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”
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.
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.
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!
In June 2021 we took on two new members of staff. Stu's Mum, Ellen, who'd just moved back to Mull is now in the shop most afternoons, she loves to chat and takes care of customer relations! Alison also returned back to work for us, after a few years off having babies. She does an awesome job overseeing web sales & ensuring all things in the shop run smoothly. With the pandemic hopefully behind us all now we can 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 the very strange times.
In March 2022 we took on another member of staff, Stu's best friend, Jim. He's taken on production at the factory, allowing Stu to work on other areas of the business. Since then we've put our time to good use making systems more efficient and now 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.
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