Starting a Soap Company

Interview with Ruth Smith, Founder of Selestial Soap, LLC

Ruth Smith was working at a Laundromat when she developed an environmentally safe laundry detergent. Today she markets her product across the country.

Ruth Smith developed her product in 2004 and began marketing it in 2008 when she founded Selestial Soap.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

Selestial Soap formulates, manufactures and sells natural cleaning products. Our first products are 100% natural laundry detergents.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I have always been an advocate for the environment and believed that many of the chemicals in cleaning products were not safe for us or our planet.

When I began working at a commercial Laundromat, I spoke with the owner about using natural products. He supported the idea, but when we looked for a product to use, we didn't find one that met our criteria of being 100% Natural, cost effective and a good cleaner. So, we developed our own formulation.

After selling Selestial Soap locally for about 4 years and getting great reviews from customers, we decided to launch the product nationwide. Selestial Soap non-sudsing, clean rinsing formulation is 100% natural and does not leave residue behind on fabrics that can irritate skin, attract dirt and affect fabric breathability.

Our newest product is Outdoor Extreme Laundry Soap, a super-concentrated formulation specifically for hunting, military and athletic clothing that is perfect for high tech fabrics. Outdoor Extreme does not contain UV brighteners that can make fabrics glow under nightvision equipment or that may be seen by animals and is unscented.

Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?

As a small business owner, you can't always wear all of the "hats." I would strongly recommend that you build a team of advisors around you - a lawyer, an accountant, a marketing representative, a packaging consultant, manufacturing specialist, etc. Their knowledge and expertise in their specialties will help you create the great product and professional image needed to grow your business quickly. Working with a marketing company that specialized in product commercialization was one of the key things that helped our business launch quickly.

What outside resources were helpful for you? Business incubators, Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, ....

Women's networking groups and organizations have been very helpful to me as a female business owner. The women I have met have been very supportive and I've learned a lot from them. They also help get the word out about my product. The State of Michigan has several initiatives to promote Michigan-made products which have also been helpful.

Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?

My partner in the business is Jim Legato, the owner of Eastfield Laundry where the product was originally developed. As the owner of another small business, Jim understands the challenges that our business has faced.

Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?

At Selestial Soap, we're all about green business. We work hard to find local suppliers to reduce the impact of shipping supplies across country. We use bottles that are made from at least 40% recycled materials. We recently launched 16 oz concentrated refills for our 100 oz bottles of Selestial Soap. With the refills, we use less packaging, reuse the original 100 oz bottle and ship more efficiently saving energy.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Be persistent and stick to your values.

Good advice for life and business, Ruth. Thank you for your time!

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