Branding lessons from the past — The Soft Soap Story

softsoapToday’s article is contributed by Bonnie Halper at StartupOneStop.com

Back in the 1970s, liquid hand soap was sold by one guy: Robert Taylor, and his small company Minnetonka.  It was his invention, and he knew he was on to something big. Test audiences loved the product and, despite barely having enough resources to do so, Minnetonka decided to go all in and make a push to take the  product nationwide.

There was only one problem: Nothing he was selling could be patented. 

The concept of liquid soap wasn’t new, and simple pumps had been around since the dawn of civilization. As a result, Taylor knew several huge soap manufacturers were ready to happily steal his idea the very moment it looked like it could succeed on a large scale. Armed with superior resources and the ability to quickly R&D an imitation product, the industry giants were ready to crush tiny Minnetonka.

Taylor, however, was ready for this.

Before any other company had the chance, Taylor decided to go shopping one day and bought a few plastic pumps. And by a few we mean F**KING ALL OF THEM. There were only two companies nationwide manufacturing those little pumps, and Taylor ponied up $12 million — more than the total net worth of his company at the time — and ordered 100 million of them,  effectively buying every single pump these two companies would be able  to manufacture for the next year or two.

Anyway, without the part required to dispense the soap, there was nothing the major companies could do but sit and watch Taylor slowly own the entire market. His product would become known as SoftSoap, Two years after his little stunt, Colgate-Palmolive  would be forced to just buy SoftSoap from Taylor … for $61 million.”

Of course, this was pre-web, pre 3D printing, pre proliferation of patent trolls and pre China, who can knock off anything seemingly overnight.

The point is: this is a great example of entrepreneurship at its best – the convergence of innovation and thinking outside the box. Pun very much intended: when faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges, raise the bar.

Onward and forward.

 

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