Soapy Sales

Brookside Soap Inc.

Today, Brookside Soap Inc. makes soap for a half dozen other companies who market the soaps under their own private labels. The company sells its own name-brand products in health-food stores and market-specific catalogs, such as "The Vegetarian Times." Ledray maintains that marketing the soap through other companies does not mean her company is competing with itself. Instead, it gains access to other markets, such as the gift and pet industries. Brookside has now started exporting to the Japanese market, in what Ledray calls a "small, controlled way."

While she is predicting sales to rise steadily in the upcoming years--the company currently grosses over $200,000 annually--Ledray holds fast to her philosophy on growth: Slow and steady wins the race. "We are trying to get a really broad base underneath us, instead of going straight up with this thing. I want to be okay in case one of our private labels decides to do something else instead of making soap next year. No matter what, our company will be around, and be safe and healthy."

Although many companies rush to be the biggest in their markets, Ledray would rather anchor Brookside with a good foundation and long-term profit potential, while staying within the limits of what the company can feasibly produce now. As she explains, "It's not necessarily to your advantage to do high volume with something that's labor-intensive. It is to your advantage to find a niche where you can offer something that other companies can't. We can do small-volume, high-quality private labels."

When this manufacturer talks about a quality product, she means business. Ledray is proud to use only the finest oils in order to produce a soap with the most desirable characteristics. "Oils are made of fatty acids and glycerin," Ledray explains. "Different fatty acids have entirely different properties when you turn them into soap." Some fatty acids can be more drying than others, some can clean better than others, some are mild while some are harsh, some can lather well and some cannot. Ledray uses only coconut, palm and olive oils in her soaps. As she says, "It's the combination of them that makes a nice product."

The glycerin in the oils gives the soap its moisturizing properties, while fresh herbs are used for fragrance. Ledray boasts that most of the herbs she uses are grown locally in the Seattle area. She is a stickler for creating just the right combination of herbs. Her top-selling soap is the Rosemary and Lavender bar, in which Ledray combines three different lavenders. When this herb connoisseur wanted to create a soap scented with mint, she created a bath-and-shower Spearmint bar, in lieu of making one scented with peppermint, which, she insists, is too harsh-smelling. It is this attention to detail which has won high praise from Brookside's customers.

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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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