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Soap Reminds of Times Past

Online business inspired by age-old tradition grows by word of mouth.

Cindy O’Neill, owner of YesterYear Soap Company, likes keeping the integrity of nature and things from the past.

People who know O’Neill know this is true. After all, she did spend six years clearing, restoring and preserving 60 acres she and her husband, Dave, purchased in 2001.

Loggers had cleared the land, leaving behind a forest of stumps, O’Neill recalls. It was an eyesore the couple was determined to restore. They removed the stumps and found several 150-year-old log cabins that had been abandoned. They bought these, too, and moved them to the property, thinking they would be a nice addition. The cabins were rebuilt and now stand as they did during the early 19th century.

The finished project reminded O’Neill of an older time, prompting the couple to name the land YesterYear Lodge. Soon, it was opened to children for summer camp. The process sparked a desire in O’Neill to continue to share things from the past with others.

She decided the next way to do this was through an item that has been around for hundreds of years: soap.

“Our desire was to offer consumers the opportunity to purchase soap similar to the way it was made back when these small shops were still a viable business”

Staying true to the old ways

During the 19th century, making soap took a long time, so it was done just once a year, O’Neill explains. Today, with the increased demand, factories mass produce the product by adding chemicals to speed up the process, taking away from what soap making used to be.

O’Neill adds that the soap bought at local supermarkets today is a collection of chemicals, many of which are too difficult to pronounce.

“Most of the ‘soap’ in these stores isn’t really soap at all,” she says. “If you look closely at the labels of many of these brands, they call themselves ‘facial bars,’ ‘cleansing bars’ or similar names. Our soap is real soap.”

The soap she carries at YesterYear Soap Company is made from simple, easy-to-understand ingredients. In fact, the soap-maker she works with uses fixings like Shea butter, coconut oil and palm oil in the bars O’Neill sells.

“Our desire was to offer consumers the opportunity to purchase soap similar to the way it was made back when these small shops were still a viable business,” she says. “We want to target families who appreciate the benefits of using natural products.”

And though the product the seller offers has roots in the past, O’Neill knew her business would eventually take her to the Internet. Then, it would just be a matter of standing out from the crowd, she adds.

Making a splash

To make sure people saw her products, O’Neill contacted several bloggers who write about soaps and products similar to hers. The bloggers had a good following, and O’Neill knew her business had a lot to gain.

“We sent them samples and offered them the opportunity to do a giveaway contest for their readers,” she says. “The blog reviews were all very favorable, so we used many of the articles in our testimonials.”

O’Neill also began offering her soaps on niche marketplaces and in brick-and-mortar shops to expand her brand. She even lists a few items on eBay, but most of her orders are from her own site and online specialty stores. The work has paid off.

“Our online presence caught the attention of the Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine and the online edition of Weight Watchers, who both featured us in last year’s Holiday Gift Ideas edition,” she adds. “Needless to say, this probably contributed to our large jump in holiday sales.”

YesterYear Soap Company continues to grow steadily. Shoppers seem to be especially drawn to the shop’s soap loafs, which come with a bamboo cutting board and a specially made soap cutter, O’Neill adds.

Her unique packaging and newsletters also help keep shoppers interested. So has advertising her products as a “unique gift,” she notes.

“Building a website and expecting orders to come rolling in just doesn’t happen. It takes time. Using social media, creating buzz through bloggers is a must; word travels slowly, but it does travel”

“Instead of giving traditional gifts such as flowers or chocolates, we offer an alternative that is good for you, lasts much longer and everyone uses,” she notes on her site.

For sellers who want to achieve similar success, she urges time and patience.

“Building a website and expecting orders to come rolling in just doesn’t happen. It takes time,” she adds. “Using social media, creating buzz through bloggers is a must; word travels slowly, but it does travel… and it’s free.”

Giving back

O’Neill has been fortunate in business, and in life. That’s why she thought it was important to give back through her business.

Soap comes into play here, too. During the soap-making and cutting process, getting extra, oddly shaped bars of soap is common, she explains. But instead of throwing the quality soap away, she donates it to women’s shelters, beginning with one in her area.

“Soon, we began getting requests from around the country, which we make every effort to accommodate,” she adds. “We chose women’s shelters for a very simple reason: Many of the women and children who stay at women’s shelters arrive with nothing other than the clothes on their backs.”

She explains that when women are leaving abusive or dangerous situations, they don’t have time to take even the most basic possessions.

Women may gather a few things for their children, she adds, but they rarely put together an overnight bag for themselves. And with limited resources, shelters often need a helpful hand, themselves, to help those who go to them for assistance, even with the most basic items.

“Being able to have your own bar of soap may seem like a small thing, but it can provide big comfort to a woman who just left everything behind and is trying to adjust to new surroundings,” she says.

Visit YesterYear Soap Company.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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