The Mecca of Wet Shaving: An Interview with Brad of Maggard Razors
We're very excited about today's interview with Brad of Maggard Razors, not only because we’re big fans of the company—and we most certainly are—but because we're huge fans of what they represent.
We've talked to a lot of artisans and business owners, and if we've noticed one thing, it's that a great business can enhance every area of your life. It can sustain you financially, provide you with a community, and allow you to truly focus on something you're passionate about.
And that's exactly why we were so interested to talk to Brad—Maggard does all that. Maggard is a husband-and-wife operation (with a growing number of employees!), that brings people together (the Maggard Meet, an annual event for wet shavers), that has afforded Brad the opportunity to travel far abroad (and we discuss his trip to Solingen, the "City of Blades," below), all while focusing on a practice Brad and company are passionate about: wet shaving.
Maggard is the all-American story about small business that combines family, entrepreneurialism, and community, and if you yourself ever start a business, you probably hope it ends up looking something like Maggard.
So, a big thank you to Brad for talking with us, and if you're in—or anywhere near—their storefront in Adrian, Michigan, stop in and give them a visit, and tell them we said hello!
Q: Thank you, Brad, for agreeing to interview with us! Would you tell us a little bit about yourself, about Maggard Razors, and what you guys do?
A: Sure, and thank you for having me! I'm a 37-year-old ex-IT guy who had a hobby that turned into a business. Although it wasn’t really part of my life plan, Maggard Razors has really taken off, and I’m so incredibly proud of it. It’s grown into one of the largest online/ecommerce traditional wet shaving supply stores—and our brick and mortar store is likely THE largest wet shaving specific store in the world. We kick butt at customer service and shipping, and our efforts are reflected in the number of orders we ship and our stellar online reviews. We’re all-in.
The name "Maggard Razors" and associated website actually was intended on being a place to sell custom made straight razors (I was going to be stamping them with my last name), and I didn’t really anticipate the business to take such a heavily retail direction, but I really enjoyed the way it started growing and managing that growth. I think I even liked it more than grinding on straight razor blades!
That's how I ended up in the place I'm at. It also was a bit of luck, as we struck while the iron was hot in 2012-2013 when the interest in traditional wet shaving was at its peak.
Q: That’s phenomenal! We've been doing a few of these interviews lately, and I guess this is a good place to start: how did you get involved in wet shaving, and what are your favorite things about it?
A: I probably started like many of your readers—I hated shaving and got tons of irritation from cartridges! I googled "how to get a better shave" and was introduced to the traditional double edge safety razor. I ran into some blog articles and videos from Mantic59 on YouTube. I actually blame my wife Casie for starting this mess because she got me my first shavette, brush, and soap puck in 2008 after overhearing me talking about the info I found online.
If I had to name my favorite part about wet shaving, it’s my fascination with the fact that I can use a vintage straight razor that’s 150-200 years old. That's a darn cool feeling.
Q: That’s actually one of our favorite aspects of it, as well, and I think that’s the case for a lot of guys who are really into wet-shaving. And—speaking of guys who are really into wet shaving, can you tell us about the Maggard Meet? That looks like a ton of fun.
A: It’s is—it's an absolute blast. We have continued improving the experience for the attendees year after year, and we have really started to nail down the perfect formula for getting 270+ wet shavers into one place. I can just about guarantee that 2019 will be our largest to date. We keep the atmosphere completely casual, and don’t force people to watch boring presentations. We had 19 vendors in 2018, a MASSIVE Pay-It-Forward table, and gave away over $4,000 in door prizes—and we provide all our attendees lunch vouchers and a free frosty beverage
People meet up with people they know from online groups and forums, or simply come to meet new people entirely. Many spouses tag along... and you know you are doing something right when even they have a blast!
Q: That’s one of aspects of Maggard we appreciate—that you guys have an actual physical presence. You guys have an ENORMOUS—and I mean enormous—on-site selection of wet shaving products at your Adrian, Michigan. I don't think I've ever seen to many shaving brushes lined up in a row. We know a lot of folks who operate online stores, but honestly, very few who also run a brick-and-mortar store. What's that like? What are some of the benefits / negatives of running an on-site location?
A: We have over 3,500 products—the entire online store—available for browsing in our store in Adrian. It truly is a site to behold, and it’s another thing I’m really proud of. Some quick math suggests that it would take you over four hours to give every one of the soaps/creams a 15-second sniff. CRAZY!
It's true that we could operate out of a pole barn somewhere, probably for less overhead costs, but the more organized we can keep our inventory, the less likely we will make picking errors. So, while keeping up the store IS a huge amount of work, it keeps our online inventory extremely organized for our order picking staff. Having a place for everything, brushes on display, prices, labels, etc., keeps us accurate.
Plus, having a brick and mortar store proves to our online customers that we are a legit business. It also gives people a desire to "bucket list" a trip to our store someday. People have actually driven 10+ hours just to come to our store! And we have had people from all over the world (Brazil, Mexico, Germany, etc.) that manage to stop in when they are in the area. That is some incredible customer dedication/loyalty, and we love being the wet shaving mecca!
Our customers also can SEE what their purchase is supporting. We pump a lot of profits back into product development and store expansion. For those interested, our in-store sales only account for 3% of our revenue. Not enough to sustain the shop by itself... not even close, actually! It’s really just a supplemental revenue stream, and you gotta store your products somewhere, so why not open the door?
Q: I would not have guessed that 3% number! That makes your dedication to the storefront even more unique. That’s worthwhile, though, and I imagine it’s actually part of the fun of running a business—meeting your actual customers, which is something that almost all online stores don’t get to do.
As far as the "online presence" for wet shaving companies go, you've got a pretty big following—over 8,000 followers on your Facebook page, more than 2,500 Twitter followers, and more than 6,000 YouTube subscribers. Those are some pretty strong numbers. Did those numbers happen organically, or did you make a decision to really focus on social media?
A: 100% organic. I have never paid for an ad online, ever. In fact, I imagine our numbers would be staggering if I started to.
That said, I really like how growing social media organically ensures that your customers are INCREDIBLY engaged. They want to follow us, and they didn’t do so because we had a flashy clickbait ad. And I also know I'm not getting ripped off by some Brand marketing agency where I'm paying for followers and half of them end up Russian bots 🙂
Our email list is our largest asset, though—we have over 47,000 on the list, and we have an average email open rate of 30-36% when we send out newsletters. That’s probably 10 times the average ecommerce open rates. That kid of engagement level is what I like to see.
Q: What are some of the benefits and challenges of that kind of social presence, and what advice can you give our readers who are starting off a business—say, selling soaps—who want to develop their online presence?
A: Benefits are obvious... it drives traffic to our site! As for challenges—well, creating content is my biggest challenge, due to the time that it takes. I work 60+ hour weeks, so, I really have to be enthusiastic about something to generate a social media post about it. It kind of gets old, sometimes, as I'm a pretty quiet person on my personal social media accounts. Just doesn’t fit my personality much, I guess!
As for advice I would give others... people who are trying to build a wet shaving brand can benefit tremendously by partnering with a larger retailer like us or one of our competitors. I can remember adding around 500 likes to one of our artisan soap maker’s pages in a single weekend when we did a bit of cross promotion with our two Facebook pages.
And if you want to try to build on your own? Content, content, content!
Q: As website owners ourselves, we feel you: content is tough. It just takes time, you know?
And, speaking of content, you've got some really fascinating videos on YouTube about restoring straight razors. How did you originally develop an interest in restoring straight razors, and how did you learn how to do it?
A: I started restoring when I got into SRs in 2009... and was picking up some cool ones in local antique shops and on eBay. Initially I was just cleaning them up to use myself, but that quickly turned into cleaning them up to sell so I could continue funding my hobby. I didn't expect that to turn into a business—I just wanted more tools and blades to work on.
As for learning how to work on them, there was some information on a forum called Straight Razor Place, but I did have to fill in a lot of gaps myself [Editor’s Note: Straight Razor Place, sadly, is no longer around. It was a great resource, but the site doesn’t seem to be online any longer].
I posted a series of SR restoration videos that kind of summarized everything I had learned, and they became pretty popular. I was just trying to give back in the same way that many had shared info with me.
Q: You guys have a pretty steady honing business, too, it looks like—you've honed over 4,250 blades in just under a decade! Can you tell us a little bit about that, and how our readers can get in touch with you if they have a blade they need honed?
A: So, I will admit—honing isn't my favorite part of the job. It’s... just very repetitive, time consuming, and, you don't make a huge amount of money doing it. I continue to do it mostly just for reputation though—how can I run a shaving store and NOT do it?
By the way, if you’re interested in our honing services, info can be found on the "Services" tab on our site. My honing process is the following: Chosera 1000 -> Shapton HC ceramic on glass 4000, 8000 -> Naniwa 12000 (or sometimes Shapton 16k) -> Yellow-green Escher (natural stone)
Q: It looks like you've been steadily building your business over the last few years—you and Casie have been have been working on Maggard since 2013, and it looks like you added Penny in 2014, Matthew and Dave in 2015, and now Ryan in 2017 and Jon in 2018. We know a lot of artisans who are one-man/one-woman shows, who do pretty well on Etsy and eBay, but would like to expand their business. How have you gone from a smaller business to an actual company, and how did you know when it was time to expand?
A: Growth of our team was out of pure necessity to complete day to day work. When you are shipping 10, 20, 30 orders a day, you can keep up without issue... but once you get to 60… 80...120+... it's just not something you can manage alone. Before you know it, you are a slave to your tape gun and USB scale. The nice part is, though, if you’re getting so many orders that you can't keep up, then guess what...you can probably afford to hire someone!
We have grown the business through a few ways, but mainly identifying gaps in the market and filling them better than anyone else. Some examples: samples, quality sub-$20 razors, artisan product selection (one stop shop), international shipping rates. Plenty of others, too.
One advantage that we have as a retailer of many, many brands, is that if a particular brand slows down, our overall sales aren't impacted too much, because there are five artisans lined up to take that consumer demand. That’s a nice insurance policy.
And just keep that in mind—the "magic recipe" to grow a business like ours, and the "recipe" to sustain as a small artisan may be VERY different. Some of the more popular /successful artisans are building their businesses through various methods... the more popular ways being seasonal releases, limited editions, or in some cases very low/competitive prices OR exuberant prices (and yes, both can work!).
Q: Last question, and our favorite, because we’re fascinated by this: you recently took a trip to visit Ralf Aust's workshop in Solingen, Germany. Can you tell us about that trip, and your experience? That must have been incredible. [Editor's Note: Solingen is known as the "City of Blades," and is world-famous for its production of blades—from swords to scissors to knives for razors—and its traditional of blade-making.]
A: Well, I wrote up my experience as best I could and posted it on our site... but, to summarize, it was amazing and it was everything I hoped it would be. The visit confirmed what I already knew—that he is probably putting out the most consistent hand-ground blades in the world right now. The sad part of the trip is that it was clear that shops like his are a dying breed. There used to be hundreds, if not thousands of them, scattering the area... but now there are but a handful. We walked through several "downtown" areas in Solingen's various districts, and there were no cutlery showrooms of any kind. Nothing. You would never know that Solingen was at one time the cutlery capital of the world. I am just glad that we can offer what little support we have given Mr. Aust in the past couple years and we will continue to promote his razors every chance we can get.
Q: That’s awesome, and we’re glad you got to offer some support for something that’s so important. That about wraps it up for our interview—thank you for speaking with us!