Free Enterprise Staff  | January 23, 2015

An Innovative Entrepreneur Is ReMaking Soap (Yes, Bar Soap)

For thousands of years, not much had changed about the soap-making process—until the last hundred years, that is. That’s when companies began to alter the traditional manufacturing process, combining chemicals and other additives and stripping soap of its natural oils. That bothered Jack Haldrup, so much so that he decided to do something about it.

Haldrup’s drive to take soap making back to its historic roots sent him on a years-long business odyssey, one that ended in the creation of Dr. Squatch Soap, the company he founded a few years ago while working as an I.T. consultant. Haldrup, who is now based out of San Francisco, considers the businessa natural extension of the lifestyle he leads. “I’m into natural food and products, and I learned about soap and the soap making process. What I found out was that a lot of the natural oils and fats are actually removed from that process and then used in moisturizers and other types of products,” he says.

“That happens because bar soap is seen as a cheap product, so they’ll add chemicals instead to compensate for the products they’ve removed. I thought that was an interesting story, and I didn’t think there was really anybody telling the story, especially when it came to marketing it to men and providing a good option for men. So, that’s kind of where the idea for the company started.”

While still working in I.T., Haldrup set out to learn how soap was historically produced. He started building the company—whose name is meant to invoke the outdoors and, in particular, the mythical Sasquatch—over the next 18 months. He saw consumer engagement grow quickly, especially among the male demographic he set out to target. After working what essentially amounted to two full-time jobs, Haldrup was eventually able to quit what had become a freelance I.T. job last summer and take over at his fledgling company full-time.

Haldrup’s decision to move to the West Coast didn’t mean that his company would move along with him. Dr. Squatch is, after all, primarily manufactured at a facility in the Midwest. “We say our headquarters is in Indiana, which is where our product is made and a lot of it is shipped from,” Haldrup explains.

“First and foremost, Indiana is where my business partner and I are both from and grew up. It’s basically still my home base, even though I’m out on the West Coast now. At the time when I started the company, I was actually living in Chicago, and we found a manufacturer that was a good fit that happened to be in northern Indiana, which is about two hours from Chicago. That kind of put them over the top in terms of working with them and being able to easily get there.”

It’s at that facility that Haldrup’s years of research are put into practice. The company manufactures various types of soaps—scents include Spearmint Basic Scrub, Bay Rum, and Cool Fresh Aloe—as well as colognes. Dr. Squatch also sells soap holders and has a subscription service for members who want to receive a steady supply of its unique boar soaps that are created much like they were hundreds of years ago. “It’s a pretty straightforward process,” Haldrup says.

“You basically have a lot of vegetable fat, which you mix with lye, which is sodium hydroxide. It’s very simple: You let them sit, and it cures, which means that the lye mixes with the oils and over the span of a couple of days. Through that process, the lye gets absorbed and chemically dissolves. That turns the liquid oil into a hardened substance, and those oils are what you then use on your skin to remove dirt and provide nutrients.”

Learning that process, Haldrup says, involved a lot of trial and error and online research. To perfect it, he met with different manufacturers and asked them questions about what their process was before he ultimately settled on one that he and his business partner liked the best. After that, they had a new set of challenges to contend with, including howto market their products to a demographic that historically hasn’t been avid consumers of soap and other health and beauty products. To effectively do that, Haldrup hasn’t strayed far from the company’s core mission.

“Most guys–when you ask them what soap they use–it’s probably a body wash, and if they use a bar it’s probably a major label brand,” Haldrup says. “But trying the products myself—and I think a lot of people have this experience—you quickly realize it’s a more enjoyable experience, and it feels better and works better. At the end of the day, it’s all about the ingredients we put in the soap. We use high-quality vegetable oils, and we’re also one of the few companies out there that, in terms of the scents we try to create, specifically targetwhat men would like that are also related to the outdoors. We’re really bringing that all together.”

That strategy has paid off, Haldrup says, with sales surging more than 300% over the past two years. Even when some men are reticent to embrace a new kind of beauty product, Haldrup gently reminds them that the skin is the body’s largest organ, and it’s important to take care of that and not cover it in chemicals or drying solvents.

“If you try our products, you’re going to notice a difference right away,” he stresses. “We’re not the only soap out there, but switching to our products is going to make a big impact.”