“Our soap making business began when I tried to find a mild natural soap that would moisturize my skin rather than dry it out,” said LaRee DeFreece. I was looking for a soap made with one hundred percent natural plant-based ingredients and enriched with emollients.” In late 2000, she decided to make her own soap. “That first recipe resulted in a soap that was truly disgusting, but I soon found one that would work much better,” she said. LaRee, a real estate attorney, had returned to college to study chemistry to become a plant patent attorney as well. She came to understand the chemistry of soapmaking. Her husband, graphic artist and marketing expert Ken Gilberg thought so, too. Together they began making soap in earnest and named the new company Herbaria.
Their first commercial customer was Gilberg Perennial Farm, owned and run by Ken’s sister-in-law Cindy Gilberg. When sales proved to be quite good in 2001, Cindy suggested that they apply to participate in Missouri Botanical Garden’s Best of Missouri which features state products made and sold by entrepreneurs from Kansas City to St. Louis. “At first, the cochairman of Best of Missouri said that applications had already closed for the October 2002 event. I said ‘let me send you a couple of bars of our soap and see how you like it’,” said LaRee. “A few days later, she called and said ‘you’re in!” “That meant that we had to hustle,” Ken said. “We wanted to make 3,000 bars of soap in time to take to Best of Missouri. We made it. I think we sold over half of them.”
A week before Best of Missouri, LaRee agreed to take a new job in real estate law that would begin the day after the show. Since the new job would be very demanding, she would be unable to devote as much time to the growing soap business. Ken, with over 30 years of experience in marketing, saw great opportunity for Herbaria. He added his own touches to the products. He standardized the bar size and designed new packaging and displays. He increased sales calls to businesses in the region and soon boosted production to 30,000 bars a year.
Herbaria soaps are made the old-fashioned way that retains the naturally occurring glycerin. They are superfatted with shea butter, avocado oil, hemp seed oil or jojoba to attain an even more moisturizing quality. Ken has expanded the sales of Herbaria soaps to include the Missouri Historical Society and also a number of bed and breakfasts. In addition, sales from the Herbaria web site have increased to include orders from all over the United States. “We hope to get sales up to over 60,000 bars a year,” Ken said. “Our product line now includes a natural citronella bar, an old-fashioned lye soap bar that is great for shampooing, and a bar with almond essential oil. Lavender Oatmeal and Spearmint Orange are the top two sellers of all our soaps.”
314-601-3904 1 866-OATSOAP (628-7627)
2016 Marconi Ave St. Louis, MO 63110 USA
Maria Gelnett – P&S Chair