We are happy with where we are though, and although it would be nice to be able to mass-produce in order to make more money and save time, it also would lose that personal aspect where customers like knowing it’s handmade with care, and that they’re supporting a very small mom and pop business.
As with most everything, the cost of goods has been going up, so we’ve had to compensate with higher pricing. That, of course, never goes over well with the customer, so we can sometimes get complaints or inquiries when we do, but for the most part, customers are great and understand. When the cost of raw materials, shipping, etc. goes up then obviously that has to be compensated for with increased pricing.
It would be nice if we could expand our product line and we get asked about that a good bit. Since this business grew more than we ever expected, and due to my other jobs, I’m limited on how much time I can devote to it though. So we just keep it at the 3 waxes since that is all I can handle. Maybe one day, if time allows, I can look into expanding our product line. We know it would be beneficial, but possibly also bring more issues. With doing this out of our home, we are also maxed out on supplies/inventory and having enough space for everything.
Firefighter customers rockin’ the staches
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Well, learning how to make the 3 waxes was definitely challenging. It’s almost like having 3 brands. That and, as mentioned, the wax ingredients we receive are constantly changing due to natural variances, so I’m always continually having to tweak the recipe to keep the consistency and quality the same. This then inhibits us from being able to increase production like we’d like to and requires me to continue making the product in very small, handmade batches.
With everything going on with the virus and the economy right now, keeping our business small has turned out to be advantageous. We do have 2 part-time employees that help with the individual website orders (one works Monday-Thursday and the other works Friday-Sunday) but with keeping things very small we haven’t had to worry about laying off employees/downsizing, and hopefully never will!
I think what helped us the most is that we had our name and reputation established before beards and mustaches got to be the “in thing.” I also can’t go without giving the credit to God for blessing us with the success of this business. We honestly didn’t have a clue what we were doing and were basically flying on a wing and prayer most days. Lol, I believe if the big Man upstairs hadn’t opened doors and miraculously had things fall into place for us, we wouldn’t still be here 14 years later...selling only moustache wax!
When starting a business, more than anything else you’ll need patience and the willingness to work hard. I’m one of those people that prefers getting up before the rooster crows and getting my day started. My wife is the opposite, she’d rather sleep in and work late. Find whatever works best for you.
Also, if you can start when you’re younger I highly recommend it! I’ll be 55 this summer and I can assure you having the energy of when you’re younger is very beneficial for the long hours and workload that you’ll encounter when having your own business.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have used Paypal and Stamps.com from the beginning. We now only use Stamps.com for all our retail and international shipments. Stamps.com has a reasonable monthly fee ($17.99) and gives a little discounted price on shipments. Our shopping/ordering pages are through Big Commerce, and we use Endicia for our website shipments. Endicia is a free application/shipping tool on Big Commerce. Big Commerce provides all the tools necessary to have a successful eCommerce business/platform. Any tool/application can be used/found on there.
The main/informational part of our website is through Homestead Technologies though. We started with them originally for our website and they eventually partnered with Big Commerce, so we use Big Commerce’s more sophisticated platform for the shopping/ordering section of our website.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Sorry, I’m afraid I don’t have any I can think of that relates to influencing me with this business. With working 24-hour shifts and making wax in every spare moment, I don’t have much time to devote to books, podcasts, or the like. :)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice would be never surrender and don’t give up. Find something that you like or interests you and keep at it. You’re going to have disappointments and setbacks, but keep persevering. Don’t be afraid to fail, but learn from your mistakes. Again, be willing to work hard, put in the hours, and have patience.
Once you get started, go above and beyond for your customers to provide excellent customer service and responsiveness to their feedback, questions, or issues. Respond quickly, care about what they have to say, and ship your product the same or next day if possible. Trust me, going above and beyond with customer service pays off. We have gotten to know so many of our customers personally over the years, and customers love having that personal aspect to a business as well as top-notch customer service.
If a customer has any kind of issue, make it right. In our case, incorrect application of our product can sometimes cause issues, so take the time to offer helpful, detailed advice, reship them the product free of charge (in our case to see if it does better in case they received a defective or bad tin), or refund their order if need be. Making sure they’re happy is key! They will reward you ten times over. Our customers wanting to spread the word about us and supporting our business is a main reason for our success.
For customers that are loyal, love your product, spread the word about it, do free videos or advertising for you, etc., let them know you appreciate them. We like to send free products or swag in appreciation for some of our great customers. Yes, when you’re a small business and money is tight, you’re losing money by doing this, but it’s worth it in the long run. We also regularly give free products and swag for all the various moustache and beard competitions. A great way to get our name out there, have potential customers try/use our wax, and hopefully get hooked!
If you can, find something that shows a personal side to your business along with a little bit about the person behind the product or what’s important to you. I wanted to be sure and give back to our communities, so we donate a portion of our proceeds to a charity of the year each year. We do 25¢ a tin and 50¢ per t-shirt/sweatshirt/baseball cap, but it surprisingly adds up. We do a write-up on the charity and usually how/why it has meaning to us, along with a tally of how much has been raised so far. At the end of the year, we send the lump sum to the designated charity. It’s extra work, and money we could put in our pocket of course, but as they say, it is better to give than receive! And it really is. Plus customers usually like knowing they’re also helping a good cause by using your product.
We also love to show our appreciation to our military, so we give our product free to active duty military. Any order that has an APO etc. address we’ll email to see if they’re active duty. If they are, we’ll send it for free and ask if any of their buddies want some, and tell them to spread the word. We wish we could do it for all military, past, and present, but we do have to stay in business and have to draw the line somewhere! Anyway, we found that customers tend to enjoy seeing a little of what you’re about, what’s important to you, or what interests you, so try incorporating that somehow into your business if possible.
More of our awesome customers. F-16 Fighter pilots
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