HARWINTON — Sometimes, success is born from adversity. Such is the case with Ridge Runner Soaps of Harwinton.
In 2012, Reese Piper developed a skin allergy to commercial soaps sold in stores. Not being able to use these products proved to be a challenge. So, he set about to research how to make his own natural soaps, and later that year developed his first batch made with olive oil, canola oil, and coconut oil. When it came time for the holidays that year, Reese thought it would be a good idea to give some of these soaps as Christmas presents. Voila! Duly impressed with soaps made at his parents’ home on Route 118, friends and family started to ask for more.
In late 2014 production grew to the point that Reese needed some assistance, so he brought his family on board. Six years later he is the CEO/President of a thriving business that has developed a loyal and enthusiastic following among his customers. Piper’s soaps and various other products can be found at a number of stores outlets in Litchfield County and beyond, including Big Y, as well as at farmers markets. They can also be purchased online.
The tagline on Reese’s cards read “Veteran Owned, Family Operated.” He served n the Marine Corps as an MP and had his sights set on a career in law enforcement. He changed his mind about that career choice, worked at various jobs, and serendipitously found himself with the opportunity of a lifetime, all because of an unfortunate allergic reaction to commercial soaps. The family part? Ridge Runner Soaps truly is one for all and all for one. Dad, Maurice Piper, serves as the company’s sales manager and is often at farmers markets manning the company’s booth. Mom, Joanne, is the CFO. Both are retired from other careers and are highly willing “testers” for their sons’ products. A brother, Scott, is the product manager, often coming up with ideas for new soaps.
“Scott and I work closely on the production of the soaps,” says Reese, as he sits with his mother and father on the family’s back patio. “He will come with some ideas and we will try them out and I will offer my input. Scott came in after a few years and it’s been great to have him to work with and bounce ideas off of. We work well together. I would call Scott an artist when it comes to making our soaps and coming up with creative ideas.”
The soaps and other products — the latter ranging from bath bombs and dust to containers of hand soap refills, pet shampoos and scented candles — are made in a small building on the family property. “We are outgrowing the space,” he says showing off the place where the magic happens. “We were thinking of getting a space somewhere else, but then there are a whole set of other issues with that. Right now, the plan is to move into the garage on our property and add a second floor for storage.” The company leases storage space at a nearby facility on Clearview Ave. in Harwinton.
Sure, he was new at making soaps, but it wasn’t like Reese Piper didn’t have the tools to make Ridge Runner Soaps a reality. He has a background in chemistry and worked as a lab technician for several years at Northwest Connecticut Community College. As far as the logistics went, he was also a warehouse manager at one point in his life and worked in the latter capacity while in the Marines.
“I was confident when I began making soaps and building the business, Reese explains. “I had the background to make the soaps and then how to distribute them. When I began I wanted to make a soap specifically for me because of the reactions I was having to store bought soap, many of which contain detergents and can be caustic to the skin.”
Offers Maurice Piper, “The first farmers market we did was in Winsted just after Reese began to make the soaps and it went well. We only had a few months to sell that first year and the soaps sold well. Well enough that it had a good measure of success to push us to keep going and expanding.”
The real stars of the Ridge Runner Soaps lineup are the scented soaps, of which there are around 50 verities with more being added. Their basis is essential vegetable oil, water and lye. Says Reese Piper, “The first soap a made was a lavender and sage one that has real ground lavender and sage in it. It remains one of my favorites to this day and is popular with our customers. The scent is the soap is important of course. But we didn’t want to make the scents overpowering, which can be the case with some specialty soaps.” Indeed, Ridge Runner Soaps have a subtle fragrance that allows the user to enjoy the experience of washing with them and not worry about smelling like a flower or cucumber when exiting the bathroom. And the natural ingredients, without harsh chemicals fillers, makes for a safe and cleansing wash.
By the way, the Cucumber and Melon soap is the favorite of Maurice Piper, while mom prefers Lemon Grass and Green Tea, and Reese a rather new Black Raspberry and Vanilla soap. “The color of the soap is also important,” says Reese. “I try to match the fragrance to the color to create a pleasant image, but not so much that it is gaudy. We also try and educate our customers as to the benefits of our soaps and other products.”
As for the various scents, sometimes they are an inspiration taken from everyday life and sometimes they are recommended by customers. “We may have someone ask us to make a scent and we’ll try it and it just doesn’t work,” says Reese. “But sometimes it does. It’s trial and error really.”
Check out some of the names of the soaps and they’ll tickle your imagination: Clover Fields and Aloe; Coffee Exfoliate; Daffodil; Gardenia; Grapefruit; Lemon Poppyseed; Lilac; Maple Vanilla; Olive Outdoor with Jewelweed; Patchouli Lime; and Peppermint. There’s even Pine Tar, which, claims the company, is “great for cleaning oils and gasoline, as it breaks them down and gets rid of the smells.”
The company has also launched a line of “wine soaps” made available in Chardonnay, Moscato, Pomegranate Prosecco, and Wine by Candlelight. And there’s also “beer soap,” available in Amber Ale, Black & Tan, Blue Ribbon, Honey Citrus Bock, Oatmeal Stout, and Red Stripe.
The company’s online business has picked considerably this year,” says Maurice Piper, something that is quite welcome in a year when there will be no fairs to sell their products. The company ships soaps around New England and to states such as Texas, Florida, Michigan and Washington, as well as to Canada and several other countries.
“Our customer base is across the board,” says Reese Piper. “From 6 to 90, and both men and women.” Offers Maurice Piper, “I got a letter one day from a man that saw our lip balm at a small store in Wyoming and he was shocked to see it was made in Harwinton. And he was in Torrington, Wyoming!”
The company sells baskets of soaps and other products that make ideal gifts. Price points are very modest, considering the time and effort put into making the products. A typical bar of scented soap costs $5 retail. “We want to keep our prices at a point where everyone can be able to afford and try them,” explains Reese. “Some people said we should raise our prices but that’s not the way we are approaching growing our business.”
Reese Piper says, “We’re still learning as we go. There’s always a learning curve but it’s been a fun ride so far. I love what we are doing and I believe in our products.” Oh, the name of the company? “My brother and I hike and we are hoping to do the Appalachian Trail some day. Ridge Runner is the moniker given to those that maintain the Appalachian Trail. The company’s name is a tribute to those people. And we have a ridge behind our house.”
Soaps.com for more information or to order.