The Story of Mull Soap

The Story of Mull Soap

Written by: Stewart Cattanach

|

|

Time to read 5 min

A BIG IDEA 


Sophie and I wanted to be together all the time, and we wanted to have kids. Sophie was a Merchant Navy 2nd Officer and I worked a variety of jobs in my home town Tobermory. We were often separated for months at a time while Sophie was at sea. After 4 years of living like this and saving our money, an opportunity came up to buy a shop from my dad, Duncan. We just needed a business idea. Sophie took inspiration from soap shops she’d visited during her travels, I loved the idea, so we started a plan to set up a soaps and skincare business and develop enough of an income to buy a house and have a family.....


"We called it the big house and babies plan" - it came off!

FROM THE GROUND UP


Initially to buy the shop we had to sell Stu’s flat. We had been renting it out to make some money whilst camping in an old caravan Stu had renovated for us. At that point Stu was working as a prawn fisherman with Johnny, and I was working what would be my last summer at sea. The flat sold quickly giving us a deposit for the shop, now to convince the bank to give us a loan for the rest. We walked into the meeting with the bank manager Richie armed with a plan and lots of enthusiasm …and we came out smiling. Now we were able to buy the shop, but it needed “some work”

 

We ripped everything out including the floor and windows and started from scratch. Hughie & Cameron made new windows and put the place back together. In total it took about 3 months and it swallowed all our money, Stu even wired it himself because we couldn’t afford a sparky, although Ian has since put that right.


SCHOOLING


With the shop looking great now we still hadn’t spent any time actually making soaps…. During the renovation we researched and read many fantastic books about soapmaking, we learned as much as possible and then enrolled in a course in London to really get to grips with what we were doing. The course was fantastic (Thanks Sally at Plush Folly) and put us in a position to develop our own recipes, and start producing and filling our shelves. Stu has always been the creative type, and soap making has been brilliant for him, he loves it. We opened our doors with a big party in March 2009. There was lots of beer, fizz, posh nibbles and even a piper ! Our biggest problem ever since has been keeping up with demand.

TEAMWORK


 In 2011 when baby number 1 – Lewis came along, we soon realised we were going to need some help with making products and serving customers. We now have 3 kids and at that time employed three full time members of staff.

 


COVID


Business continued to thrive and then the pandemic hit in early 2020… We felt fortunate to already have a website that now became our only means of selling soaps. We offered free postage for the entire first lockdown – the shop was like an amazon warehouse with boxes everywhere. It was strange working alone, with the door locked and rainbows and teddies in the windows. We gave 1,000 soaps away locally in an effort to ensure every house on the island had soap. Donations for these soaps, totalling over £500 went to the Mull & Iona Community Hospital’s emergency Covid Fund. Staff were furloughed. Sophie focused on homeschooling and keeping home life settled for the kids. Stu worked every hour there was manufacturing and packing up parcels to post out to customers. We sent parcels when we could to various hospitals, to say thank you to the NHS.

SCALING UP


In November 2020 we had an opportunity to rent a newly built commercial unit, which had the potential to become a soap and manufacturing factory. A big step in such an uncertain World but we now realised the potential we had in sales online and when combined with a busy season in the shop, we knew we'd outgrown our workshop and needed to spread our wings. Work started in Jan 2021 and yet more large chunks of money invested in even larger soap equipment – huge oil tanks, pumps, a hydraulic air cutter, new moulds etc meant we could now make over 4,000 soaps in one day!


SHOP LIFE


In June 2021 we took on two new members of staff. Stu's Mum, Ellen and Alison. Ellen worked for us for a couple of years, many of you will have met her as she loved to chat! Alison returned back to work for us, after a few years off having babies. In Aug 2022 we took on another local girl, Chloe. The girls did an awesome job overseeing web sales & ensuring all things in the shop ran smoothly. With the pandemic behind us all, we could now look ahead & begin to look forward to things again! We've learnt to value our customers more than ever, and so appreciate your custom for carrying us through those very strange times.



FACTORY LIFE


In March 2022 we employed another member of staff, Stu's best friend, Jim. He's took on production at the factory, allowing Stu to work on other areas of the business. We put our time to good use making systems more efficient and started wholesaling to other shops across the UK. We're building this up slowly to ensure we can keep up and provide a good service as the potential is huge! Sophie runs the shop and is also studying courses in marketing - doing a great job spreading the word and improving sales month on month.


TIGHTENING OUR BELTS 


In mid March 2024, exactly 15 years after we opened. A little older, greyer and perhaps a touch wiser… we were forced to make some big and difficult decisions.With heavy hearts we said goodbye to our three incredible members of staff and decided to run things ourselves like we did in ‘the olden days’ . The kids are that bit older and are keen to help out too (hoping to pay them in juice and biscuits although I think they have other expectations). There’s been lots of early mornings and late nights, but we feel it was the right call for us financially and, as ever, we’re raring to push forward. 

THE REBRAND 


Just a month later in April we launched our big rebrand. Exciting, as we’d had it up our sleeves a while and we were very keen to finally get the new packaging on the shelves! We worked with local designer Ewan Leckie and you can read more about it on his website here wearemycreative . Each product design is now themed on details & landscapes from the island of Mull that inspired the products to begin with. Our home Tobermory with it’s vibrant coloured houses having a big influence, aswell as memories and feelings from the island too. It’s been a lot of work, changing not just the soap boxes but aprons, doormat, shop window stickers etc etc Not forgetting new product photography and creating a new website too….. but we LOVE it!


WHATS NEXT?


Priorities now are to expand our range of products, and increase the wholesale side of the business ....as well as enjoying as much time as possible with the kids on this beautiful island. We hope to welcome lots of you in the shop in Tobermory this season. We know how special Mull is to so many of you. Best wishes folks, and thanks for reading our story …so far! Stu & Sophie xx