In our Guest Column, we invite Samantha Jones of The Sugar Loaf Soap Company to tell us about the challenges and rewards of setting up a local small business.
I moved to Wales temporarily nearly 5 years ago with every intention of focusing on the property business that I had started with my Dad back in 2000. Together we had been buying, renovating and letting properties in our spare time and after 10 years in the corporate world I wanted to get out of the office and be my own boss. When the financial crisis broke in 2007 I had to adjust accordingly and reverted to looking at property with a long term view.
By this time, I had been living near Abergavenny for 6 months and had totally fallen in love with my temporary home. It soon became apparent that I needed to find a way to not only stay in the area, but to promote it if I could.
It was whilst refurbishing a holiday cottage and filling it with all things Welsh that the idea for my current business came to me. We had beautiful Welsh blankets, Welsh art work and Welsh cookbooks but I was struggling to find any Welsh-made bath products. As a result of this soap shortage I got to work. Within a year I had established the Sugar Loaf Soap Company, (we are based at the foot of the stunning Sugar Loaf Mountain) and had sold my first bar. The company makes and sells high-quality natural soap, balms and bath soaks made using traditional methods. From the beginning I realised that the brand must reflect and promote the area. I also try to continue this theme by ensuring that all the beautiful packaging is made from recycled materials and by working with local craftspeople to offer unique bathroom accessories that again serve to promote the area.
The Sugar Loaf Soap Company has now been trading for 18 months and in that time I’ve found myself having to master all sorts of new skills from web-design to craft stall presentation. Not a week goes by when I don’t encounter some form of new challenge! Highlights so far include supplying corporate gifts for the BBC’s Countryfile Magazine to present at the recent Gardener’s World Live event and conducting an entrepreneurial workshop with troubled youngsters in the Blaenau Gwent area. However, as with all businesses there are downsides. The 800 soaps for Countryfile had to been painstakingly packaged as quickly as possibly and, when the courier company let me down I had to drop everything to make the 8 hour delivery trip. When it’s your business the buck stops with you.
I now balance my time between managing tenants, steadily growing Sugar Loaf Soaps, working towards an Open University degree and doing a bit of freelance writing here and there. Through being flexible and recognising opportunities in the future, I hope to remain in this fantastic area and through my little soap business I feel I’ve found a place in my local community and an exciting challenge that I’d never bargained for.