by Janet Davies
Enter the words Savon Du Bois into a translator and you get ‘soap of the woods.’ Enter into the shop Savon Du Bois and you get soap and a whole lot more. Anne Du Bois’s body-care boutique opened in Picton in 2019, six years after she opened the original Savon Du Bois in Uxbridge. When her husband took a job in Belleville, she was happy to move to Prince Edward County and delighted to find the perfect location to reopen her store in downtown Picton.
“We moved here from Port Perry, and our County real estate agent pointed me in the direction of The Armoury,” she says. “It was still under renovation, but we could see it was going to be wonderful. When we met the owners, they said they’d just been talking about bringing in a business like mine.”
The owners had a clear vision for the handsome 110-year old building, they wanted a good mix of shops and offices and social spaces and were seeking tenants to complement each other. “They were equally enthusiastic about my products and my plans to serve coffee and tea,” says Anne. The multi-faceted aspect of Savon Du Bois was a great fit, a retail shop to attract tourists and local shoppers plus coffee, tea and refreshments for visitors and people working in The Armoury. “My aesthetic fits in well here, too,” says Anne with pleasure. “Sort of rustic contemporary, welcoming and approachable.”
HOW IT BEGAN – “Our house has always been chemical and fragrance-free,” she says. “When my son was in first grade I met a woman who made soap, and she showed me how to do it. I love to cook and garden and it’s similar to that. Okay, it’s chemistry, but it’s creative, too, and it just clicked. I liked knowing exactly what was in products my family used, and I made things that were nice enough to give as gifts. For a couple of years that’s what I did, used them myself and gave them away,” until a shop in Port Perry encouraged her to go bigger. “They said you brand it and we’ll sell it, and I said I’d give it a year,” says Anne. “Within the year I had three wholesale clients and was running just to keep up.”
As the business grew she stuck to her philosophy that everything must be natural, organic, sustainable and well-sourced. “Quality and integrity are important to me. I want everything to be low waste, recyclable and have minimal environmental impact.” It was difficult at first, dealing with suppliers and sticking to her guns but got easier as awareness and momentum grew to reduce waste. Now Anne is taking her business even further in that direction.
“I want to be like a dispensary for body-care products,” she says. “Already I have customers who bring in mason jars to fill with their favourite herbs or tea or coffee. I want to offer bulk shampoo and conditioner, refills of liquid soap. There is a drive to reduce single-use packaging and I’m on it!
THE CLIENTS – Anne works closely with people who are looking to clean up their lives, whether that’s general body care, cosmetics or cleaning products. She doesn’t do many household products herself, but is interested in stocking good things and may eventually make her own. “People I work with might have had a health scare, or might just be opening their minds to healthier living and want to make a change,” she says. “I am not a medical professional and don’t pretend to be, but I know my products, and I know a lot about conventional cleaning and body-care products. We all go for the familiar unless there’s a reason to change. I want to change the way we think about what we use on and around our bodies.” Savon Du Bois offers hands-on workshops on how to make soaps, bath products, salves and butters and lotions. Anne wants to do more. “It’s fun and educational and there are a lot of local people with different expertise who I’d love to collaborate with.”
ONLINE – WHOLESALE – FACE-TO-FACE – From making batches for family and friends, Anne expanded into wholesale business with big stores including Whole Foods and Nature’s Emporium, Terra20 in Ottawa and lots of smaller stores, too. A natural progression was to sell online. “Even your wholesale customers have to be able to find you online,” she says. She experienced the snowball effect of social media, using Shopify for a while until her business outgrew it. Her original website was rudimentary until she had it rebuilt two years ago. “Now it’s custom and works well for me and for individual orders and wholesale. I believe I have to have all three, online, wholesale and retail to stay in business,” she says. “But for what I do, people really like to see the product, to smell it and feel it and ask questions. There is a strong element of interface and it’s personal. You can’t get that remotely.”
LOCALS AND TOURISTS – Anne relied on local business in Uxbridge, tourists were a much smaller component. It will be different here, but her goal is to be a store with products for everybody. “I sell things people need all the time, tea and coffee and body products.” She says. “I love this space, I hope to grow and I’m listening for what the local community needs. I’ll be open year round. I have a lot of production to do and that means I’m here for anybody who needs me.” Some Uxbridge customers have followed her, making special trips to see her or staying in touch online. “My old and new customers keep asking me to make new things, so my line will keep expanding,” she says.
Anne’s certification is in aroma therapy and she works with herbal medicine. “There are many people in the County doing interesting work in those things, and I am eager to collaborate,” she says. “In Uxbridge I had a network of sources and suppliers, from honey and herbs to fibre artists who made felted soaps. When you collaborate, everybody wins. From the time I opened on Canada Day weekend people have been forthcoming and helpful. Herb growers and beekeepers have come in to introduce themselves, and, yes, a group of fibre artists, too! I am creating a new network.”
As a small, specialty shop, it’s important to Anne to stay local, whether that’s Canada, Ontario or hyper-local County – incorporating local resources and giving credit to local suppliers. “That’s important to the tourist market,” she says candidly. “Visitors want to treat themselves to something made locally and if things are actually made with local materials and produce, that’s even better.”
COMPETITION – She says in Uxbridge a small group of people worked together and supported each other and were not worried about product overlap. “We knew if we worked together we would all win,” she says. “There was a coffee shop a couple of doors away from me, another a block away but we all did well. I didn’t compete with the gift store two doors away. I sent customers there and she did the same for me. My neighbor was a bookstore and I had their books on my shelves.” She’s happy to find that same mentality in The County. “Everybody genuinely wants you to succeed. When I’ve panicked because I can’t find a thermometer, Zest Kitchen Shop has been there for me.”
It was a big leap for Anne to close her Uxbridge store and move to Prince Edward County. She even thought about keeping it open, but “that would have been way too stressful!,” she laughs. “I enjoyed being part of a community, that’s what I want here, and I think we’ll get it. Already I’m building business relationships and friendships, sometimes with the same people. It sounds so cliché but I have a real passion for my work. When I started, I gave it a year and by the end of that year I was very busy. I took a chance. I’ve taken another one coming here. If you’ve got a dream you have to be brave. For some people it’s a dream to just get out of the city.” She firmly believes a lot of the attraction of The County boils down to the quality of life. “Which is why it wouldn’t have worked to keep the shop open in Uxbridge” she laughs. “And spend half my life on the highway!”
For startups or businesses looking to expand or re-locate to The County, you can fill out this Business Inquiry Questionnaire, and the Community Development Department will respond in 48 hours.