Fifty Shades of Grey became 50 shades of blush for an Arlington woman who made a bad business deal. Jenny Pedroza helped introduce the masses to one of the hottest sellers in the history of books. Now she’s embarrassed that she wound up with almost none of the money after being “outmaneuvered” by a former business partner.
“You live and you learn,” Pedroza said. “Don’t just take a handshake.”
Like the old saying goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemon-scented all-natural soap.
Beebe welcomed Fort Worth Weekly into that sudsy empire for a tour, which didn’t take long. Her contemporary brick house blends in with those of her neighbors in this neat middle-class enclave just short of the Mansfield city line. She and Pedroza mix, heat, and stir the soap ingredients in a big pot in Beebe’s kitchen. Pedroza is blonde and outgoing. Beebe is younger and perhaps a bit quieter, but just as quick to laugh as her friend.
(A third partner, Kera Eason, helped establish the company but she still works full time as a teacher and isn’t as involved in the day-to-day business of producing and selling soap.)
Beebe and Pedroza pour the mix into a box lined with wax paper and chill it in a refrigerator for 24 hours. After it hardens, they cut the block into smaller bars and place them on the aforementioned shelf to cure for four to six weeks. They say their soap is free of detergents and preservatives, lathers more than most, lasts a long time, and smells great. Varieties include tangerine, peppermint, almond cookie, champagne, beer(!), and even a fragrance-free variety that’s marketed to hunters.
Afterward, they hand-wrap the bars (the ones for hunters are wrapped in camouflage) and sell them for $5.99 each at Canton Trade Days and other trade shows. They’re not earning nearly as much as they were at the publishing company or teaching in public school. But they’ve seen their soap sales improve over the past year, and they hope to see continued increases in orders in 2014. (And both have supportive significant others with jobs.)
For now, they don’t make many batches of soap at one time — their customer base is relatively small, and the soap bars have a limited shelf life.
“That’s the downside of going the natural route — no preservatives,” Beebe said.
The good side of being organic is that the soap contains no chemicals. Beebe’s young daughter, Maya, provided the motivation for creating the soap company. About a year ago she began showing signs of the chronic skin condition eczema, marked by dry, itchy rashes. Beebe took her to a doctor who prescribed a hydrocortisone lotion that contained alcohol, preservatives, and various ingredients with strange names.
“They wanted me to put chemicals on it to fix it,” she said. “It seemed counterintuitive.”
Beebe is big on organic foods, so she looked for another way to treat her child’s condition. Online she read how some eczema sufferers had found relief using natural soaps. But the soap wasn’t cheap. Beebe, who describes herself as an “I can do it better” kind of person, set out to make her own. This occurred just before the legal wrangling began with the Writer’s Coffee Shop.
“We had experimented a little bit with making soap before we knew our jobs were in jeopardy,” Beebe said. “Once we found out we were no longer employed, we started trying to figure out what we were going to do with ourselves. We had this soap lying around that everybody loved, and we thought, ‘Let’s see what we can make happen here.’ ”
The two had worked side by side for 10 years as third-grade team teachers in the Mansfield school district before leaving in 2011 to focus on the rapidly growing publishing business, including the Fifty Shades explosion.
“It was a surreal time,” Pedroza said, recalling how she handled calls from The New York Times, Good Morning America, Ellen DeGeneres, the Today show, and other news media trying to track down the hottest author around. The reporters and producers didn’t know that the marketing executive handling calls for the year’s fastest-selling book was also wiping third-graders’ noses and teaching them basic math and spelling.