By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
SNOHOMISH — Bad economic times aren’t usually considered ideal for starting a new business. But if the country had not suffered its economic downturn in 2008, entrepreneur Cindy Todd might never have thought to start the Snohomish Soap Co.
Three years ago, Todd, her contractor husband and their four children relocated to Snohomish from Florida. Todd had a brand new masters in business administration and was eager to get settled into her new home and start her new career. Unfortunately, the slow economy and a tight job market forced her to make other plans.
“I couldn’t find a job to save my life,” Todd said.
To make a little extra money, she picked up some temporary work with the Census and to take her mind off her employment problems she took a soap-making class. That class proved to be a defining moment.
“I loved it,” Todd said. “And I saw that it might be an opportunity to make some income for the family.”
Back when Todd lived in Florida, she used to buy local handmade soap from a nearby farmers’ market. Now with her newfound skill, she took her own handcrafted soaps to the Snohomish Farmers’ Market.
Todd’s soaps appealed to the public, both for their appearance and their ingredients. They’re colorful, fragrant and considered vegan because they’re vegetable oil-based. Her soaps lather well and are very moisturizing. They also appeal to consumers who are looking for products that are locally produced. She soon had regular customers.
Todd then began attending other local farmers’ markets to create an even wider customer base for her products. It was at the end of the 2011 farmers’ market season when her first business break occurred.
“At the Everett Farmers’ Market, a buyer from Bartell’s came and asked if I was interested in wholesaling,” Todd said. It was just the sort of reassurance that she needed to know that she on the right business track.
By January 2012, Todd was still researching the possibility of wholesale with Bartell’s when she attended a gift show and was approached with yet another wholesale opportunity. This one came from a PCC Natural Market buyer. Haggen Market followed suit and by the end of 2012 Todd’s business was off to good start.
She couldn’t make all of the soap herself so she her business education to plan a great way to expand.
“Our model for manufacturing is that we work with stay-at-home moms to manufacture the soap,” Todd said. “It gives them a lot of flexibility and the means to earn a little bit extra. It’s not a living wage at this point but as the retail side gets built up and our story gets out, that will strengthen our presence.”
Currently, the bulk of Todd’s inventory is produced in the kitchen of a Lake Stevens stay-at-home mom whom she met through farmers’ markets and from teaching soap-making classes. Although Todd still makes soap, as a true MBA she admits that she loves the business part of her company more than the actual soap production.
These days, Todd spends a lot of time researching ways in which she can grow her business. Most recently she examined the Peet’s Coffee model of expanding retail sales through subscriptions. This resulted in Snohomish Soap Co.’s new subscription program.
Customers can opt to have one bar of soap per month sent to their home for $5 or two bars for $10. Shipping is included in the subscription price and customers can select what fragrances they receive or choose to be surprised.
“We’re really expanding regionally now,” Todd said. “I always had micro finance in the back of my head. It just kind of naturally emerged.”
Todd has also become involved with the Seattle-based Fledge organization. Fledge is a conscious company accelerator, Todd said. They work with start-up companies providing mentorship and entrepreneurial education. She’s met a lot of people through Fledge.
“There are all kinds of really cool people and ideas,” Todd said. “It’s just been incredible, the brain pool that has been available there to help us.”
At the end of a Fledge program, the companies show off their work at a demo day. Todd showed Snohomish Soap Co.’s wares on April 25.
When asked what her plans are for the future, Todd said she wants to expand the retail side of the business and continue to help women who are unable to work outside their homes. Todd’s own business path seems to be well established. It’s one she created for herself.