If you think Carrie Thornsbury knows a lot about chemistry, you’d be right. And I’m not just talking about the delicate balance of ingredients that goes into making cold process soap. As a single mother from a small town in the rural heartland of the USA, Carrie has leveraged the Shopify platform as a catalyst to turn her love of soap making and passion for ethically-sourced products into a booming business that takes pride in its focus on stewardship of the earth.
In this article you’ll meet a woman whose powerful growth mindset and willingness to face challenges head-on made it possible for her to rise above a series of early set-backs that would have done in many a would-be entrepreneur. Read on to learn about how Carrie teamed up with Shopify to transform her business.
“There's so much chemistry involved, there's so much science involved,” said Carrie, who started out by making soap in her kitchen. “And then there's also the fact that you're creating something from all these different ingredients. I just fell in love with bar soap with the first batch that I made.”
But as a self-described “nature-loving tree-hugger,” Carrie was discouraged by how hard it was to find ethically-sourced materials for her soaps. This only made Carrie even more determined to make her own, ethically-sourced products. And although she had no way of knowing it at the time, doing so would eventually spark the creation of Nurture Soap.
Soap making would go on to become an important outlet for Carrie, as she unexpectedly found herself struggling through a difficult divorce and the stresses of being a single mother, all while striving to finish her college education.
“I was raising two kids on my own,” Carrie told me. “I was living in subsidized housing, really struggling to make ends meet.”
Even so, Carrie went on to successfully complete a Master’s Degree in business, eventually taking a teaching position at a local community college.
Sounds like the perfect, made-for-Hollywood ending, right? But, as is so often the case for those willing to work hard and make it through the tough times, life has a way of placing unexpected opportunities in our path.
And the opportunity before Carrie was simply too big her to ignore.
During those days, Nurture Soap was still something Carrie was only doing on the side. But one day, everything changed.
“It was in August, right around my birthday,” Carrie recalled. “A friend of mine who is a very well-known soap maker mentioned my products on her site and I got 45 orders that day, which was compared to maybe four or five orders that I would get in a month.”
Carrie didn’t have enough inventory. She even needed to have her young son join her in the kitchen to fill all the new orders on time. However, she found herself loving every minute of it.
“It was just a rush,” Carrie told me, “running around trying to get all this done and trying to honor a certain time frame for customers. And that was the first time I knew that I wasn't going to be able to teach, and would instead dedicate myself to building Nurture Soap.”
Nurture Soap opened its first online store six years ago and met with steady success right away, getting great word-of-mouth advertising from “old school soapers” who had come to know and trust Carrie and her products during her fifteen-year stint in the soap-making community. Then, about three years ago, Carrie moved Nurture Soap over to the Shopify platform, and hasn’t looked back.
How good has business been? In the three years since making the shift to Shopify Carrie has had to relocate to a new warehouse to accommodate the growing demand for her products. In fact, she’s had to relocate twice!
“We bought the first one about a year and a half ago,” Carrie said. “I couldn’t believe it. It was over twice the size of where we were before and we were already growing out of it.”
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Carrie and her company.
In fact, before switching to Shopify, Carrie struggled with a number of different platforms that didn’t suit her needs for a variety of reasons. The breaking point for her finally came when her site’s security was compromised.
“At first I didn’t know much about what we needed for a website,” she said. “It was still a small venture at that point and we were self-hosting. Fortunately I was almost to the tail end of building my Shopify site when we got hacked. I didn’t know how to fix it, so I just switched right over.”
Carrie also faced unexpected challenges from within the soap-making community.
“The one thing that I really didn't expect when I got into business is how cut throat it can be,” Carrie said. For example, Nurture Soap was one of the first companies to get into the color market. Since then, a number of competitors have joined her.
“When I first started I would share a lot more about sources and suppliers,” Carrie added. “People would take that information and literally start their own businesses.” As a result, Carrie, a naturally trusting person, has learned to guard her proprietary business information to a larger degree.
When Carrie first opened up her online store she spent five months learning everything she could about SEO. “I was only dating my husband at that time,” she laughed. “And he would get so mad at me because I was always sitting in front of a computer. But it paid off, because we’re number one for our key search terms.” It’s true: sitting in front of a laptop, even in Eastern Europe, I was able to find Nurture Soap on the first page after a quick non-branded Google search.
Carrie also believes in the value of making your site stand out from the crowd in terms of overall appearance. “With Shopify, they have beautiful themes that you can purchase,” Carrie told me. “If you can afford to spend $180 to get a premium theme, your store is going to look great.” To Carrie, most people make a mistake by being too cheap and going for free themes.
Carrie also recommends reaching out to web development experts to take your site to another level. She has had great experiences reaching through the Shopify Experts program, wherein she ended up working with Lisa Ekens from Pogodan. “If there’s something outside of your ability,” Carrie advised, “don’t be afraid to reach out and hire someone. The Shopify experts are simply amazing.”
Carrie emphasizes the importance of making customers’ buying decisions as easy as possible. As such, she works hard to present her products with professional photography and detailed descriptions.
“Everything is visually focused,” Carrie emphasized. “The customer can’t touch, or smell, or see the product, so you have to present your products in the best way possible and with as much detail as you can.”
That’s certainly a tip we’ve heard repeated throughout this Shopify entrepreneur article series, often from Food & Beverage entrepreneurs.
In autumn, Carrie and Nurture Soap are excited to release a new line of fragrance oils, featuring scents such as Cinnamon and Pumpkin. These scented oils typically cannot be used on the skin without causing irritation, but Carrie has found novel ways to blend them safely into soap and skin products.
If you’re a “soaper”, or are interested in giving it a test drive, be sure to check out Nurture Soap. Who knows, maybe this will be the catalyst for a great Shopify store.
I’d like to give a huge thanks to Carrie for taking the time for this interview. I resonated with her story so much, as it’s very similar to the story of my own family. It was an absolute pleasure.