How the fashion for beards and gunpowder scented hair products have helped create a booming Doncaster brand

Just over five years ago, Sam W Martin’s business was selling £300 worth beard care products a month after people had asked him how he looked after his own facial hair.

By David Kessen
Thursday, 13 June, 2019, 14:09

Little more than a year later, that figure had rocketed to £77,000 a month, leading to it becoming and international business that now sells its products in over 130 different countries worldwide. Now it is even expanding into barber shops.

His firm, Apothecary 87, based at Hyssop Court, in the grounds of Woodfield Park, Doncaster, was initially going to be a part time hobby, as he had established himself in an existing business running bars at society events.

Sam W Martin, founder and chief executive of Apothecary 87, based at Woodfield Park, Doncaster

His clients had included former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron.

As a young man, he had grown a beard to make himself look older, and found it helped people remember him. This was before beards became fashionable.

When he found at one stage that it itched, he tried various grooming products to relieve the problem, and found they didn’t help.

As a result he created his own solutions in his kitchen with a mixing bowl and a whisk. Later, people started asking him on social media how he looked after his facial hair. At the time, not many people had beards, and Sam was used to people telling him he would look better without it.

When people started asking him if they could buy what he used, he started his business as a sideline.

He said: “They kept asking, and I thought this could be a good way of creating a brand.

“I put a lot of reseach in and spoke to people like cosmetic scientists, asking for advice, and that helped me with issues such as legalities and the requirements of testing.

“I started the company and we launched other products too – shaving products and hair products.”

Initially the firm was based in a smaller building at Woodfield Park, but moved to its current site within a few months, as demand started to soar.

The business creates its own product in its own laboratory on the premises, and then outsources the commericial production. Its products are manufactured in Yorkshire.

After the lab has created the samples, they are sent away with details of their formulation, with the manufacturer advising on any changes that it recommends for production purposes.

November 2013 saw the firm turnover £300. That doubled the following month. But in January 2014 it was just short of £10,000, and turnover for the whole of the first year was around £350,000.

“My dad had lent me £1,500 to start up,” said Sam. “It was a shock how quickly things grew.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“We’ve continued to grow each year, and its been a bit of a whirlwind. We’ve sold in places I didn’t even know existed.

“The fashion for beards coming in has definitely helped. It has given us a strong platform, and because we were here before the fashion arrived that gave us a strong position in the market.

“But we never wanted to be just about beards – we want to be a men’s grooming brand, to help men feel better about themselves. We try to create good products which are as natural as possible.

“We try not to get caught up in fashion, and don’t ever want to be a follower. We try to do what we think is right and to be farsighted, creating things before people realise they want them.”

The firm has tried to use unusual scents, such as vanilla and mango in its beard oil, which has been popular. Other scents for similar products by other brands had tended to be wood, leather of lemon, said Sam.

They have also created hair products.

One such hair product, which split the market in a Marmite-style love it or hate it way, was a limited edition hair product with a ‘gunpowder’ scent, capturing the smell of fireworks and cap guns. It is still available on the internet.

There are now plans to expand the range of products, with skincare products and male fragrances currently in development.

The most recent addition to the business has been a barbershop, which has opened within the firm’s premises at Woodfield Park.

It uses the Apothecary 87 products. Clients feedback is taken into account.

The barbers has been up and running for three months.

“I think the barbershop is an exciting development,” said Sam. “It is great to see people come in and rather than being behind a desk, I can see people using the products and walk away feeling great.”

He hopes to open more barber shops in the future in cities both in the UK and abroad.

He has a list of outlets who want to stock his products, but has turned some big names down which he does not feel fit with the brand. ASOS is one of his biggest clients, and the Queen’s pharmacist, John Bell and Croyden, in London, stocks his brand, as does the American firm Dillards, which has over 200 outlets in the USA.

The firm also operates its own photo studio to create pictures used in its marketing.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Sam. “I remember my dad once asking me what I would do it it became more than a part time job. Two months later I was selling my events company to concentrate on Apothecary 87.”