Bay Rum Turns Ogallala Broadcaster Into Entrepreneur
Ogallala radio broadcaster John Marquis requested a simple Christmas gift in 2005 – a bottle of bay rum.
“Back then, it was pretty difficult to find bay rum,” he said.
The bay rum he received did not meet his expectations, and although he had no prior knowledge or background in making bay rum or cologne, he considered making his own version. (Bay rum is an aromatic liquid and is typically distilled from rum and bayberry leaves.)
“So for whatever crazy reason, I started working on that,” John said.
After mixing up “about 130 versions,” John found the right combination to create the old-fashioned spicy scent he was seeking.
He decided to offer the bay rum for sale since he figured others might also be seeking the same quality product. He packaged his new creation into an antique-looking apothecary blue bottle with an old-fashioned label and named it Genuine Ogallala Bay Rum. He tested the waters by selling it on eBay.
“Much to my surprise, I started not only getting customers, but repeat customers,” John said.
In January 2006, he made the business official, created a website, joined GROW Nebraska and started expanding the product line. After the first year, John had sold Ogallala Bay Rum in all 50 states. Within two years, he had sold in at least 40 countries and had to move the operation out of his basement into a warehouse because he was shipping products by the pallet to a catalog company.
“Nobody was more surprised than I was,” John said.
He continued working his full-time radio job while operating Ogallala Bay Rum until 2009, when his side hustle became his full-time job.
Expanding a Homegrown Business
John sold the product direct on his retail website and through other channels until about four years ago. When he couldn’t keep up with individual orders, he decided to sell Ogallala Bay Rum through mainly wholesale distributors. Today, Ogallala Bay Rum products are sold by national retailers like Duluth Trading Co., other catalog companies and through GROW Nebraska.
Customer requests for shaving soaps, bath soaps and aftershave prompted him to expand beyond his original product. He created new scents, such as Bay Rum and Sandalwood (one of the best sellers), Bay Rum and Sweet Orange, Bay Rum Limes & Peppercorns and Bay Rum and Vanilla.
In 2017, “Men’s Health” magazine named Ogallala Bay Rum Aftershave as one of the 8 best aftershaves that double as colognes.
Customers have described Ogallala Bay Rum products as “nostalgia in a bottle,” “a timeless fragrance” and “manly, clean and classic.”
One Amazon reviewer said he would “recommend this to anyone who wants to have a true ‘original’ cowboy scent and who doesn’t want to let everyone in the room know he has entered before they ever see or hear him!”
John said he is now gearing up for the busy Christmas season. He produces all of products himself with the help of a few family members (his wife and a grandson), one permanent part-time employee and a few other part-time employees as needed.
Ogallala Cream Can
In 2008, John started a second entrepreneurial adventure. He wanted to cook an old-fashioned cream can supper and had trouble finding a cream can.
A cream can supper is meal that combines a variety of vegetables and meat (usually sausage) in an old fashioned cream can. The meal is steamed over a burner or fire and is popular among hunters, fishermen, camping enthusiasts and others who like outdoor cooking.
John partnered with avid cream-can cooker and friend Phil Cone to start the Ogallala Cream Can business. They found a good supplier of stainless steel cream cans, and they modify the cans to create a modern cream-can cooker.
The stainless steel cookers are sold in four sizes (1.25 gallon, 10.5 gallon, 2.5 gallon and 5.25 gallon) and range in price from $63 to $273.75.
John said when he first started his businesses, GROW Nebraska trainings helped him expand his business and understand how to market his products.
When GROW opened retail stores, that opened even more doors. And, now, with GROW’s online platforms (Buy Nebraska, Amazon and eBay), the opportunities are even bigger.
“To think you can run a business in Ogallala and sell all over the world and all over the country is amazing,” John said. “We are in a point in history where we haven’t had the opportunity we have now. It’s kind of fascinating.”