Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 5:49PM
LS family opens handmade soap business; defies traditional local business concept
By Toriano Porter
The best way to defy something sometimes is to bury your head and not get caught up in it.
That approach served a Lee’s Summit family well as they continue to celebrate the opening of a new business in the Summit Fair shopping area.
Sheila Aaron, and sons Ben Aaron and Christopher Walker, opened Prairie Soap Company Nov. 2 after spending the previous three years as an online-only business.
The need to meet and greet, and touch and teach, brought the family to the storefront inside Summit Fair said Sheila Aaron.
“A lot of people have asked me why open a brick and mortar store when you can make just as much money online,” Aaron, a self-described lifelong gardener, said. “We really want to be with people and serve people. I mean, we need to pay our bills and make a living, but that’s not the bottom line for us. It’s more of the concept of (a shared sense of belonging).”
Sheila Aaron started making soap nearly 14 years ago while working fulltime at Powell Gardens a few miles east of Lee’s Summit along U.S. Highway 50. Aaron retired from Powell Gardens in 2005 and late in the summer of 2009 – in the throes of a nationwide economic collapse – launched Prairie Soap Company online. Recruiting the University of Missouri-taught Ben Aaron and Walker into the business – and teaching them the trade of soap making – the family set a goal of opening a brick and mortar store in October of 2013.
The dream and goal came true, albeit almost one year ahead of schedule.
“This is all new to us,” said Ben Aaron, who studied geography at Mizzou. “We’ve never owned a business before, but you shoot first and aim later. The more stuff you shoot the more it sticks. It’s working.”
Eschewing the model of traditional “mom and pop” stores, the family set-up shop in retail-heavy Summit Fair instead of a more “cultural” destination. Although Prairie Soap Company sits in the middle of nationally-recognized chain stores, their hand-crafted, natural personal care product are complimented by local products such as Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts, and include local artists’ renderings hanging from walls and available for purchase.
“We were thinking we would end up in the Crossroads District or someplace like that because this is kind of that type of setting,” Sheila Aaron said, “but doors have opened for us just miraculously.”
Added Ben Aaron: “To be truly home grown, family business is really neat. We’re proud of that.”
Prairie Soap Company produces and sells its products inside the store and soaps and the like are also available online. Starting Nov. 17, Ben Aaron will conduct soap making classes for interested parties.
“The whole idea behind the brick and mortar store is a sense of community,” Ben Aaron said. “And a shared sense of belonging.”