The story behind The Yorkshire Soap Company
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 September 2018
From kitchen table experiments to eight successful shops - how a Yorkshire company is cleaning up in the soap business
It was a small but startling revelation that changed everything for Warren Booth. A successful Bond Street store manager who had worked for the likes of Louis Vuitton and Harvey Nichols, he suddenly realised he couldn’t afford a single thing he sold.
‘It just struck me one day out of the blue,’ he said. ‘I loved the luxury level of service but could never experience it as a customer. That really got me thinking. I knew then that if I ever got the chance to run my own shop, I’d make sure everyone enjoyed a luxury experience no matter who they were or how much money they had.’
After spending his early years as an air steward, in retail and as head of new homes for William H Brown, Warren decided to take a step back and recalibrate his life.
In his spare time, he had begun making tinctures, soaps and lotions to help deal with long-term psoriasis. They worked a treat and he was soon making lovely bathroom bits and bobs for family and friends. It was his partner, Marcus Doyle, an award-winning chef and nightclub manager, who first spotted the business potential in Warren’s kitchen table experiments though.
‘He could see how much I was enjoying myself and, little by little, started to help me see the potential,’ said Warren, originally from Copmanthorpe on the outskirts of York. ‘I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think either of us would be where we are now without the other. I’m not a risk-taker at all, whereas he’s happy to take a more creative route through life.’
Fate also played a part in their story. As luck would have it, at the same time as they were starting to consider a retail business, Marcus’s aunt decided it was time to get rid of her Hebden Bridge gift shop. Timing, as they say, is everything.
‘We went to have a look, loved it and moved in the next day,’ said Warren. ‘Within six weeks, my products were licensed and on the shelves. It was hard work and the days were long because we were making the products at home in the evenings and selling them in the shop during the day, but we were also having the time of our lives.’
In the 14 years since, their Hebden Bridge gift shop has grown into The Yorkshire Soap Company, a highly successful business with eight shops – in Beverley, Halifax, Harrogate, Hebden Bridge, Knaresborough, Leeds and two in York – and 60 staff (rising to 100 over the busy Christmas period).
Inspired by artisan sweet shops and the travelling circus, their stores are part bricks and mortar, part magic, each designed to entice and inspire while giving that all-important luxury shopping experience.
‘We knew from day one that we wanted to create an aspirational brand,’ said Warren. ‘Nothing was going to be particularly expensive, but everything had to feel like a treat. I took a holistic approach to the business. I wanted the aesthetic of the shops to reflect the aesthetic of the products. Everything we do and everything we sell has to have a touch of magic.’
All of their soaps are beautifully presented, but they are probably best known for their cupcakes and cake slices, each intricately decorated and tendered in elegant pink and brown gift boxes reminiscent of Parisian patisseries.
Again, it was happenstance that led to these products in the first place.
‘We couldn’t afford fancy soap moulds when we were experimenting at home – they cost a fortune,’ said Warren. ‘So, we used what we had in the kitchen; cake moulds, loaf tins, whatever we could find.’
They now concoct their creations in a factory unit in York – a unit that smells of vanilla and lavender and citrus and amber; in other words, not your common of garden factory whiffs. Warren still comes up with the ideas, while Marcus tweaks and upscales the recipes, for around 80 per cent of their stock.
‘We’re still very hands-on,’ said Warren. ‘We visit all the shops and like to get behind the counter at least once a week. We’re always open to new ideas and talking to our customers and staff is the very best way of gauging what’s working and what’s not.’
Their artisan Yorkshire rosebud has been their bestseller from day one, but the range is always changing and adapting to new trends. The Yorkshire Soap Company has also become well-known for its fun novelty items like its Fish in a Bag soap (think old fashioned fairground goldfish), Unicorn Bath Bon Bons (there is a unique twist to these bon bons that we won’t spoil for you) and Soap Flower Pots.
‘I can’t just make things I’d like to buy myself,’ said Warren, with a wry eyebrow raise. ‘We sell novelty products that I might not choose for my own home, but, as with everything we do, we try not to be childish. We have fun, but we always do it with style and elegance. Even our unicorn bon bons come in a beautiful glass bottle with an elegant little label.’
You might be reading this at the tail end of summer, but Christmas is already just around the corner for Warren and Marcus. The Yorkshire Soap Company does 55 per cent of its annual business in the three months up to December 25th and takes on an extra 40 or so staff.
‘We’re responsible for a lot of people now,’ said Warren. ‘It’s not just about the two of us anymore. Yes, it’s hard work and stressful, but we do still love what we do.
‘The key is, I think, that we never take any of it for granted. Every morning, we wake up and think, right what can we do today to make our business even better. And then, after a cuppa, we go and do it.’