Anyone who has driven down Main street in Ironton, Missouri, knows there is no shortage of beautiful, historic, storefronts and homes in this quaint town. About 5 years ago one building, in particular, caught the eye of soap-maker Debra Hendron when it came up for auction and she was looking for a unique place to house her soap company.
When presenting the idea of purchasing the old 1906 hotel to her husband, he wasn’t as thrilled as she. He made a deal that if she could sell both of their houses (they had one they lived in and a small place where she made her soap in the middle of the woods), then she could bid on the old hotel. Well, the houses sold in two weeks and she got the winning bid!
The condition of the building turned out to be worse off than they had anticipated. They were able to make a portion of it livable, and a space to continue making the soap to fill online orders, but it wasn’t going to be fit for a storefront business at this point.
Working from their new home on Main street, the online sales stayed consistent so the need for a physical store front was not necessary. But when local interest began growing and folks started knocking on her door for a bar of soap for a gift more often, she justified the need to have an open door for the community.
With that in mind, Debra and her husband were able to acquire a smaller storefront just across the street from their new home. This structure was still in need of some serious TLC, but a year later they were able to repair and spruce up the front area to have a lovely storefront. They are still working on the rear to better equip it as her space to make the soap.
When we asked her how she got started making soap, as she has been working it as a business for about 12 years, she said, “Soap making was the last thing I wanted to do!”. Debra shared that her grandmother was a soap maker, her mother an herbalist, and she had helped make old fashioned lye soaps since she was only 8 years old.
As she grew up she wanted nothing to do with those “pig fat soaps”, she would disdainfully call them. “Give me Clinique, give me Estee Lauder!” she’d exclaim. Graduating from college with a degree in geology she went on to actually work for Estee Lauder, and then with TWA.
It was during her time working for TWA that she started reevaluating priorities and where she wanted to spend her time. She met and married her husband and they moved to Missouri where she decided to open her own business creating an all natural, organic, skin care line called Botanical Earth.
Still, she shied away from the traditional, old fashioned soaps, like her grandmother made. Her brand, Botanical Earth, took off with features in books and the LA Times, among others. But still, it didn’t sell as much as she had hoped.
She continually got requests for ‘old fashioned lye soap’. And after years of resisting, she finally gave people what they wanted when she created a new brand called MoSoap. This is now the bread and butter of the business and people everywhere love the products she creates in this brand.
Upon relocating to the Valley, Arcadia Valley Soap Company was born. Debra was inspired by all the history and natural beauty in the parks and historic sites surrounding us here and created an additional line of soaps to pay tribute to these unique and special places, with the Vintage Valley Collection. There are soaps featuring the Iron County Courthouse as well as Shepherd Mountain Trail, The 1851 Immanuel Lutheran Church, Johnson’s Shut-Ins and more.
Debra expressed how much she enjoys the special orders that she offers to customers. She is becoming known as ‘the wedding favor lady’ and can take any image to personalize soap packaging for your special occasion. “This really brings me back to my roots,” she shared, as doing custom orders was the basis of her grandmother’s original soap business.
As we talked with her, it was obvious that she is committed to her brand, and she is real. She has a passion for supporting the local businesses and giving back to the community, and that is evident in the way she has ‘stuck with it’ even in the face of challenges like gaining local trust, finding her niche and the expectations of failure.
She is not intimidated by competition, in fact, encourages others in their craft of soap making. “There’s a whole lot of people out there and I can’t make soap for them all!” she exclaimed.
Debra encourages individuals who are starting their own businesses, in any trade, to start small. Don’t expand too quickly by hiring or purchasing new equipment and going into debt. She shared that this can create anxiety with the feeling, ‘I have to make money’, because you have all these extra bills to pay, and you lose sight of the important things in doing what you love. “I still do everything for the business,” Debra shared, from making the soap to printing, labeling, packaging, sales, advertising, online marketing, shipping and running the shop; she wears all the hats.
She also expressed the importance to not try to be everything to everyone. Have integrity in the product you create and don’t get knocked down because someone doesn’t buy what you have. With the same breath, she mentioned that she has seen how being flexible on your vision is just as important. She never wanted to make and sell ‘pig fat soap’, yet that is her best selling product. Don’t get so caught up in your ‘big idea’ and miss out on opportunities when something else presents itself. Don’t force open closed doors; look for the open one and walk through it.
Debra and her husband have an obvious passion for fixing up old buildings and breathing life back into historic Main street. They recently had the opportunity to obtain the old hardware store on Main street, just next door to the little soap shop. As we wrapped up our interview she excitedly offered to give us a tour of the 10,000 square foot space, to which we gladly accepted.
They have big ideas for this amazing space with its hardwood floors and gorgeous original artisan tin ceiling tiles. Debra shared possibilities of moving the soap company into one side, giving enough room to feature all three of her unique brands, with a larger soap manufacturing space in the back (this would open her current soap shop up for who-knows-what, pastry shop?). Her husband will finally have his garage space, and there will still be room for even more store fronts and possibilities!
There are many exciting unknowns and opportunities on the horizon for Debra and her husband. Through it all we can rest assured that they will be consistent in their efforts of perking up Main street, giving back to the community and creating a unique experience for visitors to the Valley. Stop in and smell all the beautiful soaps on your next visit.
Arcadia Valley Soap Company is sponsoring a giveaway! Simply share our original post from our Facebook page publicly on your page and like both Arcadia Valley Soap Company and Parkland Hub to enter. Find all the details on FB. (Deadline to enter Thursday, Feb. 9th at 12:00 pm). Terms and conditions apply.
2017 marks the eighth year for the annual Home Grown Farm Tour. On August 26th, enjoy the self-guided tour featuring eight venues highlighting the diversity of local farms and nearly 250 years of history in Washington County.
Read all about how this local non-profit is reaching families in our community to provide support and encouragement specifically to moms in need and how you can be a part!
The Fancy Crow is a unique gift shop located in Bonne Terre. The shop features primitive, country, Americana home decor items and handmade gifts made by local artisans.