Scott Brennecke, better known as The Captain by his loyal customers, is the force behind the shipshape men’s grooming line Captain’s Choice. Based out of Wheaton, Illinois, Brennecke founded Captain’s Choice in June 2011 after discovering a serious lack of high-quality, great-smelling aftershaves.
An entrepreneur for most of his adult life, Brennecke owned a popcorn distribution business at the time and multi-tasked to get Captain’s Choice going, running the popcorn business while creating batch after batch of aftershave prototypes. Many months later, the company’s now-bestselling aftershave, Bay Rum, was born.
Today we speak with Brennecke about what a Milky Way bar has to do with the founding of the brand, how he came up with the name ‘Captain’s Choice,’ and the wonderful cause Captain’s Choice supports to help veterans get back on their feet again.
We hear Captain’s Choice started with a flash of inspiration you got one day while you were at Walgreens?
Yes, I had stopped to pick up my daily Milky Way candy bar and as I grasped it, a sudden and distinct thought popped into my head that I ought to buy an aftershave. I call it Divine inspiration. So I looked at and smelled the offerings at Walgreens and just curled my toes – no WAY I would buy one of those.
I thought, Maybe I’ll go home and try to make my own. And that is how it all started. Following that was failure on a daily basis, batch after batch, week in and week out until I hit the 4 ½-month point and had a winner. It is our Bay Rum aftershave that we sell today.
You were in the popcorn distribution business for many years. Why the transition over to men’s grooming?
I started my popcorn distribution business in 1987 and sold it in November 2015 since Captain’s Choice had grown to take more of my time. The popcorn business had become more challenging over the 28 years I had owned it, and I have always had an eye out for new business ideas. With a growing family, I needed to provide as I was able.
For a year and a half while I had my popcorn business I also sold high-end light bulbs door to door. In the middle of it all I stopped into the Walgreens for my Milky Way which led to Captain’s Choice. For a good bit of time I actually had three business cards – one for popcorn, one for light bulbs, and one for Captain’s Choice. Each time I had to call someone I had to make sure that I remembered who I was to the person I was calling: Am I the light bulb guy? The aftershave guy? The popcorn guy? It was a nutty time, but a lot of fun, too.
How did you come up with the name of your company?
With our Bay Rum aftershave being the first product, I wanted the name to reflect the heritage and the origin of bay rum. It came out of the Caribbean hundreds of years ago, and so I thought “Captain’s” seemed perfect. But what else? I toyed with “Finest” and went back and forth for a few weeks. Eventually I settled on “Choice” simply because I thought I may want to have the logo with two interlocking “C’s” at some point. In addition, Captain’s Choice just rolls off the tongue – I like it.
Tell us how you came up with your first product.
I started on Google, searching under homemade aftershave. Where I started and where I ended up are polar opposites, I can assure you. I have a long-suffering brother who is candid with feedback, and a wife who is MORE candid. So when they both said they liked a batch after 4 1/2 months, I knew I had it.
What are some of your accomplishments as a business?
As modest a business as it is, the accomplishment I am most proud of is being able to give back on an annual basis to a local charity: the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans, an act which our customers make possible with their purchases. This organization provides job counseling and life skills education as well as a place to live while the vets once again become productive members of society. They have an enviable track record over the years, with veterans moving out of the house after nine months on average.
What do you believe makes Captain’s Choice products distinctive?
We hear over and over from our customers how much they love the “face feel” of our lines. Not just upon application, but more importantly, following the dry down. They rave about the all-day moisturizing! In addition, our products are made by hand in small batches right here in the USA. This is important to our customers.
We also use essential oils and extracts in our soaps, balms, and aftershaves. I only work with ingredients that I would want to use myself.
Each product has been developed to fill a specific niche in the personal care industry.
Here is one example: when working on our Sandalwood aftershave I purchased the most popular sandalwood aftershaves in the marketplace because I want mine to be unique. The popular ones were prominent in scent and multidimensional. So I made my Sandalwood one-dimensional with a more subtle scent. It is now our number-two seller and has been a hit with customers looking for a more back-to-basics version of the classic sandalwood scent.
What is one Captain’s Choice product every man should own and why?
It would have to be our proprietary lather bowl. That design took me six months with eight prototypes and ten volunteers. There is a lot more that went into it than may appear, but it is a real winner. It incorporates several design elements all together: a convenient diameter that fits the palm, ridges in the bottom to create lather quickly, low sides to avoid the brush knocking against the side, and curved walls to contain the lather. Once you own one of them your life will then be complete!
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Two bits of advice that apply to any endeavor: First, you need customers. It elicits a chuckle at the thought of it – of course you need customers – but too often entrepreneurs focus on getting a patent or coming up with an entirely new invention. Often they succeed only to discover that nobody is interested in their product.
Secondly, look forward to failing. At each failure you learn and refine the next attempt. Get up and try again – over and over and over again. Solicit feedback and give people license to offer constructive criticism. This is how you get better. Eventually you may arrive at a product people want.
What new products can we expect from Captain’s Choice in the near future?
We have already begun development of a Bay Rum cologne that will last all day and yet not be too prominent. We expect to release it this fall. Following that, we will release other colognes based on our Lime, Sandalwood, and North aftershaves.
Quick Question + Answer:
Right Now, I’m obsessed with:
My newly-planted hummingbird garden. I did some homework on plants that attract them and then spent a fair amount of time working the ground and sorting out the layout. It is all planted now and, of course, I have decided that if I just dig up a little more ground I can make it even MORE attractive, so that will occupy my time next week.
I’d love to visit:
Europe. I haven’t really traveled much outside the States and find the history of Europe fascinating.
Rule I live by:
Be considerate and friendly towards others, especially strangers. This comes easily to me because it is who I am, but here is why I favor it: life can be a challenge at times, and a considerate gesture or an encouraging word can go a long way towards making someone’s day.
The best part is that by being intentional in this manner, it is a very fulfilling experience for me as well.
Shop Captain’s Choice products at RoyalShave.