Deanna Renda’s Soapy Success

By June Fletcher
Naples Daily News, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Though she’d never been to business school, or even written a business plan before, entrepreneur Deanna Renda contracted with a Florida-based soap manufacturer and used $100,000 in savings to start the Naples Soap Company. Since then Renda has, well, cleaned up.

Naples Daily News, Fla.

Having scratchy skin turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Deanna Renda.

In 2009, Renda was tired of competing in the dog-eat-dog world of medical sales and didn’t want to go back to her early profession as a licensed practical nurse.

She wanted to start a business of her own but couldn’t figure out what she should produce or sell.

And then a friend came over and noticed her bathroom counters were full of lotions and potions to fight her eczema and psoriasis.

“He said, ‘That’s the concept,’ ” Renda recalled. ” ‘Sell what you know.’ ”

So Renda began studying skin care ingredients on the Internet, looking for the best formulations to help the persistent skin problems that plagued not only her but her daughter.

“I didn’t test on animals; I tested every product and ingredient on myself,” she said.

And though she’d never been to business school, or even written a business plan before, she contracted with a Florida-based soap manufacturer and used the $100,000 she’d saved to start the Naples Soap Company in a tiny 300-square-foot shop in the Tin City mall.

Since then Renda has, well, cleaned up.

Within the first two years, she reportedly cleared her first $1 million in annual sales.Though she no longer discloses revenues, she said last year she sold more than 50,000 bars of her best-selling unscented sea salt soap.

It’s one of more than 80 soaps she sells at $8.50 a pop, along with body butters, bath bombs, wrinkle creams, lip balms, shaving creams, salt scrubs, shampoo and conditioner bars, and spa accessories, like massage candles, and sponges and loofahs on a stick.

She said she sells about 1 million units a year of her various products, which she doesn’t make herself, but rather brands and retails.

“A problem many entrepreneurs have is that they try to do too much themselves,” she said. “We decided to focus on what we do best. In retail, we’re rock stars.”

Last week she opened her eighth shop at the Coconut Point mall, which is more than four times the size of her first shop (her others are in Key West, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers, Sarasota, Sanibel Island and Destin, as well as the original Naples location).

All are decorated in soothing cool hues in a nautical style with sea shells, driftwood, salvaged antiques and rough reclaimed-wood display stands that a relative makes for her.

She also sells her products online and is also poised to sell a package that includes eight of her eczema-soothing products for $99.95 through Shark Finds, a Florida-based infomercial production company.

The show will feature Kevin Harrington, founder of As Seen on TV and one of the original shark-investors on the reality show Shark Tank.

“It will be taking the Naples Soap Company name across the country,” she said proudly.

Renda’s soapy empire is a culmination of a lifetime of hard work, beginning when she began busing tables at a restaurant when she was 13.

Born in Hollywood, Florida, the daughter of a roofing company owner and a licensed practical nurse, she spent her teen years working various after-school retail jobs until she began doing displays in store windows and discovered she had a talent for visual merchandising.

“I didn’t know then what I wanted to do with my life, but I did know I wanted it to involve a high level of creativity,” she recalled.

She wound up following her mother’s career path but soon gave up nursing when her two children were born in her early 20s.

A subsequent career in medical sales proved equally unsatisfying until she discovered her true entrepreneurial calling.

The 46-year-old single mother operates a distribution warehouse based in Fort Myers, as well as her eight stores — and is considering branching out into franchising.

She employs 50 people and will flex up during season when tourist trade boosts her business.

But Renda isn’t willing to hire just anyone — her employees need a high level of training about the product.

And chief of training for her company is 22-year-old Christina Mezzapella.

Sporting brilliant iridescent blue and green braids, Mezzapella said she started working for the soap company three years ago after being an enthusiastic customer.

“I didn’t have any skin problems — I just liked smelling good,” Mezzapella said.

But now Mezzapella can tell you everything about such delicious-sounding products as Coconut Lime Body Butter, Sangria Lip Scrub and Black Pepper Shave Cream, and what they’ll do to give you a clear, glowing complexion.

And that’s the secret to selling boutique luxury lathers in a field bubbling with competitors — a lesson she learned from Renda.

“My job isn’t just to sell soap,” she said. “I’m here to improve the customer’s quality of life.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

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