How entrepreneurs can support causes they care about and grow their business at the same time
- David Simnick founded Soapbox, a socially conscious hygiene brand, in 2010, after realizing how effective proper hygiene can be in preventing childhood mortality.
- The company donates one bar of soap for every Soapbox purchase.
- In early March, Soapbox began carrying hand sanitizer. Market demand for available sanitizer super-charged their sales, while straining their supply chain.
- Now, Soapbox is on track to do 10 times its 2019 revenue, enabling the company to donate more than 5 million bars of soap since August.
- This article is part of a series called Resources for Resilience, focused on providing tips and inspiration for small businesses who are learning how to survive and thrive in today's economy.
Long before hand sanitizer became more valuable than gold, David Simnick has been preaching the gospel of good hygiene.
Simnick, the founder of Soapbox, created the socially conscious soap brand in 2010, after his work with USAID inspired the budding entrepreneur to address what he felt was an under-discussed health crisis. The project of creating clean water, says Simnick, gets most of the eco-friendly attention, but clean hands are just as vital.
According to UNICEF, two of the top five reasons for death of children under the age of five are diarrhea and acute respiratory diseases. However, when proper hygiene practices are introduced, rates of respiratory disease drop by 50% and rates of diarrhea-related illnesses drop by 33%.
The solution, then, became apparent to Simnick: communities experiencing hygiene-related illness needed access to sanitizing materials and education about the importance of hygiene.
That realization led Simnick and his cofounder, Eric Vong, to make Soapbox a socially conscious enterprise, donating one bar of soap for every purchase of a Soapbox product.
Lead with your mission, and the business plan will follow.
"The mission was not an afterthought or a marketing gimmick," said Simnick. "We wanted to solve this social ill, so we figured out how to run a company. Had it been the inverse, I think we would have been successful much quicker."
The team adapted, expanded, and rebranded — five times — over the course of the decade, finally settling on a design that resonated with consumers in 2017, says Simnick.
By the time the pandemic hit, Soapbox had become a player in the personal care market, an industry dominated by household names like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive.
A high-growth opportunity can lead to quick expansion, but not without challenges.
Early in 2020, Simnick and his team realized how big of an opportunity the pandemic presented, so they pivoted to capitalize on their position. In March, the soap-makers added hand sanitizer to their list of available products, and retailers across the country flocked to place orders.
While on a call with a sales representative from Wegmans, the Soapbox team mentioned their new product offering. "We will take 1 million," the rep replied, according to reporting from The Washington Post.
As word spread that Soapbox had sanitizer to sell, demand ratcheted up. This pressing interest, coupled with pandemic-induced production challenges, led to a series of supply-chain hurdles. Simnick says that Soapbox is now operating at 85% of its total capacity, up from 50% in March.
"In terms of supply chains, Covid is still as much of a reality as it was when it first broke out," said Simnick. "If one of the plants that we rely on for packaging goes down, then we just have to wait."
Capitalize on a period of growth to go all in on the causes that drive you.
Despite these challenges, Soapbox has enjoyed tremendous growth in the last year. Though Simnick asked to omit specific numbers, documents shared with Business Insider confirm that the company's revenue is on pace to increase tenfold year over year, from over $5 million in 2019 to nearly $50 million predicted by the end of 2020.
This success has, in turn, allowed the company to donate more than 5 million bars of soap since August, and 18 million since its inception, according to documents shared with Business Insider.
In addition, Simnick explained, the company does more than donate hygiene products. In certain ecosystems, flooding the market with free soap can harm the local economy. In others, communities have access to soap, but lack an understanding of its importance as a hygienic tool.
To accommodate the various needs of different communities, Soapbox helps fund hygiene-focused research projects and supports other nonprofit organizations involved in providing necessary products, such as the Clean the World Foundation, Delivering Good, and the Eco-Soap Bank.
Since March, Soapbox has also focused on providing resources to high-risk populations, both in America and abroad. Sixty-two percent of its donations have been to international communities, while 38% have gone toward helping fight unsanitary conditions in America, according to documents shared with Business Insider.
Serving customers first paves the way to giving back.
These efforts, says Simnick, are fueled by purchases of Soapbox products. Although Soapbox's mission has a clear appeal to consumers, Simnick and his team have learned not to lead with their social messaging.
People have a basic need to fulfill when they're buying soap — finding a price-appropriate, effective method of sanitization — and they have to believe they're purchasing a product that fulfills that need. As a result, the company aims to compete with its peers on a price and product-quality level.
However, the Soapbox mission does serve as an effective tie-breaker, says Simnick. When a customer is deciding between Soapbox and a competitor, they might find Soapbox's social efforts to be the tipping point.
"We sell a great product with natural ingredients at an affordable price," said Simnick. "But the customer making the decision to buy something six inches to the left? They're the ones actually making the difference. We're just the conduit."
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