CEO Q&A: David Simnick, SoapBox Soaps

Diana Bradley goes one on one with SoapBox Soaps CEO David Simnick about lessons learned and the organization's expanding market reach.

David Simnick
David Simnick

How has your message evolved since SoapBox’s launch in 2012?
You would think that with a mission like ours, you can talk about how you are preventing deaths. When we first started, we tried to go for the shock-and-awe effect, but we noticed that drove customers away. We found we were getting a faster first purchase, which people were guilted into, but those customers didn’t want to purchase again because they didn’t want to relive the guilt.

Now we focus on the fact that we are giving, which is more endearing to customers and partners. And because we have so many different stories to tell, we don’t consistently lead with just one. We often have two or three themes we are pitching into the marketplace per season. For instance, it might focus on the entrepreneurial element of our company or a new product launch with Target, or how we do our aid mission differently.

How large is your comms team and what PR agencies do you work with?
Resound Marketing in New Jersey aids us with our PR strategy. Internally, we have a director of communications who is supported by three to four interns.

What is your golden rule when it comes to communications?
Be open, honest, and professional. Rather than just talking about how great things are, tell both sides – the good and bad. It can protect you if issues arise down the road.

We try to be open about our failures. We haven’t always made the right decisions. SoapBox’s first packaging that rolled out to Whole Foods Market in 2012 was awful. It had pictures of kids’ faces on it and people were like: ‘Is this made by kids? What is this?’ The big lesson here is you have to be humble.

Who is your target demographic?
Females account for 85% of the buying market for consumer packaged goods in this category. We are constantly trying to figure out how to reach moms better. Because I am not SoapBox’s demo, I always step back and try to listen more, ask better questions, watch the market, and trial things.

With the number of social-mission and one-for-one companies on the rise, how does SoapBox set itself apart?
When we work abroad, we prefer to have a local soap maker or purchase soap within that marketplace. That way, we are not flooding their market with free goods or teaching aid dependency. 

The exception to this is during emergencies, such as in West Africa with Ebola. In that case, we are sending tens of thousands of bars of soap because the local market can’t handle the demand for those supplies.

Our giant domestic focus also sets us apart. We are doing one for one with our soaps for local homeless shelters and food pantries.

How do you promote these efforts?
We launched in five new regions with Whole Foods recently, so our PR team is letting our retail partners in those areas choose where our soaps go in relation to regional food pantries. Our comms team focuses on that initiative and supports the retail partner by telling that story.

How does your social media team engage with consumers?
One of our most successful ongoing social media campaigns is #tryit2sday.

Every Tuesday, we hold a competition on Facebook where we have more than 17,000 followers. So we might say: SoapBox and Smile Squared are buy one "blank" one companies. Participants need to fill in the blank and share the post to win one of our products. People really engage with us on Facebook.

How do you communicate with staffers?
Being a startup, we are not able to compensate well, we work extremely long hours, often into the weekend. But we still get more people who want to work here with amazing résumés than we actually have the funds to employ.

I ask them, "Why do you do this?" and the reason they give me is because we are not just a soap company; we are able to fund amazing NGOs and nonprofits worldwide doing great work.

We have a map in our kitchen of everywhere we have worked and we have a counting total of everything we are able to support one to one. We hire people who are humble, hungry, and smart – in that order.

Are more people engaging with the brand?
We are going to quadruple our earnings this year. We attribute that rise to working closely with accounts that believe in us, creating off-shelf placements, expanding distribution, and launching new products.

In the 12 months ended July 28, we have donated almost 63,000 bars of soap and raised more than $1.7 million from investors to date.

What’s an upcoming focus?
In late Q1, we have a couple of nationwide launches in some of the country’s largest retailers. We will need to make sure the retailers’ PR is aligned with ours.

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