Lisa Brodar and Troy Tyler, the proprietors of the Portland General Store, are very interested in sustainable living. Their products are American-made from simple, natural ingredients, using only essential oils in an organic base of cane sugar alcohol. From their vegan and organic Cardamom or Moonshine colognes inspired by old-fashioned recipes with absolutely no additives or chemicals; to their Thick paraben & sulfate-free shampoo or Tobacco Smelling Salts, they say they take no shortcuts and don't use the fragrance oils and chemical additives commonly found today in most products. “Our products and their packaging have an earnest quality which comes from their hand-crafted nature and the ‘authenticity’ we seek in our lives and what we do.”
We recently asked Lisa a few questions about Portland General Store. We thought you’d like what we discovered.
FIVE THOT: Tell us a bit about the story of Portland General. How did you get started? Where did your passion come from?
LISA: As I sit here on this foggy morning in our Portland office enjoying the best scone ever and a Speckled Axe latte, I can't help but reflect on our journey to Maine, starting PGS, and the future.
In 2006, we decided to move to Maine when we believed that times were changing and that homesteading and making goods locally was the next trend -- we were interested in both. We traveled across America searching for the perfect city, and it came down to the two Portlands
We almost chose the Oregon city. We loved how Oregonians were early adopters of living off the grid and the slow food movement, and the "other" Portland has emerged as the capital of West Coast urban cool. It's also a city filled with mid-century houses, of which we're big fans. In the end, moving so far away from NYC, and the sun, is what kept us on the east coast. We also found a mid-century modern home right here in Maine on a 1.5 acre plot of land, enough for that dream homestead! And so Portland General Store of Portland, Maine was born.
PGS was born in the kitchen of my small flat in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. By that time, we knew we were moving to Portland, and it was incorporated in Maine. Etsy was founded around that time as well, and a friend suggested that I sell my products there. I was full of dreams with little money to back them. I designed the labels myself, made everything in my little kitchen, and upon moving to Maine, went door-to-door to local businesses with a sheet of tea-stained paper listing prices to try and get accounts. I landed one, now re-named Portland Dry Goods, that has been a supporter and seller of our goods since the beginning.
Later, with the help of my partner, Troy, PGS went from being a little Etsy shop to an international brand sold in trendy chain stores, noteworthy barbershops, and numerous small independent storefronts across America.
FIVE THOT: What are your biggest opportunities today and where will you grow?
LISA: Since we started, the men’s grooming market has grown. Men want what women have had -- a natural alternative to grooming products and fragrances filled with the not-so-good for you stuff. There was little if anything like this available for men at the time. I had happened upon some amber vintage pharmaceutical bottles with old labels, used men’s vices (Whiskey, Tobacco... ) for the names, and the line was an immediate hit! We didn't push the organic or natural thing too much, but rather let the quirkiness of our products in the masculine packaging speak for themselves. One could say we sort of "tricked" men into using natural skincare products! Now natural is hot. We have many long-time customers who bought our products because they saw them in Playboy or GQ, or some mens style blog, and immediately saw results in their skin and hair and have never turned back to whatever products they were using pre-PGS.
FIVE THOT: Who are your customers and why do they love you?
LISA: The PGS customer is a man that cares about style, natural and organic ingredients, supporting a local or American-made brand, and wants to have a relationship with the company that they buy from. We have a few famous customers that buy our goods because they're still ubiquitous. I know many of our long-time customers by name, and often ask our customers what they want, and sometimes even send them products to test when doing product development.
FIVE THOT: What is core to your company DNA? What makes you tick?
LISA: Grow organically, stay fresh, enjoy life, "be" the company, be the PGS man and woman! The idea of living the life of the PGS man and woman greatly inspires us. We are not afraid or held accountable by anyone other than ourselves if we want to change our message to reflect changes in our lives or beliefs. Fortunately, our beliefs are often what we foresee as a future trend, hence it keeps us fresh and ahead of the game.
Portland General Store products are available online. I’ve got my eye on the Eucalyptus Smelling Salts and Alpine Shave Jelly. What about you?