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From Mom’s Barbershop to Successful Online Retailer: Scotch Porter – Real Talk No Junk
I love chatting with other business owners to hear their tales of success, their challenges and how they overcome them. Recently I chatted with Calvin Quallis, founder of men’s grooming brand Scotch Porter.
Based in New Jersey, Scotch Porter has grown from a cottage industry run around Calvin’s kitchen table to a thriving business with customers all over North America.
In his words: “Transformation is a powerful concept. It’s the feeling you get when the barber finishes a fresh cut, removes the cape, brushes you off and hands you the mirror to reveal the cleanest version of you. Like magic, your swagger soars to 100, and you’re ready to take on the world.”
It’s no surprise Calvin ended up in grooming. And no, it’s not just his own immaculate grooming that makes us say that. Growing up his mom owned a beauty salon and barbershop, Calvin and his brother spent pretty much every weeknight and weekend in the shop.
We catch up with Calvin to find out more about how his childhood shaped his business ideas and the journey from a small startup to a successful business.
Peter: Tell us a little about Scotch Porter.
Calvin: We manufacture and distribute men’s personal care products, everything from hair, beard, shaves, body and facial skin care products. And our mission is to help men to feel their best and live their best, most fulfilled lives so that they can go out there in the world and crush it.
Growing my mom owned a beauty salon and barbershop, my brother and I spent pretty much every weeknight and weekend in the shop.
Some of the most memorable times was watching folks come into the shop – I could tell who didn’t necessarily feel their best, but they’d sit in my mom’s chair or one of the other barber’s or stylist’s chairs, be transformed, get up, look in the mirror, pop their collar and walk out with an entirely confident step.
Peter: Sounds like it was almost destined?
Calvin: Yeah that stuck with me. And then when I was in college, about my junior year and I thought that by junior year you’ve got to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life, have a plan in place, but I didn’t.
I was broke like most college students, so just frustrated with life, but I remember every other Friday I’d take my last 20 dollars that I had in my pocket, I’d go get a haircut, and I would leave out feeling like a million bucks.
So, I’ve always known that grooming had the potential to help people feel better about themselves.
Peter: So tell us, how did the business actually start?
Post college, I did get some pretty good paying jobs but they were totally uninspiring. One day I walked past this interesting brownstone building, and had some nostalgia of my time as a kid in my mom’s shop and decided to open up this five-chair barbershop while continuing the job for a market research firm working in finance.
Transitioning to a successful online store
Peter: So sounds like it pretty quickly evolved beyond just the shop right?
Calvin: Yeah, a couple of months in, I noticed many of the guys had very dry damage to their hair and beards. I was bored with my daytime desk job so on the evenings and weekends, I went home and learned everything that I could about hair and skin and natural ingredients and would work towards creating a solution for our customers.
Over the course of a year and half, I ended up creating really wonderful products, so much so that word spread organically and we had folks coming in from neighboring states (to buy them).
Peter: Nice. So, it took you about a year to become a viable business?
Calvin: Yeah. About a year of launching the products and you know, getting feedback from customers and making tweaks and modifications, but yep.
Peter: Love it. And so I’m guessing you didn’t have a manufacturing background. How did you initially make the product and how did you find the right people to work with?
Calvin: So, initially, while doing it from my kitchen, I had a family member who taught me how to make creams and lotions and emulsions.
I was very fascinated by that. I learnt hair is very different when making lotions and creams, but you know, I’m self-taught. The internet is a wonderful tool. There’s lots to learn and I kind of self-taught myself how to make the products initially.
Of course, as the business has grown and we’re servicing a much larger audience so we now work with a chemist who helps us to formulate our products. But at first, it was just me in the kitchen using the world wide web and figuring it all out!
Organic and vegan certifications – are they worth it?
Peter: And where did you decide to land with certifications around being organic or vegan? How did you make those calls?
Calvin: So, we don’t call ourselves a vegan or all-organic line. We use some ingredients that are vegan or organic, but we market ourselves as clean and non-toxic.
In the beginning, I was the person making the products. And I knew I didn’t want to include unhealthy products. And so, I refused to use products that are toxic or harmful. It all started with me not wanting to ingest or have those products on my skin or my customers’ skin that I decided not to use harmful or toxic products.
Peter: Interesting. We see a lot of brands who then kind of get stuck thinking “Should I go after that organic or vegan certification? Does it deliver ROI?” Or just being able to say “Look, we are a brand who believes in this and we don’t use rubbish.”
Calvin: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s about just being thoughtful, right? And it really depends on the audience that you’re serving as well, right? We are very thoughtful in the ingredients that we use and select and include in our products. We use organic products but not all.
There’s a fine balance where our focus is on delivering non-toxic but more effective products. You can be somewhat limited in creating really effective products if you limit yourselves to just organic and vegan products.
Side hustle to full-time entrepreneur life
Peter: Were there any pieces of running the business that was a massive culture shock to you?
Calvin: Yes. One of the things that I’d say is a big thing when you jump into entrepreneurship is that when you’re working a 9 to 5, or 9 to 8 or whatever it is, you still have the ability at the end of the day, the end of the week, to go home and not – for the most part – worry about the business.
But when you become an entrepreneur and you are responsible for a team of folks and their livelihood and their families’ livelihoods, that doesn’t happen, right?
So, the business is constantly on your mind, 24/7. And folks have said this before: it can kind of get lonely, right? Because there are some things that may be going on with you and with the business that you just can’t share with employees, right?
And so you kind of have to suck it up, forge ahead and, you know, put a smile on your face even during the difficult days, right? Some of the days when you feel like you’re not sure that this thing is going to work out and everything feels like it’s crumbling, you still have to wear that smile. And sometimes you don’t have someone to talk to that will understand.
Peter: The pressures of running the show I guess?
Calvin: Absolutely. So, it’s tough, but it also has its rewards, right?
Because at the end of the day, I come in here, I’m really satisfied with what we’re doing and what our mission is and the vision of the company and I’m excited to work with the group of folks that I’m working with and fundamentally, we built this thing from the ground up.
And there’s this excitement that’s in the air that I would never have – or that I didn’t have once – while working the 9 to 5.
Peter: Did you get any formal training to help with bridging any gaps when you started the business?
Calvin: I’m constantly learning. I’m always reading a book or listening to a podcast. I also follow marketing blogs.
Every morning when I first get to the office, I dedicate at least 15 to 20 minutes to reading something that’s interesting – before I start my day.
I’m also blessed in that there are a handful of folks, about three or four individuals that have worked in the CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) space, who I can call on when I’m having difficulties.
Working with influencers and affiliate programs
Peter: So I saw that you’ve done some work with influencers and affiliates. How is that kind of stuff working for you?
Calvin: Influencer and affiliate marketing are great. We have an influencer program that is run by the two folks who are running our marketing. It has worked incredibly well for us. In fact, as we speak, it represents about 9-10% of our revenue. Likewise, affiliate marketing represents about 10% of our revenue.
The one thing that I would say about influencer marketing, obviously, is that it’s a long-term, long tail strategy. You know, it’s not a one-and-done kind of thing and it’s very hard to scale. But if you build incredible relationships with these folks it’s much easier to scale over time.
I’d say for the last year, we’ve been aggressive at influencer marketing and it has had a huge impact on the business.
Peter: Love it. I saw you use the platform, Fervora, for your influencer program. How do you make calls about the platforms that you work with?
Calvin: We do spend some time really vetting the platforms that we work with, especially when it comes to any programs or initiatives that are sort of long-running or big scale – I mean we currently have a little over 400 influencers that we’re managing.
Also, we usually get recommendations. Most of the platforms that we’ve worked with have come from recommendations of folks that we have worked with in the past or are currently working with. It’s usually recommendations from trusted folks.
Pete: Sounds great. To finish up, I’ve got some quickfire questions. Is there a single best thing you’ve ever done to get more followers or sales?
Calvin: Yes. Delivering kickass products.
You can have the most beautiful brand and be focused on all these features and metrics, but at the end of the day, you need to deliver high-quality products that the customer wants.
We’ve always focused on products that customers want and need. We’ve always made sure that our products are really effective and good. And this approach has worked really well for us.
Peter: And in terms of customer acquisition, what works for you?
Email is a huge driver of our business. It’s about 28% of our revenue. And there’s so much more work that we could do there.
Peter: What’s your website built using and are you happy with it?
Calvin: Shopify. I am happy with it. It has been a really seamless process and the website has never crashed. During the busy holiday season, we didn’t have any issues. So, I like it.
Peter: Cool. And how about social – do you go live on social yourself?
Calvin: I haven’t. We have talked about it and we’re working on setting up this community forum right now. It will likely be on Facebook Live until we find some other way to do it. I won’t be the moderator, but I’ll get on from time to time and answer questions.
I’ll open myself up to having conversations about whatever the guys want to talk about. So, yes, I will be doing it!
Peter: Yeah. I love it. And last of all, how many unread emails do you have in your inbox right now?
Calvin: Whew. I have always been the kind of guy that likes to answer emails and check the box off on everything, but I must admit that for the last two years, things have been a little chaotic. And so currently I probably have – let’s look, because I’m looking at my email now – I have 1,069 unread emails in my inbox!
Peter: Okay – well I might let you get back to it then!
Calvin: I should be ashamed of that. Yeah. Is that terrible?
I mean, listen. I have a focus box and then I have another box, right? So, all of my focus emails are the ones that I absolutely clear. And then others, you know – some are not as important as others. And I find that if I literally sit here all day and answer emails, I won’t get any work done, you know?
Peter: Yes, so true.
Calvin, thanks so much for taking the time to share the Scotch Porter story with us at Ampjar. Here are a couple of key takeaways we learned from Calvin.
- Entrepreneur life can be non-stop – but worth it.
“The business is constantly on your mind, 24/7 – and it can kind of get lonely. But there’s this excitement that’s in the air that I would never have – or that I didn’t have once – while working the 9 to 5.”
- Keep learning to keep growing
Calvin says he is always reading or listening to new podcasts to learn more. A few podcasts he loves:
- How I Built This with Guy Raz
- Problem Solvers by Entrepreneur Magazine
- Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman
- This is Success
- The Glossy Beauty Podcast.
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