Startup Journey #2 with Corinne Rietheimer of Shore Soaps

In this episode I have the pleasure of talking with Corinne Rietheimer of Shore Soaps. Corinne started her company 6 years ago while working a full time job. She talks about the challenges of running a business, but also how she’s been able to take the business out of her house and into two storefronts. Listen to her journey here!

Here’s the transcript from this podcast episode, please excuse any typos!

In this episode of startup journey, I’m going to talk to Corrine Reitheimer, the owner of shore soaps in Cape May, New Jersey. Hey Karen so thanks for joining me. I appreciate your time.

Thanks for having me.

The first thing I want you to tell me is how you first came up with the idea for shore soaps.

Well, the start of shore soaps was very much not a business. At first, I started making so bad a necessity just for myself, because when I first moved to Philly from Cape May for work. I started having skin issues that I’ve never had before, more frequent breakouts overall dryness, talking to my friends about it they kind of told me like well the air quality in Philly is very different than at the shore. The water quality, maybe it was what I had been eating at work. So, you know, having a lot of free time on my hands in a new city, not knowing many people you know I decided to do some of my own research on natural skin remedies. And in doing so I sort of found out just how much horrible stuff is in the drugstore skincare products I had been using for years. From synthetic bleaches and dyes to silicone hormone disrupting chemicals and preservatives, you name it, it was in there. So I sort of set out to come up with a few soaps that were 100% natural, no animal fats, no parabens sulfates, you know, just for my personal use, the business aspect of it hadn’t even popped into my head at that point.

Wow. So it sounds like you came up with short soaps out of a need, like your own pain point you were trying to solve something that you were personally facing.

Oh definitely. Yeah. In my research I kind of found out that it only takes about 28 seconds for anything you put on the surface of your skin to be absorbed into your bloodstream. So you know yeah people are very conscious about what they’re putting into their bodies you know with all the new organic trends that are coming out and people are realizing that that’s important but you know that’s not the only thing that’s important, it’s also what you’re putting on your skin I mean even with shampoo and conditioner people don’t realize like you’re literally lathering chemicals that are absorbing right into your bloodstream through your scalp.

And that’s the best way for a new business owner to start a company is something that they are trying to fix in the world that they personally are having an issue with also you mentioned chemicals and putting them on your body like that’s a big misconception people think the only things that you should be worrying about is the kinds of foods you put in your body the kinds of foods you eat basically. But, essentially, anything you put on your body is the same as ingesting it you’re still putting it on your skin, you’re still putting it on your body and I am actually very cognizant of that so I agree. So when did you discover that you could take your fledgling startup and turn it into a real business with a storefront like what was the day what was the moment when you realized that this was a viable business.

Well, after about 10 botched batches of setup turn my experimentation with cold process, which is the type of soap making that we do at shore soaps it’s basically the from scratch method, I finally made a batch that turned out, mind you, it was super ugly in comparison to what we make now but it was so, so I used it and I visibly saw and felt the difference in my skin after just a few washes actually remember like the light bulb moment I just stepped out of the shower and thought God My skin feels amazing haven’t had a breakout since I started using it. And I honestly can’t think of one single thing that I’ve ever bought at CVS or Walgreens that ever made me feel like that. And of course my next thought was, I would buy this feeling and I bet. Other people will too. So, I didn’t start running short soaps full time until about 2014 when I moved back to my hometown, Cape May New Jersey.

Well, for sure. It sounds like you made the right decision. And even though it sounds like you’re succeeding. You also mentioned you at 10 botched experiments. So tell me about some of the challenges you might have faced when you went full time into short soaps,

um, aside from like formulating you know all the batches myself and kind of getting the chemistry and the math, which coincidentally were my least favorite subjects in high school, I actually did the worst and it’s ironic now that that’s what I do for a living but aside from that, I think the biggest challenges that I initially face when I started making soap every day, or running the business every day was just juggling that and also like my full time waitressing job, which at the time was pretty much bankrolling the side hustle. So I was, I was literally waking up at the crack of dawn to make soap and make all the other products which at the time were just some simple like supplementary things like bath salts lip balms, you know, and then running right to the restaurant in the early evening, not getting home until midnight. Mind you, my studio at the time was a spare bedroom in my house, because the FDA doesn’t allow you to make soap, that you intend to sell in your kitchen anymore, which a lot of people used to do back in the day. Yes. Yeah, so I had to have a separate designated place so when I first started out I pretty much lived in my studio and at that restaurant. And on the week yeah on the weekends I was at the local farmers markets and craft shows and just trying to get our name and the products out there and trying to educate people as to what makes our soap different than say the Irish spring that you can buy at the dollar store.

It’s funny you mentioned this because this is one of the main things I teach people in my book and my course is not to quit your day job and start your business, until you are sure it’s going to be profitable enough for you to quit your job.

Definitely not I don’t think that sure soaps would have been as successful if at the time, I had the idea, I just quit my job and, you know, ran with it without any, you know, capital or investors or anything and you know I sort of built sure so it’s really slowly and like gradually and just myself, year after year but like I said my full time job completely bankrolled the business until it got big enough to bankroll itself so I definitely recommend keeping your day job until until your side hustle can pay you.

So everybody makes mistakes right and entrepreneurs, especially when building a new business, make a ton of mistakes sometimes there’s one big mistake they made that they wish they could go back and change, and that they could have avoided. So if you could go back six years when you first started your company and tell yourself. perin. Avoid making this one mistake, what would it be and how would you have avoided it and what would you tell entrepreneurs to look out for in terms of what mistakes they might be making,

That’s a really hard question. I actually don’t really feel like I’ve made a mistake like one big mistake per se, or like mistakes as horrible as that sounds. I think every little road bump or difficulty that we faced in the beginning sort of just made us more prepared for the years to come. Like, I don’t feel like we ever really had one major setback or mistake that I regret it doing even, even like the craft shows that we took on or like traveled to that we’re kind of out of our comfort zone or ended up not being what we initially expected just kind of taught us the kinds of shows that we didn’t want to do or what we didn’t want to do going forward, but even the shows that we went to and we didn’t make money. We still viewed it as just putting our name out there and we always had fun doing it, which is the most important so I can’t really say that any of those like missteps were mistakes in the long run because everything sort of had a purpose good or bad,

while so that’s definitely not the case in my experience, most people say they wish they could have went back in time and not paid for something or not hired a person or they wish they had talked to a partner sooner, things like that, for example, you mentioned shows and, you know, back in the day when it came to tech startup shows I used to go to tons of networking events and it didn’t get me anywhere so I stopped going to shows and if I had known that going to networking events wasn’t going to bring me any business, I probably wouldn’t have wasted all that time I spent going to those events, but luckily for you It sounds like going to shows actually helped your business so you did a good job there.

Exactly, yeah it all sort of felt like stepping stones, you know, even if we went to a show and we didn’t make any money like maybe we did some networking or we met somebody that ended up being, you know, a wholesaler down the line or, you know, just making connections and just getting people to say, you know, some of the shows we did in North Jersey like that’s not our, you know that’s not our usual venues, but those people come and vacation down at the shore so a lot of them was like, oh yeah we come to Cape May you know on vacation, we’ll stop by your store next time we come there type of thing so even if they didn’t buy anything right then and there, still like you know planted the seed in their mind that like we’re here,

so I mean you didn’t really make any mistakes, it sounds like but so you could go back to the beginning. And you could tell yourself one important piece of information when you started your business, what would it be and why. The reason I want you to touch on this is because most entrepreneurs who come to me for help, they’ve already made the mistakes, so they’ve already made a lot of errors and they want me to fix them.

I think if I had known in 2013 when I started soaps that by 2018, we would have two storefronts and dozens of wholesale accounts. Number one, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. But number two I probably, I probably would have scaled up a long time ago, like, it took us a really long time to start buying like bigger equipment and, you know, start doing batches where we’re making hundreds of bars at a time. Um, but, you know, in all seriousness, if we had scaled up too quickly. Who knows if we would be where we are today because a lot of times growing too quickly kills a business, especially in this industry people are really set on the products that they use and love. A lot of times, and it really takes time to build a reputation and build trust with your clients like I feel like you really can’t rush it so.

No, that’s awesome. That was a great answer so I agree with you, 100%. So I want to ask you: Did you ever want to give up one day? Did you ever want to like throw in the towel and go back to being a manager of a restaurant and just lay around with your dog all day and not have to be so stressed out with your business, did you ever want to just give up,

no. I absolutely never wanted to give up, like the end goal was always to not have to wait tables for the rest of my life so even in the beginning like seeing sales come in on the website, even if it was you know one every couple days, because you know obviously when we first started out, we didn’t have the brick and mortar stores, so it was literally just the online sales but even seeing one or two come in a week, gave me like a high, literally, it only made me want to work harder because I had a thirst for more like I wanted to get more sales. So I don’t think I ever got to a point where I really wanted to give up, or throw it all away even hearing one person or seeing one review online where we changed somebody’s skin, and not only their skin but their self confidence, their feeling of self worth. Our products were like 100% satisfying enough to always make us want to keep going. Okay, so

let’s say an entrepreneur out there didn’t have the success and luck that it sounds like you had in your business. And they’re struggling and they can’t pay the bills and they’re not selling enough products, what would you tell them in order to get them through it and to fight harder to keep their business alive.

I mean things don’t always initially work out the way you expect like when I opened up my Etsy store back in 2013, you know, I knew our products were great and I loved our products but you know you’re sometimes a big fish in a small fish in a big pond and things don’t always take the first time so I would just say Don’t you know don’t ever give up if you believe in your product, you know make necessary changes or just, you know take different avenues of putting yourself out there.

So, what is it like managing a shop and employees and you have two stores. What’s hard about it, what’s easy about it. You know you took the plunge where most people will work at a coworking space or they’ll work from a home office but they don’t make the plunge into brick and mortar, which is big overhead and a lot of work. So tell me a little bit about that.

Well currently sharp sub says to brick and mortar stores in South Jersey one in Cape May, which is our flagship, and the second one is in stone harbor which we just opened this past November, and managing the two shops definitely has its challenges the biggest being that most shops when they run low on inventory they just go ahead and order more from one of their wholesalers that arrives for them to sell usually within a week, maybe two depending on where it’s coming from. But for us, since we literally manufactured 98% of our products in house, it is a lot more of a process now. So first, for instance, in order for the soap we make to be the hardest and last our customers the longest it needs to cure for four to six weeks, from the time we make it. So, yeah, which means like in our production meetings now we are literally planning for the soap that’s going to hit the shelves in June. Yeah. And then in August, we’re planning for the soap that’s going to hit the shelves for Christmas. So we pretty much always have to be thinking, what are we going to need two months from now. So that can definitely be challenging trying to anticipate the needs of our customers that far ahead of time. And then of course the other thing staffing into seasonal short towns is always an issue for us as well. Sure subs currently has five people on staff and we’re looking for at least two more before the season starts on the other end what’s easy. Luckily for me I pretty much grew up running my family’s business I’ve managed three restaurants in my life so I’ve always been good at managing employees, you know, managing the day to day operations dealing with customers so I feel like all my previous jobs definitely gave me a lot of hands on experience and a leg up when it came to running my own business.

Here’s one of the things I love talking about in my podcast is what the perks and advantages are of running a business, I mean you were managing a restaurant so your freedom was kind of tapped there you were taking care of the restaurant. Now you’re running your own business, and you have more freedom I’m assuming So tell me a little bit about what you like about your business and the perks and advantages of running it,

the perks of course being your own boss people always tell me how awesome it must be to be your own boss and don’t get me wrong, it definitely is. But it is because I’m a self starter I hold myself accountable for my own success so just because I can get up at noon and go to work in my pajamas every day doesn’t mean I do you know I’m usually the first one to the shop every morning, you know, so the freedom is nice, only ever having yourself to answer to and being the one to make decisions, which for me personally is a big deal because I’m a huge control freak. And I always say, I always think my way of doing something is better or the best and when it comes to my business at least the creative aspects of it I literally have full creative control.

So am I to believe that you allow your employees to give you creative input and suggestions on your business.

I am yes like I will hear other people’s opinions. But at the end of the day it’s it’s whatever I think is best, which is nice like if I want to change something I just do it you know I don’t have to send an email chain up the ladder and wait for someone who’s sitting in an office down the hall for me to tell me that it’s okay for me to do something.

I know you have this really awesome Husky, and it must be cool to bring your dog to work right

Now having my dog at work is definitely a perk. I have a six year old Siberian Husky and she is pretty much my shadow. She doesn’t like to be away from me for long periods of time and the long hours that I work would definitely be challenging if I was not able to bring her to work with me but it’s kind of funny people come into the store all the time and they don’t they just like they don’t know that I’m the owner, and they’re like oh my gosh it’s so nice that your boss lets you bring your dog to work with you every day and I’m like I know she’s great. What can I say yeah so that’s definitely a perk, as far as like the vacations, um, both the stores closed down the whole month of January and half of February every year so I don’t really take my vacations until both stores are closed out and I can actually not have anything to worry about. During that time,

When it comes to running a business, it’s not easy, right, and there’s always at least one difficult thing you have to accomplish in order to start your business. So in your case, what was the most difficult thing you had to do. Well, the

one thing that was definitely difficult in the beginning was curbing my own spending, you know, what was once my disposable income was now my working capital for the business and it took me sort of realizing okay if I spend this $1,000 on new equipment for the business instead of going on this vacation, it can turn around and make me X amount of dollars in return versus if I go on a vacation. Yes, it’ll be fun but that’s not going to grow my business. So I had to be very disciplined in the beginning and we did grow very slowly despite the fact that I was approached by multiple family members wanting to invest in shore soaps. I was determined to grow the business to where I wanted it to be without investors or bank loans or credit cards even, and it was difficult but six years later, here we are with, not one but two successful stores and an online store and we have no debts to speak of. So it was well worth tightening the purse strings for a few years.

Being a business owner is demanding, but you have to balance your work life schedule so what are some of the things you do to detach yourself from your business in order to get yourself a healthy work life balance.

So I really don’t. I’m constantly answering emails, sending invoices from my phone doing social media posts like engaging with customers. My boyfriend is extremely supportive of my business he almost never gives me shit about being on my phone when we’re benching Netflix in our free time because he owns a restaurant so he knows how demanding it can be, you know, even when you walk out the door you can’t always just leave work behind 100% I mean, I’m sure some people can but we just can’t. I mean, we do have the occasional dinner, you know night where we say okay no phones, we’re just going to spend time together and you know those times are nice too but I think if you want to be really successful in business you kind of have to let it consume you a little bit. You have to, you know, you have to love it so much that you don’t mind getting calls from your employees when you’re getting a pedicure or when you’re out to eat with your family. I think you have to provide the level of customer service that’s expected and sometimes that means tracking packages and answering emails when you’re cooking dinner or when you’re out with friends. I think that’s just how it is.

Do you do any like employee retreats where you get out of the shop with your employees and maybe go bowling or go to a restaurant and things like that. Well, every year we

talk about it and I don’t know if this is just like my bad luck but my two full time employees this year and last year, both ended up pregnant at some point in the season. Yeah, so there was a we’ve, we’ve dealt with a couple maternity leaves already which is difficult for planning things yeah when everybody sort of has their own stuff going on but we have talked

about it, my, my partner and I, so it sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job so congratulations you should be super proud of yourself. And here’s how you pay forward, you can help entrepreneurs by giving some final thoughts, some words of wisdom. If you could go back in time and tell yourself some, you know, really good information and encouragement. So like, what would you tell an 18 year old version of yourself as an entrepreneur out there, what they should strive for, what they should look out for, the things they might expect, how they can succeed. What would you tell

My best advice to somebody starting a new small business is to just don’t expect big things to happen overnight. Like you can’t launch an online store and expect to have hundreds of orders the next day. Some people set their expectations, you know so high and then they’re disappointed they think they’re a failure, they’re not making money right off the bat and that their idea just maybe isn’t profitable, but honestly the best kind of growth is gradual and consistent. And I would just say take the time, build a rapport with your customers, build trust. Keep at it you know just don’t give up if something needs changing it rebrand try new things, you know, think outside the box. If you feel stuck in a rut like creatively looking for inspiration, don’t look for an escape route. If you’re determined enough I think you can be successful you just have to show up and do the work,

whirlwind definitely couldn’t have said it better myself. So how do we find shortstops online, and what are social links websites? Give us the rundown.

Our website is shore soaps cape made calm, and we also have an Etsy store, it’s slash shop slash for soaps, our Instagram is just at your soaps,

and also notice on your Instagram you guys like to post videos of creating products, I love watching them. It’s really cool.

We do yeah I’m all about the work in progress. I love posting videos of of what we do to kind of show people that we’re not, you know, we’re not a big machine we do make everything in small batches it’s all made with love and care

When people ask me why I don’t go on more vacations and why I take more breaks and why I don’t buy certain things well because that $100 that I’m spending on drinks on a weekend could go towards a business item that I need, I like to make my business grow.

I look at $100 and $100 put towards the business is like $1,000 in my mind, you know, you kind of have to look at it that way like it’s not me spending $100 it’s me and gradually spending $1,000, but the hardest thing I actually had to do for the business overall was to no one to ask for help. In 2017, I took on a partner at shore soaps, which is something that I previously never thought that I was going to do in the country. The control freak in me wanted to do everything herself. I thought I could manage it all with very minimal support staff but I did reach a point where I needed help with the actual production, I needed a heavy hitter. And my friend Leslie who I’d known for 10 plus years at that point, she was dabbling a little bit in natural skincare herself, so she was like a rep for an essential oil company she had started making like sugar scrubs and aromatherapy. And so one year I asked her to share a booth with me at our local farmers market. And honestly, it was the beginning of a beautiful partnership because we ended up merging, and now she’s a managing partner sure so so you know as hard as it was for me to get to the point where I needed to ask for help, it was still sort of a turning point for the company that I’m so glad I got to because it has been for me bringing her on. We definitely wouldn’t have opened the stone harbor store this year, I definitely couldn’t have done that without her. I couldn’t manage dozens of wholesale accounts now that we have without her. I physically wouldn’t have been able to produce enough products for even our flagship store by myself so that growth was definitely hard for me personally but so necessary for the business.

I know exactly how do you feel I’ve been the co founder of many companies where I would butt heads with the co founders, and we wouldn’t get along and it just didn’t work out so sometimes you feel like you have to get it on yourself, the first time before you bring anybody on board and I actually teach that in my book in my course once again is, you should try to get as much done as possible by yourself before bringing anybody on board.

Yeah, I have friends that have recently started businesses and I’ve seen their struggles of trying to work together and trying to get along and make decisions together as like 5050 partners and it is definitely, definitely challenging so it was something that I was avoiding for a very long time but it just got to the point where we sort of had plateaued and I realized that, you know, if we do want to grow any further it needs to. It needs to be you know something’s got to give here.

So I think it’s funny that you did everything the right way, as far as I can hear what you’re telling me everything you’ve done so far is the right move.

Exactly. It was already established, you know, there was no arguing over branding like everything was art. You know that the groundwork was already laid, so to speak, it was just, I just needed somebody to help bring it home.

So thanks for joining me on this episode of startup journey friend, I appreciate your time.

Thanks for having me.

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Jason Sherman