Welcome back to Products Worth Talking About — the show about disruptive physical products and the people who built them. In today’s episode, we take a look at a David versus Goliath story in the category of men’s grooming with natural deodorant, beard oil, and more. We chat with the owner of American Provenance, Kyle LaFond. We hear about his crazy journey from a middle school science teacher to the founder of a men’s natural personal care company.
Kyle opens up about his beginnings as well as some handy tips to finding quality mentors, and we believe you’ll get as much value as we did out of this discussion with him.
Let’s jump right in and hear what Kyle has to say.
Kyle’s journey is anything but typical. Starting as a wildlife biologist for the Wisconsin DNR he was in charge of the state’s big game programs and wildlife management. Part of that job entailed working with kids and talking about the different aspects of environmentalism and conservation at their schools. Kyle enjoyed spending time with kids and getting a chance to teach them. That inspired Kyle to head back to school himself to get another degree, this time in ‘broad field science education,’ enabling him to teach any type of science curriculum to kids aged 10 through 21.
The one thing no one taught him though, was how bad middle schoolers smell — between shoes, backpacks, lunches, sporting equipment, and general BO, Kyle was shocked. Every October, they’d realize they like someone and need to smell better, and the hallways would be a chemical-filled fog walking down the hallway as kids sprayed all kinds of popular name brand body sprays, perfumes, and colognes.
“I remember walking behind my two students applying these products and I could feel my throat start to constrict. I thought, ‘wow, there’s something really noxious in their product.’ I grabbed the canisters, looked at the back label, and [even] with multiple degrees could only identify about a third of the ingredients. At that point, I created a project and told my kids, ‘Hey, tomorrow, I want you guys to bring in a daily use product. We’re going to do the research to find out what all these chemicals and preservatives and additives are, why they’re in these products and then teach you how to make better products without any of that garbage.” – Kyle LaFond
It’s not only a problem for kids — Kyle realized having healthy alternatives to traditional products was hard to come by just for himself. Back in 2015, Kyle decided to take the plunge and leave teaching and launch American Provenance.
Instead of in his parent’s garage, he was fortunate to have access to an old machine shed on the family farm. After spending six months renovating it, Kyle launched the company, and he hasn’t looked back since — although they have grown much larger. Even with a more industrial facility, they’re still 10 minutes down the road from their humble beginnings and making all of their own products.
Thankfully, his science projects gave Kyle and American Provenance a head start.
As the years progressed, Kyle’s knowledge improve dramatically. As years two, three, and four rolled around with his newfound science projects, Kyle was inadvertently developing a baseline for American Provenance. Before the company even began, Kyle had made about 30 different formulations to pick from as the launching pad for the business.
After multiple website iterations across various sales platforms, American Provenance eventually found a successful home on Shopify. The website went live on May 21st, 2015, and instantly friends and family members jumped on and bought products!
“It was truly remarkable. I was so thankful about how that had transpired, and I spent the next four or five days writing thank you cards to everybody saying, ‘Hey, thank you for your business.’ We really appreciate it as a small business going up against a major international Goliath. The personalization through the handwritten notes is still big for us. Outside of the website, I had a very different perspective in terms of how to launch and grow a business. I spent about the first two and a half years on the road pitching to every grocery store, pharmacy, and independent shop I could find. I realized that a lot of our competitors were marketing firms that were building websites and pushing products they had acquired from contract manufacturers or outsource manufacturers. They really didn’t care about brick and mortar retail.” – Kyle LaFond
Kyle consciously chose to be the opposite of the companies avoiding retailers and realized the value of having products on the shelf right away. We’ve spoken about the value of having retail partners extensively on the show as a wonderful way to build brand awareness and trust.
Two weeks after launching the website, Kyle visited three local grocery stores in the Madison, Wisconsin area, and presented his products. Being handmade, local, and natural — they loved it!
“‘How would you like an end cap?’ I would love an end cap! These three grocery stores gave me end caps right away, which was awesome. I set up all of our products on a Thursday afternoon, did a demo on Saturday in each one of those stores so I can talk to folks and get some feedback. Of the 36 deodorants I put in each one of those locations, all of them were gone [that Monday].” – Kyle LaFond
What a great example of personalized service as well as an opportunity to interact with customers directly!
The name “American Provenance” really stands out to us, and we were curious as to how Kyle chose it, as well as how he manages to keep his pricing so competitive.
We love the name American Provenance. In fact, RT tries to use the word ‘provenance’ as much as possible about his Vortic Watches because it’s all about the history and taking pocket watches and turning them into wristwatches.
“When I first started thinking about what to name this company, a couple of things came to mind right away. Number one, most price books and catalogs are still alphabetical — if you want your product to be seen, you want your company’s name to start with letter A or letter B. Buyers don’t want to flip through to the back. I also chose the word ‘American’ because I want it to be aligned with all these great American small businesses that have started from meager means and grown to be something significant. Here in Wisconsin, Harley Davidson started in a garage over a hundred years ago, and grew to this worldwide conglomerate. Using Harley Davidson as my inspiration, I thought, ‘Hey, starting in a machine shed and having these really nice rustic origins that tie back to my family and our legacy of farming — a great place for me to start was provenance.’ That word came up because I was watching an antique roadshow. They were talking about the provenance of different pieces of art, I thought, ‘Man, that word is great!’ And as a former educator, it’s a great way to teach kids or people in general another word to expand their vocabulary.” – Kyle LaFond
At the time they launched, competitive products on the market either had really cheap ingredients with a ton of chemicals, or really high end products that contain wonderful ingredients but priced at such an exorbitant point that most people wouldn’t be able to afford it. What American Provenance wanted to provide the best quality products using the best ingredients at a price that folks can afford.
It’s great to see a company maintaining their Midwestern roots and sentimentality to keep their products affordable so that anybody can use them. While we commend them for their pricing and keeping it affordable for the general population — our one bit of criticism is their use of plastic. Kyle explains why this is the case.
In truth, this is our only negative thing we came up with — the plastic bottle packaging. However, this isn’t an accident, and there’s been a tremendous amount of thought that’s gone into their packaging. Plastic was a strategic choice, while many competitors use glass bottles they also rely solely on e-commerce platforms to sell their products. However, American Provenance’s products are on the shelf in retail partner outlets, most of whom do not want glass bottles on their shelves.
“Consumers come in, knock them over, they break, it’s a mess. I will say that we initially did start with glass bottles, but the feedback from retail partners was so immediate and alarming that we made the quick switch to plastic because we couldn’t handle those bottles breaking. It also comes down to shipping — it’s very expensive because it’s much heavier than plastic. When we’re shipping our products, it makes more sense to be in plastic.” – Kyle LaFond
American Provenance is already in over 4,000 retail outlets country-wide, and their footprint is expanding with a new deal signed with Target. Launching on May 2nd, 2021 their already impressive distribution will improve by adding 1,900 stores and Target’s online platform to their arsenal — a deal that’s been in the works for three years now!
National retailers also prefer plastic over glass for shipping costs and breakage reasons, so we certainly understand that reasoning, and to be fair, we have to give Kyle major points for the fact his products contain all natural ingredients.
Here at Products Worth Talking About, we’re also committed to diving into the founder’s habits to see what nuggets we can take away for ourselves — and for you!
It’s easy to see successful companies chugging along from the outside, but we’re interested to know what goes into making that success. We asked Kyle to tell us what type of habits he has in his personal life and professional life that help him succeed and focus.
Kyle says he’s an early riser and gets to bed late, so doesn’t place much premium on sleep. Kyle admits his mind is always thinking about the business and things to improve — operations, making his staff happier, and selling products. Even when he’s out and about, he’s always jotting down notes in his phone. Kyle dropped some unexpected bombs on us though!
“Two of my favorite quotes are from very popular American philosophers. One is Mike Tyson — ‘Everybody’s got a plan, until they get punched in the face’ and that’s exactly how it works when you run a business, you have a plan, you strategize, you try to carry these things out, but something always happens. Whatever happens, be prepared, have a plan A, plan B, plan C. My other favorite quote from another great American philosopher, Miley Cyrus [is], ‘Never take “no” for an answer unless it’s perfect.’ I’ve used those two quotes to push me through.” – Kyle LaFond
As good as these quotes are, another important part of Kyle’s success he attributes to finding great mentors.
Kyle loves helping other entrepreneurs sharing resources he found useful along his journey, such as the free resource called The Small Business Developmental Center (SBDC). With an office in Wisconsin, Kyle was fortunate to use them from the beginning. It’s here he found a wonderful mentor, Michelle, a former business owner herself now helping founders like Kyle get off the ground and scale.
Kyle presented his initial business plan to Michelle and her partners at SBDC, and they tore it apart and gave him about 40 hours of homework in terms of rebuilding a business plan and essentially starting fresh. SBDC is taxpayer-funded across every state in the United States — they could be your next mentors!
Kyle also signed up for some mentor groups with sessions once a month or once every other month either on zoom or sometimes in person. They talk about their struggles being faced and how they spend their money, where they’re spending money, what’s getting returns, where market trends are heading, and general sharing information and resources.
“As a founder, you never want to get siloed into just working on your own project. You want to engage and involve others and have discussions with people from other industries so you understand how their markets work and if there are things that they’re facing or going through or have accomplished [and] how you can adapt those to your own business. Having a great mentor through SBDC has been absolutely wonderful, and then engaging with other founders, as silly as that may sound, has been a huge help to me.” – Kyle LaFond
It doesn’t sound crazy at all; it’s one of the reasons we started Products Worth Talking About! It’s become a fantastic vehicle for us to meet and learn from other founders.
We’re curious to know if Kyle has a top lesson he’s learned thus far on his journey.
In a previous episode, we spoke to Colin, the founder of Sheets & Giggles. A big thing he talked about was ‘imposter syndrome’ — Kyle shares his journey with this.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it can be me, period. [Many] folks get kicked in the teeth [when they start], and it takes a toll on your confidence. I keep on thinking all the time, ‘Why not me? I can be the guy that does this!’ I can be the guy that builds a team and creates products that are better, safer, more effective, more affordable for the entire American population.” – Kyle LaFond
We love this! Why wait? Why leave your business idea to somebody else to fulfill? Too often, we get in our own way with negative talk and lack of self-belief. The reality is — if you can think it: you can create it.
We truly appreciated Kyle joining us and giving us an inside view into the life cycle of American Provenance! Be sure to head over to their website, and find one of the 4,000+ retail stores they’re in to pick up your natural men’s product.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post, and if you learned something today, we would love to hear from you. Take a screenshot of the episode and share your most significant takeaways with us on Instagram, @productsworthtalkingabout. You can watch the full show on YouTube, and remember to subscribe so that you can get new content delivered to you directly! Let us know what products and brands you want us to review or what founders you’d like us to interview!
Lastly, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to build a product-based business, check out our business plan that literally writes itself! Within no time, you’ll be ready to pitch to investors and start the company of your dreams.
Thanks for reading! Until next time —
RT and Tyler