I'll Have What I'm Having
Watershed Distillery co-founder, Greg Lehman, sat down with Jared Friesner of Cliff Original to find out more about all-natural grooming products that are free of chemical and toxins while being locally sourced and made.
Greg: Thanks for coming in, Jared.
Jared: Thanks for having me!
Greg: I want to dig in, how did you become interested in this work?
Jared: It was back in 2013, I started to look, and do some research after going to Whole Foods to find a natural pomade and there wasn't any. I went online, couldn't find anything, so I kind of just started tinkering around in my kitchen with different ingredients that’s good for the hair and the scalp. I started with some base beeswax, went to a local beekeeper in Canal Winchester 'Conrad's' where I still get our beeswax today. So I first used it for personal use, a lot of trial and error, a lot of too much beeswax where I couldn't wash it out it, then I started using it for my friends and family, I have two brothers who started using it so I could get some feedback, then I sent out samples to friends and family across the country just to see if I had anything there. Since I couldn't find [a natural pomade] I knew there was a market for it, I couldn't be the only one looking for a natural product. We still use local beeswax local sweet almond oil, shea butter, and an essential oil blend, so it's basically food for your hair and scalp.
Greg: It won't cause it to fall out.
Jared: No, it will actually strengthen it. That was our first product and I named it after my grandpa Cliff. We grew up on a farm in Lancaster on a dirt road. Cliff was a big mentor for me growing up. Through 4H we raised steer, took them to the fair, and he was just a big inspiration. My well being and my character is a tribute to him, so in honor of him I named the company Cliff Original and used his values to build our brand and our company.
Greg: That's really cool. When did you start Cliff Original?
Jared: Father's day is around when I sold my first products, the pomade, and the goats milk soap at Thread in Grandview. Miranda was my first retail partner and she said to bring it in, let's sell it. She's been very supportive ever since. She's a big mentor to me, as a businesswoman, and entrepreneur. We didn't want to go too crazy in the beginning, it's been a slow, steady journey, and that's how we want to build it. Do it right, build it slow.
"Expertise, researching, and finding the benefits of goat's milk. We're able to use local milk, and that makes us unique, there's not a lot of goat's milk soaps out there."
Greg: Tell me about some of the spaces you work out of.
Jared: Currently, we have a couple different places. We have a soap kitchen that we do our goats milk soap. The goats milk is from a farm out in Lancaster, the farmer milks the goats almost every morning, and we use that for our soaps. It takes about 6 weeks for the soaps to cure, so there's a lot of patience into that, which you're familiar with.
Greg: How do you get to soap from goat's milk?
Jared: So basically goat's milk is moisturizing, it has a similar pH balance to our skin. You take raw goat's milk, you mix it with some coconut oil, some palm oil, and olive oil, and that's how the process starts.
Greg: How'd you figure that out?
Jared: Expertise, researching, and finding the benefits of goat's milk. We're able to use local milk, and that makes us unique, there's not a lot of goat's milk soaps out there.
Greg: It's definitely new to me. I remember when we first started making gin, we made a lot of bad batches before we ended up with what is now our four peel. Was there a lot of trial and error for you?
Jared: Yeah, there's still a lot of trial and error today with new products that we're developing, in the beginning we had spoiled goat's milk, but you have to wait 6 weeks to test it to see if it's good or bad, just like you guys, it's a patience game where the reward is weeks, or months later.
Greg: So you get to the end of 6 weeks, and if it's bad, it's bad?
Jared: Yeah, it's bad, or the smells didn't come through with the essential oils, and so forth. We've fine tuned it now, where that doesn't happen, but any new product we're going to do, there's always that chance that it's like the pomade with too much beeswax, and it's going to be hard to wash out. You have to fail to improve. You've got to try it, and if you fail, you try it again.
Greg: What do you spend most of your time on?
Jared: A lot of the time it's sales, and networking. Trying to develop our current customers, make sure they're taken care of, same with our retail partners. Future development of products.
Greg: So you are the research and development?
Jared: We have a new Bay Rum beard balm, and Brian Leonino who is our educator, and a barber at Holy Moses helped me develop the scent, because he has a big beard, and I don't. So it's hard to develop beard products with no beard, so a lot of the time R&D is friends and family with beards trying different products.
Greg: So you formulate them, and they test?
Jared: Yeah, we sit there in the kitchen and mix them together, and do a couple different batches to see if a scent, or a certain ingredient works.
Greg: Tell me about your retail partners, are they all here in Columbus?
Jared: We have partners all over the country right now, we're in about 22 Whole Foods Markets on the east coast, a lot of barber shops, men's boutiques, and salons. More guys are taking care of themselves, they're going to a salon, or a barber, and they're starting to be a little more educated on what products they're using for their hair and skin. It's just a matter of time, guys are stubborn, they like what they've been using. On our end, it's an education on why we use certain ingredients, and what is the benefit for your hair and skin.
Greg: Talk me through a typical day.
Jared: I don't think there is a "typical day" I usually get up early in the morning, around 5 o'clock. The hour and a half before the family gets up is my time, and I can focus for the day, set myself right. That's the toughest part for entrepreneurs, as you probably know is self-care, you're the last one to get paid, last one to get fed. My wife is a school teacher, so she leaves at 7:30, then I get all 3 kids ready for school. I start the workday around 9, when I meet with the Cliff team, see what meetings are set, and to have some goals for the week, and for the month.
Greg: Are you the one who goes and travels to these different markets?
Jared: Yeah, I think face to face is the most effective way, I can look into the other person’s eyes and explain my story, and why they should carry us. That's how we got to the 22 Whole Foods, by knocking on their doors on the east coast. Once you have the relationship, you take care of them, make sure they're educated, and you provide the resources they need. We do a lot of demos as well at Whole Foods, where we sit there for a couple of hours, kind of like a tasting, so you can come in, smell it, try it. The customer gets to know you, the brand, and the product. That's the best way for customers to know us, as a brand, as people, and a product. People want to know our story, they have so many choices throughout the day but they want to buy something that they believe in, and it has a story behind it.
Greg: Why did you choose this line of work?
Jared: It came about because food, and wellness was my passion, along with men's grooming, and hygiene. We do a lot of blogs with resources on nutrition, and healthy lifestyles. Yes, we do sell beard balm, and hair pomade, but the passion is helping to educate other guys; and find a resource for them.
Greg: It sounds like the helping aspect is what inspires you. Do you feel like you discovered a market for this here, or you created one?
Jared: A little bit of both, timing has a lot to do with it. As buyers, people aren't buying the big brands, they'd rather support independent business or a local business, and I think Columbus has been a big reason for our success. Talking with other entrepreneurs like yourself and seeing you guys grow from the beginning, and that you're not alone, this is what entrepreneurship is about, and that's kind of where men's grooming is, and we want to continue to grow that with different product lines, and see what's next and see what needs are out there for guys.
Greg: Did you always know that you wanted to start a small business?
Jared: I've always kind of been an entrepreneur even at an early age with 4H, after practice I'd go and lead my steer around for an hour getting ready for the fair. It's the time you put into it, you have to feed it, you have to lead it, take care of it, make sure it's tame, then you take it to the fair. It had that discipline aspect of an entrepreneur, and the time aspect, where it's going to take time to get reward, and sometimes you think it's never going to happen.
Greg: I don't know if it's true, but it seems that most entrepreneurs, when they were younger, somehow made money doing something, whether it was showing animals at the fair, delivering newspapers, or mowing lawns, but you kind of get that itch, I know as a kid I did all that stuff. I didn't think about it growing up, but as I got older, I realized what I was doing, I knew I was going to start a business.
Jared: Sometimes you're born that way.
Greg: Yeah, I'm wired that way, and as I do these interviews, it seems like a lot of these people are, whether they know it or not, so it's awesome to hear you say that, because there's something about this community where we are wired the same.
Jared: I went around in high school mowing mobile home yards for 5 bucks, and I was able to hire my buddy to help me with it, so I'd pay him to mow, and I'd book it and collect the money.
Greg: One thing that's really helped dave and I is having a business partner. So with you as a sole proprietor running it have you hit some stumbling blocks along the way?
We're still a small and mighty team, we choose our retail partners carefully, and it all goes back to Grandpa Cliff's values, at the end of the day it's like "What would Cliff do?" There's always ideas, you want to do everything, and sometimes you just have to slow down, and take a step back, you always want to do more, and make more.
Jared: Yeah, sometimes you just need someone to talk to and get encouragement from. A lot of my wife and I's friends have businesses, and are entrepreneurs, so a lot of time that helps to kind of talk with them and say "hey, what did you guys do about this, or how do you deal with funding, or distribution," and it doesn't necessarily matter what category of business you're in, there are similar roadblocks. We recently got a full-time employee, I have a Cliff team that's been really supportive, and they really help to grow the business, and scale it, without the team, there'd be no way I'd be able to grow. It was tough for me to delegate, you try to do everything yourself and it has to be perfect. Once you start delegating and having trust in the team, it's a weight off your shoulders, then you have more time to do things that you didn't originally have time for to grow the company, that was the best learning experience on my end of letting things go.
Greg: What's been your single biggest challenge?
Jared: I think trying to figure out scalability in a lot of ways, and keeping the integrity, the ingredients, and everything in place. We're still a small and mighty team, we choose our retail partners carefully, and it all goes back to Grandpa Cliff's values, at the end of the day it's like "What would Cliff do?" There's always ideas, you want to do everything, and sometimes you just have to slow down, and take a step back, you always want to do more, and make more.
Greg: I think that's a real concern for any small business owner, we're wired to see opportunities. We automatically see something and there's calculations going on in our mind "what's the market like, could I make it, how easy would it be, what could I charge for that, we could do this, let's do it!"
Jared: It's like the bottled old fashioned with you guys, it's a decision I was fascinated with since the beginning.
Greg: It's not like you see something and you think you're going to make all kinds of money off of it, but you see something that people would want, and it would be fun to make, you think let's go.
Greg: Tell me about the network of people who make Cliff Original happen.
Jared: It always goes back to my wife, she's definitely the backbone of the family. We always like to collaborate with other businesses, and do pop-ups, it kinds of makes Cliff, Cliff and as we grow and go into other cities we want to continue that not just in Columbus. So if we go to Dallas, or Denver we want to make sure we have an interaction with customers and other small businesses in those areas too, and work with them on different partnerships.
Greg: Tell me about how you work with other businesses.
Jared: We don't accept shipments on skids because we're in a second-floor studio, so North High Brewing let me deliver skids sometimes for bottles and that's a huge help. I give them some beard oil and some soap as a thank you, and it seems to work out pretty well. In this community it is trying to find other like-minded businesses and help each other grow, I'm always a believer in collaboration, and willing to help support other businesses, I really think that's what makes Columbus phenomenal.
Greg: Did you join a community, or create a community?
Jared: We started a community called Buckeye Bearders about 3 years ago with Nationwide Children's hospital and the Pleasure Guild, and they had an event in November where you grow a beard.
Jared: Yep, and it's still going strong today, I got connected with them three years ago when I was just getting started, and they were just getting started, so we've been a big partner in trying to help them raise money and awareness, and obviously with the beard products it was a good fit. I (with no beard) was one of the co-founders, so I had to find some bearded fellows to make it legit, so I started with my friend Brian, then Jeremy who is a school teacher in Gahanna. We met at different breweries every month, and raised some money for November Beard, so that was one tribe of bearded fellows around the city who would just get together and hang out. Every month we hit a brewery around town to help promote and to market.
Greg: What has Columbus taught you?
Jared: I think collaboration is what Columbus is all about, I grew up on a farm, and you'd think the farmers would be competitors but they were all helping each other out, I think looking back that was a big lesson that I learned is you know collaboration, or giving shout outs to other businesses in the area or, pop-ups, or going to other people's events and supporting them, it really is amazing to see the support of other businesses, I think everyone needs that support. This series that you guys are doing is a great example of that of what you guys are up to, and you as a brand of giving back to the community and working together, and a lot of us started out at Moonlight Market selling products together, then three or four years later we've kind of grown different businesses a different way, but we still connect, we still have different ways to support each other and that's really what makes Columbus so great.
Greg: Columbus and the people that make up Columbus have been amazing. I remember walking into Lindey's right when we first started and Sue [owner] was amazing, and she said bring your stuff in. Every time we go into Lindey's she knows who we are, asks how we are and is genuinely interested in our business, and this is a business that when we started had been around for 30 years and it's cool to see that because we were nobody at the time, we were just two guys trying to keep the lights on. How do you see that community changing, or growing?
Jared: I think it goes back to trust, someone's passion in something speaks volumes, and you want to get behind people who have that passion, that drive and you want to support them. I think with Columbus as it grows, and other small businesses are developing. I hope that as the businesses grow they continue that collaboration, that mentorships with other young entrepreneurs coming and starting new businesses. Giving businesses a chance is what it's really all about, everyone needs that first step. As Columbus develops hopefully more businesses give independent brands a chance.
Greg: So what's next for Cliff?
Jared: As of today the Leveque hotel opens, and we're doing all of their amenities. It's amazing to see the progress and again it goes back to the trust of Leveque wanting to work with a local partner and we're referred by Experience Columbus, and I think all that hard work that you don't think pays off, and trying to help other businesses succeed at the same time it is rewarding. We're excited to work with their team, and they've been supportive, and we both want to see each other succeed so that's where we're at today and kind of looking at the future of us, and look for more national distribution, at other natural food markets and barbershops and kind of finding that scalability.
Greg: We've been a part of a lot of community events and charities locally here in town, that's really been beneficial to us to be able to talk to, and connect with those people, and help them with their cause, while they experience some of our products. How has the community helped you in that way?
Jared: Grandpa Cliff was a big giver to the community, whether it was time, or it was money. That's where Cliff Original is now, we're working with a food pantry here in Grandview, we're starting to raise some money for the pantry here locally. Children's Hospital is trying to find local partners that we can give back to, and see the impact of the money raised. We give a lot of proceeds to 4H. As we continue to grow we want to make sure that we are giving back more and more. The more success we have, the more we should be giving to the local community.
Greg: So Cliff was a farmer, you had that entrepreneurial spirit in you from a young age, because I feel like every farmer I've met is the definition of an entrepreneur.
Jared: Yeah, at the end of the day, you gotta put in the work, it's not easy. You're a problem solver, you're trying to find ways to put out a fire and move on to the next fire.
Greg: Where do you think our strength comes from here in Columbus?
Jared: I think it's that you look out for other people rather than yourself. I think the more you help, the more you're going to get back in return, so that mentality of helping each other out makes Columbus great.
For more information on Cliff Original visit www.clifforiginal.com