Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Mid-South Retail Blog Walks Into a Bar (of Soap, That Is)

     Through the years, Memphis has given birth to and become home to the headquarters of a number of retailers and other large businesses. Chains that were founded in Memphis, as well as chains currently headquartered in Memphis, include big names like AutoZone, Holiday Inn, and Malco Theaters. In addition to those big names of today, some major players that are no longer with us once called Memphis home too, such as Seessel's and Fred's (both of which have been popular topics on the Mid-South Retail Blog, as you can explore by clicking on those links). The subject of today's MSRB post might not be as large as some of those companies I just named (at least yet), but this rather new retailer with a Memphis connection is growing and expanding into a rather large company with a national presence at the moment. Today's post isn't very long, but it's another way that the retail of the Mid-South has crossed itself with the retail of Florida!

All interior photos are courtesy of reviewers who posted to Google Maps - the exterior photos were all taken by AFB.

     Hello there everyone, it's the Albertsons Florida Blogger writing for you once again on the Mid-South Retail Blog. As you may remember, I wrote a post for the MSRB last March, where we explored a former Fred's store in Titusville, FL that had since become an antique mall. As you may know, our usual MSRB host, Retail Retell, has been a bit busy lately. So while Retail Retell is working on other things, I'm here to fill the void for everyone with this post. My post today will be featuring a retail chain with Memphis roots called Buff City Soap (the company's name a play on Memphis's nickname of "the bluff city"). Buff City Soap is a company that specializes in the sale of homemade and organic soaps, and has been on a bit of a growth spurt lately. I actually had no idea about Buff City Soap until Retail Retell mentioned the company in passing during conversation of ours a while back. One day last fall when I was in Orlando, I had stopped to photograph a new Publix store in a former Lucky's Market building. On my way back to the car, I happened to look over at the little strip mall next door to the new Publix and saw Buff City Soap! It was my first time seeing one in person, so I figured I'd grab a few photos for an MSRB contribution, and here we are today!

     Buff City Soap traces its origins back to 2013, so it's a relatively new company. The company was founded by Brad Kellum and his girlfriend Jennifer Ziemianin, who created a line of organic and plant-based soap products in Brad's garage after he began developing skin irritation from the chemicals in the soap he was previously using. After sharing the new soap product with friends, they began to develop an interest in buying his soap, leading Brad and Jennifer to start a side business with their new product. After experimenting with online sales at first, the couple made the leap into brick-and-mortar retail in 2014 when they opened in a small storefront at 3000 Kirby Whitten Road in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett. The original store, which opened under the name Bartlett Soap Company, is still in operation at that same location too - the first of what would become (as of early 2022) over 220 locations for Buff City Soap nationwide.

     During their first year in business, Brad and Jennifer sold $75,000 worth of soap, making the product a hit locally. The overwhelming response to the product led the couple to open a second location in Olive Branch, Mississippi, as well as a central manufacturing and distribution facility for the soap's ingredients. As sales grew, Buff City Soap began to offer franchising opportunities, which began the company's growth outside of Memphis and into new territories (like Florida).

     Currently, Buff City Soap has locations in most of the major metropolitan areas of Florida, with the location we'll be touring today located in the SoDo neighborhood of Orlando. SoDo is short for "South Downtown", and is a somewhat trendy urbanizing part of Orlando that builds off the urbanized feel of downtown, with some suburban characteristics thrown in. Buff City Soap fits in pretty well with the aesthetic of the area, especially as a store selling trendy organic products (like the supermarket that was originally intended to anchor this strip too). However, hiding amongst the new and trendy, in the background of the above photo there is a giant ice cream cone looking at us to break up the sight of all the gray paint and fake stone! That ice cream cone is part of Florida's famous Twistee Treat chain, a chain of ice cream shops famous for its cone-shaped buildings. Twistee Treat's history is a long story for another day, but the article I linked to is a nice little summary of the company's original downfall and modern revival.

     Cleaning ourselves from that distraction about ice cream, we need to return our attention to soap! Pictured here is the front entrance to the SoDo Buff City Soap store. Unfortunately, I didn't go inside for any pictures, but the remainder of this post will feature a few interior shots I pulled from Google Maps of this location so everyone can get a little feel of what one of these stores is like:

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     The SoDo location of Buff City Soap opened in July 2021, as part of the company's grand plan to expand nationwide. That expansion has been fueled in the late 2010s and early 2020s due to a large interest from potential franchisees, who have been submitting applications to open a Buff City Soap location of their own in all corners of the country. Thanks to the franchise model, Buff City Soap has been able to sustain the rapid growth, growing from a handful of locations around Memphis in 2017 to over 200 locations nationwide today. The company's plans include growing to over 1,000 locations by 2025, but to sustain that growth, a sacrifice to the Mid-South was made. In 2020, Buff City Soap announced it was moving its headquarters from Memphis to Dallas, Texas, due to Dallas's proximity to potential private investors and the local talent pool. A bit of a sad move for a company that has a nod to Memphis right in its name, but business is business I suppose. However, Buff City Soap will always be able to trace its roots to the Mid-South, even if the company did have to run off to Texas to attract the big money.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     The interior of a Buff City Soap location involves many tables and shelves of soap, as you'd expect. Officially, Buff City Soap calls their stores "soap makeries", as all of the product sold in the store is made in the store, an interesting twist on the traditional way of selling soap. Only the raw ingredients for the soap products are shipped to each location, with the store employees responsible for making all the bars and bottles of soap sold in store.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     More soap...

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     Even more soap...

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     Laundry soap too - Buff City really has all aspects of soap covered in here!

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     The laundry soap department even has a (very real looking) washer and dryer too.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     For a store that only sells soap, this place is pretty big. Buff City occupies the oversized corner space of the little strip mall it is located in, and they were able to fill that space with a lot of soap! The photos online show a decent number of people in the store too, so hopefully with all the soap sales, this place is really cleaning up!

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     In addition to all the employee-made soaps for sale, Buff City also had a small counter where customers could make their own soaps too - a fun little offering!

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Reviews

     So that wraps up our little tour of a Buff City Soap store, Memphis's most recent contribution to the national retail scene (as seen in Florida).

     It's nice to see how a small idea can still lead someone to create a large chain like we saw in the case of Buff City Soap. While I see a lot of new start-up restaurant chains popping up rather frequently, a retail chain starting from scratch like this seems to be a rarity anymore - especially a chain that started as a person's crazy idea in a garage, and not a chain created by an existing large company. Even though the company is no longer headquartered in Memphis, hopefully Buff City Soap will continue to prosper for many years to come, and continue to represent Memphis and the Mid-South through its name.

     To finish out this post, I have to give a big thanks to Retail Retell for letting me contribute to the Mid-South Retail Blog once again, and maybe he'll let me write on his blog again when I find another way to cut back on the puns blend Floridian and Mid-South retail together! More to come from Retail Retell on The Mid-South Retail Blog in the future as well, and he always has something going on over at his flickr photostream in case things ever slow down on here again too. You can also find more from myself at my namesake Albertsons Florida Blog and its sister blog, My Florida Retail, if you want to keep up with the craziness that is Floridian retail.

     So like one bubble said to the other bubble, it's time for me to pop on out of here. Until next time, thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!


Celebrating Seven Years of The Mid-South Retail Blog!

Happy 2022, everybody, and happy seventh anniversary to the Mid-South Retail Blog! It's hard to believe I've been doing this for over seven years now, and that so many of you have followed along for a majority of that time. I'm very grateful for each of you, and also deeply appreciative to the new followers who have discovered this blog more recently. It's my hope that the content I post will attract readers looking for publications about those topics, and I've heard from several folks who have helped me understand that, at least to a certain extent, I'm realizing that accomplishment, which is of course a wonderful feeling.

2022 has gotten off to a quiet start so far here on the blog, thanks to how busy I've been at work. My flickr photostream has slowed down considerably as well, although I've still managed to (just barely!) keep up with that, for the time being. In the meantime, I didn't want my blog posts to suffer in quality, so I decided simply not to post anything at all for a little while. Hopefully, if everything works out, I envision posts resuming sometime next month or in May, with the caveat that they will still likely be more spread out than they were in the past (i.e., not necessarily once per month any longer). So please be sure to stay tuned for that. And also today, in addition to this annual anniversary post, we have yet another special guest author feature from my friend Albertsons Florida Blog, so please go and check that out if you haven't already!

As of the time I'm writing this (which is about a week and a half before the anniversary itself), our pageviews stand at 148,819, which is an increase of 29,289 over last year's 119,530 -- the highest yearly jump in pageviews we've had since our second anniversary, so thank you all for that! Remember that contributor posts or just plain discussions are welcome at any time via our inbox at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com. And in case you'd like to revisit any of our posts from the past year, feel free to do so using any of the links below, or whenever you please using the sidebar on the web version of the blog.

January 2021

February 2021

March 2021

April 2021

May 2021

June 2021

August 2021

September 2021

November 2021
Former Albertsons #4317 - Mobile, AL (a guest post by Retail Retell on the Albertsons Florida Blog)

December 2021

Thanks again, sincerely, to all of you for making this a great seven years, and look forward to more new content coming to the blog soon! Until then, be sure (again) to check out our other new post today from AFB, and as always, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are :)

Retail Retell