Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello to all entrepreneurs out there! My name is Nathan Failla, I am of the founder of the on the go hair care company PocketGel. The idea for PocketGel and initial groundwork started in late September of 2015 and we have been striving to style your hair while you’re on the go ever since!
PocketGel’s product is currently filled and manufactured in Michigan. Then it is shipped down to myself in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. PocketGel is both the name of the company and the packets of styling products themselves. As of right now, we have three separate styling packets for different hair types and desired styles.
Our three product style types are pomade, fiber pomade, and hair gel. We decided on those three styling types because of customer feedback for what kind of products they wanted from us that could be taken on the go. These three types of styles also gives our customers varied and unique hairstyling options. We would eventually like to expand our product, being able to include at home versions of our PocketGel packet products so our customers can enjoy our products on the go and at home.
Our best seller or I should say “sellers” are both the fiber pomade and pomade. We sell a near even amount of both types of styling products with pomade having less than a 5% gain over fiber pomade. We attribute the popularity of both products due to current men's hairstyle trends.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I started my senior year at Duquesne University, the plan was to continue my education in law school. I had a dual major in Legal Studies and Entrepreneurial Studies in order to become a lawyer to help small businesses. But I always knew that starting a business was a goal that I always had and PocketGel came to me at the right time, when I started to discover that law school wasn’t for me.
I always knew that starting a business was a goal that I always had and PocketGel came to me at the right time, when I started to discover that law school wasn’t for me.
The idea of PocketGel was a chance moment while I was a senior at Duquesne. That moment happened when I was meeting my family for dinner on a typical, rainy day in Pittsburgh. I was going to walk to the restaurant to meet them there, but the hair styling product I just put in my hair would be ruined by the rain.
I told one of my roommates, “I wish I could just take a little amount of gel with me to style my hair once I got there.” I call that my eureka moment! The next day, with that idea still in my mind, I made my first PocketGel prototype that I made out of aluminum foil and I was lucky enough to take a picture of that moment!
I continued the development of PocketGel, the packet of styling products that could fit in your pocket, throughout my senior year. I used PocketGel as a mock business for 2 of my entrepreneurial classes throughout the year. That was great training for gaining knowledge in the industry and learning if this was a product that people would buy.
When I graduated I took all the money that I had set aside in order to start paying my loans off and used that to start my own on the go hair care styling company for travelers, bikers, and everyone who needs their hair styled away from home.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Finding a manufacturer who could produce a high quality packet product was a challenge, while still being in school and only a few months from graduating college. So I did what any young entrepreneur would do, I Googled and wrote down a list of all the potential manufacturers I could find in Pennsylvania or close by states.
During my rounds of calling different manufacturers I had the unlucky experience of a sales rep yelling at me on the phone for wasting her time and telling me my dream was a fantasy, that nobody would buy my on the go hair styling product. After the conversation I emailed her and never heard anything back.
However, I did not lose hope and continued my search until I found the perfect packet manufacturer in Michigan. I visited them and the amazing team there gave me a tour of the manufacturing facility. After the tour I had a final meeting on what exactly I wanted with this sample batch of products and wrote my first check to start the manufacturing process of PocketGel right then and there!
Besides finding a packet manufacturer, I had to find a way to make my sample fill styling product. At first, I decided I would take a crack at it myself and make a hair gel from scratch in my rental house.
I emailed a supplier in california who made bulk hair gels, but the family was getting out of the business and explained everything I needed in order to produce a high quality hair gel. I then proceeded to order all of the ingredients they said I would need and made the hair gel.
The quality was what I expected and then proceeded to ship the product to my new manufacturer in Michigan in order to fill the packets for my test run. I couldn’t have been happier!
The next couple of weeks went by and my manufacturer called me to inform me that the hair gel I had sent them molded before they could fill the packets and that they needed replacement product ASAP. After a brief freak out, I calmed down and started contacting bulk suppliers who I previously ordered samples of and liked, to see if they could send product to my manufacturer quickly! Luckily, I found a close bulk supplier in Ohio who could send them the necessary quantities needed in order to fulfill my test packets out.
Nearly 1 year after the idea of PocketGel came into my head, I was almost ready to test out my sample products in order to gain feedback and start selling online.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started the launch of my business with a Squarespace website and social media accounts. I wanted to test the product out. I set the price low where I would break even on the product I had in order to test out the concept of the product itself.
The first year was rough in getting those first sales, with only one product due to the fact that it was all I was able to afford at that time. I couldn’t attract investors at the time because the concept of styling on the go was still new. I did think about calling it quits during a few rough couple months, but motivation from friends and family helped me move past those times!
Never say no to an opportunity that may help your business.
After the first year of trying to push one sale after the next things began to change suddenly. I applied for the Walmart Open Call Event. This is an event where Walmart let's smaller businesses submit their company and products online in order to get a chance to talk with a buyer in person. PocketGel was one of the around 400 companies chosen by Walmart to go down and pitch to their respective Walmart buyer.
The Walmart Open Call event was definitely one of the most nerve-racking moments of my life. Pitching PocketGel to a billion-dollar company was intimidating, but it paid off big time. Walmart accepted the pitch of my current three lines of PocketGel products in over 200 stores nationwide!
My company instantly became legitimate to the eyes of potential customers once Walmart accepted my products. Seeing articles written about myself and PocketGel made all the hard work since I started the company, very much worth it. Seeing PocketGel in Forbes and other articles all over the country was an amazing feeling.
I was living my dreams now, but there was still more hard work ahead. I had to raise thousands and thousands of dollars in order to fulfill the Walmarts orders, finalize the products I pitched, finishing designing the new packets and boxes, and many more challenges to solve. Thankfully the end result made those hard months after being accepted all worth it.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The list of things I have tried since launching my company is a long one. I used many Facebook ads and Instagram ads to drive traffic to my website in order to convert sales online and in stores. I worked with a successful Facebook marketer to target specific individuals with a certain criteria and continue targeting that set group with the goal mostly being to get them onto the website.
Having products on Instagram and posting often has been a huge key in the continued success of selling our products online, especially during the summer months when we sell the most products. We try to post between 2 and 4 times a week in order to maintain a high instagram viewership on the PocketGel Instagram page. Free product postings have showed a huge benefit. We try to gather enough content for both product pictures as well as in life use pictures.
We did try Amazon, but found it extremely difficult with a lack of support from Amazon in getting our products in Amazon. We found customer support to be very lacking and had trouble getting product approval with PocketGel being listed on the restricticted category of cosmetics. We also had to be wary of drop shipping companies copying us and selling our Products on Amazon and Ebay as well.
The top strategies we have found to work is Instagram in order to keep our customers up to date with our products.
We also found using emails sparingly to show your customers any specials or deals and to target previous customers differently in order to get those repeat sales. We separate our email lists into 3 specific categories.
Customers who have emailed us with questions, customers we have sent free samples to, and lastly customers who have ordered products from us. We use mailchimp to send out all of our emails.
Offering free samples of PocketGel to anybody that asks has also been a big key reason for the current success of PocketGel. People try PocketGel for free and then hopefully love the application use of the product.
We wait between 1 to 2 weeks after sending them free samples, to email them about the products. The email usually contains a promo code for a percentage off PocketGel in order increase the total odds of a purchase when they receive and try the samples.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today some of our main goals are to increase our products in salons and barber shops in order to be a POS purchase item and to increase our online reach, in order to increase our overall company margins.
Recently within the last couple of weeks we have been learning about the needs bikers have for our products in fixing their helmet hair and we have been attempting to reach out to many bike shops all over the country to sell PocketGel as a POS helmet hair repair solution.
Another huge factor that has helped PocketGel out over time are our margins. From ordering a couple thousands packets for our test run to currently ordering over 100,000’s of packets at a time our margins have particular helped make us more profitably.
When we started we were averaging nearly 25 cents a packets to sell in a box of 20. Today we average per packet pricing of around 10 cents helping us decrease our costs tremendously.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Never say no to an opportunity that may help your business.
Never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. A week before I was supposed to ship my products to Walmart I discovered that I wasn’t shipping collect (Walmart would pay shipping costs). I had to get my courage up and make the call to my Walmart buyer and ask if we could change my contract in order to ship collect.
After a few back and forth calls he found that it was beneficial for PocketGel to ship by Walmart. Now I never back down from asking for help for any reason.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Squarespace for my website due to its ease of use when creating a website. There are also a lot of forums and other websites available to help Squarespace users out with technical problems they may not know how to solve. I also use Shipstation to print labels for my products and MailChimp for all email marketing campaigns.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I haven’t really read a lot of articles or books that truly inspired me. One book I have read is that helped me is, The Alchemist. I read The Alchemist when I was facing some obstacles and it immediately snapped me out of it and pushed me to continue! The book is about finding your own destiny through hard work, but told in a great story!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
For me taking the risk was the best thing I ever did! Starting a business with little to no money is a scary undertaking, but has been very rewarding! Don’t ever give up!
Over the first year of running PocketGel I failed on a lot of things. I wasted a lot of money and time. Everyone fails and faces obstacles on some level when starting a business. Make sure when you fail at something or hit an obstacle to learn from that!
Where can we go to learn more?
- Instagram: pocketgel
- Email: [email protected]
Interested in trying PocketGel out? You can go to our website and get free samples! https://pocketgelworld.com/freepackets
If you wanna make the leap and purchase a box use the promo code: STYLE365 for 10% off your order! https://pocketgelworld.com/
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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