By CRAIG FREILICH
PARISVHILLE -- The SunFeather Natural Soap Co. has sold its brands and trademarks, but for the time being, production will remain in Parishville, and the deal could lead to a major facility in the Potsdam area.
SunFeather will also be opening a factory outlet at The Carol Lee Shoppe, 69 Market St. in April.
SunFeather owner Sandy Maine has closed the 1551 St. Hwy 72 factory outlet in Parishville to make room for production of private label soaps, so she is pleased there will be a new shop where people can get her products.
After failing to get capital to move into the promising natural products market, Maine accepted an offer from a Utah company, Nutraceutical of Park City, to purchase the natural soap line she has developed over 30 years.
Manufacturers of nutritional supplements sold in health and natural food stores, Nutraceutical “owns about 35 niche-market companies that sell into the natural products market,” Maine said, so they have the resources to market Maine’s products to their established customer base.
“It turned out that a soap line was a priority for them,” Maine said. The company approached her, after speaking with one of her customers about her line of products.
Maine sold the SunFeather brand to them, “and they’re renting my facility to do the production of SunFeather products. They are leasing it for 15 months, with an optional extension of two years. Their ultimate goal is to build an organic and FDA certified production facility to house their body care companies.”
Maine said Nutraceutical told her they would consider the Potsdam area for the new facility, but they were also looking at a Florida location. They will “be considering all factors, including availability of workers, the climate, and things like how friendly New York State is to business.”
“If they build it here, it would provide a lot of jobs,” Maine said.
As for her own enterprise, which began at her kitchen sink in 1979, Maine said it was unfortunate that just at the time when the natural products market seems to be growing – and her customer base of “mom-and-pop gift stores” was declining – she could not persuade lenders to help her penetrate the growing market.
Maine said she felt that if lenders had invested, “I probably wouldn’t have had to sell to a conglomerate.”
Just last December, Nutraceutical announced a multi-million dollar increase in their line of credit.
When the economy soured a couple of years ago, Maine had to cut back production and lay people off, as many of the smaller businesses she served went under – 40 percent of them, Maine said.
At the same time, the market for natural products sold in health-food stores and supplement outlets seemed to be growing despite the economic downturn. Maine says she saw this, and tried to get capital to work with.
While her sense of where the market for her quality soaps was going told her to act on the idea, “I had an impossible time trying to move the company into the natural foods market. That’s where I really had to move while the other market was drying up.
“I tried to raise money in the county, but I was not successful.”
She said she is disappointed that while the county Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Development Agency tried to help, “they were ineffective.”
“It’s not because the company didn’t have potential. It obviously does, or Nutraceutical wouldn’t have bought the brand. The potential is huge.”
Maine said she would like to see a more effective mechanism for investing in “a local business that might not have souped-up financials. When a community doesn’t invest in local business that can grow, this is what happens.”
She made reference to a visit several years ago by economist Michael Shuman, who “spoke on this exact topic – how important it is to invest in local business, make it as strong as possible, to make the best chance to increase local employment.”
Maine said that after a dip in business, “we actually had an upbeat year in 2010, but we still didn’t have the money to move into that market.”
So Nutraceutical has signed Maine on as a consultant, and will keep production where it is for now, “but I’ve lost control of what the future of SunFeather is. If they want to move production, I have no say.
“I tried to talk them into investing in us and distributing our products, but they don’t work that way.”
She has also agreed not to compete with them in the soaps market for two years. “They wanted four years.”
So when the “non-compete” agreement expires in two years, “I’ll take a look at it and see where we stand.”