From April 30th until May 6th is National Small Business Week in the US! Since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, celebrating and recognizing the contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.
We thought we’d help celebrate the week by showcasing some of the amazing small business owners here in the Smokies. So, for the first of our seven part series on small businesses, we’re covering a business that helps keep you clean: Misty Mountain Soap Co.
About 15 years ago, Cindy Heinemann and her daughter, Emily Rose, started using natural goat’s milk soaps made by their neighbor. After the soap worked wonders for Cindy’s dry skin and her daughter’s sensitive skin, they were hooked. They had a vision to create handmade soaps and bath and body products, crafted for people who were looking for a more natural approach to skincare.
Fast forward to today, and the two stand at the helm of an enterprise boasting two physical locations, a 5000 sq. ft. production facility, as well as a bustling nationwide customer base via their internet sales. I sat down with Cindy to talk about how she grew her company from a home-based business to the ever-growing brand it is today.
Looking for a unique #Christmas gift? Be sure to visit Misty Mountain Soap Co. for amazing products crafted with the highest quality natural ingredients 😀 You can find them on the Gatlinburg's Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Trail!
Posted by Pigeon Forge Chamber on Wednesday, December 21, 2016
When I asked Cindy what initially drove her to start her business, she explained that crafting had always been a major part of her life. “Well, through my entire working life, I’ve always been a crafter of one sort or another. So, when I moved to Tennessee, I wanted to focus on a business or a craft that I could have a website alongside with. And that was one of my motivating factors.”
“But the real motivating factor for doing soap was that we had started to use [homemade soap] 15 years prior and it made a huge different in my skin and my daughter’s skin. So there was always that desire to learn how to make that, and that really spurred the beginning of my soap business.”
While Cindy’s experience with homemade soaps initially drove her to start her business, she also saw the potential of the product. “But also, from a business point of view, I knew that I wanted to grow beyond just doing craft shows,” she said, “I wanted to have something where people could reorder a product.”
A Burgeoning Business
When she and her daughter first starting producing soaps, they worked out of their home’s kitchen. Cindy would mix the soaps and her daughter Emily Rose would cut and trim them. She started selling her products as one of the first six vendors for the Knoxville Farmer’s Market. After two years of selling at the Knoxville Farmer’s Market, she started to focus her efforts on outdoor shows in the area.
“…I started to do more and more outdoor shows in the area. I travelled to the east coast, and I traveled to Florida, I travelled to different areas to do shows. And, I did a lot of shows in the Gatlinburg area. I always wanted to be a part of the Arts and Crafts Community in Gatlinburg. And my goal was to someday have a little shop here, and that became a reality.”
She indeed would become a member of the Arts and Crafts Community in Gatlinburg after opening her first shop on the community’s loop, and even currently serves on the community’s Board of Directors. But, before she could build her business, she had to learn the art of crafting soap. When I asked her about the challenges she faced while building her business, she pointed to the challenge of learning soapmaking in a time when information was not as widely available.
“Well the biggest challenge is learneing a new craft or the learning process. And back when I started there were not videos or classes or everything that there is on YouTube that you have now. There were a few books. And so I read and re-read and researched and a lot of trial and error. Trying different oils, studying the properties of what they do to the skin. Combining different ingredients and coming up with what I considered our good, basic recipe for soap. And then from that we offshoot and did other specialty types of soaps. But the challenge is, like anything else, is just making it work and not giving up. Because, you do learn from failure.”
She also pointed to the logistical challenges of participating in outdoor shows, and the challenge of first building her ecommerce website. “There were all sorts of challenges along the way…always delving into something you don’t know a whole lot about. It’s self-teaching.”
Growing the Business
After five years of doing business out of her home and at outdoor shows, Cindy decided to find a physical location for her brand. She eventually found a home at the Covered Bridge Complex, located on the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Loop.
“When we first went into it, when I think of our shop, we probably had four pieces of furniture and a lot of room. I remember thinking we will never fill this up. And, within a matter of years, we’re backing the wall out from the shop next to us and using that space for storage and adding on. And, the more products that we added, the more backroom space that we needed. Pretty soon, the aisles are narrow and we’re rubbing elbows trying to make things.”
That was when she found her second location at te Morning Mist shopping complex. Once she secured her location at Morning Mist, Cindy shifted all soap production to the Morning Mist location, allowing her to expand her retail location at the Covered Bridge. It worked well for a while, but it wasn’t long before they needed to expand again.
“For many years, we made soap out of Morning Mist and had the shop at Covered Bridge. And we had the, you know, the growing pains pretty soon. There still wasn’t enough space to work what I considered safely and to continue expannding our product line. So, we started looking for a production area. And, we found one that fit our needs and our size. Then we moved our production area to Winery Square and we expanded the retail areas in both of our stores. And that’s where we are today!”
The production facility she secured at Winery Square was a converted music hall, and allowed her to expand her products and offer more jobs to the community. With the production shifted to the Winery Square location, the Morning Mist location became a second retail location for the brand.
Cindy stressed to me that she could never have grown the business without the help of her employees. And, it’s clear from her enthusiasm, as well as the staff bios section of her website, just how much she cares for her employees.
“The other part that has helped me grow this business, and I would never be able to do it without them, is I have a very very awesome crew. I’ve gotten to the point now where everybody’s been very well trained, the girls in the stores are great with customers, everybody’s been great. And, I woud not have been able to do this had I not had the backing of the people who worked with me.”
“I think, in order to grow your business, it is important to have people that you can work well with and work well for you. So that’s major, you know, as far as growth. You can’t do everything yourself, and once I started to let go of this and that and to train people, I realized that it gave me the opportunity to be able to grow and do more. But, you know, it’s a big step for a business owner to let go of certain things and have other people take over. That’s big, as far as business goes, in and of itself.”
In only 12 years, Misty Mountain Soap Co. has come a long way. From a home-based business to where they are today is a big jump. But, like any successful entrepreneur, Cindy is still looking forward to the future.
“[My main goal] in the next five years, is to continue to promote and improve our website business. Because, that helps us during slow times in our shops here because we are a tourist area. By adding that it’s just another stronghold for the business along with the shops and still doing shows. You’ve got to have lots of pieces of the pie in order to keep your busines going. Because, if you depend on one particular area, if something goes wrong you don’t have anything to keep the business going…Eventually I’d also love to open a shop in Pigeon Forge when the right location and the right time comes up.”
Make sure you check out all of the amazing Misty Mountain Soap Co. products on their website at www.mistymountainsoap.com
Also, be sure to follow them on Facebook for some cool content!