Wandering through the crowd of the Aloha Stadium swap meet in 2006, Ashley and Holly Harding said to each other: “Hey, we should sell something here.”
The husband-and-wife team began making scented soaps in their kitchen, packaged with funky names like South Shore Sweetie and Epic Nectar. Bubble Shack Hawaiian Soap Co.’s bath and body products can still be found at the swap meet, but today, its sweet scents and charming names are also found in stores on the Mainland, in Japan and even in Scandinavia. The company’s sales have jumped from $80,000 in its first year to $500,000 in 2008.
Q: How do you differentiate your product from other bath and body companies in Hawaii?
Holly: There are a lot of bath and body companies in Hawaii, but they’re all kind of doing the same thing. We’ve taken tried-and-true core principles of what works within that product line and we’ve freshened them up. We put cute spins on them. We still have tried-and-true scents like passion fruit, but we call it Lilikoi Shave Ice. … It’s biodegradable, it’s vegan, it’s organic. It’s everything that people are alert to right now. Buyers in so many big stores are just trying to get people to buy anything because consumers aren’t spending. They’re looking for products that are going to stand out on the shelves.
Ashley: One thing we’ve learned is you cannot rely solely on the Hawaii tourist industry. We’ve been fortunate enough to get business and be able to expand out in other markets. The Mainland big-box stores, and especially the Japanese market, have been huge lifesavers to us.
Q: How did you get into those markets?
Holly: Actually, they found us. One thing that we thought was really important … was our Web site. We felt it was important that our brand was tight and exemplified our product in a way that would be really attractive. People and big companies have been finding us online.
Ashley: Once people find us … sometimes these deals seem like they’re going to close but then the brakes get put on, especially because of our location. We’ve already paid to freight some products in, and, of course, we’re going to pass the shipping costs to the customers. Once they see the bottom line they start to have second thoughts, but we’ve been real servient to some of these accounts to capture some of their orders.