Outward appearances make create a different impression, but the Vancouver Island Soap Factory is indeed a factory.
A variety of soaps and novelties are sold in the storefront at 2865 Oak St. in Old Town Chemainus, but the extensive manufacturing of soap, face care, body care, hair care products and more under Kogi Naturals Inc. is conducted in the back. Workers’ Compensation Board regulations prohibited us from entering the plant and taking photos, but you can take our word it’s there.
The husband and wife team of Tony and Darlene Newton has operated the thriving business for almost 10 years in Chemainus.
“We manufacture and we ship right across Canada,” said Darlene.
“It’s a lot bigger than people think it is.”
Kogi Naturals products can now be found in about 200 different stores – pharmacies, specialty shops and health good stores, among them.
Tony has always been kind of a jack of all trades, trained as a mining engineer, but putting his expertise to work in a variety of occupations in the oil industry, research and development/drilling, fibre optics and the building of various plants.
The Kogi Naturals brand was created by the Newtons in Calgary to mold itself into the Natural and Organic Bath and Body category. They took possession of the building that formerly housed the Chemainus Health Care Centre’s Thrift Shop in July of 2007 and went back and forth to Calgary for a while before permanently stationing the business here in November of that year.
The reason for their decision to relocate doesn’t require any rocket science.
“The weather, for sure,” said Darlene almost immediately.
“Ninety-nine per cent, the weather,” agreed Tony. “With our home sale, it made no difference where we were.”
“This place just felt so good for us,” Darlene added.
“It’s grown every single year since we started,” she indicated. “Shampoo, conditioner do really well. Our face cream is almost our No. 1 product.”
The global markets of today make it easy to do business from just about anywhere.
Interestingly, the part you see in the front, “this is the smallest part of our business,” noted Darlene.
“Our wholesale is 80 per cent of our business,” added Tony. “We’ve got web sales. This (the store) is probably one per cent.”
The store name differs from the product line for a good reason.
“Darlene and I discussed do we call it Kogi Naturals were nobody knows what we’re talking about or Vancouver Island Soap Factory, a name people could relate to?”
The Kogi Naturals brand represents all natural and organic ingredients combined with colorful elements and vibrant energy.
The process of formulating and testing everything to get it just right is a lot like recipes, Darlene pointed out. Little tweaks have been made along the way.
“It’s taken a lot of years to get to where we are now,” she conceded. “It takes a long time to develop one product. People don’t realize that.”
Darlene points out they’re also very careful about sustainability.
Tony says all the fuss is well worth it, based on the feedback the couple receives.
“It’s very gratifying that email or person who stops you on the streets and says ‘oh, my god, that’s fabulous,’” he said.
“Another thing we’re quite proud of, everyone brings their empty boxes to us because they heard we’ll fill them and ship them off the Island.”
“We use it all and send it out,” added Darlene. “We recycle it all and get it off the Island.”
Customers don’t mind in the least receiving product in the recycled materials. In fact, they think it’s actually a great idea.
The Newtons currently employ two other people and are looking for one more to replace a recent retiree.
As people walk past on the sidewalk, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes at the Vancouver Island Soap Factory with a steady flow of manufacturing five days a week.