When former Memphis firefighter Brad Kellum turned 40 four years ago, he decided to make a career change. He and his girlfriend Jennifer Ziemianin began experimenting with different ways to make soap from plant oils in their garage in Bartlett.
“We came up with a recipe that we felt worked really well,” said Kellum. “Our neighbors could smell the soap and liked it, so we started a website and sold it online for a few months before opening our first brick-and-mortar store in Bartlett in December of 2013.”
They opened their second store in Olive Branch in 2015 and completed a rebranding (they were formerly known as The Bartlett Soap Co.) along with a new website.
Since then, Buff City Soap’s expansion has included a new factory location in Bartlett that opened last fall and new stores this year in Tupelo; Castle Rock, Colo.; Birmingham, Ala.; and an upcoming spot in Covington, Tenn.; as well as a pop-up location in Downtown Memphis on North Main Street.
“We’re kind of like a soap bakery. We make soap in the store so customers can see the process and see what’s in it, but even making it in the store we couldn’t keep up with the demand. So we opened the factory to supplement the local stores and for our website sales,” explained Kellum.
The stores carry 33 varieties of soap that are considered staples and are in stock all the time, and they have carried as many as 100 different varieties at various times.
“The one thing we encourage is experimentation in the store within our brand standards,” said Kellum. “We don’t use any animal products or preservatives. All of the soap makers at this point are artists because they are dealing with different colors and smell combinations. It’s almost the same satisfaction that a chef would get.”
The company’s best seller is its Tea Tree with oatmeal, and it also sells a variety of different bath products.
“A big part of our customer base are people who use it because other soap is harsh on them,” said Kellum.
More growth for Buff City is likely on the way, as the company is getting requests for stores in Jackson, Tenn.; Nashville, Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Ocean Springs, Miss.; and more.
Kellum is hoping to turn the Downtown Memphis pop-up location, which will be open until the end of September, into a permanent location. The company also will need to double its 1,700-square-foot factory space in Bartlett by the first of next year in order to expand production.
“We can put out about 10,000 bars of soap per week right now,” said Kellum.
Buff City products can also be found at Miss Cordelia’s Market in Downtown Memphis, Miss Lucille’s Marketplace in Clarksville, Tenn. and Domestic Divas in Tupelo. The company also accepts custom orders.