The demand for more natural and organic body and skin care products has been on the rise in recent years, and the Nashville area is no stranger to that. Now, with the opening of a location of the Memphis-based company Buff City Soap Co.in Murfreesboro, that reach is expanding.
The natural and organic personal care industry has become massive, especially in the U.S. According to a press release from Research and Markets, this industry was worth $11.5 billion in 2017. Between 2018-2026, it is expected to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.1%, making the industry worth over $25 billion.
LUSH, a natural beauty retailer with stores located across the globe, is one of the main leaders in this trend. According to a Forbes articlefrom 2017, the company made approximately $900 million in worldwide sales in 2016, and their influence has played a part in the influx of local shops specializing in similar products and philosophies.
Buff City Soap Co. is Tennessee’s biggest example of that. Started in Memphis in 2013, Buff City Soap provides natural, plant-based and handmade products with ingredients the average consumer can feel good about using on their body. All 13 locations, sprinkled in six states throughout the U.S., feature a “Soap Makery” where every product is made by hand in store.
TheMurfreesboro location of Buff City Soap, located at 2658 New Salem Rd., opened on Jan. 18 and is the first store to open in Middle Tennessee. Trent Sullivan, who is the franchise owner of the Murfreesboro and Jackson locations, says choosing Murfreesboro was based on both the up-and-coming status of the city and the demographics of customers in the area.
“I knew Murfreesboro, in relation to some other areas of Nashville, was a little more affordable, a little more working class,” said Sullivan. “That’s who I wanted to target first… more middle-class, real people.”
Before Sullivan was a franchise owner for Buff City Soap, he worked in sales for a large corporation and also played guitar for touring bands in the Memphis area. Through his music connections, he stayed in touch with a friend who began working for Buff City Soap when it was still in its early stages. He got in contact with him to find a natural alternative to treat his son’s eczema and found a passion for the company’s mission to provide natural body products to his community.
After taking interest in the company as a customer, he became the franchise owner of the Jackson store when it opened in late 2017. For Sullivan, getting involved with Buff City Soap felt right to him.
“You just feel like you can sleep at night knowing you’re not pushing something that’s dishonest,” said Sullivan. “Having it all made right where you can see it … that was the special sauce for me.”
Buff City Soap prides itself on being transparent with the natural, plant-based ingredients and processes used to make their products, something Sullivan says is one of the key benefits in investing in natural body and skin care.
“You can pronounce everything (in the products), everything is derived from plant sources,” said Sullivan. “Things that came from the ground are inherently better for you. We say what you put on your body is as important as what you put in it.”
Buff City Soap is mainly known for their handmade soaps, but they sell a wide range of products made for the body and the face. This includes body scrubs, bath bombs, facial toners, moisturizers and eye creams. They also sell laundry detergent that can be customized with any scent the company offers in-house. As the brand grows, they intend to start selling more household items to make the company a one-stop shop for people who want to use natural products all around.
The Murfreesboro location, which has a bright and airy open concept filled with aesthetically pleasing hardwood designs, also offers exclusive scents such as “Hometown Blue” and “New Salem Soap” as an homage to the community. Sullivan says this is a concept incorporated into every Buff City Soap location to give the stores a more local feel despite the company being a chain.
Based on the success he has seen with his location in Jackson, Sullivan is expecting the new Murfreesboro location to thrive. In 2018, the Jackson location of Buff City Soap made about $685,000 in revenue. These numbers lead Sullivan to believe that the Murfreesboro location will be on par with the Jackson store by the end of 2019 and will see revenue in the $900,000 range by year three.
In addition to Buff City Soap, Middle Tennessee hosts a variety of local companies specializing in the natural body product industry. In Nashville, Thistle Farms, an organization dedicated to supporting women survivors of trafficking, prostitution and addiction, sells natural products made by the women they have helped. Little Seed Farmin Murfreesboro creates “award-winning, small-batch soaps and skincare, made by hand on their solar powered farm,” according to their website. Their products are sold online and in most Kroger locations in Murfreesboro. Ma’Bella Soap Shop, a brand based in nearby Eagleville, also sells their natural soaps and body products in Kroger and other retailers across the state.
Sullivan attributes much of the success of businesses in the natural personal care industry to consumers wanting to be more aware of the ingredients in products they use. He says people are becoming more willing to pay more for local products that are transparent and straightforward as opposed to the mass-produced items found in grocery stores.
“People are more skeptical of big institutions,” said Sullivan. “They’re more willing to put their trust into their neighbor. People don’t come here and buy from Buff City. They buy from you.”
For MTSU student Calli Morgan, this plays a large part in her wanting to invest in locally made natural products.
Morgan has been using natural body and skin care products for two years now. She made the switch because of her skin’s sensitivity to harsh chemicals, and natural products have helped to balance her skin out.
Morgan was first introduced to natural products through LUSH, and she uses them almost exclusively in her skin care routine. However, the inaccessibility to a nearby store has left her wanting to seek out local alternatives. The only LUSH store in the Middle Tennessee area is located at The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville.
“It’s a pain to drive 45 minutes to get my usual skincare or to order it online and wait a week for it to come in the mail,” said Morgan. “Buff City Soap would be more convenient for me.”
After visiting the new location, she says she’s excited to try more. She says she liked the atmosphere of the new Murfreesboro store and the philosophies the company stands for will keep her coming back.
Morgan also says she sees the rising interest in all-natural products as being more than just a trend, with people tending to stick with the lifestyle once they make the switch.
“I think everybody sees the value in using less chemicals on your skin,” says Morgan. “Because once you start using less chemicals, you can never go back to using them on your skin … The words “all natural” really drive people to it.”
In addition to the advantages she personally experiences from using natural products, Morgan says supporting companies that provide natural body and skin care has environmental benefits as well, something she says is important to her when choosing brands to buy from.
“Most of the companies that are doing all-natural skin care also have other reasons for doing it, including taking care of the environment,” says Morgan. “I think using all-natural skin care and body care is important, not only for yourself, but for the world.”
Allison Borrell is a senior majoring in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.