SoapBox Soaps has helped popularize the One-for-One business model alongside companies such as Toms and Warby Parker. For every product that a consumer purchases from SoapBox, the company donates a bar of soap to someone in need, both across the nation and the globe. SoapBox is committed to following through on this model the right way — in addition to their donation platform, each purchase funds hygiene education taught by community members in each of SoapBox’s service areas. Today, SoapBox has donated more than 2,995,037 bars and has funded over 6,000 hygiene lessons across the globe.
SoapBox’s success started from humble beginnings. While working as a subcontractor for USAID, CEO and co-founder, David Simnick noticed a gap where clean water was being provided to communities in need while hygiene essentials were being ignored. This prompted Simnick to make the first batch of SoapBox Soap in 2010 from his college dorm room. Each bar is crafted from quality ingredients as SoapBox stands firmly behind the sentiment that you shouldn’t have to give up quality for charity. Consumers agree. Discover more about SoapBox’s business model, its challenges, and its future below.
Did you always know that you wanted to start your own business?
I got the entrepreneurial bug while helping a friend with my business in college. I wanted to marry my entrepreneurial spirit with my desire to address the issue of a lack of hygiene products in communities in need.
Why did you start your business?
While working as a subcontractor for the USAID, I saw that clean water wasn’t being paired with the necessary hygiene products/education to do the most good. Something as simple as a bar of soap is a basic human need and everyone should have access to it. Knowing that so many lives can be saved by something as simple as a bar of soap and proper hygiene is extremely motivating.
What do you like about soap? What drew you to this industry?
Soap is something that is on everyone’s grocery list. It’s not a one-time buy and it’s not something people go out of their way to purchase. We wanted to make a product that is universal; that allowed people to participate in giving back to those simply by buying something that was already on their list.
What is your biggest business accomplishment to date?
Our biggest accomplishment thus far has been approaching 4 million bars of soap donated. That is the main reason why our brand exists, and everything we do in retail and online goes back to support our mission. We have been able to see a 97% reduction in diarrheal disease instances in one of our studies, which is absolutely incredible.
What does your typical day look like?
Honestly, there’s not a typical day at SoapBox. Many people say this, but it’s 100% true. We still consider ourselves a startup and we all wear multiple hats. One day could be divided between retail buyer meetings and coming up with new innovation while another day we’re with beauty editors experiencing a blowout in NYC using our products. Every day is different.
What is a piece of advice you wish you’d been given before starting?
That packaging is just as important as formulation. SoapBox has gone through many “faces” because we couldn’t quite nail the look. People are drawn in by design and our look, prior to the one we have now, did not do our formula justice. We have to get people to pick up our product and take a look at it before we can expect them to just try. Now we finally have a look that is what we call “counter proud”.
If you had to start all over, would you do it again? What would you do differently?
Absolutely. What drove us to start SoapBox was the ability to create an impact that saves lives and empowers others. Seeing how we’ve been supported to donate over 3 million bars of soap is incredible. If we could do something different we would wish that we changed our packaging to the design it is now earlier. Our old looks did not do any justice for the great product that we produce. We spent so much time perfecting our formulas that we didn’t spend nearly as much time on the packaging.
What does success look like to you?
Success is seeing the pictures and reading the stories that our aid partners send us about how much of an impact the donations have made. The foundation of SoapBox is built on the mission to help others and seeing that come to life is our greatest success. Making a product that people love and a mission that they fully support is success.
What was it like pitching your first buyer? Any tips/advice?
Pitching to a buyer is always a scary process. They do hold the key to your future, at least at their retail store. The biggest tip is to make sure that you understand what differentiation you have that your competitors do not have, and how that fits into the store’s ethos. If you have access to numbers or competitive data, come armed with details about how you are selling compared to your competitors.
How do you encourage repeat sales? Do you demo? Use social media? Events?
We do a bit of it all! Social media is certainly our go-to marketing tool because our target demographic is on apps like Instagram to get inspired. We also have demoed at events before too- in fact, we’re holding a hair care session at an event in New Orleans this summer. What’s really important in encouraging repeat sales is great customer service on current orders. That means following up to see how they liked the product and showing your customers some extra love. Great customer service can turn a customer who didn’t like a particular product into a brand ambassador if you take the time to find the perfect item for them.
Where do you want your business to be in three to five years?
Three to five years we’d love to be nationwide and storewide in all the big retailers here in the U.S.A. and possibly looking at international business. We’d also like to expand our line to feature new products within the categories we’re already in (i.e. - shampoo, conditioner, body wash, hand soap, bar soap).
What was is it like going from a local brand to regional — multi-regional and beyond?
There are definitely pros and cons. The pro is that you have your product anywhere across the country and instructing someone to go to find a couple items on a shelf of 60 feet is challenging. It has also put a stress on our supply chain and cash as we need more resources to support the new business.
At what point did you consider your business “having made it”?
We’re always striving for bigger and better so we don’t consider ourselves as having made it just yet. Are we better than where we were years ago? Of course! Can we be even better than we are now? Sure! We’re still climbing and pushing our brand to its fullest potential. There’s always room for growth and perfecting your craft.