Deanna Wallin has experience in guiding a business through a crisis, having launched Naples Soap Co. in the heart of the recession in 2009. Starting with a 300-square-foot store in Tin City in Naples, Wallin has since grown the company, with a niche in high-quality skincare and hair care products, to 13 locations across Florida. It produces and sells over 400 products and does some $9 million to $10 million a year in sales.
A coronavirus pandemic bright spot, a decade later, is that e-commerce has been the fastest growing segment of the business, going from $540,000 in 2018 revenue to a projected $1.3 million in 2020. The crisis has only boosted the company’s online sales, with a 140% year-over-year increase the middle weeks of March 2020 over March 2019. Although Wallin temporarily shuttered the network of stores, she’s shifted to online fulfillment, where a staff of four prepares orders from the company’s facility in Fort Myers, near the Southwest Florida International Airport.
One reason for the increase is product-based — more people are washing their hands, more often. “In addition to soap sales, we’re seeing an increased demand for self care and sensitive skin products,” Wallin says. “This is a challenging time for our community. Everyone is looking for a diversion to help relieve tension and brighten their spirits. Bath bombs and bath soak sales have surged as have the sales of our sensitive skin products.”
Another key reason for the growth, internally, is Wallin’s efforts to prepare for any downturn in brick-and-mortar sales, driven somewhat by previous hurricane experience. For one, she increased soap production in early March, anticipating the demand.
Wallin and her team have also been highly active on social media, with videos showing proper hand-washing techniques and a variety of Naples Soap Co. scrubs, oils and soaps. “People are washing their hands 100 times a day now,” Wallin says.
Even more important than proactive marketing, Wallin says, has been Naples Soap Co.’s robust 150,000-strong email database of customers. Although collecting information like that at brick-and-mortar checkout can be a hassle and time-consuming, Wallin says having that information has been e-commerce gold . “If we didn’t have that database to reach out to people now, we wouldn’t be having the kind of success we are seeing,” Wallin says. “It’s been key to our survival.”