SINCE the beginning of the pandemic, sales have been bubbling upwards for specialist soap producers – and the Glasgow Soap Company, founded by Ashley Paton in 2015, is no exception. Ms Paton, 37, estimates sales to have doubled last year alone as a result of increased hygiene awareness due to Covid-19.
Yet, while she is happy that her ‘quirky’ range of handmade bath and body products are reaching more people, she admits the firm was somewhat unprepared for such fast growth.
“The amount of growth that we’ve achieved, particularly in the last year, has been significant,” she says. “But we have expanded a lot quicker than we were prepared for – but as much as it’s been great for business it’s also been a struggle.”
Ms Paton, originally from Stirling, first began making soap in her kitchen for friends and family. The initial concept for Glasgow Soap Company was conceived as a coping mechanism for her ailing mental health.
Ms Paton had suffered a mental breakdown while working as a spa manager in a four-star hotel and with 16 employees to supervise despite having no managerial experience, she confesses that the role was simply too demanding at that point in her life.
“I didn’t feel capable of holding down a full-time job,” she admits. “I started the company as a hobby, as something to give me a bit more purpose – and for something I could work on as and when I felt well enough. It was just a sideline to keep me ticking over.
“I then started selling soaps on Etsy – an online marketplace for homemade goods – and it started taking off from there. Some stockists and shops had seen my products and enquired if we were a wholesale supplier, and I thought ‘well I could be’.”
Now, six years on, Glasgow Soap Company employs four part-time staff and, helping Ms Paton run operations full-time is her partner Sean Kelly. The former dentist, also 37, left his post after the birth of their son.
“We decided to run the business together and give it a try to see if there were two wages in it,” says Ms Paton.
“Up until about a year ago, we were still unsure if this would work, and then Covid came along and everyone was washing their hands.”
When it came time to create a brand for Glasgow Soap Company, Ms Paton decided to embrace many of the quirks synonymous with Glasgow’s cultural identity – including a whole range of soft drink-inspired products and a Charles Rennie Mackintosh font and logo.
“I think our customers really appreciate the Glaswegian humour associated with our range of products. A lot of soap companies go down the natural oil routes, which is great, I tried that for a while and it just didn’t suit what I wanted to achieve.”
Ms Paton acknowledges that a popular market for her products is expatriate, many craving a ‘wee bit of Scotland’.
Social media has also played a crucial role, she says, in influencing the marketing sector and building relationships with customers.
All Glasgow Soap Company’s handmade products are manufactured at a workshop in Bishopbriggs.
The pair’s studio is one of CoVault’s flexible workspaces in Glasgow. The firm offers storage space and workspace leases to small businesses, helping both start-ups and more established companies to develop as the business grows, without being tied into restrictive leases.
“Our workshop is only five minutes from our house, which is so convenient for us especially with a wee one,” says Ms Paton.
“It’s on the ground floor which was ideal as we often get heavy shipments in. It felt like it was ready-made for us, we didn’t have to spend a lot of money kitting it out – there’s an office, there’s a kitchen, toilet facilities, all in a self-contained unit.
Despite having guidance and help from Business Gateway, Ms Paton admits experiencing business growth at such a quick pace can feel ‘quite daunting’. She says: “You can feel quite alone. One of the things I struggle with the most is setting boundaries with work. I’ll often answer emails at any time of the day, instead of only during assigned working hours.
“Here I am 39 weeks pregnant and I’m still working,” she laughs, “and I know I’m going to be in that studio sooner than I should be. It can be all consuming if you let it.”
However, Ms Paton recognises the business, overall, as a great accomplishment for herself and her growing family. “The main achievement for me, is that we’ve built a business that sustains us as a family. It gives us the lifestyle that we want and allows us to show our work ethic to our kids.”
This article appears as part of The ‘s Entrepreneur campaign, in association with CoVault Flexible Workspace.