FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Nick Adkins retired from a career as an aircraft mechanic and Chinook helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army and was thrilled to be able to stop doing something he’d been forced to do for the last 22 years: shave. Little did he know his simple decision to never shave again would lead him to start a successful business making and selling beard balms and oils.
Adkins, who is the director of operations for the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, explained the evolution of his business as he set up a display of Permafrost Beards products.
“As my beard grew in, it started going out to the side, and it looked pretty scruffy. I do have to put a tie on every once in a while, and I wanted my beard to look like an intentional choice, as opposed to, ‘I’m too lazy to shave,'” Adkins said.
Adkins’ wife, Courtney, ordered some beard care products online, but Adkins found he didn’t like them.
“Basically, they were just kind of heavy and greasy and I didn’t really like the way it looked. So I thought I was just going to keep a really short beard. Then Courtney said, ‘Let’s buy some stuff and make our own and see if we can find a recipe we like.'”
After a lot of research, Adkins and his wife purchased shea butter, cocoa butter, beeswax, jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and skin-safe essential oils. They started experimenting in January of last year and after some trial and error came up with oils and balms that performed the way Adkins wanted them too. The couple never intended to sell their products, but that changed when they gave some to a friend who liked them so much he asked to buy more.
“We said, ‘Why not?’ That’s when we started testing and coming up with different recipes and grabbing our bearded friends and saying, ‘Hey, try this,'” Adkins said.
Deciding to take the business seriously and not do it as just a “side hobby,” Adkins and his wife formed a limited liability company, got a business license and insurance, obtained a “Made in Alaska” certification and came up with the slogan “Keep Your Face Jacket On.” Courtney created the company’s logo, Nick built a website, and Permafrost Beards started selling products online in May. To their surprise, they sold $600 of product in the first week, and interest continues to build.
The company has clients in Australia, Canada and throughout the Lower 48 and also gets a lot of orders from bearded civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Locally, their products can be found at Salon Bella, Sunshine Health Foods, Beads and Things, and at First Friday events.
Permafrost Beards beard oils and beard balms come in five scents: Wood Chip Whiskey, Yukon Spice, Minty Moose Drool, Arctic Birch and Denali Frost. The beard oils, which are meant to be worked into the skin under a man’s beard, provide moisture and help alleviate “beardruff,” which can be a problem in Alaska’s dry climate. The oils also soften the beard and make it smell nice, a fact which “most ladies are very happy to hear,” according to Adkins.
The beard balms contain beeswax to sculpt a man’s beard for a well-groomed look.
“You put it in the palm of your hand and rub it vigorously,” Adkins explained. “It warms up, you rub it through and into your beard, and as it dries and hardens the beeswax holds it in place. So instead of your beard going out to the side, now it’s basically tamed.”
Adkins said product usage varies with the customer.
“We have men that wear it every single day and some that use both the beard balm and the oil. We have folks that only use oil and folks that only use balm,” Adkins said. “We have men that only wear it when their wife makes them when they go out. That happens often.”
Adkins said his wife, who homeschools their 12-year-old son Ian and 7-year-old daughter Finley, also manages the couple’s rental cabins in addition to helping him run Permafrost Beards.
“She has a master’s degree and two bachelor’s degrees. She’s way too smart for me and I don’t deserve her. I’m a very lucky man,” Adkins said.
The couple makes all of their products at home and use raw and organic ingredients whenever possible. They don’t use dyes or parabens, and their products contain “nothing but what they really need.”
“We use less ingredients than the other beard balms and oils out there. Most men just want to hold it in place and smell nice, and if we get some moisturizing out of it too, it’s almost like a bonus to us,” Adkins said.
Permafrost Beards’ other products include mustache wax; hoodies, T-shirts and stickers with the company’s logo; and a charity calendar featuring bearded men doing various activities associated with the 12 local businesses that sponsored it. Four volunteer photographers started shooting in August and the calendar started selling for $20 in November. The proceeds, which total $4,080 so far, are split evenly between Love, INC and the Veterans Taxi Fund.
Adkins said he may eventually have to hire employees — ideally veterans like himself — if Permafrost Beards continues to grow.
“My job now is so far away from my last job, and nobody’s shooting at me. I’m truly enjoying working at the university,” Adkins said. “Some folks have asked ‘Are you going to take this business full time?’ but I love my job here, too. I jokingly call it my day job, but I’m having a blast.”
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com