Gentry Lane got into the soap making business because it was an industry that she felt allowed her to take advantage of her years of experience in manufacturing but to also give something back. Her startup story is interesting for many reasons; one, she self-financed her business to help get it up and running; two, how she built her customer base; and three, creating a product that has a social impact and why that matters today.
This is an interesting story to read and learn about because like many other start up stories, it is not immune from many of the conditions that start-ups face. As you read the story it is important to pay attention to the behind-the-scenes elements when understanding any kind of company. Pay attention to the following areas when reading
– Her Past Experience as a Business Woman
– How funding affects the early stages of a business
– What did she have to do to build her customer base
– Who would be her typical customer
– Can her company afford the social efforts
– Website Design
– Transition from multi-million dollar company to startup company
Her company is all about creating cleaning products that are safe for your body and provide high quality ingredients to create a very soothing experience in the bath or shower. The idea is to not just make another kind of soap but one that has a very nice smell that leaves the person smelling nice and clean afterwards but also knowing that they helped with a good cause. Ms. Lane wanted to make sure that a small portion of each sale goes towards helping bring about clean water for some areas.
Ms. Lane worked in France for a long time and her experience there creating high quality clothing taught her the importance of only using the best goods in creating her products. After the recession she moved to the States and started a company that had a social impact but it took her awhile to find people who could create a soap with high quality ingredients. Not to her surprise she found some french people in Los Angeles that could help her create the product she was looking for. She was used to creating clothing for women that were very expensive ($98 dollars for a pair of panties) so her line of products tend to gravitate towards those with money, more or less.
The idea of her new company was to take her experience and knowledge and translate it into a company that could have a social impact on others. This is why only .50 cents of each product social is donated to clean water programs in developing areas. She also supports an NGO that helps bring water filters and irrigation systems to entrepreneurs in Africa. Her mission is to match being clean with helping others gain access to clean water.
The Trials and Tribulations of Startups
Every entrepreneur knows that finding your first customer(s) can be difficult. There is no secret to how you do it but the important thing is going out and finding them where ever they are. In this case she found that by offering samples to companies that promote products like her’s she could help build an interest and client base. The company BirchBox offers subscribers sample products every month that they are interested in receiving. This helps women (and men) find products they didn’t know about by having the company send them a package with random products that match their interests. For a company like Proper Soap this is a blessing because it makes it easier now for startup companies like her to get up and running with customers. The best part is that Birchbox has purchased her products to sell on their own website.
In an effort to keep moving forward she has also decided to use that same model of service (that many companies are now switching to), offering a subscription service, where customers can have their favorite product delivered to them every month. People who can afford these convenient services enjoy them because it takes out one less thing they have to do but it also keeps them from discovering new products in the store, making the shopping experience not just a social event but also a discovery program.
The efforts of working with Birchbox has earned her lots of reviews and more promotion through word-of-mouth. This is key to know because people like talking about products they enjoy using. Her next challenge though is trying to get at least 10k subscribers by the end of the year. In order to do that she needs to raise money to help expand. Right now she is self-funded but like with any business they need money for their business in order to grow. The frustrating thing she has found in this new economy is that apps that have hit the market can get millions in funding and she is struggling to raise money, because soap companies are not something people are jumping at to invest in, and second, she is a women with experience in an industry that is more popular in France than in the States so her conditions do not set her up in a positive way but it is her experience that will push through all that. Oh and did I mention, she is doing all of this on her own? Yes you read that right, she has no other employees to help her with any of the work she is doing. She is a true one-woman operation.
If you look at the resources she has provided her self with you will find that she is on the right track to build a very successful business. In today’s age you don’t need to know the technical details anymore about starting a business online you just need to know where to find the right service to help you. In this case she has turned to Shopify to help create an ecommerce website that provides all the tools she needs to create an elegant website. Soap tends to be associated with white because white is pure and clean so having a white website was a smart move on her part. The design was simple and not cluttered. The nice thing about Shopify is that they take all the hard work out of managing an online store. You can select your theme, determine how you want to present your products and then create an easy check out system for your customers to use.
If you visit the site you can even become part of a growing group of people interested in discounts, samples and product news. When she lived in France she ran a fashion company that was worth millions of dollars. Transitioning back to the startup phase and learning all over again how hard it is to gain a base of customers that will help make your business profitable is not an easy task. Her efforts and connections show that it probably won’t be long before we see her soap in stores known for selling high-quality products, just like Clause Porto soap bars.
Many companies today are realizing that if they do not have a social component to their business model they will lose customers. The reason for this is that people want to buy products that do good in this world. If you can make it feel like the customer has an impact on an impoverished nation or people some place in the world they might be more inclined to buy it.
People like doing business with companies that offer a social impact and Ms. Lane feels she has found that balance between cleaning products and providing helping to those without clean water. There is another cleaning product that offers the same solution without the need for water all together called, Drybath, where you don’t need water to get clean. The whole idea is for people to be able to stay clean when they don’t have access to water or clean water for that matter. Many companies are springing up from this idea to help people stay clean because it is so important to our health. Creating a product that makes people feel good after using it and smelling nice are just two added benefits to such a product.
The Entrepreneur Way
Finding a business idea that you want to start is the easy part, like I always say, it is the execution that gets people. You have to go out and make those connections, find businesses that want to help small start-up companies get noticed. You might find your biggest connection online or maybe the next time you are shopping at the grocery store but you have to be willing to reach other to other people and talk to them if you want to get noticed.
Another way that many famous startup companies have done in the past is simply walk in to the stores they want their product in and ask to speak to the person who can make that happen. You may have to jump through a lot of hoops to prove you are worth including in their product catalog but then again no one said being an entrepreneur was easy work. If you walk into a hundred stores and 99 of them turn you down at least you got your first customer and sometimes that is all it takes to get started.
What are you waiting for?