Portsmouth Soap Co. has created a profitable health and beauty line and retail store.

June 22, 2023
The Portsmouth Soap Co. offers products handcrafted by the owner and other makers, such as soaps, bath bombs, candles and more, to a loyal customer base.

Lauren Wolf, a soapmaker and business owner, has found a niche serving a loyal local customer base. The former nurse started making soap seven years ago as a Girl Scout troop leader. She eventually decided to turn her hobby into her livelihood and just five months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she opened Portsmouth Soap Co., in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It took about a year to build the approximately 900-square-foot store, which was constructed inside a former abandoned granary.

Wolf is grateful to the community members who supported her brick-and-mortar business during the pandemic, and today, with customers back shopping in the store, she lets them extend the experience by offering monthly soap-making classes.

“I love where I am, and I love this location. I do wish we were bigger,” she admits. But it’s a cozy store, and she is getting her legs under her as a business owner.

From medicine to hand-making

Wolf knew she wanted to be a nurse as a child and spent 35 years working in the profession. But five or six years ago, she started to think about the next chapter of her life. And although she left her nursing job two years ago, she still helps out at a camp. “Once you are a nurse, you are always a nurse,” she says.

Still, she acknowledges, part of the appeal of soap-making for a former medical professional may be its scientific nature, which she says is also a creative and “Zen” process. Wolf even has other nurses making soap for her four-year-old store.

Bestsellers at the shop are very seasonal, she says. “Oatmeal and honey are tried and true [for the winter months].” Lotion sticks, which contain concentrated lotion, are year-round bestsellers.

Also in the winter, white birch and eucalyptus soaps are popular. Sea salt, coconut and sea glass are good summer sellers. Year-round, choosing a soap is a very customized experience based on personal preference, Wolf says. “People take a long time to pick out a soap,” she says. “It’s interesting to watch.” Sometimes, each member of a family will get a different soap.

A natural for gifts

The store has a gift section with premade packages available year-round. Among the gifts are a “Soap Sampler,” which is a simple but thoughtful gift that has three different soaps that are 1.5 ounces each and are tied together on a cedar deck.

“People like to give handmade soaps to neighbors, hosts or friends, so we offer a complimentary gift box in the soap section for them. They select four to five soap bars from our soaps and then the box is filled and just needs a ribbon,” Wolf says.

Although many of the gift boxes are premade, some customers like to customize their own gift box. Shoppers are encouraged to substitute or add products they want and then the staff adds the finishing touches to make the gift look beautiful and unique for them.

“We all have so much fun making up gifts,” Wolf says. “Every season we create a few different gift sets, and we offer them at a few different price ranges so if it is for a neighbor/friend ($25 price range) or for a bridal/baby shower ($100 range), customers have options.” The staff also gets creative and names the gift packages. For example, a gift package called “Time Out for Mom,” is themed for mothers.

For Mother’s Day and for the holidays, the store sets up a “create your own gift package station.” Customers can pick out four or five different products for a gift box. “Everything they need to pick from is displayed on our front table and they walk around and pick what they want to add. They then come to the check out and we gift wrap it (free) for them,” says Wolf.

One important step that she and her staff have learned over the past few years, is to “make ourselves available to the buyer.” “We explain the different choices of products and offer to help them with picking the right scent or product for their giftee,” she says. “It is a win-win for we get to know our customer/family and they get to know us.”

The store advertises its gift baskets on social media, uses a chalkboard outside the shop, works with the local Chamber of Commerce and sends out two or three email newsletters a year to her customer mailing list.

“People like to give handmade soaps to neighbors, hosts or friends, so we offer a complimentary gift box in the soap section for them. — Lauren Wolf

Gift basket top sellers include: a “Gift to Go” basket with a body lotion, body wash and a 4-ounce soap bar on a cedar soap deck; the “Our Beach Girl Gift Basket” that includes Beach Girl Body Sugar & Salt Scrub, Beach Girl Body Oil, a Beach Day candle and Beach Girl Soap; and the “Our Foot Care Trio.”

Perfect products for pups

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a very pet friendly town, and there are even water bowl stations outside of many of the town’s stores and restaurants.

“We have always welcomed dogs and their walkers in the area and in the store,” Wolf says. “We have a stuffed Yellow Lab Retriever named ‘Tug’ who greets the customers when they enter the store, and he has been with us since we started. Lots of people love to see and pet him.”

Wolf knew she wanted to offer healthy pet products as she couldn’t find reasonably priced and natural products to use on her family’s dog Logan. The store now offers safe pet shampoo bars and paw balm.

Best buys for babies

For babies, Wolf says it is so important that the store’s baby products are made with natural and organic ingredients. “Our baby butter is all-natural and made with shea butter and cocoa butter, scented only with calendula, lavender and chamomile herbs. It is great for a baby’s sensitive skin, and we also add beeswax to the blend to help protect against diaper rash and moisture,” she says.

Wolf tests all of her products on “ourselves, family members and friends, including babies and furry friends before we sell it in our store.”

When shoppers are picking up the perfect gift for a baby, they can add to their purchase locally made baby blankets. Wolf said they are “embroidered with whales and other seaside themes, are made with organic Bamboo cotton and are super soft for a baby’s skin.”

In all, Wolf has created a go-to spot for health and beauty gifts the whole family can enjoy.