Deanna Renda, owner of Naples Soap Company / Jack Hardman/news-press.com
» Age: 44
» Birthplace: Miami
» Current residence: Naples
» Education: Local public schools, 1987 Cypress Lake High School graduate. Earned licensed practical nurse certification in 1991 from Edison State College; bachelor of liberal studies in psychology from Barry University in 2006.
» Career: Licensed practical nurse, medical sales, founder of Naples Soap Company » Family: Husband Patrick; son Jared, 21, graduating from Colgate University with a political science degree; daughter Kelsey, 19, a biomedical engineering major at Washington University in St. Louis; and stepdaughter, Alexandra, 10, fifth grade
» Personal interests: Travel, vintage clothing, vintage photography, classic films, historical biographies, jazz, live music
Four years ago, Deanna Renda was a single mother of two who loathed her high-paying, though unfulfilling, career. Today, she’s on top of the world at Naples Soap Company, which has expanded globally since she opened her first 300-square-foot shop at Tin City in Naples.
The local girl-next-door is the driving force behind her own burgeoning empire with revenues that double each year. The original shop has grown into six regional retail stores stretching from Key West to tony St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota; her products — all made in Florida — are carried in seven high-end stores in Tokyo and are sold to wholesale buyers and online customers.
With an emphasis on all-natural ingredients, hand-cut soaps and effervescent bath bombs have made room for other skin care creations, such as hydrating facials, hair conditioners, body butters, salt scrubs and soap-infused loofahs.
“The business has a life of its own — its own heart and pulse — and the product has developed its own cult following,” she says. “I am trying to keep up with consumer demand.”
This heavenly-scented success story was an authentic outgrowth of Deanna’s personal experience of suffering from outbreaks of eczema and psoriasis and her tireless pursuit in seeking effective treatments—pricey pharmaceuticals and off-the-shelf elixirs that consistently proved impotent.
At a certain point, Deanna had a bathroom full of ointments that were supposed to ease these itchy, painful skin conditions. Daughter Kelsey also had eczema.
“We tried everything and nothing worked on a long-term basis, and I started to look at what was in them,” Deanna recalls. She discovered that many ingredients purporting to alleviate skin problems often exacerbate them, as do many common commercial shampoos, bubble baths and bar soaps.
A former licensed practical nurse, she personally develops and tests each product before approving it, a process that can take several months. Calling herself a “research rat,” she conducts intensive research on each ingredient before collaborating with a lab for production.
“I start with what I don’t want, then what I do want,” says Deanna, 44. “It’s like a personal Willy Wonka lab.”
Based on her research and skin care philosophy, the company’s products are free of parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, and the biggest offender: the ubiquitous lathering agent called sodium laurel sulfate. Hers contain plant-based preservatives, coconut, red raspberry, jojoba and olive oils, essential oils, vitamins, fruit extracts and the like.
Deanna doesn’t dispense dermatological diagnoses but frequently offers this advice: Stop using harsh shower products (she calls “chemical soup”). She easily recounts stories of parents who can’t figure out what’s causing their children’s rashes, and seniors looking for deep-penetrating emollients.
“I have stacks of emails from customers telling me that nothing worked, then they used our product for four or five days and it cleared up,” she says, adding that positive testimonials are her best reward.
Consumers get Deanna’s personal guarantee that each product will do what it was designed to do, with no adverse reactions. Her retail staffers are willing testers, too.
Deanna has created custom spa products for local resorts, including the Ritz-Carlton Naples. On the wholesale side, boutiques relabel Naples Soap products, such as Naples Botanical Garden.
A Miami transplant, Deanna’s family moved to Bonita Springs when she was 10 years old. As an LPN, she gained firsthand experience with patients young and old and their skin conditions, ranging from dermatitis to bed sores. When her children were in middle school, Deanna earned a degree in psychology, which she says has been useful in the business world.
Following her 2008 divorce, Deanna went into medical sales, which fed her bank account but not her soul. She wanted to reinvent herself and had some money to invest. A jewelry-maker friend suggested Deanna open a store next to hers at Tin City. But she wasn’t sure what type of business to start. Another friend pointed out that Deanna’s bathroom was stocked with high-priced hygiene products, and that’s when she realized her passion for beneficial skin care products.
“I am my own customer,” she says. “I enjoy luxury products for my face and body, and my goal is to create something that works and is affordable.”
Despite a sputtering economy, customers wrapped into the hallways at Tin City within three months of opening in 2009, so she expanded — and hasn’t stopped. “We’ve had tons of challenges,” she says. “And we flew in the face of a bad economy.”
Says Sally Church, her friend of 20 years, “Deanna is one of the most creative individuals, but also one of the most persistent. She ‘keeps on keeping on.’ I’m incredibly proud of her. I knew her when she was a full-time mom. She not only raised two beautiful, talented children, she taught them incredible values.”
At a 2011 event, Deanna fell in love with advertising and financial consultant Patrick Renda, a single father. The couple married on St. Patrick’s Day 2012 and he became the company’s COO.
Nothing is likely to burst her bubble as Deanna continues looking ahead.
“We still consider ourselves a start-up,” she says. “My foot is still on the accelerator — all the way to the floorboard.”