By the Beard
An Eastern Panhandle father of three found business inspiration at the end of his chin.
Photographed by Nikki Bowman
Eric Young has always had an entrepreneurial mind. He started his first business when he was just eight years old, growing and selling pumpkins and gourds door-to-door. When he got older, Young started building houses and ran an auto fiberglass shop.
Things fell apart during the Great Recession, however. Young lost the fiberglass business and spent a few years scrounging up contracting work before finally landing a job as a maintenance worker at the National Guard armory in Martinsburg. He gave up any ambitions of being a businessman. He couldn’t take the risks anymore—his wife Christina died in May 2009, leaving him to support their three children. Still, he needed to find a way to make a little extra income, to supplant the kids’ survivor benefits when those checks eventually stopped coming.
He happened upon an idea. It grew right out of his face. “Ever since I’ve been old enough to grow a beard, I always grew a beard in the fall and let it go to early spring,” he says. Young usually kept his beard neatly trimmed but in winter 2013 he decided to let it go au naturel and see what happened. When his whiskers started getting dry, he turned to the Internet for help. He found conditioning oil that promised to bring life back to his beard, but was aghast at the price—a one-ounce bottle cost $20. “I thought, ‘I’ll just do this for myself.’”
After paying about $50 for bottles and ingredients, Young spent hours researching and testing formulas for beard oil. He listed the finished product—by now carrying a homemade label bearing the name “Mountaineer Brand”—on eBay and Amazon. Within just four months, Young’s profits far exceeded those survivor benefits.
Young expanded the product line to include beard balms, beard washes, and other personal care products. When the operation outgrew his kitchen, Young built a separate shop on his property—only to add an extension just four months later as demand continued to grow. By July 2015, he was able to quit his job at the armory. “I got to where I sucked at both jobs and I decided one had to go,” he says.
In addition to a booming online business, Mountaineer Brand makes its products available at Tamarack, The Greenbrier, and Stonewall Resort as well as some grocery stores in northern Virginia. Young has also signed agreements with companies to distribute Mountaineer Brand products in Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Canada, and Russia.