Jim Gregory isn’t your average newly-minted college graduate. Or your average entrepreneur.
For one thing, his business card is a bar of soap, and he is quick to tell you he expects to become the first to successfully market soap to a worldwide audience on the Internet.
Gregory started making soap in his dorm room at Hanover College in Indiana and in three years has built a business that did $10,000 in soap sales, one bar at a time, in 2010. And Grandma Gee’s Handmade soap, named for the 23-year-old’s great grandmother, is an exciting product, if you listen to Gregory’s story.
“I don’t ever want to make boring soap,” he says.
His first big break came shortly after he enrolled in a special program for entrepreneurs at the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, in Chicago. He came up with a beer-infused soap that he convinced a local brewpub to stock in 2009. The Half Acre Beer Company sold 50 bars of soap in five days, and immediately upped its order.
In two months, Gregory managed to produce, market and sell more than 1,000 bars of soap he produced from his cramped Chicago apartment, using crock pots and supplies of glycerine, lye and essential oils. It got the attention of Chicago media – he was featured in the Chicago Sun-Times and on a local TV station.
When he moved back to Hanover, he found he was able to market soap in nearby Madison outlets. In 2010, he moved to Louisville with a plan to build on his soapy success. He’s got products on shelves in places like the WHY Louisville and Dot Fox outlets, and just completed a deal to sell the soaps in every Heine Bros. coffee shop.
After he returned from Chicago, a Korean company asked about becoming a distributor for the beer soap, and Gregory spent his spring break at Hanover making 1,500 bars of soap. He graduated in 2010 and moved to Louisville.
“I have what I call a triple bottom line,” he says. “Grandma Gee’s is socially responsible, environmentally responsible and profitable.”
Recognizing that manufacturing the soap (recipes he’s discovered by trial and error) is not feasible in the long-term, Gregory contracted with Sandstone Industries in Madison, which employs individuals with disabilities, to provide labor for soap production. He’s working on a similar agreement with a Louisville company, Custom Quality Services.
“The real magic is that it cleans your body and cleans your world,” he says.
The soap itself contains no added chemicals and is wrapped in bio-degradable cellophane. Unlike mass marketed soap products, Grandma Gee’s products are guaranteed fresh and free from detergents.
But then there’s the fun part. In addition to beer soap, Gregory is producing soaps in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, which makes them marketable in all sorts of retail environments. When his website is complete, customers will be able to order customized bars in a variety of flavors and with images on them.
The latest technology for Grandma Gee’s allows the company to make a product with a photo, attached on a thin slice of paper, directly to the soap. So Gregory is marketing soaps featuring personal photographs and even celebrities. That opens up all sorts of possibilities, including licensing agreements with major brands.
“My college roommates were my guinea pigs,” he says. “I’d make a batch of soap and have them try it. It was trial and error to get it right.”
NOTE: Jim is a member of the LouisvilleKY.com team. I wrote this feature because I thought readers would enjoy his story. Know somebody with an interesting story to tell? Contact me by e-mail.