Interview With Doug Geiger of CanYouHandleBar
This interview is a written transcript of an audio interview with Doug Geiger, “Marketing Guy” for Saddleback Leather and Gentleman in charge of CanYouHandlebar. Some parts of this interview have been omitted or restructured to ease flow of reading. Words added for clarification or paraphrase are listed in brackets. Every effort has been made to maintain the integrity of Doug Geiger’s intent and dialogue.
CanYouHandlebar is a popular brand of mustache and beard wax, featured on the Art of Manliness. Mixing transparent, all-natural ingredients with a unique character, CanYouHandlebar is the talk of the town for anyone featuring a handsome do and a taste for adventure. Today, we just scored an interview with Doug Geiger, CanYouHandlebar‘s creator, where he’ll spill all the beans about handlebars, his company, favorite Saddleback Leather bag, and even share a bit of manly wisdom about life. Without further ado.
How did you find out about Saddleback Leather, and what made you want to get involved?
Doug: It was four years ago now; I found out about Saddleback on Art of Manliness. There was a contest and I clicked over to the site. I ended up reading pretty much the whole site and then showed my wife, and she got me an XL briefcase – that was my first Saddleback purchase, the first Christmas after we got married.
Learning about the brand, everything from the description of Dave’s deals to the links to the competitors to the story about Blue – it really got me from the beginning. I think [it’s] a reaction to how fast-paced and how fleeting everything is: how people see value in things that are made out of leather, wood, steel or [the art of] growing out their beards – anything that takes more than half a second to accomplish.
Growing up with [modern technology], there was something that was always appealing [to me]: after putting my Macbook Pro and my iPhone away, having a really cool leather bag [that’s not fleeting.] That will last longer than until the next generation comes out. Which is what happens with your phones; you feel like they’re brand new and you get them, and a year and a half later you feel like you’ve got a dinosaur in your pocket. I want something to be cooler the longer I have it. That really fits with the Art of Manliness crowd, and my [own] style.
What’s your favorite Saddleback bag? Which one would you recommend to someone else?
Doug: You know, there are two different answers. My favorite is the tobacco right now – I’ve got so many – that’s my every day carry. In terms of recommendation, I don’t want to recommend until I’ve gotten to know [a person] more and understand their personality. I don’t believe there’s one kind of bag for everybody – I believe there’s a bag for everybody.
About CanYouHandlebar – I love the name, by the way – what made you want to start a mustache wax business?
Doug: For me, I didn’t start off saying, “I should start a business, what business should I start?” I started off with just an interest in a handlebar [mustache]. [At the time,] there were some good [mustache] waxes in terms of performance. But there were a couple things [lacking]. From a functionality perspective, I just didn’t know what was in [those recipes]. The industry was still pretty new, and there weren’t very many people making them. I’m not a health nut by any means, but once you get a handlebar mustache, you’re going to end up eating your mustache while you’re trying to eat your breakfast, [and you have no idea what’s going inside you]. That got me thinking, how well could a brand do if it did tell what the ingredients were?
The other thing I noticed was that there really wasn’t a brand out there. There were companies that made stuff, but there weren’t any brands out there, period. But moreover, I felt like there wasn’t a brand out there that talked about having facial hair for the same reasons that I have facial hair, which – to go back to the leather story – [was about] having something in my life that wasn’t fleeting and having something that connected me to a past generation. Maybe it’s idealizing the past, but [handlebars are] something that connected me to a time period where things were simpler, slower. For me, that’s what was appealing about having facial hair: classic masculinity. There wasn’t any brand really talking about that.
So bringing those two things together: the transparency of how it’s made, and the brand story. [It’s] not about being a hipster, not about following a trend or a fad. [It’s about] doing something that may come and go in popularity, but because of the reason that you do it, you’re connecting to something bigger than yourself. That was kind of the beginning of it. So I said “I don’t know if it will be successful, but I’m seeing a gap in the market I think I can fill.” That’s when I started tinkering with the wax, it took me about 17 tries to get the first version, and then I went all-natural and it took me about another 40.
Have you encountered any challenges being transparent with your recipe?
Doug: First of all, I don’t have to list [the recipe]. Having said that, unless you’re only going to sell on the internet, it’s difficult to get into retail locations for products that you put on your body or face without listing the ingredients. A lot of salons just won’t sell it. Even when I had the ingredients on my website but didn’t have the ingredients on the packaging, I still had a couple of places that said “we really need the ingredients listed.” I didn’t know [about] that [starting off] – [but I had] decided to list my ingredients first – and later I learned it just made good business sense. If you think mixing the ingredients is the same as starting the company, that’s the least of the problems I’ve dealt with. [It’s] really not as difficult to do. Through looking at forums and a little trial and error – you can find your solution. But building a brand is a lot more difficult.
Sounds like you went through an adventure getting here.
Doug: Yeah, it took a long time. I learned a lot of ways not to make mustache wax.
Oh? Tell me one way that didn’t work out for you.
Doug: Well one of the things that doesn’t work is pine tar. Not a good ingredient. The main problem being it smells like pine tar. The second problem with it is that it doesn’t bind with wax, so it separates. It just makes a clump of wax that has pine tar on it that sticks. I was just experimenting, trying to get a bunch of different properties: stickiness and that sort of thing. “What is sticky?” And I tried it.
How did you build your brand? What makes Handlebar matter to everyone else?
Doug: I started with the presupposition that people already cared about what I cared about. I didn’t need to create [a need] in them that didn’t exist, I just needed to demonstrate that my brand connected to [something] that already existed.
The difference would be – [say I created] a whole new sport out of nothing, and I was trying to explain to people why my sport is better than baseball, hockey, and basketball. That’s a whole different thing than if I say, “You have a hunger for food, and there’s no one else that’s making food, and I have a restaurant.” I don’t need to create a need for food inside you. I just need to show that my restaurant can provide for [what you] need [and don’t have], as opposed to saying “you need to be excited about this thing I’m doing.”
So I didn’t feel like I needed to create any hype, I just needed to get it in front of people. If I was right about my assumption that there was a hunger, and I could be the restaurant, then I felt like it would succeed.
What does your family think about CanYouHandlebar?
Doug: My wife is very supportive. My son is three so he does whatever we tell him – well, that’s not true. [laughs] [My wife says] people have asked her before “that’s cool that your husband has this beard and mustache and he’s got the company. But what do you really think about it?” She’s like “It’s his body, it’s his face. He can do whatever the h— he wants with it. And that’s the way I feel; if she asks me what I think about a particular color, I’ll be like “I like it okay, but I like this color.” But I don’t guilt her into wearing a particular color or doing her nails a certain way. I care about her preferences, and she cares about mine. We respect one another’s autonomy as individuals.
That’s not to say that she doesn’t not like it. Beyond that I think she does like it, I think that she appreciates [it] for the same reasons I do. The reason I think she appreciates [it is] because it’s an extension of my personality, and an extension of our worldview. The brand isn’t just about masculinity. I’d say about maybe a third of my customers are women buying for men. If I was only this boy club, alpha male sort of thing, I don’t think my brand would be frequented by as many females. I think because I really care about – and this is really cliché – family values, she appreciates [it]. And she may not be able to grow a beard, but we’re completely alike in our thoughts about the way things should be and the way we should act as people; and because we have a values connection, the rest of this is kind of window dressing.
You ever get people who ask you about your hair in the streets?
Doug: You know, I do have people, now that it’s as long as it is, notice it or say something. But maybe it’s because I’m 6’3”, I don’t really get people give me a hard time. [laughs] I get people come up to me and ask how long I’ve been growing it, and so I tell them I have to wear it for work. They’re like “What? Where do you work that your boss makes you grow a beard?” And I say “Well, I’m my own boss and I own a beard oil company, and so I make me.” And then they just laugh. But I think most people just appreciate that’s it’s something out of the ordinary. Any given day, they’re probably not going to see a beard even half as long.
I am truly in reverence – I want my beard to be like yours someday.
Doug: You just got to stop cutting it.
Fair enough, sound advice!
Doug: It’s a great sport, I’ve really been able to excel. I don’t consider myself a hero. [laughs]
You’re a hero to me, Doug! Speaking of which, I liked your definition of manliness on your website. “A man is a boy multiplied by life minus excuses.” Very clever and telling way to put it. What advice would you give for an aspiring man trying to multiply?
Doug: I would say not to shy away from mentorship, not to shy away from periods of not knowing the answer, but [to] actually seek out relationships where you’re willing to say “I’m not going to even try to be your equal, I just want to learn from you.” I think a lot of our idols right now are people who are self-made and pit success young, [like Mark Zuckerberg]. There are people gifted that way, but I think more often you have to be willing to make yourself a student for a long time. Certainly before you teach, and maybe [even] before you compete. So I would just say find a place to [be a student], whether that’s with another person that mentors you, or with books, or [by] looking [for patterns in what has] happened to you [before]. If your last four employers have said the same thing about you, maybe they’re not jerks, maybe you actually need to work on that. It’s [about] being a student and having that mindset to think back on what’s happened and try to learn.
That’s not something that I learned as early as I would have liked to. There’s still areas where I’m sure I don’t do as well as I should. But every area where I have actually said: “You know what? I don’t know the right answers. I need to learn from people that are smarter than me,” it’s been good. At the expense of my ego sometimes, but that’s the only way to actually get to the point where people will admire what you’ve done. If you’re willing to sacrifice your ego and learn from someone, then people will ask you what your opinion is. But if you’re so quick to establish dominance, sometimes you miss opportunities to learn things [that would help you].
So we’re both basically potions masters. How about a Leather Milk and CanYouHandlebar superhero team up sometime?
Doug: Absolutely! And obviously, I would have you know that every product I own has Leather Milk on it. In addition, I have my own Leather Milk that I condition my bags with. I’m a happy and proud customer.
Any parting advice you want to give?
Doug: I would just say pay attention to all these guys. They’re a lot of really smart people between Leather Milk and Saddleback. And I don’t just mean smart like “good at jeopardy.” I mean good at asking questions and knowing who they are and who they’re not. I learned a ton. I’m really grateful for the experience at Saddleback so far and hope I’ll still be here 10 years from now. There’s some really great people to learn from here.
Thanks Doug for sharing and teaching us all about CanYouHandlebar. I’ll have to talk with you again soon.
Doug: Sounds good, take care.
Doug Geiger (www.canyouhandlebar.com)