BRICK & MORTAR: Snake Oil Provisions
With so many retailers vying for everyone's attention and trying to be special, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. Not Snake Oil Provisions in Long Beach. Owners and friends Ben Neuhaus and Josh Eck, are creating "The Cure for Common" by curating a collection of brands that not only exemplify killer style, but unmatched quality. These guys are showing Long Beach what's up and creating a community and lifestyle with their vision. We were lucky enough to help create a Fall/Winter lookbook with a few of their favorite pieces and sit down for a little one on one time.
Labeling Men: So tell me a little bit about how you guys came up with the idea to open up your store?
Ben Neuhaus: A lot of history with that one. It had been a concept of mine individually, independently of each other we always wanted to do that. I moved here from Atlanta like two years ago, and had a loose concept of a name and kind of moved here with the intention of doing this. He [Josh Eck] and I connected via Instagram…
L.M: Oh, funny!
B.N: Yeah and we met at Northern Grade, which is happening today oddly enough, last year.
L.M: What's Northern Grade?
B.N: It's a pop-up, two-day market of all American made menswear. And they do it all over the place like a traveling nomad market deal. So we met in person there last year, they did it last Spring, and we had a mutual kind of obsession, for a lack of a better term, of this one particular brand. Karl, the owner, introduced us because he and I were really good friends and knew that I really wanted to open up a shop. Josh was talking to Carl and he was like, “hey I really wanted to open up a shop” and “hey you should meet Ben.” I had 20 years of retail experience, and this guy has a completely different background in marketing and branding and all that stuff that I didn't know how to do. So, different skill sets that complimented each other. So, I'll let Josh elaborate.
Josh Eck: I mean that's mostly the story. But, yeah, like Ben said, it worked out really well that we had a perfectly complementary set of skills. And then a perfectly in line vision of what a shop would be, what brands we would carry, what the aesthetic would be. We didn't know each other and we started hanging out and it was an immediate kind of “yeah we could totally do this.” And then we sort of did it; just fated, written in the stars.
L.M: So how did you come up with the name Snake Oil Provisions specifically?
B.N: Where did that name come from? It was initially going to be Snake Oil, no Provisions. Snake Oil. At the end of the day, it's really just a rad name of a store. It doesn't need to mean anything. There is some kind of fun little origin of actual snake oil from the old railroad days. So, Chinese rail workers came over and they actually had oil from Chinese wild snakes that was good for aches and inflammatory things. They would use it and it was an actual thing. So “white man” got a hold of that and was like, “hmm I can make a buck off of that,” and kind of labeled it a cure all elixir and it didn't do anything. There was no actual snake oil, it was just whatever horse shit they wanted to put into it. So it's kind of ironic, it's cool, it rolls off the tongue.
J.E: Picking up where Ben left off, so the “white man,” as he referred to it, was basically selling this supposed penicillin for any ailment. You probably have seen it in old timey movies or making fun of old timey movies where dude rolls up with a carriage thing and the side drops down and he has all these medicine bottles and he is talking about how it cures aches and pains and weird thing. The name Snake Oil became synonymous with medicine that doesn't work, this fake stuff. If you are selling snake oil you, are selling something that is not real. So, while it's a rad name for a brand, it's also a tongue and cheek thing. Everything we sell is very much real and authentic and legit. We believe in all the brands and quality and all of that stuff, so it's sort of tongue and cheek, it's a funny way of naming the brand. It's also extra interesting because I've spent a lot of my time in advertising and what I would kind of consider “selling snake oil.” In advertising, my entire job is to basically get people to buy stuff they don't need [laughs], and to say stuff about that product. I mean I've always tried to not do this, but advertising in general is known for saying things about products that aren't true, or glossing over the things that are negative. So it was sort of extra funny for me also because of my history.
L.M.: So it kind of fits…
J.E: Yeah, totally. It just fits.
L.M: Well, that's perfect! So, how do you guys think you stand out among Long Beach and your competitors?
B.N: The thing about Long Beach…there aren’t any competitors.
L.M: You guys are kind of unique?
B.N: Luckily, we are big fish in a little pond. There is no store offering these brands and this aesthetic within like 30 miles North or South. So that's kind of how we fit in. The customer is here, there is a huge need for it. So we kind of fit in that bill.
J.E: I think also, not even setting ourselves apart in Long Beach, but setting ourselves apart in general, we really focus on customer service and connecting with the customer base whether through Instagram or when people come in; a lot of our customers aren’t just customers. We legitimately are friends. We go to dinner with them, we hang out with them on off hours. We just have this rapport with customers and it's become something that has become really engrained in the brand and really important to us. I think a lot of times for certain shops or brands it's just a business, it's like they are just trying to make a buck and selling stuff and we really try and focus on building a community, a lifestyle.
B.N: It's super, hyper community-based, but that's not contrived, it’s just how it's wired and how it should be, naturally happening that way. Anybody can open a store and sell cool stuff, but you have to go far beyond that; you have to be accessible, available.
J.E: It's more about the connection always. Yeah, for always and forever.
L.M: That's awesome, I love that. So, you guys came from different backgrounds and haven't known each other for that long. Do you guys have the same goal and vision for what's next?
B.N: Yes and no. There is some loose short term/long term goals. But it's more so day-by-day. I take everything day by day. I don't want to lose focus on the here and now, that's always more important to me. I don't know if I'm answering for the both of us exactly, but that's how I'm wired.
J.E: Yeah, I think I'm the same way. We got a lot to focus on right now. We only have been around about a year now, online primarily. We just opened up this place two months ago, and so we have a lot on our plates we are trying to focus on. Six months down the road is basically a moot point. We are focusing on putting together the best portfolio base that we can right now. We talk just very vaguely, “Oh, if we open up a second store we can open it here,” but no real concrete timeline for anything. Just let it flow naturally. We don't stress so much. If it doesn't happen, stuff always happens on it's own timeline.
L.M: That's very true. So, going back to the community and lifestyle that you are building, how would you label your customers and the people that are coming into your store? Style wise, personality wise?
J.E: A little edgy, a little individual, every customer that comes in has their own tweak of the style. We all like the same brands and wear the same brands. Everybody tweaks it to make it their own. It's cool, we have a lot of artists and musicians, and creative people that are our customers and friends and they do a good job individualizing it themselves and making the stuff that we sell look awesome.
B.N: There is no blanket personality; it’s all walks of life. No blanket personality, everyone is different, everyone has a different career, different background, different everything. We always bond over what we sell and our aesthetic. Everybody is different, everybody wears this stuff differently, everybody approaches it differently, and that's cool to see.
L.M: So, what is one of your favorite brands that you guys carry?
B.N.: Rogue Territory, which is Karl, and his wife Leslie plays a huge roll. Schott NYC is one of our absolute dream brands. A couple of things that we carry are only available to us in the U.S., period. Like these shoes, Santa Rosa [Click here to view], you can get them here, or you can get them in Japan. There is some 3sixteen [Click here to view collection] that we brought that is amazing. There is a little tiny menswear brand that is run by a girl out of Columbia, South Carolina, called Ruell & Ray [Click here to view brand].
L.M: Love that!
J.E.: She does amazing stuff. Also, PF Flyers [Click here to view]. That was one of those totally serendipitous things that our brand and their brand came together, and it's an immediate friendship and great relationship. Everyone that works there is rad. Obviously everything we carry, we are stoked on. We don't carry anything because we think it will sell or because it's what everyone wants or what everyone else is carrying. Every single piece of clothing and everything we have in this store is because we would or do wear it and are incredibly stoked about it.
B.N: None of it is filler, none of it is like, “we should get this brand because 10 other menswear stores have it.” It's all stuff that we use and abuse ourselves. Love it, and that translates.
L.M: Next question: do you definitely enjoy working more with independent brands?
B.N: Yeah, they are all independent brands, aside from PF Flyers. It's small batches, fairly exclusive stuff, that's super important. One of a kind.
J.E: The relationship with the brand is really important to us, and when the brand is smaller or independent it's a lot easier for us to have interaction and actual rapport with the owner or someone who is that close to that top in the brand, and that's important to us. We have been really lucky with all brands we brought in, we have been able to bond with all of them and grow with them.
B.N: It’s been a weird serendipity where we had relationships with them beforehand or crossed paths; it’s been pretty painless.
L.M: So the other aspect of our website is about dating and finding these guys and girls and dating stories. Do you guys have funny dating experiences that you would like to share with us, or advice as well.
B.N: Don’t be afraid of Match.com and the Internet. Don’t be afraid of online dating. There is still a little bit of a stigma, because it’s still weird, I guess. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with it. Yeah, you might meet some kooks, but might meet someone you potentially don’t want to be without.
L.M: So is that how you guys met [his girlfriend who was at the store]?
B.N: Yeah, I met this one 5 ½ years ago.
L.M: [To Josh] Any advice or funny stories?
J.E: Probably some funny stories. I don’t know who will be reading this. Like I was doing the online dating for a while. I met a girl and we went on two dates and she came into my work unannounced and I have no idea how she knew where I work. I was outside in my car on a phone call, and I was on the call for 30 minutes. And she sat outside and got a coffee for me. Then I never spoke to her again. That creeped me out.
L.M: A little extreme! Final question: how would you label your own personal style?
B.N: I’m a mash up of things. I’m a recovering sneaker-head. I used to be super into streetwear. Somewhere between street wear, work wear, menswear. Casual of course, I don't get all stuffy with it.
J.E: For me, I have a background and history of men’s fashion, the higher end brands. I like obviously traditional, work wear inspired, but fit really slim and tailored. I have a soft spot in my heart for an awesome suit, like a tweed suit. So I guess I really tailored and well fitting with a little bit of an edge. The brands that we carry reall nail that and really straddle the line between his style and my style. So we are able to wear the same stuff but totally different.
Check out Snake Oil Provisions at www.snakeoilprovisions.com and visit their store in Long Beach, CA.
Interview by Mischa Teichgraeber