This blog post was written by Bend Soap Company co-founder, Marilee Johnson.
It’s not that we want to get bigger and bigger in order to become some massive corporation.
It’s not even that we want to grow larger in order to earn more money (although that might be nice down the road, as we’ve invested thousands and haven’t taken any profits yet!)
It’s about reaching more of YOU.
It’s about meeting a need, changing a life, and making a difference.
Expanding production to reach more people has become a passion for us. Every customer testimonial, every story, and every conversation we have that shares how tragedy has turned into relief just puts the wind in our sails and encourages us to look beyond ourselves.
On a practical level, this conviction demands more and more space for production. And we’re cool with that! It’s a wild ride, folks! It’s insane to think that Bend Soap Company has outgrown its first two spaces already and is working on outgrowing its third.
The dilemma: Should we buy a new place, build a new space, or use what we have? Being “scrappy” (as Chip Gaines says) has its advantages, and we’ve chosen to use the resources we have on hand here on this hobby farm of ours in Bend, Oregon.
I hope you like photos, ‘cause this post is FULL of them! It’ll feel like you’ve been right by our side all these years. We’re thankful that so many of you really HAVE been.
It Started in a Garage...
Have you ever heard of those now infamous businesses that years prior to their success, started out in a humble garage? Amazon, Apple, Disney, Harley Davidson, Microsoft… The list goes on. Well, if you’ve been out to the small farm in Tumalo (on the North end of Bend, Oregon), you would drive by the main house where we live, to the original garage/workshop where production began. This huge garage, which we call the “Soap House,” is where it all started!
In the spring of 2013, Dwight and sons, along with a crew of skilled and available friends, finished off his father’s shop to create a new workspace for Bend Soap Company and move it out of the house. In September 2013, we began “manufacturing” in this space, relocating the office and shipping (and our amazing helpers!) outside the house for the first time!
It was here that the company produced its original 35 scents of goat milk soap and milk baths. The product line soon extended to include an all-natural goat milk lotion, bathroom accessories, and gift sets. Then in 2016, three new products hit the store: lip butter, natural deodorant, and body scrubs. After narrowing the focus a bit and undergoing a complete re-branding and building website in 2016, our little mom and pop soap biz began to reach its limit in this space.
Busting at the Seams
By the middle of 2017, it was obvious that Bend Soap Company would need a new home. The Soap House was beyond full. Greeting a ton of customers each day and shipping orders with our small but mighty team of 10 made for tight spaces. Even the back two rooms of the main house were being used as overflow storage and offices.
Farm Tour groups were cramped as they made their way through the shipping area which was full of busily working team members. I’m so impressed by our amazing team that worked in these crazy small spaces without complaint!
While many solutions were considered, the one that ended up working out best for us was to convert an existing indoor arena we had on our property into a temperature-controlled facility. This allowed us to provide additional space for both our production team as well as our shipping and fulfillment team. Wahoo! Improvisation, creativity, existing resources and forward thinking all working together. I love when a solution is found!
Working on Expansion
The arena was once used by previous owners as an indoor riding facility. The floor was concreted years ago by Dwight’s father to provide a multi-functional building for gathering and family events. The space also doubled as an indoor soccer field and many barn dances had been held here as well.
In August 2017, Dwight began working with a team of skilled and available friends to outfit the arena. The shipping and production teams began moving inventory into the space while the arena was under construction to free up space in their overcrowded garage “Soap House.”
Realizing that we needed to install pallet racking because we were ordering such large quantities of supplies and ingredients was one of the coolest things! By the time the arena was finished and ready for the shipping team to move in, it was already filled with pallets of ingredients, packaging, shipping supplies, and equipment.
It’s so exciting to watch the growth process! This once empty arena is now bustling with productivity and energy. And yes, for those who were wondering, it smells amazing in here!
Production has tripled and equipment (like extra sinks, soap-making stations, a new soap cutter, and a walk-in freezer) has been added to make workflow even more efficient. There’s more room for labeling and the shipping team now has two full stations complete with nifty computers and scanners (so we get your orders right!)
What About the Goats?
The goat herd is expanding as well! We went from milking 10 goats last year to now milking over 30! The boys are at it morning and night to bring that farm fresh milk straight to the soap-dish in the form of the wonderful goat milk soap we’re all addicted to. It’s a labor of love, folks!
And even though our herd of “ladies” has expanded to over 60 goats, it’s still not enough! Bend Soap Company has been honored to partner with small local dairies and farms as well, supporting more local businesses and families along the way.
If you’ve seen our Facebook feed, you might’ve seen those photos of us with lots of packages in the back of the mini-van or truck, getting ready to head out to the Post Office to mail out your packaged each day. Well, the daily runs started turning into 2-3 runs per day, with the seats folded down and the van full to the hilt. As you can guess, this was turning into a bit of a problem.
Now, a full on SEMI truck comes and picks up these cool rolling cages we have full of packages. He lifts them up on a loading dock and gives us more empty cages to fill in return. Cool, huh?!!
So the next time you get your delivery from Bend Soap Company, you’ll have some more visuals to go with it! Growing pains (mostly price increases on oils and shipping) caused us to raise prices for the first time in 7 years. We hope you know how hard we work to keep those prices low and affordable. We believe that everyone should be able to afford good, natural soap!
Our ability to service more and more customers is happening. The real dream is coming true! The impact on our community, reaching far more people than ever imagined… It’s all beyond the original vision.
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