When was your company founded?
SoapBox Soaps was founded in 2010 in a college apartment kitchen. The president and COO, Daniel Doll, and I quit our day jobs in 2012 and started working on SoapBox full time, which is when the company truly began to take off.
What was the inspiration for your business and what inspires you daily?
We wanted to find a way to give back and build something that was truly meaningful to people. I went to American University because I thought I wanted to go into government to do aid work, and I interned at multiple places both in the for profit and nonprofit sectors and at USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development]. I was offered a full-time job with a subcontractor for USAID, however, I turned it down because I felt like there was a better way to help. Soap is a very important part of the hygiene equation and it wasn't being given the amount of attention it needed.
I think what inspires us all daily at SoapBox are the aid stories. When we get updates from a soap business we helped start in a small village in Uganda, or when we get to be a part of the solution with Ebola, it makes it all feel worthwhile. It makes us all so grateful for each person who has supported our business and makes us want to make our products that much better.
With something as simple as a bar of soap, you’re looking at helping around 22,000 children every day who are dying from preventable diseases under the age of 5. You’re also looking at many other hygiene-related things that you can prevent on the front end with clean water and clean sanitation. There’s just so much that you can do!
What’s been your road to success and critical success factors along the way?
I think a huge moment for us was when we finally got into Whole Foods. Before that we were sold in a couple of mom-and-pop stores, but after a year of begging, pleading and just going after Whole Foods they finally said stop calling, stop e-mailing, just stop. We get it. We’ll let you into our stores and see how well you do.
In March 2012, we launched in our first store in Glenn Mills, Pennsylvania. We did so well with just our bars (we only had three bars at the time) that they picked up our bars in eight more stores. After that, they kept increasing our distribution, eventually to the entire region. Just a few months ago, we expanded into five more regions, which basically means we are in every part of the U.S. but the South and the top of the Northeast!
I wish I could say that it was happily ever after once we launched in that first store, but we launched with the wrong product, the wrong packaging, the wrong co-packer, the wrong everything. The only way that we stayed alive in the Mid-Atlantic was by surrounding ourselves with great advisors and mentors who knew more about this industry than we did.
Eventually, we relaunched with eight new bars at a different price point and that’s when we started to see some really big success. In 2013, our products were sold in about 150 stores. At the end of this past year, we were in over 1,500. We had about 740 percent year-over-year growth, and this year, we are going to grow even more.
Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?
When we went into Whole Foods, we had the wrong packaging, wrong co-packer, wrong everything! With the help of mentors and advisors, we have since rebranded to tell our complicated message more clearly and effectively. The work is never done, but our advisors are a huge part of our success and where we are today.
What’s your best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
I can’t say it enough: Surround yourself with mentors and advisors who have succeeded in your vertical before. Ask them lots of questions and be open to their constructive criticism.
Additionally, I would say you have to accept that entrepreneurship is a roller-coaster ride. You have to moderate the bad days and temper the great ones in order to win the marathon.
Where are you going? What is the vision for your business in two years? Five years? 10 years?
The goal for SoapBox is really to be a household brand name. We want to make sure that when customers see the SoapBox logo on a personal care product, they know that they have bought the most philanthropic product in that area of the store, and that they didn’t have to sacrifice quality or pay more to do it.
What was the first retail account you landed?
Anderson's Bookshop in my hometown of Naperville, Illinois.
Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?
Independent retailers are fantastic to work with! We love working with accounts of all sizes and also love to be the unique product that an independent uses to drive traffic into their store. Because of their size and general nature, we have gotten to do some pretty amazing things, like partner with them to identify local charities to donate soap to.
How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?
Currently, our line of products is sold in over 1,500 natural stores and we have high standards for what we consider to be natural. This is what allows us to be sold in almost every region of Whole Foods. Our online sales are climbing as we continue to improve the user experience, but we came at this business differently than most new product retailers. Normally, products start online and after achieving success, are brought into retail stores. Since we started in-store, our big growth area is our online sales, and we are excited to watch them keep growing!
How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company’s story?
Thankfully, in this industry, we’ve been able to build a lot of positive relationships. Our connections through great mentors and advisors have opened many doors. We also have a very hard working business director, Dennis Byrd, who achieved sales through good, old-fashioned cold calls and visiting stores.
To educate retailers, we have in-person meetings, tell them about our story and illustrate it with marketing materials. They can in turn educate their consumers at the store level, and we can provide them with in-store marketing materials.
What most helped market your product in the beginning?
As far as retailers go, Whole Foods was definitely the one that helped launch our brand. They are one of the best in the industry at giving a new brand or product the ability to try their product in market. Their flexibility also allows companies like SoapBox to learn and try different iterations of packaging design, product and marketing until they find out what works for the customers in that channel.
What’s a guilty pleasure of yours?
Greasy foods. I try to eat healthy, but throughout my childhood, I was always the kid who couldn’t function properly without the entirety of the “complete daily breakfast.” To this day, I need a huge breakfast, preferably filled with some greasy item.
Please share the inside scoop on yourself.
I am an Eagle Scout. It is something that I am very proud of, but also something that has paid for itself in spades since starting SoapBox. There are countless stories of opportunities arising simply by mentioning that I am an Eagle Scout. I would recommend to any young man that they should do Scouts and go for their Eagle. You never know when the skillset or connection will come in handy.