It took three years of planning in retirement after long careers in the personal care industry, but Steve Misner and Ron Growe are finally bringing their dream of a natural soap business to life. StoneClean Soap, based out of Misner’s home in Verona, specializes in handmade bar and foam soaps, as well as other personal care products, all available through website and gift shop sales.
Misner, who has lived in Verona for 38 years, and Growe, a South Carolina retiree, worked together for years at a major global personal care company and, when they retired they decided to lend their more than 70 years of combined technical and business experience to a new venture focused on a key segment of the consumer market. Both attribute their lifelong creative and critical thinking skills to their entrepreneurial spirit.
“The soap that I envisioned, from the start, embodied the most important consumer preferred attributes of a bar soap, such as moisturizing, cleansing, skin caring and nurturing all in one product,” says Misner, who retired in 2017. “In addition, I wanted to infused finest qualities into the soap, such as sustainability, with natural ingredients and packaging materials.”
Growe says he has always been an innovator, with a hands-on approach to work and life that fit well with a startup opportunity and long-term dream. Growe and Misner kept in touch after retiring, and Misner sought Growe’s experience in design and construction of manufacturing and product processes as the foundation for a customer-centric product, the final piece of the puzzle of creating StoneClean Soap.
Though Misner and Growe had traveled to over 50 countries to oversee personal care products during the 30 years of their first career, they did even more travel to research their new business idea. Focusing at first on soap, they spent a large part of the first year interviewing master soap boilers. With travel budgets of $30,000 to $50,000 apiece, they came to grasp the soap manufacturing process from raw material sourcing on coconut oil plantations, to milling and refining. They also participated in product development and marketing activities to more fully appreciate what would delight the consumer in a bar soap product.
“Our travels opened our minds to endless possibilities of production and consumer satisfaction,” Misner says, “soap is made in so many ways, with each method delivering unique quality and performance attributes to the customer.” He says that StoneClean Soap prefers the “hot” or “fully boiled” process for the best results, which involves combining the highest quality vegetable oils with water, sodium hydroxide and salt to saponify the oils and produce a base soap and its by-product, glycerin.
Growe says that how the soap appears also creates an appeal to a consumer, so StoneClean Soap adds natural colorants and essential oils to its batches, which ensures that the products are natural throughout the manufacturing process. “Our packaging is produced from recycled paper stock and natural inks so that we are fully sustainable as well,” Growe adds.
Growe and Misner plan to work with small businesses, primarily gift shops and beauty salons, as well as their website, stonecleansoap.com, for the majority of sales. They are also working on partnerships with larger soap manufacturers to expand nationally.
“We are eager to see where this business takes us, and we also see the future of social media and customer engagement mediums and will be leveraging and learning more each day about how StoneClean can reach the masses through these tools,” Misner says.
As co-executive managers, Misner and Growe will lead the business, increasing business visibility and developing new products to help meet consumer wants and needs. Steve’s sons are accountable for website and social media management, while Misner and Growe’s wives will be assisting in researching new product styles.
“From the start, we hoped to market StoneClean Soap as a family business and will continue along that path to keep our quality as the top priority and help in bringing the most innovative products forward,” Growe says.
StoneClean Soap products are manufactured by the oldest and most traditional soap manufacturer in the United States, Bradford Soap Works in West Warwick, R.I. Misner and Growe say that Bradford’s high level of technical experience, along with the high median age for its workforce makes it an ideal manufacturer and an ideal partner in a niche market.
StoneClean Soap has been marketing and selling its wrapped bar soaps for just short of a year now and has realized sales of $6,500. “It’s still too early to realistically set our sales goals but we would like to recoup our initial investment over the next 18 months and then make plans for future investment,” Misner says.
Focusing on the niche market will play a large role in how business conducts. Since Misner and Growe have spent so long creating techniques on how to hone in on the market of natural soap buyers that they foresee sales growing. Once they saturate that niche market, they can focus on market positioning.
“We are in the process of becoming ‘visible’ to medium- to large-sized retailers now and hope to secure a few partners in that field to bring higher volume sales into view later this year. StoneClean’s top strengths are quality and performance combined with a solid knowledge of consumer preference in bar soaps. We are confident that once we are ‘seen’ by the consumer our growth will follow,” Growe says.
While the pandemic may seem like a setback for new business, Misner and Growe instead seek it as a window of opportunity. Moreover, they share that while COVID-19 has limited business principally to online sales, a significant outcome from confinement has been the development of new products. One, a gentle yet effective hand sanitizer made to the standards of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) may soon become an item.
Overall, Misner and Growe aspire to not only start their business off strong, but also to positively impact consumers. “Business building will come as we move forward, but helping each other through the pandemic with our expertise in personal care has been our priority for the past few months,” says Misner. “We are looking forward to introducing the community to the wonders of soap and making this world a bit brighter.”