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Soap-Maker Lands National Contract

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Candace Alarie, owner of SOAK Bath Co. Rebecca Dueck Photography

SOAK Bath Co, owned by Candace Alarie of Niverville, has landed a major national contract with Hudson’s Bay Company. The local home-based business features Alarie’s luxury bath and body products, made by hand with all-natural ingredients and unique scents—and a zero-waste business concept.

In the spring of 2019, SOAK was a featured exhibitor at the One of A Kind Show in Toronto, and they were also written up in House & Home. Since then, the business has grown quickly.

The HBC contract comes at a time when many businesses are struggling, if not closing their doors completely, in the face of the economic challenges posed by COVID-19.

Alarie’s business hasn’t gotten through unscathed, but she says she’s been lucky to be a small business with greater maneuverability than others.

But the emotional impact has been as real as the economic one.

“COVID put the brakes on the majority of my revenue streams within one weekend,” says Alarie. “All live events (markets) that were scheduled got cancelled. I would say the worst part of it, though, was seeing all of my small business partners forced to close their doors. I work with over 100 independent boutiques across Canada and to see them close their doors was truly heartbreaking. These were real humans that I got a chance to get to know over the last year and I knew they relied on their shops to be operational to support their livelihood. I was fortunate to support the boutiques that kept their doors open virtually and with curbside pickup, but the majority took a big hit.”

Fortunately, Alarie had built up a social media infrastructure with a large following. When business slowed down, she poured more energy into social media and other online sales streams. The results from her online efforts have surprised her.

“The response from my audience was nothing short of amazing,” she says. “I had one of my busiest months to date in April and didn’t sleep the entire month but have never, ever been so grateful to receive support from my local community.”

The pandemic also had Alarie reassessing her international marketing strategies. Her original business plan saw her expanding sales into the United States next year, but border shutdowns and lockdowns have affected supply chains and workforces around the world. This has meant that certain larger manufacturers of bath products haven’t been able to keep up their supply—and retail outlets have come looking for other soap-makers to fill the gap.

“We’ve since partnered with about 20 boutiques in the USA and counting,” she says, “including Greetabl, a large online gifting platform which will help me grow my brand internationally.”

But the biggest win for Alarie came on May 12 when she was awarded a special “gifting and sustainability display” in 20 different Hudson’s Bay stores across Canada, including provisions to make SOAK products available on the HBC online platform.

The groundwork for the contract was laid during a well-timed trip in January 2020 when Alarie attended Toronto Home + Gift Market, organized by The Canadian Gift Association. The Market brings makers and buyers together and gave Alarie the opportunity to present SOAK bath products to an HBC buyer.

“When COVID hit, the first thing I thought was that I was going to lose any traction I had on The Bay deal,” says Alarie. “I let a few weeks pass as the world went from shock to denial to acceptance of what was going on. I reached out to the buyer and let her know that I was still operational, having one of the busiest times I’ve ever experienced but that I would still love to work with them should they still have interest. She emailed me their order not 20 minutes after I had sent this email. I still remember it—May 12 at about 10:00 a.m. and I just sat dumfounded, rereading the email to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”

Since then, Alarie has been working to fulfill that order, along with ensuring other orders are taken care of. She’s also continuing to build her online presence, which has been a core strategy.

“Business has been full of ups and downs and big curveballs,” says Alarie, who left a ten-year career in management to pursue her dream full-time. “When I left my career, my biggest fear was that I would start my own business and we’d end up in a recession, which we were bound to experience at any time given cycles of the economy. Instead I got COVID… After going over multiple scenarios of what to do with my social media, I thought, ‘I’m just going to keep showing up as myself.’ And that truly has been such a big driver of my success. People buy from people and want to see the human behind the brand. They want to know the story, see the behind the scenes, and that’s the stuff I love to share.”

Even though the volume of orders and supply issues have introduced new challenges, she says she’s been able to source her ingredients successfully and nothing much has changed in her home-based setup.

“We’re still operating from home in the town of Niverville,” she says. “I have more drums of oil and blocks of shea butter in my home studio, and I’ve been building stock all summer to prepare for the holiday season that is sure to be very busy. As international product suppliers reopen and work to catch up on supplying gifting items, the small guys like us are anticipating a busier than normal holiday season.”

Many holiday markets are being cancelled, she acknowledges. In fact, the only market on her schedule this season is Third + Bird’s Christmas Market, set to kick off at the Red River Exhibition Place in Winnipeg from October.

Without an abundance of markets, many local makers will undoubtedly face hard times this season, but Alarie isn’t too concerned at this point.

“I have a few tricks up my sleeve to continue finding new customers and attracting them to my Instagram and my online shop,” she says. “You can also find my soap bars at the Community General Store in Niverville at 10 Cedar Drive, across from Bistro 290 and Done salon.”

For more information

To find SOAK products, you can follow the company on Instagram @cksoakbathco or visit their online shop: www.cksoakbathco.com

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