Naples Soap Co. plans to open four new locations this year, which will give it a total of 14 sites across Florida. However, the company’s success story consists of more than just rapid expansion. Founder and CEO Deanna Wallin said it’s about perseverance through unexpected times and respect for its employees.
Wallin has struggled most of her life with skin conditions eczema and psoriasis. As a former nurse who dealt with wound care on the medical-surgical floor, she frequently spoke with patients about their skin. In 2009, she created Naples Soap Co. out of a 300-square-foot building in Tin City.
“I started the company to be able to help other people with their skincare issues, and I found that natural products and organic ingredients are better for our skin conditions,” Wallin said.
Naples Soap Co., a publicly traded company, emphasizes the quality of its ingredients, using as many natural and organic substances as possible. It didn’t take long for people to notice Wallin’s brand and start appreciating her products. “People started coming from Punta Gorda and Sarasota just to visit. And before you know it, I knocked the wall down and took over the space next to me,” she said.
Wallin will open stores this year in Venice, Santa Rosa, Plantation and The Villages.The company faced challenges in September when Hurricane Ian left four locations with major flood damage. It took close to two months for three of the four locations to be mitigated and reopened, with its Sanibel location yet to reopen due to power issues.
Employee security and comfort were Wallin’s priority throughout the entire renovation process. “Communication is really critical with the staff because they also have their own stress going on,” she said. “Without communication, [staff] is really blind as far as the situation and that creates a very unsettling environment, especially after a huge natural disaster like that.”
Before the storm struck, Naples Soap Co. planned to move from an 11,000-square-foot warehouse to a new 20,000-square-foot facility. During the hurricane, much of the old building’s roof was ripped off, which forced staff to quickly transfer products to the new warehouse, which was without power. Wallin ensured her retail staff would still earn paychecks by having them take on responsibilities inside the new warehouse.
“Our staff pretty much pitched in and did anything and everything that it took to get whatever needed to be done, whether it was store mitigation or whether it was warehouse mitigation,” Wallin said. “Then we took the retail staff and we had them work in the warehouse doing Christmas gift sets and preparing us for the holidays.”
Tony Walker has been a retail employee for a year and a half. The way Wallin treats her employees, along with her passion for the business, have stood out to Walker since day one.
“[Wallin] is totally hands-on. She’ll go from store to store and remerchandise the store until 11 or 12 o’clock at night,” Walker said. “She gives great feedback, it is constructive criticism, and when you feel appreciated, you don’t mind working for a person who appreciates the work you do. That’s what Deanna does, she appreciates us.”Wallin recognizes the importance of being an effective leader even through devastating times in the community.
“As the CEO of the company, people want answers [from you]. And during a time of epic crisis, whether it was the pandemic or the hurricane, people want to know, they want reassurance that the world is going to go on, that things are going to be okay,” she said. “And you know, my job is to make sure that the employees feel like they have job security and that the company is going to be fine and that we’re making good decisions for them in a timely manner so that they have answers. And I think that communication is really critical.”
As Wallin’s company continues to grow, even potentially beyond Florida, the presence of Naples will remain at the forefront of her brand.
“The brand represents our healthy lifestyle that we have in Naples. And that’s what we try to embody in the retail experience, in the products that we carry as luxury quality and a positive healthy lifestyle,” Wallin said. “Naples was recently named one of the best places to live, and we like to reflect that in who we are as a retailer, so we will always be Naples Soap Company, no matter where we are in the country.”