Ask Crystal Merkel, a slightly punky, 20-something resident of Rochester, Minn., what inspired her to begin the Scrub Your Butt Soap Company in 2003, and she’ll tell you that she and her fiancée Kyle Herring got fired from their respective jobs and needed to do something. Rather than search for another entry-level day job, Merkel sectioned off a corner of her mother’s house and rolled up her sleeves. Then she created, tested, marketed and distributed a line of all-natural and organic bath products under the whimsical name Scrub Your Butt Soap Company.
Merkel’s sense of humor comes through in products like Stinky Hippie (a patchouli-scented shower gel), What’s Up Chuck soap (a milk- and glycerin-based herbal soap made to look like magic shop rubber puke) and Monsieur Fudgie’s Chocolate Sugar Scrub; but what keeps her products on the shelves of food co-ops and boutiques in more than 40 states is the quality. Never tested on animals and free of what Merkel calls “junk,” the products speak to a growing clientele that demands pure, organic ingredients and is unwilling to sacrifice the luxurious experience of boutique quality bath products. Merkel knows what bath connoisseurs want because she’s one herself.
Her genuine enthusiasm about her own products is clear. Her reigning favorite? Monsieur Fudgie’s Chocolate Sugar Scrub: a grainy, all-over body scrub, colored and scented with real cocoa. “I love it when I need a pick-me-up,” said Merkel.
The story behind the soap
At an age when most kids ran screaming from the tub, Merkel remembers enjoying a good bath. “My mother would say, “Get in the tub and scrub your butt,” she laughed, revealing the inspiration for her company name. Her parents have been supportive of her business at all stages, from allowing their basement to become the company headquarters to helping wrap individual bath melts in foil.
In spite of their help and the aid of a few good friends, Scrub Your Butt is overwhelmingly a one-woman shop, said Merkel. “Kyle helps a lot in the off-season from his own business … but I do the majority of the work,” she said.
Merkel shrugs off the idea that her leap into an entrepreneurial cottage business was risky. It’s the only work style that makes sense to her, she said. “My favorite thing [about this work] is that it is a great outlet for my wackiness,” she said. “Also, in this job, I don’t have to deal with anyone else. If I want pink hair I can have it, and nobody can tell me otherwise. I get so sick of stereotypical business standards. This way I only have to deal with myself.”
As anyone who’s ever started up a lemonade stand knows, creating an ideal work culture for yourself doesn’t keep the books out of the red. Merkel knows that she’s only got a job as long as the customers keep coming back for more. “The experience of starting a new business is scary and thrilling all in one,” she said. “You don’t know how people are going to react to your work or if they’ll buy your stuff. And then, even if they buy it, you’re not sure if they are going to like it.”
According to Kari Moe-Hoffman, manager of the Wedge Community Co-op’s health and body care department, people are buying Scrub Your Butt products and do enjoy them. “People really like the packaging and the products work very well,” said Moe-Hoffman. “Quite a few people on staff have tried it and say it’s a really clean product—and it’s local. That’s what we look for.”