Jeffrey Qaiyum (JQ) interviews his big brother Anthony Qaiyum (TQ), President and Co-Owner of Merz Apothecary and Smallflower.com, about what he looks for when selecting a product line to sell in-stores and online. They discuss the brand of the month, O’Douds Apothecary, what makes a new brand stand out, and why the look and feel of a brand is an important consideration in the selection process.
JQ: How many products do you have for sale in the store?
TQ: We have about 15,000 products in active inventory and about 8,000 or 9,000 are available in the store.
JQ: That's a lot of products! When you have that many products, what are the first few things that you consider when people bring a new line to you? What are the boxes you need to check?
TQ: That's a tough one. It depends on the type of product. We think a lot about the “Merz Appeal.” To a certain degree, it just has to be magical in some way. It could be the packaging, it could be a unique product, it could be a benefit or an ingredient. There's got to be something about it that makes it feel unique or just delights us. That's the main thing that we look for.
From there, we're looking at things like where it’s sourced or whether or not the founder has a compelling story. Those are the additional things that come into play.
Obviously, it might be about meeting basic needs. If it's a supplement, we just might need a particular form of magnesium.hat's not a very exciting thing. Whereas, with something like home fragrance, we see hundreds of candle lines. There are a lot of good ones out there. It just has to kind of be the magic of the right thing at the right time.
JQ: So in terms of personal care lines, what about a particular line speaks to you beyond that “Merz Magic”? Are there any guidelines that people who are creating products can look to as to why you would say “yes” or “no”?
TQ: Definitely. We're looking for things that are generally quite clean in ingredients. We don’t refuse to carry anything that isn't completely natural. Often there's a benefit to those products or they appeal to our existing customer base. For example, German products that have been made for 100 years. We know our customers love those.
When it comes to new products, we are looking for someone who's improving upon the best of the breed. A natural deodorant that really works. A hair product that has fewer chemicals in it, but still gives you a great style. Sometimes, the appeal is that it just looks and smells great.
I’m fascinated by fragrance. Sometimes you smell something and it's like, do we really need another bar of soap? We have hundreds and hundreds of different bars of soap here. But when I smell a great bar of soap, sometimes I just think we have to have it.
JQ: One of the more recent additions is a line called O'Douds Apothecary. What did you like about their products? What did it hit in terms of that “Merz Magic” for you?
TQ: It had a good kind of apothecary vibe. It rode the line nicely between being masculine without overdoing it. I don't need to be reminded I'm a “manly man” every time I use something.
JQ: So a masculine yet elegant sensibility?
TQ: Yeah, I would say there's also a really nice design sense. It's sort of simple. It has a harkening back to the mid-20th century that I like, but it's not overdoing the vintage thing either. It just feels like a new classic. This is a men’s line that is covering all the bases. They're doing things right and the products are nice.
JQ: Was there a product in the range that you tried when you got the samples that made you give it the green light?
TQ: The cold brew coffee soap is fantastic. Like I said before, we're suckers for bars of soap here, which may seem really silly. But I feel that if a line takes the time to make a great soap, rather than just an average soap, then it shows me their thinking. We tend to like people who love bar soaps. We carry a ton of shower gels and we have some of the best in the world, but bar soap to me is a great pleasure. So I like lines that have nice soaps that smell good or feel good and seem well crafted.
JQ: How important is it that a line is made in the United States?
TQ: We like lines that are made in the United States but it's not the only thing we do. As an international apothecary with a heavy focus on European (mostly German) products so much of what we do is import things., My goal is to try to import the things that we feel cannot be duplicated. For whatever peculiar reason, the best version of that is oftentimes made somewhere else.
I like to carry small artisanal brands that are made in the United States whenever possible. I'm going to Iceland later this month. I already have an Icelandic line that I'm going to be scouting. It's not required that a line be made in the US, but I'm always happy when we can find great brands that are.
JQ: You've had a variety of hairstyles and have tried a lot of styling products. What about theirs stood out to you?
TQ: I’ve tried enough hair products for us to carry five times the amount that we currently do. O’Douds provides different options depending on the type of look you want and the type of hair you have and it's not overly complicated. When a line has 12 hair styling products, I feel like saying “Just pick the best three,” you know what I mean?
They did a good job of keeping it pared down and didn't overcomplicate things for the consumer. They work and I like that these are in glass. I always prefer glass to plastic packaging.