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Business Observer Friday, May 17, 2019 1 week ago

Entrepreneur cleaning up with skin care stores

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Chronic skin conditions led Deanna Wallin into a career change. Her Naples Soap Company founded 10 years ago is now a $10 million retailer and wholesaler.
by: Andrew Warfield Lee-Collier Editor

A decade ago Deanna Wallin was a single mother of two teenagers, aging out of the home health care sales business and suffering from eczema and psoriasis along with her daughter, Kelsey.

Since then, Wallin has turned research into their chronic skin condition and a 300-square-foot boutique into a 13-store, $10 million enterprise specializing in hair, bath and body products for sensitive skin. All under the Naples Soap Co. umbrella. 

Now she itches for more.

As Wallin plots her strategy to add seven more retail stores within 30 months, this year some of her more than 450 Naples Soap Co. products will also be available in 261 Dillard's department stores nationwide. Considering she launched the business mid-recession — and survived the early days without taking a bath — her success isn't a small feat.

“People tell me I got so lucky with my business,” says Wallin. “Luck had nothing to do with it. It was a lot of 14-hour days that made it happen. Never in a million years did I envision we would have 13 stores 10 years later and the distribution that we have. I had no idea what I was doing. I was making it up as I went along.”

Wallin says the company’s annual gross revenues have averaged 20% growth in each of the last three years, and she projects $10 million in 2019, thanks in no small part to the partnership with Dillard's. She declines to disclose specific revenue figures. 

'Retail isn’t dead, it’s just evolving. Our model is different, and it works.' Deanna Wallin, Naples Soap Company

The genesis of Naples Soap Co. was Wallin’s research into how to best treat her family’s skin conditions, discovering sulfates as a common element to many who suffer from eczema and psoriasis. Anchoring a product line of specialty soaps, bath bombs, scrubs, serums and balms is the company’s line of natural, unscented sensitive skin products she developed in association with manufacturing formulators.

“Those products have a cult following,” she says.

In seeking locations for new stores — and a deeper following — Wallin employs a combination of personal research with assistance from Crandall Commercial Group, which assisted in acquiring the headquarters and warehouse space as well as seven retail locations. Wallin seeks tourism-rich environments with a robust year-round clientele for stores. 

"I'm a research rat," she says. "If I don't know how to do something, I'll figure it out."

Naples Soap Co. is funded organically, Wallin says, but it also has an ongoing relationship with Synovus Bank. She cites finding talent in the tight labor market and a misperception of the health of retail as primary obstacles.

“Retail isn’t dead, it’s just evolving,” she says. “Our model is different, and it works.”

Wallin opened her first Naples Soap Co. store in that tiny storefront in Tin City in Naples, quickly expanding to 1,000 square feet by adding the 700-square-foot space next door. Six months later, she opened her second location in Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda. Other locations followed, now stretching from Sanibel Island to Destin. Her first east coast Florida store will soon open in Cocoa, followed by a second St. Petersburg spot. "We look for fun locations," she says.

The company now employs 85, including support staff at its 11,000-square-foot headquarters, warehouse and distribution center in a building she purchased on on Alico Road in Fort Myers. She outsources human resources, IT and marketing. All products are manufactured in the U.S., 80% in Florida.

“I’ve learned a lot along the way,” says Wallin. “I'm pretty sure I have an entrepreneurial MBA right now. Once I identified the ingredients it took to make a really great product that works, it took off from there.”

Wallin knew she was onto something big when bikers rode down in groups from Sarasota to her Tin City store. When more people started doing that, the company targeted a high-tourism traffic formula. 

Not that Naples Soap Co. stores are formulaic. While each store is branded consistently, each takes on the personality of its location. “The Coconut Point store in Estero has a vibe that is different from our downtown Fort Myers store,” Wallin says. “Downtown Fort Myers is artsy and eclectic, and the store and the staff reflects that. Each store has its own unique personality.”

To mitigate the effects of seasonality, Wallin is looking outside Florida for new locations, currently setting her sights on the Carolinas. In addition to the recent purchase order from Dillard stores, Naples Soap Co. has more than 200 wholesale partners nationwide from small regional chains to independent speciality stores and salons. All products are also available online at naplessoap.com and limited inventory on amazon.com.

All from an itch scratching couldn’t cure.

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