Innovation, focus, and a willingness to change led these private label makers of bar soap to a leadership position in the industry. Next time you lather up in the shower, that squeaky clean feeling may not be due only to the brand name etched on the bar. Vermont’s Twincraft Soap has been making soap since 1971, and under the leadership of Peter Asch, president and CEO, the company has become the leading global private label manufacturer of high-end specialty bar soap.
Asch purchased Twincraft in 1995 and immediately made significant changes to its operations. At the time, the company was making private label bar soap, had its own brand of soap, and also had a hotel amenity division. Asch decided to sell of two divisions of the company and focus exclusively on the private label bar soap market. “I am a big believer that a highly disciplined focus is necessary to compete on a global scale. We set out to do that and become the premier manufacturer of this type of product,” he said.
Since making that decision, the company built the infrastructure to become the premier manufacturer of specialty bar soap for private label distribution, purchasing production equipment that is highly flexible, building departments like quality assurance and customer service that were crucial for OTC products and FDA certification, and creating a competitive advantage by being more customer focused than the industry at large. Twincraft also strived for efficiency and green production, investing in a closed-loop water system to save water, modifying existing production equipment, and installing energy-efficient lighting.
By striving for innovation and investing in the tools and creating the culture to support it, the company is seven times larger than when Asch bought it 13 years ago. The company has the required certifications to make any type of soap product, OTC, FDA certified, or organic certified products in both the US and Europe. Twincraft is now the premier manufacturer of specialty bar soap, which Asch attributes directly to the single-minded focus he instilled in the company from day one.
Product innovation and excellence starts with R&D. The key isn’t only the ability the company has to make a product but also its ability to make a product that is in line with a constantly shifting market. Twincraft is constantly pushing itself to shift faster and improve its processes to be on top of the market and actually create the market whenever possible.
For example, the company has developed a bar soap with ingredients that stay on your body even after rinsing. This potentially allows users to treat acne, lessen wrinkling, or provide increased moisture, and clinical tests prove the product works. Twincraft is in the midst of developing a bar soap that can deliver SPF to the user, meaning washing will not only clean the consumer but also leave them with sunscreen on their body. “We look to be ahead of the market, and our customers love that because they also want to be ahead and be first to market,” said Asch.
This is not surprising, as some of Twincraft’s customers are industry leaders such as Bath & Body Works, Unilever/Dove, Estee Lauder, Mary Kay, and Johnson & Johnson. Creating and maintaining relationships with such high-profile clients comes down to patience and listening. Asch said it can take years for a customer to come on board, but understanding the needs of each potential client, listening to clients’ needs, and providing them with detailed market trend analyses in presentations showing how Twincraft’s innovations can benefit their brand are critical to landing their business.
“Everything we do is highly customized, so we customize our approach to each company, look at the culture and products, and customize our products so they will fit with each company’s brand,” said Asch.
This requires a staff with the capability to be that flexible and responsive. The company’s R&D specialists need to not only have a degree in a field like organic chemistry but also to be adaptable and innovative individuals. The company tries to find and keep those people by supporting a culture that is more a meritocracy rather than a command and control operation. Many of the people it has brought in who have succeeded came as referrals from previous hires.
“Good people know good people. Strong people who want to make their mark and be fulfilled thrive here, and our culture promotes and applauds that,” Asch said. “We enable people, giving them the chance to succeed, and they generally want to stay here because they aren’t working for a company that inhibits people.”
Another key to the company’s success in landing and keeping high profile clients is its quality programs. The main thing Twincraft needs to do to prove itself to clients and regulators alike is demonstrate consistency in its products. With OTC soap, the company has to prove it can put in a particular level of a drug and maintain it throughout the process so it comes out with exacting measurements.
Internal structures and systems combined with standard operating procedures are designed and built to do just that. Thus far, Twincraft has demonstrated it can produce a highly consistent product not only within a run of 100,000 soap bars but also from run to run. The company’s products are always up to the same aesthetic and internal standards within each bar every time.
In the future, Twincraft will be challenged to stay innovative, low cost, and highly productive. Asch believes success can actually lead to failure because many successful companies become complacent. As a leader, it is his job to make sure Twincraft employees understand and adhere to the company’s mission of keeping its spot at the top of the specialty bar soap mountain.
“We can’t sit back and soften up because in a global market, there is always someone who wants to occupy your space. We need to keep driving forward, and that requires internal communication with all of our people,” Asch said. “If they understand our goals, they will do a great job because excellent people want to succeed.”