As is the case with many successful soap makers, Scott Blackson, owner of The Soap Fairy, Inc. stumbled into soap making through a stroke of fate. While taking classes toward his master’s degree in natural health, Scott was prompted to create soap for one of his classes. During his research he found that most recipes at that time were based on animal ingredients. Being a vegetarian, Scott was inspired to create his own soap recipe. It was love at first batch. Very soon, Scott’s love of soap making overflowed his home. To make room for more soap, bars were gifted into the hands of family and friends. When the recipients returned for more soap, Scott’s new hobby began sprouting into a new business. Through hard work, determination, and lots of soap making, Scott’s business has passed the 12 year mark with a 2000 square foot soap factory, two retail locations, and seven employees.
Being one of our earliest FromNatureWithLove.com customers, Scott Blackson and The Soap Fairy, Inc. are particularly near to our hearts. We were very excited when Scott agreed to participate in our Interview Series.
What are some of the signature products, elements or differences about your company that set it apart from the rest? What makes your company special?
Our signature products include a line of “Sea Soaps”. Since we are in a summer resort town near the beach, we have soaps that have light, breezy, ocean-y scents, with names like “Down by the Seashore”, “Ocean Breeze”, “ Seaweed”, etc. We make lotions to match and we offer custom bath salts as well.
We also have a newly designed men’s line, featuring bold masculine scents and newly updated packaging. Our men’s soaps are packaged in black boxes. The after shave lotions are in black bottles. The look is decidedly masculine as are the three fragrance blends. Each scent blend is available in soap, after shave lotion and skin exfoliating scrubs.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am a jack of all trades with a short attention span. I like to be creative in many different ways. Running a soap company gives me the opportunity to move through many projects throughout the day from scent blending, recipe development, web design, and designing and writing the company newsletter. My background is in photography. I was a freelance photographer in Los Angeles in the 80’s and believe it or not, my inspiration for making soap came from my love of color and texture and creating something from scratch. The scent blending came naturally to me and added another dimension to the creativity of other art forms. Being a vegetarian and fairly health conscious, I became appalled at all the junk in the food we eat and then discovered that the junk is even worse in the products we put on our skin. I’ve set out to make products that have fewer bad ingredients, many more good ingredients and products that are still fragrant, colorful and fun to use.
Do you have any other great passions or hobbies (other than natural skincare and entrepreneurship?)
I am a wannabe artist. I currently am taking pottery courses (and if hand print ashtrays and tiny bowls ever make a come back, I’m likely to start a new business). I love working with my hands. I bought a “fixer upper” house several years back. It had “good bones” but was built in the 1940’s. There is always a project for me to work on if I can find the extra time. I am also a student of American Sign Language and have an interest in signing and the deaf culture.
Where are your products available?
You can find everything we make on our website at www.soapfairy.com, or at either one of our two retail stores: One is in Milford, DE and the other is in Lewes, DE. If you happen to be in Japan, you can find them at Tree of Life handmade soaps stores, or at various gift and retail shops throughout the U.S.
What are some of your immediate goals for The Soap Fairy, Inc.?
My immediate goals are to settle down and enjoy life a bit. I’ve worked way too many hours over the last 10 years. My business had totally consumed my life. I recently underwent surgery to repair a damaged hip and during the recovery process I’ve discovered that there is more to life than working 70 hours a week. I am now enjoying good employees, who can take care of my store (and me) and give me the opportunity to enjoy my home and my three dogs more often. I am planning on actually taking some vacation time this year, enjoying the beach this summer instead of just working through the tourist season at the beach.
Where would you like to see your company go long term?
The company is always growing and expanding. I think I’ve reached the point where I want to stabilize and not keep trying to re-invent the wheel. It would be nice to settle down with the products I like best and that sell the most and expand the market. As any business person will tell you, I’d like to work smarter, not harder.
Is there anyone or anything special that has inspired you?
I’ve been particularly inspired by a couple of really good soap makers who offered me their expertise when I started and have remained friends throughout the process. When I was a freelance photographer in Los Angeles, there was not much camaraderie among photographers. I think we all thought we were competing for the same accounts. I’ve found that the truly good soap makers know how to relax and believe there are enough dirty people to go around. I’m inspired by Sandy Maine and Leslie Plant sharing thoughts and ideas with me, being a sounding board, and being my “peer group” without feeling that we are competitors. I’m generally inspired by anyone who has a dream and accomplishes it by sticking to it. Someone told me early on that the key to success in work is showing up. I have showed up for work nearly every day since then. I see people who complain that they don’t have any business, or that they can’t get ahead, and yet, when I walk by their store or their workshop, they are not there. You can’t succeed if you don’t show up.
Our company motto (and registered trademark) is “Cleaning up the world one person at a time.” It seemed a clever saying when we trademarked it and began using it as a promotional catch phrase many years ago, but it has become truer than we realized. Being in a summer resort town, many visitors buy our soap to take home to the person who is feeding their dog, taking in their mail, or watering their plants. Those people often enjoy our products, and see our website on the packaging and become customers. At holidays and birthdays, they often send our products to their friends who enjoy them and find our website on the packaging and then order for themselves and for THEIR friends. And so it continues and what started out as a small cottage business in a rented single wide trailer has now truly become a worldwide business.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced while seeing your company to where it is today? How did you overcome or handle this challenge?
My biggest challenge has been twofold: I realized fairly early on that I cannot do all that I want to be done in the business alone. Single soap makers must struggle with ordering ingredients, making products, finding venues to sell the product, advertise, promote and then go do the sales. They must do the bookkeeping, the taxes, the running of the company. There are way too many jobs for one person to do and still have enough time to make and sell products. Being a bit of a control freak, it was hard for me to let go of any aspect of my business, but I learned early on if I was to be successful, I’d need help. It’s been an ongoing battle to get and keep competent help—people who share the same values and goals as I do and who want to see my company grow and succeed. I’ve found that the way to overcome this is to just keep replacing employees who are just looking for a paycheck until eventually you end up with employees who want to work for a successful company and want to be part of that success. It’s hard, time consuming, and often feels like a losing battle, but in the end when you have quality employees helping you to succeed, it is all worth the effort.
Do you have any advice for soap makers, natural skin care enthusiasts or small business owners that are just starting out?
As I said before, SHOW UP. I hear people say all the time “you are so lucky to have your own business.” Luck is a small part of it. "Stick-to-it-iveness” is the key. You don’t succeed in anything by trying to see if you can do it for awhile. You succeed by making a decision to do whatever it takes to accomplish your goal. I have many people say “It must be so nice to have your own business and just work whenever you want.” My response is “yes, I can choose whichever 70 hours a week I want to spend at work.”
I see that you offer soap making classes at your workshop. Can you tell us a little about that experience?
I teach soap classes, both here at my Milford Soap Plant and at schools throughout the east coast. It seemed at first that I may be shooting myself in the foot to teach people to make soap who may then become my competitors. I’ve learned several things: Those who will make soap, will do so whether I teach them or not, and many of those who come to learn to make soap find out how difficult and expensive it is and decide that they are better off just buying mine. So it’s been a good experience. I think most of my students enjoy learning about soap making, about my business, how I got started and what it takes to make good soap and what it takes to have a soap business. Most make soap once so they can say they’ve done it and then decide that mine is better and cheaper and become my customers. A few have the determination and have gone on to start successful companies. Successful soap makers helped me when I was getting started. I’m happy, and somewhat proud, to give back some of what I have learned over the years.
How long have you been a customer of FromNatureWithLove.com?
I started buying from From Nature With Love in 1997. I think Kibby and Jay were also just starting out and were relatively small. I’d often call and talk to them, ask questions, ask about ordering ingredients or about getting me something that I needed but couldn’t find. It was sort of nice to have a CEO to CEO relationship with them. Though we have different businesses, I feel like we grew up together and it’s nice to have a business relationship that has lasted through the years.
What are your favorite ingredients that FromNatureWithLove.com carries?
I tend to stick with the same things month after month. We get a lot of Emulsifying Wax from FromNatureWithLove.com and Stearic Acid for our lotions. My favorite things are the exotic oils and clays and salts. I love to experiment with them and often use them in specialty items, items for other companies, or just for things that I’m making for myself and my friends.
Please tell us why you purchase through FromNatureWithLove.com.
I purchase from From Nature With Love because Kibby and Jay took care of me when I started my company. I called and talked to them personally and because they were a young company, they took the time to help me any way they could. I’ve stuck with them ever since, knowing if I need to, I can call and ask for them to call me back. It’s a good feeling to know the owner of the company, to feel like they value your business, and to feel like “we’re all in this together” somehow.