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Champaign entrepreneur turns beard into brand

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All of the men in DeShawn Williams’ father’s family have had beards, and he’s no exception, having hard once since the 10th grade. Over the years, he’s learned a thing or two about how to care for it.

Williams had been making grooming products for himself and a few close friends for a while, and numerous people encouraged him to make a business out of it. So toward the last quarter of 2015 he decided to take the leap and launched his business, Wolf’s Mane Beard Care, in January 2016. The business takes its name from Williams’ longtime nickname of “Wolf.” “It’s kind of been a snowball effect,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Williams moved to Champaign from Michigan City, Ind., six and a half years ago. He has been in the banking industry for about 15 years and has been branch manager at Central Illinois Bank in Urbana for about five months. Williams’ wife, Tracy, helps with the working side of the business and offers some perspective as the wife of a bearded man.

Williams is preparing to do a relaunch with a new look to everything and some new formulations of products, including a new clothing line of sweaters, T-shirts and hats with various “bearded culture” logos.

His products are available at wolfsmanebeardcare.com, at Champaign Beauty Supply and at pop-up shops at events like Flannel Fest and Pygmalion, as well as through social media. “We have a good product; we’ve had a number of retailers reach out,” Williams said. The business also has been helped through its inclusion in a couple of men’s shaving and grooming subscription boxes.

One of Wolf’s Mane’s most popular products – and Williams’ personal favorite-- is a beard butter, followed closely by a beard oil. “You have to have the (beard) length to get the full benefit of it,” he explained.

The beard butter has been reformulated to have more of a gel base. “I like the result,” Williams said.

Williams and a friend, Orlando Johnson, test each product for a month or two before it is sold. “About 10 different products never saw the light of day for one reason or another, whether it was too heavy or too greasy,” Williams said.

Williams admits he has had to overcome some stereotypes about beards. “Beards weren’t always the go-to thing,” he said, adding that one of Wolf’s Mane’s goals is to change the image. “I want to build a community around it.”

As a part of that effort, the company is developing daily videos with grooming and lifestyle tips for men. “I meet guys from every walk of life that have beards,” Williams said. “We have all different sizes, shapes and colors genuinely using and loving our products. At the end of the day, we’re all the same.”

In 2019, Wolf’s Mane will be trying the kind of direct sales approach that companies like Avon and Mary Kay pioneered. “You’re going to know that we’re there,” Williams said.

Another thing Williams is eagerly anticipating is an endorsement from a prominent NFL player with whom he went to college and who has grown out his own beard. “We’re excited about that,” Williams said.

Williams admits that because of the number of companies competing in the market he has considered giving it up, but his family has encouraged him, telling him that he has something special to offer. “Because of the growth of the industry over the last few years, there’s a new company every other week, it seems like,” Williams said. “People are seeing the benefit of it from a financial standpoint and getting into it for the wrong reasons, so it’s harder for small companies. It makes it hard to distinguish the good from the bad, but we genuinely live this beard lifestyle 365 days a year. This is who we are. I’m a firm believer time will weed out the bad ones. We’re not cutting corners. We’re spending a significant amount of time and money.”

Williams advises others considering making the leap to become an entrepreneur “to jump out there, to do it.” He was discouraged by some around him from starting his business and told to instead focus on his full-time job only. A middle-school teacher told him he would be dead or in jail by the time he was 20, which made him strive all the harder to be successful and to be a good husband and father to his 3-year-old son, Austin. “Use what people would stereotype as a disadvantage as an advantage and don’t be afraid of what people think,” he said. “If it feels good to you, don’t stop.”

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