What do you get when you bring a paramedic, a born-to-be-entrepreneur and a well-known local blogger into one room? For some, this might sound like the start of a less than stellar joke, but for us, it was the makings of a more than stellar meeting with the founders of Buckskin & Mane, an organic men’s grooming company.
Robert Mason (CEO), Lukas Biebinger (President) and Luke Yerrick (Vice-President) are the co-founders of Buckskin & Mane, the company selected through our Social Media Takeover.
Buckskin & Mane is a veteran-owned and operated small business, specializing in men’s grooming products that use only organic ingredients. They don’t out-source any of their manufacturing or bottling, resulting in what they say is a better system of quality control.
During our interview with Mason, Biebinger and Yerrick, we had the opportunity to learn about each owner’s personal background.
For starters, Mason is from Upstate New York, has a military background and was in the army for four years, stationed in Korea. In 2008, he got out of the army and began attending school in Rochester for business management and statistics. Biebinger, from Montana, is a paramedic by trade, and his education in chemistry has proven incredibly beneficial for the products created by Buckskin & Mane; in fact, he had initially planned to be a doctor. After three years as a paramedic, however, he found his true calling and decided to start a business. Lastly, Yerrick grew up in South Carolina and later obtained a degree in psychology. He is currently in the Navy and, prior to being a small business owner, envisioned himself working in a variety of fields, including healthcare, education, coaching and government.
These local entrepreneurs all met while modeling. Mason and Biebinger are partners in business as well as in life, and Yerrick was roommates with a mutual friend. It didn’t take long for them to discover their shared interest of starting a business. At the time, Yerrick was managing his own blog which was quickly gaining traction among local fashion enthusiasts. They started brainstorming and quickly settled on the concept of developing health-conscious grooming products for men, a concept that has since evolved their roles as resellers to the artisanal businessmen they are today.
“We’re all very into health,” said Biebinger. “We believe in using products that are okay to put on your skin and eating foods that are okay to put in your body.”
From the inception of their business, they were resellers, working with brand partners and buying products at wholesale before selling them. It didn’t take long for customers to begin asking the trio when they would start making products of their own. The truth is, they were tired of spending too much for grooming products that were loaded with hard-to-pronounce chemicals, and as time went on, they realized that they could make their own…only better.
“We wanted to guarantee all-natural and organic ingredients,” said Biebinger, going on to say, “That’s what the foundation of our business is: using products that aren’t harmful to you.”
They also noticed a growing need for higher quality men’s grooming products.
“I can’t tell you how many times we ask guys if they use a moisturizer for their face, and the answer is always the same: I probably should, but I don’t,” Biebinger said. “Are they too afraid? Not educated in it? Don’t know what they should get? We’re trying to figure out that piece of it.”
About nine months ago, they began the process of researching ingredients, working with various formulations, and making small batches of the men’s grooming product line that launched earlier this year as Buckskin & Mane.
For Mason and Yerrick, entrepreneurship had always been, to some extent, written in the stars.
“I always had this drive and goal to own my own company,” said Mason, when asked if he always knew he’d be an entrepreneur. “I like being my own boss. I like making decisions. I always knew I’d start a company one day.”
Yerrick shared similar sentiments, and although he’d never thought much about being an entrepreneur specifically, he said, “I’ve spent a good portion of my young adult life exploring my passions. I’ve tried not to settle for a ‘job’ for the sake of having one—it explains my initial itch to start a business!”
For Biebinger, however, his natural aptitude toward entrepreneurship wasn’t quite as obvious.
“My goal was to be a doctor,” he said. “After I became a paramedic, I decided that wasn’t what I wanted. After doing it for three years full-time, I realized there had to be a better way to live. I wanted to start working for myself.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for this team of talented entrepreneurs, however.
When asked about the biggest challenge they’ve faced thus far, Biebinger was quick to reply, “Marketing. Marketing and educating,” while Mason added, “Being under-staffed.”
“We have to spend a lot of time educating people on why our products are different than what they can find on the shelf at the store,” said Biebinger. “We spend a lot of time and energy educating people about who we are, what we do, ingredients we use, and why they’re beneficial.”
Beyond their own business, they also believe in cross-promotion and currently show support to small businesses in a variety of ways, one of which is by sourcing American-made ingredients. They currently source all ingredients from farms across the country; even their bottles and labels are American-made. In fact, all Buckskin & Mane products are mixed, bottled and labeled here in Charlotte in what the team refers to as “our lab.” By researching ingredients found in other products—the benefits, the risks, and the proper way to mix them—they were able to concoct men’s grooming products that meet their heightened standards.
After launching several campaigns with various Charlotte marketing companies, the Buckskin & Mane team has found social media marketing to be the most effective. They’ve created videos and seen their logo shared on several websites. With social media, they’ve learned to target their audience through the strategic use of hashtags and other social media marketing techniques.
“We aren’t just blindly marketing,” said Biebinger.
And what about being under-staffed? Buckskin & Mane started out of a home office and grew rapidly.
“All three of us are doing five different things at once,” Mason said, describing a challenge faced by many small business owners. “We built our own website. We take all of our product shots ourselves. We’re working to not get behind and let paperwork pile up on the desk, while making sure that we’re satisfying our customers’ needs, and our brand partners’ needs, in Charlotte and across the country.”
“We have to make sure we stay proactive,” Biebinger added. “We’ve been getting out there to events. It seems like if we go one day without being out there that we could potentially miss out on an opportunity.”
And proactive they are, particularly on social media, which they say “has done everything for us.”
Buckskin & Mane can be found across a variety of social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and more, where they post high-quality photos to engage with their target audience. They recognized early that social media would be a beneficial way to gain brand presence, which is why they put ample time and energy into managing it.
How did they learn the ways of social media?
“A lot of trial and error,” said Biebinger, laughing. “Make sure that you stay consistent. Find that thing that people are always going to recognize as a photo coming from you. Whether it’s the same filter every time or the same theme, make sure that you always stay consistent. You’re a lot more recognizable when you do that.”
Yerrick, who has been managing Buckskin & Mane’s social media presence since the beginning, confirms that, for small businesses, social media is vital to survival.
“It’s the quickest and most efficient way of establishing a brand aesthetic, value and voice,” he said, “especially if you are starting with a modest budget.”
“All in all,” Yerrick said, “it’s important that, as owners, you understand who you are and what image you want to create.”
Okay, but how do we do that?
Yerrick shares Biebinger’s outlook on consistency, marking it as the biggest challenge.
“Posting content without direction carries no influence. Your audience does want to see you, but to what degree? Too much of one thing isn’t good, but you don’t want your customers to miss the point. That’s the hardest thing to figure out.”
According to Yerrick, authenticity is also an important trait to have on social media, about which he says, “People want to feel a connection to you and your products/services.”
Yerrick also suggested establishing a brand value, saying, “Establishing strong brand value and posting content that you think your audience will appreciate and engage with are key, whether that be strong imagery, collaboration with other brands, or video tutorials and education.”
Yerrick’s last bit of social media advice? “Be careful with promotions and sales. Too many discounts will only devalue your brand. Be creative, upbeat and genuine!”
Beyond getting social online, the owners of Buckskin & Mane are also getting social within the Charlotte business community. In addition to participating in a variety of local events and promotions, they are members of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. They also sponsor events around the Charlotte community, including Charlotte Swim Week, a fashion event benefiting Jill’s Wish, as well as #solemates, which is under the umbrella of the All We Want is Love organization. They are also sponsors of a local sports and recreational organization called Stonewall Sports, whose proceeds benefit Time Out Youth, an organization serving LGBTQ youth ages 11-20.
Although they’ve certainly gained rapid success, they are facing some of the most anticipated challenges faced by entrepreneurs when starting a business, and, while constantly learning how to best use social media, they’re also learning plenty of other valuable lessons. For instance, after difficulties presented with their first website, they decided it was time to design a new website…on their own. About four days later, they’d launched BuckskinMane.com as you know it from top to bottom. This is why, when asked what three of the biggest lessons they’ve learned thus far have been, they first responded, “Make sure you’re working with a user friendly platform.”
The other two biggest lessons?
“Determine what type of business you’re starting, and make sure you know before you finalize all of the paperwork. It’s a pain to go through all of the documents if you decide to change one of those elements.” Also, “Be careful about how you spend your marketing dollars. Sometimes things seem like they will be highly beneficial, but then they have no impact, and then it’s just money wasted.”
For those of you taking notes (like we were!), those three biggest lessons learned were to
(1) work with a user-friendly platform,
(2) determine what classification of business you’re starting, and to
(3) be careful about how you spend your marketing dollars.
Who’s Buckskin & Mane? They are young, they are smart, they are eager, and they are incredibly talented. Since their inception nine months ago and their launch two months ago, they’ve already faced challenges and learned lessons that it takes many of us years to face and learn. Yes, they are a small business, but they also don’t let society’s stereotypes reflect who they are and what they do.
Currently, all Buckskin & Mane products can be found online, as well as at Flex5 Fitness and Wellness Center, Trashed Studio, Mr. Scherfel’s and The Sporting Gent. Soon, their products will be featured at other locations, including all three locations of Salon 42.
Be sure to visit them online and follow them on social media to learn more. In the words of the Buckskin & Mane owners: Welcome to the extraordinary world of artisanal, health-conscious grooming.
Thank you Mason, Lukas and Luke for speaking with us. We had an amazing time learning more about you and are excited to share your business with our readers! Readers, be sure to follow Buckskin & Mane on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!