Go behind the scenes with some of our favorite makers! We sat down with these entrepreneurs for a deep dive on their businesses, what makes them tick and what they’ve got in store for the future! Join us as we Meet the Maker!
This time, we sat down with Rafael Hernandez of Alfred Lane! Let’s dive in.
Q: Give us your back story! What made you want to start your business?
A: In 2013, I wanted to start a business where I was able to design, make and offer a physical product. I come from a design and digital marketing background and so a tangible product appealed to me. I looked at the men’s grooming space and saw an opportunity for men’s solid cologne.
I personally have worn cologne all my life. I was born in Venezuela and a good fragrance is basic regimen for men, young and old. My father always had colognes that I would try until I started buying my own. I have a pretty keen sense of smell but had no “commercial” experience.
One day, I went to a store and saw a tin can with solid perfume. I asked if there was anything like it for men. There wasn’t.
Also, I travel a lot and have experienced nice bottles of cologne being tossed by the TSA for not meeting the 3 oz requirement. I also noticed that for travelers, spray bottles break easily. I connected the dots and got to work.
Years later, I decided to expand into concentrated colognes for folks that want more of an all-day application. I also wanted to expand into the home offering candles and incense cones. Recently I released hand sanitizers and I’d like to continue to expand my product line.
And while the scents are marketed towards men, I found out women loved Alfred Lane scents for themselves or their homes. Our fragrances definitely appeal to men and women with different tastes and preferences.
Q: Did you come in with experience or did you learn as you went?
A: I am a graphic designer by trade so I took the experience of package design, branding and advertising to create the Alfred Lane brand. As for the actual products, I learned by experimenting, tons of trial and error and watching a lot of youtube videos.
Q: What makes Alfred Lane unique compared to other companies?
A: I’ve bootstrapped my company from the beginning and have grown slowly and organically through the support of my customers and retail partners. I have obsessed over elevating sensory experiences through elegant scents and beautiful design. And the constant feedback we get from our customers is that folks love the design, scents and brand.
I take pride in our products, source high-quality raw materials and take quality very seriously. I make our products in small batches, by hand, here in America. Our customer service is top-notch. Finally I’m fortunate to be able to create employment opportunities for my community. These different elements make Alfred Lane a customer favorite.
Q: What kinds of challenges have you had to overcome as a small business owner and entrepreneur?
A: The nature of being a bootstrapped business can make growth be slower than if you have investors or venture capital. Still, I’m building a business for the long term and my customers have seen the evolution of what started as a solid cologne company into a personal and home fragrance line.
Q: How have you coped with COVID? How have you had to pivot?
A: Most of my retail partners had to close their doors during shutdown. Some opened online versions. Markets and trade shows were cancelled. The slow down in business with retail partners forced me to get creative with partnerships that allowed major distribution through other channels like subscription boxes.
I tried leveraging marketplaces for continuing to find and stock new retail partners as well as offer my products to my existing customer. From a product perspective, I released high-quality face masks and a hand sanitizer with our best-selling scent. It’s been interesting to find ways to serve my customers, offer fragrances and release products that may not have been part of our original roadmap.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: There is no typical day but it does begin with answering emails in the morning followed by lunch. Then I work out, get ready and head into the studio early afternoon. I spend days making colognes, doing marketing, reaching out to retail partners, doing product photoshoots, fulfilling orders, etc. until midnight. I go home, unwind and repeat the next day.
Q: Is this your full time job?
A: This became my full time gig early January.
Q: What are your goals for the future of Alfred Lane?
A: I’d like to continue to expand my product line and have at least 3 retail partners in every US state. I’d then like to stock international retailers.
Q: What do you like most about what you do? What keeps you going?
A: I love that I can decide what I want to work on. If I have an idea, I can test it out and get direct feedback from my customers. My business requires a combination of creativity, business acumen and a steady pulse. I’d say the thing that keeps me going is the desire to build a great company, employee talented people that want to grow their skills while helping make the company successful and create products that my customers love. The creative process of building products and a business is a rewarding experience.
Q: What are you looking forward to most, post-COVID?
A: After COVID is over, I want to get back on the road to do markets, talk to customers, do a roadshow to visit my current retail partners across America (think extended road trip while doing it in a van or school bus) and travel internationally to continue experiencing countries I have never visited. Also, I’d love to do the entire bourbon trail in Kentucky.
Q: We’re suckers for fun facts! Tell us more about you; share some deep dark secrets!
A: I love the John Wick, Matrix and Bourne movies. I’m definitely a foodie and love craft cocktails. I love house music. I have a German Shepherd and I absolutely love the beach. I’m into fitness and recently I picked up walking…. yes, walking as a hobby. I’m a night owl. I have dreams of learning how to DJ. I play the piano by ear. I can throw down in the kitchen. Last, I can solve a rubik’s cube in under 5 minutes.
Be sure you check out our virtual market and see if Alfred Lane is participating; our virtual market vendors often offer exclusive discounts to our virtual market attendees. Shop small and save! Drop us a comment if you’ve shopped this maker and tag us in your photos when you’re using their goods! Put your money where your heart is and join us as we continue to support small. We believe this artisan is the next big thing, and we’re happy you met them here first!