A Niverville entrepreneur’s two-year-old company has secured a contract with Hudson’s Bay Co. that will bring her line of high-end bath and body products to store shelves across Canada just in time for the Christmas shopping season.
Candace Alarie founded SOAK Bath Co. in 2018 after years of making soap at home. The following year, she quit her job to pursue the business full-time.
The Bay took notice of her product line in January, when she flew to Toronto for a trade show that frequently attracts buyers for boutiques and other retailers.
"I was approached by one of the buyers at HBC and then we just kind of kept in touch," Alarie said.
In May, the company offered her a spot in its holiday gifting display.
"It was crazy, because I’m just a little tiny shop running out of my basement," Alarie said.
The theme of this year’s display—sustainability—dovetails nicely with the SOAK brand. Alarie’s her soap bars, bath bombs, and other products are made from all-natural vegan ingredients and packaged in biodegradable seed paper.
"It’s really my wheelhouse in terms of the product that I offer," Alarie said.
Starting in early November, SOAK products will be carried in 20 HBC locations across Canada, including the Bay store at CF Polo Park. SOAK products will also be available to order through the retailer’s website.
The Bay asked Alarie for about 30 boxes of product. To fulfill the pallet-sized order, she and a full-time employee spent the past five months in "full production mode."
"I’ve just been building and building and building inventory," Alarie said.
If sales are good, HBC may decide to extend its contract in the new year.
"I fully anticipate a reorder, but it really depends how the line does in the store," Alarie said.
Landing the contract has buoyed Alarie’s business during the COVID-19 pandemic, which initially caused wholesale and direct-to-customer sales to plummet.
"I took a big hit in March," Alarie recalled.
Almost overnight, craft markets were cancelled.
"That’s where a lot of my revenue came from," Alarie said.
Some local giftware retailers who carry her products also saw a downturn in sales during the spring restrictions on non-essential businesses.
Determined to keep her company viable, Alarie began taking more orders through her company website. SOAK had already established a robust online presence through an Instagram account with more than 4,600 followers.
The pivot to web sales worked, giving Alarie the revenue stream she needed to ride out the pandemic until the HBC contract arrived.
Raised by entrepreneur parents, Alarie graduated from Niverville Collegiate in 2005 then further honed her business sense at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business, where she earned a bachelor of commerce degree in 2011.
Alarie said the HBC contract has given her the confidence to pursue other partnerships with major brick and mortar retailers. But she won’t leap at just any offer.
"It does have to make sense, brand-wise. I wouldn’t go into a Superstore because my brand is like a high-end luxury brand," she said.