Building bricks and mortar with soap and water
Warren Booth from York and Marcus Doyle from Halifax decided to start making and selling soaps from a small gift shop in Hebden Bridge back in 2004 with just £500 to their name.
Warren was managing the Louis Vuitton concession at Harrods in London at the time and Marcus had just left his job as a chef.
Bootstrapping the business themselves, they couldn’t afford expensive equipment therefore Marcus mustered together what he had - cake moulds and baking cases - and began creating ‘cupcake soaps.’
12 years on, The Yorkshire Soap Co boasts six outlets spread across the region, has its own manufacturing facility (the soap kitchen) in York, employs 65 people and is expecting to turnover around £5m this year.
“The idea of soap making very much started as a hobby and remained as a hobby for many years after; despite being in business!” said Warren.
“As our business began as a hobby we never really saw it as a business. We were building a brand, and a customer base, without even realising it!”
The Yorkshire Soap Co manufactures and sells its own range of handmade soaps and bath products; 80% of which are made by their Soap Kitchen in York.
The business started off from a small unit in Hebden Bridge back in 2005, which is still selling to the public today, but quickly grew as word started to spread.
Today, the company has six stores dotted across the region, a designated workshop in York and also has its own ‘Imaginarium’ selling a range of quirky interior design items.
“Most of our items are gift-boxed; creating a very appealing “gift” or “self-pampering” offer to customers; purely due to their presentation,” added Warren.
“These are sold through our five retail shops in York, Leeds, Hebden Bridge, Beverley and Knaresborough.
“We also have another shop named “The Imaginarium” which is next door to the York soap shop (Blake Street).
“This sells quirky interior design items such as Adrian Higgins Wall Prints, Seletti Monkey Lamps, Jane Revitt Tea Towels, True Grace Candles & Reed Diffusers; and a wide range of other items mostly made by independent British suppliers.
“The Imaginarium has proved a huge success so far and was recently extended into its “back room”; making it twice the size of the original shop.”
But with British high streets dwindling away, why has The Yorkshire Soap Co continued to invest in its bricks and mortar stores?
Warren added: “Our dream has always been to create a theatrical emporium of all things soapy, where we would sell all our handmade delights, each made with the best ingredients we could find, beautifully packaged and most importantly affordable, luxurious and unique.
"We are a proud independent Yorkshire business, and still as passionate about our customers, shops and service as when we stood behind the counter in our little Hebden Bridge shop back in 2004. We will never lose this passion, and retail is what we do… it’s our hobby!
“York is also our home; so choosing this location for our flagship soap shop and The Imaginarium was a no-brainer. It’s beautiful, and home to lots of tourists who fall in love with our products and the “theatre” of the shops.
“We have also spent a lot of time in Leeds over the years, and have fallen in love with it. For the remainder, we love small market towns with a real community spirit; as we feel our brand fits in very well!”
A prime example of this was the opening of their Beverley store last year. The small East Riding market town may not have the most footfall of their six outlets but it is certainly one that got the pair very excited.
“We have always loved Beverley as a shopping destination,” said Warren, “it’s an amazing town full of great shops, businesses and has a real sense of community spirit.
“The amazing mix of large stores and smaller independents really appealed to us and as a regular visitor, felt it would be the ideal place for our next shop.
“We have lots of customers from the Hull and Beverley area and when we did a Facebook poll asking where our next shop should be, Beverley was high up on the list, so it seemed like a no brainer.
“We loved the town, our customers wanted us to be in the town - so we searched and found the perfect little shop to settle in on Butcher Row!
“As a small Yorkshire, independent business it is really important for us to love the towns and cities we establish our shops in and for us, Beverley is just perfect!”
Although their six retail stores are proving a huge hit among shoppers, the pair are also acutely aware of the changing trends around them.
With this in mind, they launched their dedicated website back in 2015 and are continuing to invest in their digital presence in a bid to expand their horizons.
“In September 2015 we launched our new website; a fully-fledged online shop stocking all of our own brand products.
“We then employed a digital manager with strong eCommerce experience to run the online side of the business with us, and manage the operational elements of it.
“The website has proven highly successful for us; both as a marketing tool and revenue channel, and our customers can expect to see lots of positive updates and features coming to the website in the next 12 months!”
What started as an ‘accidental business’ launched by two passionate men now boasts over 50 full-time members of staff spread across six locations and the pair are excited to see what the future holds.
Warren said: “Customers can expect to see some new and exciting products arriving this year; along with even further developments to our online service for our loyal customers! We will also certainly be looking at our offering to local guest houses, restaurants etc, as we’d like to get our products into more public spaces.”
But do they foresee more shops opening? Warren concluded: “We may look into more shops. There are no immediate plans, but we keep a firm eye on new locations every single day, and if the right one came up; it could well happen! This time last year we had no plans either, but here we are 12 months on with two more shops!”
Published: 01 February 2017