Creative Class: Brett Wagner, Founder of Admiral Men’s Grooming
We talked to founder Brett Wagner about the story of the brand, working on his passion full-time and some tips on pomade that most people probably don't know.
With the rise of undercut and pompadour hairstyle trend, classic men’s grooming product pomade once again returned into the public limelight after being sidelined by hair spray in the 80’s. The exponential growth of the market sparked a legion of new and innovative pomade brands, with many of them hail from California.
We got in touch with Admiral Men’s Grooming, the brand that produces one of our favourite pomades with super strong holding power, and talked to founder Brett Wagner about the story of the brand, working on his passion full-time and some tips on pomade that most people probably don’t know.
Hello, Brett. Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Brett Wagner and I am the owner/founder of Admiral Men’s Grooming. I grew up in Northern California close to San Francisco/Lake Tahoe, went to San Diego for a bit for school then made my way back to the City by the bay where I currently reside.
How old are you? And you speak French? I know you spent one year at EMD Marseille.
I am 28 years young. I used to be fairly conversational after my time over there but may need a few drinks to get it going now.
I realized you worked in Social Media and Marketing before this. Are you still working in those industry or are you now working on Admiral Supply full-time?
I do not. I basically work in all industries now (Social Media, Marketing, Branding, Product design, Supply Chain Management and web development) but all for Admiral full time, truly a dream come true.
Tell us the story of Admiral Supply. Like, why did you start it? Was it your passion project? Why not a clothing label or shoes?
Basically, back in 2013 I was working a full time job making fairly mediocre money. Creating an ACTUAL Product was something I had always dreamed of. I spent a lot of time just making stuff around the house and one of those original products was a sunscreen myself and some friends used while surfing.
Long story short, I mentioned the product to my barber, Brent Ferris – full time surfer & Owner of Goodtimes Barbershop in Imperial Beach, California – and he mentioned it would be cool if I could fabricate a high quality pomade as those on the market are seemingly very similar, ingredient wise. From that point forward I was pretty much obsessed with making a viable, quality, 100% American made grooming products that had attention to detail not just in the product itself but with regards to packaging. I think packaging shows a lot about the integrity of a product. If a company is willing to half ass their brand, imagine what else they half ass.
So in 2013, I started the company in my garage with a $6,000 loan. 18 months later, the business has generated almost $500,000 in revenue.
Now THAT is awesome. But why the name “Admiral”? Is there a special meaning? I love your logo and the bottle design.
Thanks! Originally we messed around with quite a few names. We wanted something that kind of captured that sea worthy, “California dreaming” feel. In the end, I came home from the bars with a few friends of mine and just started doodling on the chalk-wall in my bedroom. I loved the aesthetics and simplicity of an anchor (although it seems to have caught on at this point). It’s manly, it’s badass, it’s regal and it captures the spirit we’re trying to encapsulate within Admiral as a brand.
I noticed there are also a lot of pomade makers in California. Like, Slick Devil, Suavecito, Layrite, Imperial etc. What do you think of this “trend”? Is it a coincidence or is there something else?
I think California has a certain level of “forward thinking” sewn into the culture (not saying this doesn’t exist in droves else where), and there’s a strong support here for small businesses and new ideas that ultimately gives people a bit of security knowing what they’re doing, whether pomade, craft beer or some other products. You will find some sort of support as long as it’s high quality and its intentions are good. There’s also an insane amount of high quality barbershops here.
Admiral Supply has branched into soap, shampoo and conditioner as well. Is it part of your plan to expand Admiral into those area?
Definitely. The overall goal for us is to create a super high quality product line that blows peoples minds… all at an affordable price. The Internet has started to evolve to the point where small business like us, with the support of social media outlets, can compete with the big guys. Our end game is to cover every aspect of men’s grooming (wash, style, shave, skin, travel, etc.) and deliver it directly to your door when you need it. We’re launching our 3-step shave system in the next couple weeks that, although bias coming from me, is the BEST shave solution I have ever encountered. Hands down. It has over 6 months of R&D in it, one incredibly skilled cosmetic scientist and a lot of love.
Admiral is not shipping internationally at the moment. Do you have any plan for international expansion?
We do ship to UK/Canada/Australia but for now will be sticking to only those geos. Over-expansion is the death of quality products in my opinion.
Can you tell us about your experience when you first started Admiral. Was it smooth sailing or was it totally different from what you’ve imagined?
To be honest, I had some very very good connections with regards to a product outlet (Brent). The guy really put his stamp of approval on the product and with such a core following in the Southern California area helped establish us as a brand. The difficult part came when we started amassing a larger demand. We were too small to get a bank loan back then so had to use revenue to completely recycle back into the business for growth. I’m proud to say Admiral was grown the old fashioned way…through hard work. We’ve grown from 1 to 12 products with absolutely zero outside investment to date.
What is the most important lesson you learned in the process of starting (and running) Admiral Supply that you wish you knew when you first started out?
You hear it all the time but starting a business simply isn’t as easy as it seems. I think if I could do it all over again there isn’t really much I would change aside from having a little more patience and maybe thinking a little bigger.
How’s your lifestyle now as the owner of Admiral supply? What’s your daily schedule like?
My lifestyle has gone from 9-to-5 to 9-to-9, 24/7/365. To be honest, owning a small business is a full time job. And by full time I mean all-the-time job. My girlfriend is super supportive and has spent countless nights chatting about product design, next steps, customer service initiatives etc. but the work day pretty much never ends. We’re working on expanding our team at the moment and I think once we’re able to bring on some passionate people, I’ll be able to step out of the machine for a second and start working more on strategy, new products, etc.
What do you do when you’re not working on Admiral?
I would say my big hobbies are traveling, surfing, skiing and hanging with friends and family. When we were developing the new website and new direct-to-consumer model for Admiral, I was actually working remotely from a little beach house in Costa Rica with my girlfriend. It was a pretty awesome experience to go from 9-to-5 sales job to waking up to waves and just working on design.
What fashion labels you love?
I’m a big fan of classics (Levi, Nike, Burton) but love the small guys like Allyn Scura (great vintage sunglasses out of Northern California) and Iron & Resin out of Ventura. I’m also a big fan of the guys over at Almond Surf Boards. Anyone who can stick to a core brand and grow through word of mouth is usually someone I respect.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
It’s changing daily. Right now I’m really into the new Tame Impala album “Current” and Bonobo. Anything funky, psychedelic… I’m probably all over it.
Tell us some tips about pomade that most consumers probably don’t know. Or, any tips for pomade buyer?
My advice to pomade users is avoid the big guys (Crew, Proctor & Gamble, L’Oreal) etc. Most of their products aren’t really pomade and actually just a re-packaged gel from the 90’s. Supporting the small guys, not just us but guys like O’Douds, Rustin, Bonafide etc. These are companies, like us, that focus on strictly men’s grooming not hybrid unisex women’s products that sell just because they have massive amounts of shelf space.