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Ray Phillips came up with the idea for SoapSox, a unique and fun washcloth for kids, while he was the program director at a children’s residential treatment facility. “In that line of work you see it all—the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said. One challenging case involved a boy that refused to bath for a week. After days of working with Phillips, the boy admitted he wanted to get clean but he didn’t want to leave his favorite stuffed animal behind. So Phillips grabbed a spare stuffed toy and began making modifications, including sticking a bar of soap inside.
“That was the solution,” Phillips said. “Over the years that was my go-to trick for bath time.”
Phillips will put his solution to the test once again on ABC’s Shark Tank tonight, Oct. 3, at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT. We don’t know if any of the Sharks jump in the water with SoapSox, but we bet they’ll be charmed by Tank the shark and his plush friends.
Even though Phillips often used his stuffed animal trick professionally, he wasn’t inspired to turn it into a real product until he was about to have his own kid.
“My wife was pregnant and I told her I had this idea… I definitely got that ‘You want to do what with your 401 what?’ look,” Phillips laughed. “But I didn’t want to have any regrets. So she gave me the green light, I met with some IP attorneys and connected with Alvin.”
Alvin Uy went to the same high school as Phillips and owned a creative agency that worked with major consumer brands like Disney, Hasbro and Mattel. He thought SoapSox was such a great idea that he wanted to come onboard as a partner. “We’ve been non-stop ever since,” said Phillips.
The team spent two years designing and developing the SoapSox product. In 2013, they launched a Kickstarter campaign for $45,000, which would give them the cash they needed to start manufacturing. They ended up raising $51,930 from over 620 backers in just four weeks. A month later, they took 20 samples of each SoapSox character to the ABC Expo in Las Vegas, where they got picked up by Nordstrom.
“Kickstarter was great because it validated our idea,” said Phillips. “Everyone will be brutally honest, but that’s good because they’ll give you feedback early on so you can make adjustments. It doesn’t get any more organic than that.”
SoapSox had a unique journey into the Shark Tank. They were accepted for the 2013 season, when they already had the deal with Nordstrom but no sales. “I was terrified to go on national TV and look like an idiot,” said Phillips. “So we respectfully declined last year. The producers urged us to reconsider, ‘Few people get calls back, so really think about it, we’d love to have you back but we can’t guarantee anything.’ But we knew we weren’t quite ready.”
Over the next six months, SoapSox got a solid base established and some sales under their belt. They also received a rejection email from Shark Tank for Season 6. But when Phillips reconnected with the casting director again at New York trade show, told him to delete the email and SoapSox moved forward with filming.
“The people at Shark Tank are amazing,” Phillips said. “The whole experience was so amazing, I can’t even tell you how amazing it was! We do have a viewing party planned to watch the show with our friends and family. I know what happens, but I’m still nervous.”
“When you have a platform like Shark Tank, that changes the whole ballgame,” said Phillips. “We didn’t know we’d air until recently, so we had a Plan A and a Plan B, and now we’re going with Plan B. We want to ride the Shark Tank wave as much as we can.”
That new strategy included updating their website. Previously they focused on retailers and rarely sold online. To capitalize on Shark Tank, they knew they needed a modern online store that would empower them to sell directly to consumers. So they migrated from a GoDaddy shopping cart to Bigcommerce.
“It was really a no brainer on my end,” said Phillips. “We could build great site, we didn’t have to worry about using five different apps to manage everything and we could do it all in-house. Bigcommerce was a one-stop shop for us.”
Phillips believes it takes a special kind of courage to launch your own business. He encourages other entrepreneurs to tap into their network as they establish and grow their business. Family and friends played a major role in getting SoapSox where they are today.
“It isn’t for the faint of heart, it took my support system to keep me going,” he said.
“We’re still so small and so young, we’re still learning,” Phillips added. But he and Uy continue to keep a steadfast focus on helping children. In addition to smart product development and sustainable business growth, they’re committed to donating a portion of all SoapSox profits to groups that fight child abuse. “Whether we get a deal or not, we have a lot of work to do.”
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