Constantly asking for help to fund the meals and services he has been distributing to the homeless population in Akron for seven years has been emotionally draining for Nathan Walden. A couple of years ago, the young philanthropist began selling homemade, natural face, body and hair products with proceeds going toward his mission.
Hope Soap became so popular that Walden stopped making products in his home and opened a brick-and-mortar shop in downtown Cuyahoga Falls about a year ago. That store, in addition to a space Walden rented inside Akron’s Northside Market and an online store, was designed as a model for a business with philanthropic intentions.
Business was booming…until it suddenly wasn’t. For three months in a row, profits have steadily declined.
Now, Walden finds himself in a humbling but necessary position: requesting donations for adjustments to keep Hope Soap afloat and allow Walden’s work with the homeless to continue in its current capacity. “We considered closing,” Walden admits. “But I think I have one last big breath in me, and we’re pushing forward to make this work.”
The push includes adding an attractive rear entranceway and new signage at the rear of the Cuyahoga Falls store, purchasing labeling and other equipment to speed up turnaround time on sales, and buying furniture for Hope Soap’s new and larger location in the Northside Market. “We’re also upping our marketing; we’re starting a make-and-take event every Friday at the Cuyahoga Falls store; and we’ve added a line of hand-poured candles with witty sayings,” Walden says.
All of this takes ambition – and money. Walden launched a Go Fund Me page last month to cover the costs of several of the projects. At the time this article was published, the page had raised almost $3,000. Walden’s goal is $9,500.
Walden has also enlisted the help of the city of Cuyahoga Falls. “The problem is our location,” he says. While historic Front Street enjoys heavy foot traffic thanks to numerous shops and restaurants, Portage Trail, where Hope Soap is located, does not. Lack of parking in front of the shop and a dearth of specialty shops on the street have hindered Hope Soap’s success, Walden believes. “I have asked the city and other business owners for help because we want to stay here. The city has agreed to redo the landscaping in the back because it owns that parking lot. They’ve also talked about putting flowers and banners on our street to make it more inviting.”
As these improvements are slowly made, Hope Soap prepares for what should be a busy holiday season. After that, time will tell if Walden’s efforts will lead to long-term success. In the meantime, Hope Soap continues to sell its popular product lines and add to its offerings. Witty Lit, its recently introduced line of candles, features clever names such as “Youngest Child Syndrome” (smells like you’ve never done anything wrong) and “Cereal Killer” (smells like a big bowl of Fruit Loops for dinner). The candleholders are made from recycled beer bottles that Walden has collected from local bars and restaurants.
Walden hired a local person to cut the jars for the candles. “I figured out how much I would pay to buy candleholders, and I was able to pay him $15 an hour to cut the beer bottles,” Walden says. “This will be a great way to build his resume.”
Throughout the business struggles of Hope Soap, Walden continues to focus on how he can improve the lives of others. He plans to keep serving the homeless even if Hope Soap doesn’t make it. But he’s banking on the goodness of others to keep the store going so he can offer even more opportunities to those who need help in his community. “It was a risk to come to Cuyahoga Falls and open a store,” he admits. “We’ve made some progress, and we have to reach out to those who still don’t know about us. We want them to know we’re making great products but also helping the homeless.”
To learn more about Hope Soap or to make a purchase, visit www.hopesoapohio.org.