About eight years ago, a local couple bid to rid their home of harmful chemicals, artificial fragrances and other toxic ingredients found in their family’s body care products. When the matriarch couldn’t find suitable alternatives, she decided to make it herself. Fast forward to 2016 and Phil and Sandra Metzler are opening a brick-and-mortar business in Grandview for their “hobby.”
Glenn Avenue Soap Company is graduating from living room to production facility and storefront at 1166 W 5th Ave.
The average Columbus resident has likely encountered Glenn Avenue’s soaps. They are stocked at all three of the local Whole Foods, the Hills Market and other specialty shops and spas. Wash your hands at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, Grandview Grind, The Crest, Cap City, Gateway Film Center or several other establishments around the city and you’ve felt – and smelled – the soap.
“I’ve had at least three couples that use the soap while they are [at Cap City] for lunch and after lunch drove to the store and said, ‘We need some of this soap,'” Phil says.
The foaming soap, especially, makes a lasting impression because it’s, well, soap.
“Part of who we are is really about a healthy lifestyle and a passion to really counteract the ubiquitous use of unnecessary and harmful ingredients you find in skincare,” Phil says. “A key part of our message and our strategy is to really educate people not only about the bad stuff…but also to educate them about what real soap is.”
Phil explains that the FDA allows anything intended for hand washing to be labeled as soap. Most “soaps” contain detergents and foaming agents while real soap like Glenn Avenue’s contain saponified oils and lye. A trip to the store, and customers will see ingredients like olive or coconut oil and essential oils waiting to be made into soap.
Having degrees in mechanical and biomedical engineering like Sandra doesn’t hurt the whole soap making process, either.
“She is the genius behind all of our formulations,” Phil says of his wife.
When the whole thing began, her soap excursions were just meant to be for the family, but soap making isn’t a just a small-batch thing. Excess was handed out to friends and family. Then six years ago the couple hit the big 5-0. That’s when they started to sell at outlets like the Grandview Farmer’s market. That’s also about the time foaming hand soap came in the picture. The process of making a foaming version is actually more complicated – and there was little like it in the market.
The next advancement from hobby to business would come when Phil was reorganized out of his corporate position. While searching for another position he started upping his involvement in the soap business. He taught himself how to use Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, created logos, developed packaging, built a website and a soap lab in the living room.
“When my unemployment insurance ran out and I hadn’t found that perfect role, we decided to go ahead and continue for me to do this full-time,” Phil says.
He’s pioneered many of the retail relationships, and the chance to give product demos at places like Whole Foods and the customer interaction it entails give him more emotional benefit than any position before. He’s done engineering, sales and marketing roles pre-soap, selling multi-million dollar contracts, but no executive or sale has ever made him feel as excited as when the teenage daughter of a family he had gotten to know through in-store demonstrations rushed up to him to tell him how well one of their skincare products had worked on her acne.
More chances for interactions like that – and more products – heavily influenced the decision for a storefront.
“It’s really an opportunity in the retail space to extend people’s knowledge, to give them a better understanding of our products and how they work, but also to offer more products,” Phil says.
In addition to bar and foaming soap, Glenn Avenue sports beer soaps (yes there really is beer in it), skin care products and lotions. A whipped body butter recipe is being perfected and their essential oil mixes are coming up for sale soon. Phil says the store might see the addition of products like candles and shampoo and conditioner.
Glenn Avenue will also continue to expand their commercial business. Wolf’s Ridge actually brought about the idea to a certain extent. One of the owners used the soap personally and wanted it in the restaurant.
“It’s a good business for us because we are selling it in bulk and the amount of packaging and labeling and labor involved in that is significantly reduced,” Phil says. “More importantly, having our brand in a place like that – seeing the logo, locally-crafted, organic – it has huge benefits for consumer awareness.”
He sees big potential with the Columbus restaurant scene with the number of eateries promoting farm-to-table and supporting local artisans.
“Using our soap is just totally consistent with that philosophy,” Phil says.
While Glenn Avenues foams might seem more expensive up front, the “per serving” use actually ends up being about the same cost as the what Phil dubs the pink slime soap normally found at restaurants.
Whether it’s wholesale, commercial or personal use, Glenn Avenue is ready to show off how it’s made. The retail store quietly opened Thanksgiving weekend, but is hosting an open house this Sunday, February 7 from 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
For more information visit GlennAveSoap.com.
Photos by Walker Evans.