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Port Hilford’s McFarlane family loving their clean business
Inside Leigh McFarlane’s production studio at her Port Hilford home, you might find one of her five grandchildren piling and arranging some of the handmade soaps she makes.
Since founding the Soap Company of Nova Scotia in 2013, McFarlane’s family has been with her every step of the way. If her grandchildren aren’t helping, her mother has been known to wrap thousands of small bars of soap for the guest rooms at the Liscombe Lodge Resort and Conference Centre.
“She loves to do it,” said McFarlane.
Wanting to avoid synthetic scents and to help customers feel good, she created not only soaps, such as beer scrub or lemon scrub soap, but a line of laundry powder, shampoos, shaves, skin care items and baby products. She sells online and to about 50 stores, mostly in Nova Scotia. To stores like Jennifer’s of Nova Scotia and Masstown Market she sells close to 30 products wholesale, of which 50 per cent are scent-free. But she makes about 100 products.
“We’re in the business of helping others feel content naturally and simply . . . one handcrafted, small-batch product at a time,” she said, quoting the motto her company follows.
While aiming to become a local leader in the industry with her natural and guaranteed-unscented products, McFarlane also has her sights set on helping her rural part of the province grow economically. Aside from herself, she currently has one part-time employee, but hopes to create 10 full-time jobs in the next five years.
“I see it as a tourism company,” she said. “We need to bring people to the Eastern Shore.”
McFarlane has plans to create a destination for visitors by opening her studio. She wants to share the intricacies of making handcrafted soaps. Deeply connected to her picturesque home, Port Hilford is where she spent her summers growing up.
In July 2014 she started selling her products from a shop on Main Street in Sherbrooke. Through Facebook, customers could also contact her to buy products or they could find her at farmers’ markets in Musquodoboit and Truro. She launched with 12 soaps and her unscented Choice Laundry Powder, now her biggest seller. She has come a long way since the early days when she made laundry powder, grinding up her soap with a cheese grater, making nine kilograms at a time. Last year, she sold just over 2,250 kg of laundry powder.
McFarlane is now working toward her dream of entering the region’s larger retail market. She would love to see grocery chains carrying her products. She is looking to the Entrepreneurial Leaders Program offered through the University of New Brunswick for help. In May, she was one of 28 entrepreneurs chosen from more than 400 nominations to be part of the program run from the University of New Brunswick’s Wallace McCain Institute.
“It’s a pretty big honour,” she said.
Over the next year, she and other program participants will meet two days each month across the Atlantic region. They will learn from each other and hear from guest speakers. Knowing she needed not only more business skills but to connect with other entrepreneurs if she wanted to expand her business, she found the program online and applied.
“As an entrepreneur, it is so unbelievably lonely,” she said. “I am literally the only one walking in my own shoes.”
When she decided to launch her own business, McFarlane left a well-paying communications job in the public sector on P.E.I. to return to Nova Scotia. As an adult, she suffered from dry, cracking skin and was sensitive to scents. A crafty person, she made her own laundry powder and decided to try making different soaps.
“I had to figure it all out right from scratch,” she said.
Through trial and error, she added more and more products. She continues to learn and try new ingredients. Her beer shampoos are creating a buzz, with her company being called a key player in the marketplace.
Looking for new ways to promote her products, this summer you will find her on the ferry between Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Every Sunday she’ll sell her products and give short workshops on soap-making.
“It is always very busy,” she said. “It is flat out.”
With a relatively new business, cash flow is a challenge. While she juggles cash flow on top of the demands of production, marketing and product delivery, McFarlane has learned that to survive as an entrepreneur, humour is essential, especially on the toughest days.
“Laughter is awesome,” she said, with a laugh.