John Garcia, aka DJ Johnny Hotcakes, has taken Dirty Dog Soap Company national and even international in a mere matter of months – and it all started with a viewing of “Fight Club.”
By: Sarah Tindall
Photos by: Dustin Ashcraft
John Garcia has tapped into Corpus Christi cool for decades. Working as a musician, DJ and performer while he put himself through college, he is immediately recognizable by anyone on the local party circuit in as Johnny Hotcakes, the man behind the turntables working his magic, spinning anything from Tejano to country to rock and everything in between and keeping guests on the dance floor all night long.
Now he’s launched Dirty Dog Soap Company, and a new and exciting world of opportunity has opened up to him. Yep, that’s right: soap. Garcia has turned a kitchen-table operation with his dad, making soap specifically designed for and marketed to men, into a national operation that has sold to the likes of Urban Outfitters in a mere matter of months. Now he’s set his sights on law school, with plans to use the soap money for the funds he needs to get there.
If you’re saying to yourself, “Oh, wow – just like ‘Fight Club,’” you’re correct. When Garcia was watching the movie with his roommate late one night, his entrepreneurial and creative juices began flowing and an idea was born. His dad had been making soap in his kitchen for years, but never had any real interest in marketing it commercially.
Garcia’s epiphany was this: At the time, there were no real bath products available that appealed to men. So he and his father set out to make soap that smelled great with fresh, clean scents that were made for men, and then package it in a way that men would like.
“Dirty Dog Soap was masculine, but at the same time, kinda edgy,” Garcia said. “We wanted it to exude masculinity because it was aimed at men, but rough with names that were double entendres and suggestive with names like Woke up Quick, Cherry Bomb and Late Nite @ the Office.”
And just like that, Dirty Dog was born. It took six months to perfect the product (deciding on a shape, smell, color and texture) and to perfect the packaging (developing a logo and deciding on the style and look), but finally, all was ready and Garcia set up a table at the downtown Corpus Christi ArtWalk in August 2012. The result was nothing short of surreal. Garcia sold $800 of product in a couple of hours, covering the entirety of financial outlay to make the product and making his fledgling company immediately profitable. He couldn’t believe it. His soap was selling like hotcakes – and DJ Johnny Hotcakes was onto the next big thing.
Dirty Dog Soap continued brisk sales at ArtWalk events and at PRODUCE, a storefront in downtown Corpus Christi that offers apparel, as well as local music and art, while providing a venue for local musicians and artists to create and display their work. He then put the soap on Etsy, and sales around the country were steady. The money from the soap and his DJ career was enough for Garcia to attend Del Mar College and eventually attain a political science degree from Texas A&M University-Kingsville, as well as pay his monthly bills. But his real break came when he got an email that changed everything.
In October 2013, Garcia got an email from Urban Outfitters asking for samples of the product for possible sale at their stores. Garcia thought it was a joke (someone who wanted free samples and was pretending to be the retail chain) and emailed back sarcastically asking for the address to send the product. The email came back with the address, and Garcia entered it into Google Maps to see what came up.
“I was stunned: The address checked out as the corporate headquarters for Urban Outfitters,” Garcia said. “I flipped out and called my dad, who didn’t even know who Urban Outfitters was. We spent days making the most perfect package to send up there – every piece of soap perfectly cut, every stamp straight and perfect, the butcher paper perfectly wrapped, the best of the best of my six top sellers. I even stamped the UPS box to look like it had been around the world and then sent it off and hoped for the best.”
The result was mind-blowing. “They wanted 500 bars delivered to them in three weeks,” he said. “I knew this was my big chance: I was going to make it nationally. We spent three weeks making batch after batch of soap, 33 in all, and then wrapping each individually in boxes and plastic.”
And then the wait began. Only one month later, just in time for Christmas, the check came in the mail. “We freaked out!” Garcia said with a smile.
Since then, the company has grown. Garcia and his father spend every Sunday afternoon making soap, which ships all over the country and the world through the Etsy store and is sold at all the Urban Outfitters locations. The 2013 line is focused on organic and natural soaps made using essential oils without sulfites or additives.
“It’s all completely raw, like a hippie throwback,” Garcia said. “We have soaps that are unscented, and they are all vegan and organic in this line.” Garcia has also collaborated with celebrities and businesses to create personalized soaps to appeal to their fan base – like the Spanish Fly soap Garcia created for a Houston Chicano rapper, a ginger lemongrass blend with Sushi Bar and even a grapefruit essential oil soap for PRODUCE.
Now the sky is the limit. Garcia intends to continue to pursue national chains like Urban Outfitters and grow the company. “Since figuring out how these operations work, we’re looking to expanding to other markets, other stores,” he said. “Now that I know who to talk to, and where and why and how, I intend to find the beauty buyer at these corporate companies. They’re so much more accessible than I thought.”
He’s assembled a team, which he says is the most rewarding part of his business. “Aaron Ybarra created the logo for me, Dustin Ashcraft did the photos for the website, Bird’s Rubber Stamps made the stamp that we use on all our packaging,” he said. So it’s all working together to make a cohesive whole that is moving forward rapidly – rapidly enough that Garcia intends to enter law school in 2015 and partially fund it with Dirty Dog products.
Garcia’s story is the American dream at its finest – the American dream coming together with a lot of hard work and elbow grease and a little bit of luck. This Dirty Dog is one lucky dog!
For more information on Dirty Dog Soap Company or to place an order, go to www.dirtydogsoapco.com