travel agent voicing her opinion
Travel Agent Education

It’s Never a Good Time to “Keep Your Mouth Shut”: What We Can Learn from a Business on its Literal Soapbox

Have you seen or used this soap? Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap is now widely available and increasingly popular. I first found out about it when I realized my daughters and I all have very sensitive skin. After some internet searching, I found many people recommended castile soap for sensitive skin – the most notable being, Dr. Bronner’s. I bought my first bottle at Whole Foods and the whole family has been using it ever since. 

Within the first few times of lathering up in the shower, I noticed there was a whole lot going on on the label. After closer inspection, I started to notice what appeared to be the ramblings of a mad person and asked myself, “What the hell did I buy?!” (Not to mention how the design of the label goes against everything designers/ marketers advise – to keep it simple and not provide too much text.) 

I finally decided to research who this Dr. Emmanuel Bronner actually was. Here are some interesting facts. 

  • Dr. Bronner was born to a Jewish soap-making family in Germany. He immigrated to the US in 1929 after a falling out with his family and sadly learned after WWII that his family was killed in the Holocaust. I don’t know enough about his journey, but I imagine this had something to do with his religious evolution. 
  • When he arrived in the US, he adopted a “All-One-God” religion and started preaching publicly, using his peppermint castile soap as a giveaway to get people to listen. He realized people were taking his soap and leaving after not listening, so he printed his beliefs on the label – which is where we get the text-filled, stream of consciousness label we have today. 
  • His sister even committed him to the insane asylum, concerned for his antics. He escaped and moved to California and began producing soap. 
  • Over the years, he pursued many activist roles, donating much of the revenue of his longtime nonprofit soap company to various charities and allying with controversial movements such as the Black Panthers. 
  • His grandson is now the CEO of the company and has continued the activist business model getting arrested twice for activities promoting the legalizations of hemp farming. 

The Dr. Bronner company continues its efforts of “constructive capitalism” adhering to the 6 tenets that Dr. Emmanuel Bronner established for himself and the company: 

  1. Work hard! Grow!; 
  2. Do right by customers; 
  3. Treat employees like family; 
  4. Be fair to suppliers; 
  5. Treat the earth like home; 
  6. Give and give!

What does any of this have to do with you, a small business owner? EVERYTHING. Dr. Bronner is a perfect example of a business owner that was absolutely transparent about his beliefs and even went so far as to broadcast them on his products. His company, started in 1948 has survived and thrived now for generations by doing the the following:

  1. Having a good, quality product;
  2. “Walking the talk”;
  3. Saying no to customers that weren’t a good fit (Bronner’s grandson said “no” to a Walmart deal twice due to political differences); 
  4. Never wavering in its integrity and principles over decades of societal change; and,
  5. Articulating its values which connect deeply to its ideal client (despite potential controversy at times).

Under David’s” (current CEO and grandson of Emmanual Bronner) leadership, activism has been Dr. Bronner’s business, and business has been very, very good. So good that rejecting buyout offers is a regular part of being David Bronner. When he became CEO in 1998, Dr. Bronner’s annual revenue was $4 million. In 2018, it was $122.5 million. Of that, $8.4 million went to charitable causes: regenerative organic food and agriculture ($1.3 million), animal welfare ($755,000), criminal justice reform ($500,000), child and youth services ($265,000), and more. Most of Dr. Bronner’s activism has implications for both people and the environment…

…Dr. Bronner’s activism doesn’t just benefit external parties. David and Michael have made their company a model of workplace equality. Employees’ health care is fully covered, and they can receive up to 25 percent of their salary as a bonus. In a country where the median CEO-to-worker pay ratio exceeds 300 to 1, David and Michael make roughly $200,000 a year. They’ve capped their salaries at five times that of their lowest-paid workers, who make a minimum wage of $18.71 an hour in a state, California, where the minimum wage for companies with 26 or more employees is $12 an hour. More than half of Dr. Bronner’s employees are women, and nearly 60 percent are people of color.”

Aside from Dr. Bronner’s immense commercial success and its ability to operate as a certified B Corporation, committed to social and environmental responsibility, the brand has a cult-like following from ordinary household users like myself to A-list celebrities, like Oprah and Lady Gaga who have been photographed using the products. 

If its not clear to you after reading this that a company can be forthright about their controversial beliefs and still be immensely successful, I implore you to look at more examples like: Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, and Nike. 

Or, perhaps you’re thinking, “Sure! That’s easy for an established brand that’s been around since 1948. I can’t do that. I’m just trying to make it through my first 3 years of business, let alone the sh*t show that is 2020!” 

I hear you…BUT…remember, Emmanuel Bronner was German Jew living in Chicago during WWII proselytizing on the streets about radical social and religious thoughts, while hocking soap BEFORE he even started his business. When he did start his business (AFTER being committed to a mental institution for his seemingly-odd behavior), he took those same thoughts and stamped them all over his product and wouldn’t sell to any retailers unless they wanted to hear what he had to say. 

If he can do it under those circumstances, so can you. This year, in particular, has proven an opportunity for individuals and businesses to take a stand on a number of important issues. Now is your chance to truly put yourself out there and be even more clear when communicating to your ideal client, matching your beliefs to theirs. 

What matters to you as a business owner? What have you been quiet about? How can you communicate your values in a way that is relevant to your company and your ideal client? 

Alright, I’ll get off my *soapbox*…for now!


Ashley Metesh-McCoy is a co-founder of KTA Membership and the founder of Kinship Vacations, an independent host agency that helps train and mentor new agents in the industry. She is the also the creator of an independent education program for travel advisors that led her to win the 2019 ASTA Entrepreneur of the Year.  Ashley has been coaching fellow agents for several years now, sharing her expertise in business operations, streamlining successful client care systems, and financial tracking tools.  She lives in Carmel, CA w/ her hunky Army husband that she met while in service in Afghanistan, her two precoscious daughters, and a pack of fur babies. 

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