Soapy Sales

The Start-Up Phase

Ledray pinpoints these meager financial beginnings as one of her secrets to success. "The advantage to having to work from that position is that you have to use ingenuity," she notes. "You can't just buy your way to an answer to a problem. You have to find a way to create what you need, and that's been a very good learning experience for me."

The low start-up investment that the women made was initially counterbalanced by the immense amount of time and labor that went into creating a body-care product line. Ledray spent three years testing soap recipes, researching government requirements, creating products, and designing packaging and artwork. The Seattle native knew from the beginning that she wanted to create a soap that was gentle, pure, and free from animal products and animal testing. "There's no reason for there to be animal products in soaps and shampoos," says Ledray, a vegetarian, "and soaps are so much nicer without animal products in them anyway."

When she began researching soapmaking recipes, the ambitious Ledray ran up against her first challenge. "The basics are not too hard to find, the saponification (a catalytic, chemical process) values of different oils, things like that," she notes. "But I wasn't too happy with the basic recipes that were out there." When she started her research, Ledray tested old recipes that she found in soapmaking books pulled from reference stacks in the local library; at the time, there was only one soapmaking book on the commercial market. "The recipes in that book were unusable," says Ledray. "From a chemical standpoint, they were really poorly thought out."

Regarding her own technical knowledge of the soapmaking process, the creator admits, "I didn't have any background in organic chemistry--which is what you need for this--but I certainly do now." To make up for her lack of formal education in the field of chemistry, the ambitious experimenter studied up on her own, taking a very scientific approach to creating her products. "I've taken notes on every batch of soap I've ever made, and I've gone back and checked the pH level, and looked at the properties of the soap and what it's doing," says Ledray. "I followed every batch all the way through, and that was a good learning process."

In addition to creating her own product line and designing her products' packaging, Ledray built the very molds used in making the soap. She says that her carpentry and construction backgrounds have really helped in this business, and remarks, "I use things from every job I've ever had."

Ledray advises doing all of your research first. "Once you start your business and have customers, you don't have time to do research and run around and get things together. There is such a thing as starting too soon."

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Soapy Sales.

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