NEW ALBANY, Miss. (AP) — Magan Bynum literally and figuratively pours everything into her business.
The owner of Magnolia Soap and Bath, Bynum has grown what had been a small segment of her previous business into a multi-store empire that is growing leaps and bounds.
“We started in our nail salons selling scrubs and lotions and it just kind of grew from there,” she said.
The first store opened in New Albany three and half years ago, and stores have opened in Oxford, Jackson and Tupelo. The first franchised store opened in Southaven, and Bynum expects to open several more stores this year.
“All of this started because I wanted a healthier approach for my children than the Johnson & Johnson’s and their things out there.”
Magnolia Soap and Bath has a vast line of products that included soaps, bath bombs, body butter, laundry soap, candles, wax melts, room sprays, lotion bars, beard balm and oil and shave soap.
Everything is made in house, with small “factories” in each store except for the Tupelo location, which is a small spot inside The Mall at Barnes Crossing. Products there come from the New Albany shop, but that logistics issue will soon end: Magnolia Soap is opening location in downtown Tupelo, and it will begin making its product there as well. Look for the store to open early summer.
Bynum takes special pride in ensuring she uses natural ingredients. Everything made in the stores are plant-based.
“We started coming up with recipes and playing around and found things that really worked,” Bynum said. “It’s a great product and people have been really open to it and wanting it.”
Customers can come in at anytime to see one of the employees hand-pouring soaps, hand-molding bath bombs and mixing laundry soap.
“It’s fun, and we really wanted to make it a destination experience,” she said. “We wanted where when people thought about Magnolia they thought about the experience.”
That experience also includes bath bomb parties that customers can throw at the stores. They’re not available at the mall store, but will be once the downtown store opens.
Already with dozens of soaps, Bynum and her team are constantly trying new scents and rolling out new products.
“Anytime we release a product we’ve probably been working on it for at least six months,” she said. “It’s probably changed 10 or 12 times before I roll out to my customers. They expect a certain degree of quality from our products, so we make sure it meets those standards.”
Bynum had to sell her salon business of 10 years a couple of years ago after business at Magnolia Soap took off.
“This got so big I had to sell it,” she said.
The name Magnolia came about with a purpose. Bynum wanted a good connection to Mississippi and with the magnolia being the state flower, it only made sense to incorporate it into the company name.
“We knew we wanted to franchise one day, but we didn’t expect it to happen so fast,” Bynum said. “And with the Magnolia name, you’re always going to bring it back to Mississippi, no matter if you’re in Alabama, or Tennessee or Texas, Arkansas or wherever.”
Keeping on the local route, all the fixtures in the stores are made locally by RAW Furniture in Tupelo. Blackberry Bottom in Walnut makes all the bath bombs bins.
As far as expanding Magnolia’s footprint, Bynum has an aggressive plan, adding another 10 stores this year.
“There were a couple people early on who wanted to open stores who asked if we wanted to franchise but I wasn’t ready,” she said. “I want to make sure everything was solidified before I took that next big step.”
Recently, a handful of potential franchisees approached her again, and this time, she was ready.
“It kind of jumpstarted the process,” she said. “Franchising isn’t something that happens overnight by any means. So we engaged our legal team – and luckily, they’re family, too – and they have a vested interest in being successful. So we got that rolling, and what normally takes about a year took only six months. We’re still getting things worked out, but we opened our first franchised store in Southaven, and another six planned for this year.”
As far as sales go, soaps are clearly the best sellers, with their moisturizing properties that include coconut, palm and shea butter.
“The difference between our soap and commercial soap is that all of the good fats and things aren’t stripped out of it, so it retains a nice smooth feel on the skin,” she said.
The next best-seller is the laundry soap, which is difficult to keep in stock ever since its introduction.
“We go through hundreds of pounds at our stores, and it basically replaces the Gain, Tide or whatever you use now. It cleans, it softens, bleaches, whitens and brightens and it eliminates the dryer sheet, so it’s an all-in-one soap,” she said. The laundry soap can come in any scent and thus custom-made for customers. Vanity, Magnolia, Steel Magnolia and Aquaspa are the most popular scents.
One of the biggest sellers in recent weeks has been hand sanitizer that Magnolia actually rolled out about three weeks before the pandemic hit.
“We had all the ingredients, and luckily we had it on hand, and we had plenty to supply our stores,” Bynum said. “We crushed it – we sold 8,000 to 10,000, and we still have orders out for more containers because we ran out. There are no trigger sprayers left in the U.S. until July or August.”
Even as she had to close the Tupelo and Oxford stores, Bynum found plenty of online buyers and other salons that wanted to sell Magnolia sanitizer. She estimates online sales have quadrupled, and combined with sales to other stores have helped Magnolia as a whole experience overall sales on par if not better than Christmas.
And now with more stores planning to open, additional staff will be joining the company. Bynum now employs 32 people at her stores, which doesn’t include the five who work at the Southaven franchise. Her first-five year plan has exceeded her expectations, and the next five years could be even better.
“I hope, realistically, to have 50 new stores,” she said. “My franchise team has it down where we can open 10-12 stores a year. We’ve got figured out. We’ve got the people in place, we’ve got the teams in place that can knock out a store in two or three days. So I hope to have 50 new stores across the south and then maybe expand, north, east and west. We want stores to be everywhere; we want Magnolia to be a household name.”