Many business owners have a vision for their business that they develop over time. For Marcela Arrieta, owner of Majestic Bliss Soaps in Los Angeles, that vision came all at once—in a meditation that showed her a bar of soap.
“The moment that vision or that idea was planted in my mind in that meditation, that for me, was real. It's like when you have those dreams that you wake up and you can't distinguish them between real life or a dream."
But before it could become real, she had to learn to make soap. In 2014, not long after that fateful meditation, Marcela started experimenting in her garage. In the seven years since, she has grown from a one-woman operation to a full-time team of two (not counting herself and her husband, who also works for the business). In a 1,300-square-foot warehouse space, she and her employees make about 200 bars of soap a day, which she sells online, in select Whole Foods stores, and through retailers nationwide.
From garage to Whole Foods
Since following that first vision, Marcela has taken one leap of faith after another, always guided by a deep belief in what she is doing. Months after looking up how to make soap on Google, she walked into her local Whole Foods with a batch of soap in a big basket.
“You see, I believed in what I had—[that] it was the best freaking soap in the world," she says remembering that first sales pitch.
"I said something along the line of, 'It's vegan. It's good for you. And this is why your customers need it.' And they said, 'You know what? We happen to be looking for another soap company. I will give these out to our team members and see what they think.'"
Hurdles become helping hands
Although that first meeting was promising, it wasn't a straight shot to getting the soap into the store. After a month, she returned to hear the verdict.
“They said, 'Well, the soap is good. It looks good, but it's still a little bit harsh on the skin.' [I said], 'Don't worry. I can modify that. I'm local.' [They asked me,] 'Do you operate out of a manufacturing facility?' [I said,] 'Yes, I do..' And in the back of my head, it's like, 'No, I don't.'
Then here comes the legal mumbo jumbo stuff. You get the package from these companies, and you need your business license, you need insurance, you need X, Y, and Z."
She turned to LegalZoom to get the necessary paperwork in order. But there was still one more thing that had to happen before she could officially sell the soap at Whole Foods. At that time, Whole Foods had employees called local foragers who were tasked with vetting local products to bring into the stores.
“We sat down with our local forager. He said, 'It would be very beneficial if you removed palm oil from your recipe. I'm thinking, 'How am I going to make this happen?/ Because there's no way I could afford it. I'm thinking this in my head and saying, 'Sure. Yeah, of course.'"
Marcela's bars now contain shea butter. But in the beginning, the cost of that ingredient made using it seem out of reach. However, there was something else in her background she could draw on. Before soap, she happened to work in procurement.
“I was like, 'OK, Marcela, it's time to put what I've learned into action.' So I was fortunate to find a provider of shea butter, remove palm oil completely, and keep the cost down," she says.
Her first visit to Whole Foods had been in October. Within six months of that visit, Majestic Bliss was being sold in the store.
Pivoting for success
One of the many things that makes Majestic Bliss Soaps special is how beautiful they are. Swirling colors on the top of each bar look like mounds of fluffy bright frosting. But Majestic Soaps didn't always have the signature swirls.
The cold process Marcela uses to make soap is finicky. “You cannot control how the batter reacts to an essential oil," she says. "There's so many factors [that come into play]. The swirls that you see now were an accident. [At first] I thought, 'My soap is ruined!' Then, when I unmolded it and I cut it, I was like, 'I like this.'"
Just as she used criticism from Whole Foods as impetus to become more earth-friendly and turned a chemistry mishap into a signature aesthetic, Marcela harnessed obstacles posed by the coronavirus pandemic to further improve her product.
When CDC guidelines suddenly rendered her package-free in-store displays unacceptable—halting her wholesale business—she changed course. Pivoting from wholesale, she focused on building her online presence and social media following.
When a competitor nosed her out of a store she believed she had a secure relationship with, she took a look at her business and took the disappointment as a lesson: to stay competitive, she would need to continually innovate.
The result is a new line of bath bombs she is currently piloting in several stores. She also plans to add sugar scrubs to her product line in the coming months. And in 2022 she'll be adding a third employee to her staff to help her meet increasing demand.
The importance of delegating
If she'd do anything differently, Marcela says she would have delegated more, sooner. "When you're starting off, it's your baby, it's your passion. And then there's a sense of, 'Well, if I'm not doing it, it's not going to be done right.' And that is incorrect. If you train the person properly and you give them the proper tools, they may even outperform you."
One area she was always willing to delegate was letting LegalZoom take care of the less creative but essential elements of operating a business. When Whole Foods asked her for licenses and documentation, she knew where to turn, "I had done business with LegalZoom prior to Majestic Bliss. So I knew, 'OK. These guys are reliable. They know what they're doing, and I'd rather they handle it.'"
Now as she looks at expanding her line, she knows she will find the help she needs that will allow her to focus on the creative elements of her business. “That's again where LegalZoom will come in because there is that trademark or that copyright. I haven't really looked into what exactly we are going to need, but I know we're going to need something."
Celebrating the journey
Asked what advice she would give to other entrepreneurs, Marcela is introspective. She's worked hard to get where she is, and the journey hasn't been without stumbling blocks, many of which she has used to propel her to the next level.
“I think what I learned is every success, you have to celebrate it. It doesn't matter how small or how big it is. If you just graduated from this little sample size to the two-ounce, you have to celebrate that. And that will continuously feed into the life of the company and your self-esteem and making that person believe in what's happening. Because if we just wait until something monumental happens, we're missing little successes along the line, which are key for that big, monumental moment."