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Meet David Stankunas of Beard Head and Zoo Snoods in DTLA

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Stankunas.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been a full-time entrepreneur for the past 11 years, launching several businesses and brands in the consumer products space, including a novelty poker jewelry line, a t-shirt line, a trucker hat brand, and a food truck. My two main businesses right now are Beard Head, the original knit beanie with a detachable beard face mask, and more recently, Zoo Snoods, a product line of animal-themed knit hoods for dogs and cats.

To date, Beard Head has been my biggest success and is probably what I’m most well-known for. A large part of that notoriety stems from an appearance on the TV Show “Shark Tank” a few years ago. However, my journey into entrepreneurship didn’t start with Beard Head. The business that actually got me out of my 9 to 5 job, and into full-time entrepreneurship was PokerBling, a very niche line of novelty poker-jewelry. Back then, poker was very popular, and I was deeply in love with the game. I got the idea for PokerBling when I sought to buy a replica WSOP poker bracelet for the winner of a charity poker tournament I was involved with. To my surprise, I couldn’t find what I was looking for anywhere…so I decided to make one myself!

I built PokerBling in my off-hours while working my day job as an entry-level communications consultant. I found a manufacturer in China, built the Website, made samples, took pictures, worked on branding, etc… To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time. I just did a lot of Googling and figured things out on the fly. Amazingly, by the time I officially launched, I had already received a few wholesale orders and the business was already profitable!

Encouraged by the success of PokerBling and confident I could launch more niche product ideas with similar results, I decided to quit my corporate job and work on my own businesses full-time.

Around that same time, I came up with the idea for Beard Head while on a snowboarding trip in Lake Tahoe. It was a snowy weekend, so I brought along a bandana to protect my face from wind and keep it from getting too cold while riding down the mountain. As the day went on, the bandana kept coming loose and falling off, and it was difficult to breathe in. So, while sitting on the ski lifts in-between runs, I tried to come up with of a better product. I knew I wanted something that would cover my face and keep it warm, but also NOT cover my mouth, so it would still be comfortable to breathe in. I also wanted it to look a little…funky…because it’s fun to stand out a little when you’re snowboarding. Once I got back home, I started playing around with different ideas and prototype designs, and from there, the Beard Head was born!

Since then, we’ve introduced all kinds of different new styles that aren’t just for skiers and snowboarders… but they’re for sports fans, for children, and for people just looking for something fun to wear.

I eventually sold PokerBling to focus solely on Beard Head, which quickly morphed from a simple online Website/ecommerce play to a fast-growing brand with high-profile press mentions, triple-digit sales growth, hundreds of wholesale accounts around the world, and even an appearance on the hit TV show, “Shark Tank.”

About three years ago, inspired by a few customers’ photos of their dogs wearing Beard Heads, I developed Zoo Snoods, knit headwear (snoods) for pets! The reception for Zoo Snoods since we launched has been nothing short of amazing. Sales have consistently grown every year, we’ve received fantastic product reviews across the board, and tens-of-thousands of customers and fans have shared photos of their pets wearing our Zoo Snoods all over social media!

Today, I run both Beard Head and Zoo Snoods out of my warehouse in DTLA and continue to work on new and exciting entrepreneurial opportunities.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
There have definitely been some bumps in the road getting to where I am today. I’ve had my fair share of failed business ideas, missed opportunities, and mistakes that, looking back, could have been easily avoided.

Some mistakes have been pretty obvious: e.g., Don’t send huge shipments of product to other countries without getting fully paid first. We had an international distributor completely cut off all communications and stiff us on a $60,000 bill. If you think collecting bills is hard in the U.S., try getting someone in Russia to pay you!

Other mistakes were a little more nuanced: e.g., Focusing on building company value by getting large retail accounts to carry our products. One would think getting big retailers to carry your product would clearly be a good idea…but that’s not always the case. Initially, I thought if we could get Beard Head into a bunch of big stores, having those account relationships would be very valuable if I ever tried to sell the company. What I found out was, for a niche product like Beard Head anyway, we couldn’t rely on stores to carry our products consistently, from year to year. In our case, most stores often only wanted to carry us for a season or two. Or sometimes our buyer changed, and the new one just didn’t “get” our product. Sometimes the store just went out of business. So ultimately, there wasn’t as much retainable value in having these types of accounts as I originally thought, and a lot of time and effort invested into obtaining them was wasted.

I could go on and on about all the mistakes, struggles, losses, and idiotic decisions I’ve made over the years…but the important thing I take away from all the failures is I survived, the businesses survived, and ultimately I’m a better entrepreneur having gone through the struggle. I know it’s cliché, but you can often learn as much from your mistakes as you do from your successes.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Beard Head is a line of hats and beanies with detachable knit beard facemasks. They keep your face warm and protect it from cold wind, rain, and snow. We have more than 200 different designs and are constantly introducing new, fun, and creative products.

Zoo Snoods is a line of knit animal-themed hats/hoods (snoods) for pets. Our snoods keep your pet warm, and their ears protected from mud and moisture…and look adorable! We have a wide variety of animal designs for our snoods, ranging from a Grizzly Bear to a Unicorn!

We’ve been making niche knit products like our beard hats and snoods far longer than any of our competitors or copy-cats out there, and with that experience comes a high level of production expertise that no other brand can match. I’m proud that our products are known to be the gold-standard in terms of quality, but what I’m most proud of is how much joy we’ve been able to bring to our customers all over the world. Anytime I’m feeling stressed or overworked, I take a few minutes to read some of our reviews on Amazon, or some of the comments about our products on social media, and I’m immediately re-energized. It’s amazing to see so many of our customers post stories about getting the “perfect” Beard Head gift, or post a Zoo Snoods photo that gets thousands of likes. It feels good!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
A strong work ethic and a willingness to learn. I know…pretty cliché, but I think you really need both to be successful in pretty much anything.

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