I recently got an email that mentioned Bullgoose Shaving Supplies just celebrated their nine year “birthday.” I asked the owner of Bullgoose, Phil Huntsinger, about him and his business.
Phil and I have talked occasionally but I didn’t realize Bullgoose had been around as long as it has. So I traded a few emails with him for an “interview.”
How did you get interested in old school shaving?
I remember playing with my grandfather’s old Gillette razors when I was 4 or 5 years old. I’d use them without a blade and pretend that I was shaving. He didn’t use a shaving brush but he did have a hot lather machine (they were the rage in 1972) and I thought it made a sweet set-up. So, you could say that I was intrigued with old school shaving from a very early age.
That said, like almost everyone my age, when I actually started shaving, I used a cartridge razor and canned foam. I did briefly try using a brush and soap my freshman or sophomore year in college but, this was long before e-commerce and the only shaving soap readily available was Williams. I know that Williams has its fans but, I was not impressed and went back to Foamy.
Flash forward 20 years and I had grown to truly dislike shaving with cartridges –mainly due to irritation and in grown hairs. When I went home to Chicago for Thanksgiving one year, my father mentioned that DE shaving was making a comeback. He ended up buying a Merkur 33C, a Vulfix brush and some Taylor creams and then started reporting how his shaves had improved. I decided to make the switch myself and have never looked back.
What is your favorite shaving product?
Oh God –this is like trying to pick your favorite kid. Honestly, I don’t know…whatever answer that I give now may be different in 6 months or even tomorrow for that matter. I have a lot of favorites. I absolutely love Czech & Speake shaving soaps, Jabonman soaps and H.L Thater shaving brushes. Lately, I have been on a Pereira Shavery kick –the soap with activated charcoal really produces a great lather and makes my skin feel really refreshed.
For aftershaves, I am simple. I really enjoy Pitralon aftershaves (Swiss & Classic) Floid Blue and its replacement -the new Epsilon Blue.
What inspired you to start BullGoose?
Desperation and the knock of opportunity I guess. Haha Seriously though…I kind of got into it by accident. I got tired of making the commute from Redondo Beach to Pasadena for my management position at Pasadena City College and finally decided to quit in order to become a Real Estate Broker. It turns out, my timing was about as bad as it could possibly be and the housing bubble burst. Just like that, I had no income. I never sold a single house. I did have an Illinois teaching certificate that was still valid and used it to get an emergency California credential. I ended up teaching junior high for a year. As the year wore on, I came to realize that I truly hated it
Meanwhile, I had discovered the wet shaving forums and was using the BST to sell gear that did not work well for me. I was struck with how quickly stuff would sell once I listed it. I decided to start selling blades on B&B and placed a bulk order for Astra blades with Barber Depot. A moderator contacted me and informed me that selling blades constituted vendor activity and that if I wanted to do so, I would need to have a website. So, I created a website through Yahoo Stores and figured I better start stocking more items. When I launched the website, I probably had no more than 30 products total.
What is the meaning behind the name BullGoose?
BullGoose is a term that was used in Ken Kesey’s book, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (Ed. note: Amazon affiliate link for convenience). When R.P. Macmurphy is being checked into the mental ward, he asks the other patients who the BullGoose Looney is on the ward. Later on, when R.P Macmurphy rejoins the group after electroshock therapy, he refers to himself as BullGoose Randall. This is one of my favorite books and movies and, I just thought it was an amusing term…there really isn’t any intended meaning.
What sets BullGoose apart from other shaving vendors?
We are fairly selective in what we carry. We are innovative and try to bring in new unknown European products –we were the first U.S. vendor to bring in Savon du Moulin, Savon du bon Berger, Vie-Long brushes, Thater Premium Boar brushes, Pitralon aftershaves, Pereira Shavery and a host of other products. We also have had a lot of Special Editions of soaps and shaving brushes
We tend to concentrate on higher end products and have exclusives on a number of high end razors such as Paradigm, Rocnel, Barbaros , Mergress and Tatara. Finally, we have our own line of products that we are really proud of (Asylum Shave Works). We are perhaps best known for the Asylum Rx –a single edge stainless steel razor that we had designed from the ground up and which has received excellent reviews.
How many people does BullGoose employ?
BullGoose is a company of one. That said, I do hire graphic artists and I do have a marketing guy but, they are independent contractors and not employees.
What is BullGoose’s Best Selling product?
This changes periodically but over the past two years, I would say the Asylum Rx razor, Mergress razors, Thater brushes, Saponificio Varesino and Pitralon aftershaves. We are getting ready for a new run of Paradigm razors and, we expect them to be in high demand.
How has the wet shaving business changed over the past nine years?
It has changed a lot and not necessarily for the better. There are a lot more products available now and a lot more vendors which is great. There has been an explosion of new artisans which has been kind of a double edge sword. While some great products have been introduced, the flooding of the market has led to a bit of market confusion and a lot of uncertainty in terms of sales prediction. You simply don’t know what is going to hit and what isn’t and you also cannot predict how long a particular product will be popular. It was much more predictable several years ago.
Over the past 18 months, several of the ma and pa vendors have either gone out of business or, they have sold to a corporate entity. I fully expect to see more of this. Amazon is definitely partly to blame. So it goes.
How has the wet shaving customer changed over the past nine years?
I think it is a more diverse market than it was nine years ago and, it has trended younger. This is a good sign in terms of sustainability.
Customers now tend to favor artisan products to a much greater extent than when I first started out. In the past, there was a lot of emphasis on product history and customers much preferred the legacy products. Now, the demand for legacy brands has greatly decreased.
On the downside, the attention span of customers now is much shorter than it was as recently as two years ago. They have been conditioned to expect a steady stream of new products and quickly lose interest once a product is released.
Where do you see the wet shaving niche headed over the next couple of years?
I wish that I had a crystal ball. I expect that there will be a lot of turnover in the next few years and I suspect the pendulum will swing back a bit towards legacy products. It will be interesting to see what happens.