Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Soap and bath products
Founder Kathy Wawrzyniak is making soap the old-fashioned way, and the market is responding.
Wawrzyniak's life was forever changed when her son found a recipe for soap that could be made at home. That simple activity turned into a true family business for her children and now grandchildren and turned Wawrzyniak into The Soap Lady.
"At the time I was working in a challenging job in sales. I was worn out, physically and emotionally. I wanted to find a way to be creative again!" she says. For her, the answer was in soap, which she decided to try out in a local farmer's market.
"Soap just took over the show," Wawrzyniak remembers. "People were in awe of it. They'd walk up to the table, pick it up, smell it. And they were grabbed by the smell. It made them happy."
Originally, Wawrzyniak did not package her soaps. Customers were welcome to touch it and, if they wanted to buy it, Wawrzyniak would slice it up and wrap it up. "People liked it," she said, "they liked the whole experience. And we started to have a huge following."
Today, you cannot walk into a Harmon's Grocery without getting to know The Soap Lady: Her products greet every new customer at the front door. However, getting there was not exactly a bubble bath.
"From the beginning, I knew I wanted to use domestic ingredients," Wawrzyniak says. "I wanted something that was hydrating, long lasting, but also economical."
She continues, "Back in 1996, the Internet was not very broad, and just a few companies provided what I was really looking for. It took a long time to get the right suppliers."
Added to the challenge of finding the right supplier is that Wawrzyniak had to shop for fragrance and color without personally seeing it or personally smelling it.
"To get a good price, you have to order a lot, and you just have to hope that it is what you think it is but sometimes it is not," Wawrzyniak says. "Coloring is especially hard. There is a big difference between a warm yellow and a cool yellow, a Christmas green and a pea green. I had to learn to blend and adjust to get what I wanted. Today there are so many people to talk to about the right color and the right fragrance. I can go online and find a social media thread on different topics and pick people's brains. I didn't have this in 1996. It took me five years to begin to feel comfortable with the supplies I was ordering."
Challenges: Growth. Moving out of the comfort of Wawrzyniak's house into a 5,000-square-foot factory was a difficult decision. "But we were too big and bumping each other," she says. "But even now, 5,000 square feet is starting to feel too small. We are producing new products and keep growing."
Opportunities: New products. The Soap Lady is releasing new scrubs, a soap pop (soap on a stick), mini bath bombs, luxury bath soaps, and a new bath salt, Also new: the Shower Steamer that users drop on the floor of their shower and enjoy an essential oil sauna.
Wawrzyniak also hopes to spread her sales beyond Harmon's Grocery and local shows to a worldwide market thanks to her new website. "We are hoping it will be a new revenue stream for us. In the past, Internet sales were about ten percent of our total sales. I am hopeful for the new site, and I think it will keep growing."
Needs: Talent. Wawrzyniak is always on the lookout for reliable, creating people. "I need people who can get excited about color and fragrance," she says. "I don't want to duplicate or copy anyone; I want to stay ahead of the market, and I need creative people to help me do that."