Maker Series: Sam Friedman of Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve

It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We began The Maker Series to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do.

Growing a company is a challenge, particularly when it comes to staffing small businesses. Trust is always an issue when hiring-on employees who may or may not step-up to the unique challenges of working in the environment of a small business. So why not work with those you know best... family. Primarily a family-run business, Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve was started by a woman looking for ways to heal members of her own household, and has grown into it's current state over the course of less than two decades! For more insight into how Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve has cultivated their small, family-run business into a national brand, read on!

Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Sam Friedman: My mother, Ida, had been a Nurse for 10 years with a degree from Case Nursing School and then after getting her Masters Degree in Biology, taught Biology, Chemistry and Physics for 15 years. Ida's husband, my Step-father Howard, had very bad Eczema on his arms, hands and elbows.  After her came home for the um-teenth time with an expensive prescription for a steroid creme, her years of nursing and science training led her to know there was a much better way.
She set about developing a few purely natural and small-batch made products and was able to finally bring him relief after many years. That was 2003. 13 years later, we now have over 325 different USDA Organic Certified Bath, Body & Hair care items!

CF: Why do you love what you do?
SF: Our customers.  We are only here to serve our customers. They let us know how much we help improve their and their families lives and it means the world to us. The great ways in which we help people are what keep us going every day to strive and be even better and do even more!

CF: Why does Cleveland need a business like this?
SF: A business like ours is great for Cleveland for 3 main reasons, I believe. First is that the world works best when we shrink our commerce radius and are able to purchase our goods from sustainable local businesses. A great metropolitan and suburban city like Cleveland needs a great local source for healthy body care! Secondly, for a city to reflect well, it needs to have some native born sons and daughters making a splash throughout the globe, but making a point to not be a brain-drain on the region.  We have been able to grow a successful brand around the country and globe, helping to put our area on the map in the world of Body Care, and have made a strong point to remain here, live here, manufacture and hire here and keep our strength and support in the Cleveland area.
Finally, I am a particularly strong advocate for what I call "Local Symbiosis".  It's a fancy name for the simple idea of small local businesses working together to provide for each other and in the end, both benefit immensely. We work with so many fantastic local companies, from small family brands like the Stutzman Amish Farm where we source Oats and grains, to Mid-level urban companies like Rising Star Coffee, who bring in USDA Organic Certified beans or even Great Lakes Brewing Company, who together with companies like us, helps to create sustainable closed production loops where little to no waste is created. We can use expired beer that would otherwise have to be disposed of to make our beer soaps and beer shampoos and help be part of the CLE sustainability stream! 

CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
SF: People in Cleveland tend to be the "roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-it-done" type and I find that to be a really great mix of an entrepreneurial and industrial mindset. It's the historical combination of those things here int he Great Lakes region that has always made cities like Cleveland great for new business and growth in times of general prosperity. Now is one of those times and so there are a lot of opportunities to network, incubate and market worthy new ideas and businesses. 

CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
SF: Having the ability to direct the brand you work with is very important for people truly invested in what they do.  I don't think I could ever be very successful working in a company where the ethos, product, message and purpose were not my own.  That's why it's so easy to be behind what we do 110% every day!

CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
SF: I'd say the 2 biggest struggles would be that firstly, every decision made has such a ripple effect toward the end success of your business. When the decisions, good and bad, are on you, it's very stressful wondering if you've made the right call, the right purchase, the right move or change.  Secondly, that although you could take any day off you ever feel like, and who is going to stop you, "days off" really have no meaning and don't exist. Any day you aren't working on your business is progress, momentum and money lost and the work you put of for that "vacation" is right there when you return, in force ;-)

CF: What are your goals for the business this year?
SF: To see a Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve product in the bath, shower, medicine cabinet or sink of EVERY home in the world.   ;-)

CF: Did you see yourself growing up to be a creative vendor?
SF: Never.  This business happened very accidentally and naturally around the awesome products that Ida first created. Selling things was never in mind. 

CF: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
SF: When the first few emails came in from people practically in tears that we have changed there life for the better in some way. We knew then that what we were doing was bigger than us and important enough to continue.

CF: Who inspires you?
SF: Personally, I am inspired every day by Ida, my Mother and mentor. If you ask her what inspires her, she'd give you a long-winded answer about helping people and the power of nature and all... but really, some people are just inspired. And she is very inspiring.  

CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
SF: The Cleveland Flea has been very important for us as a company and did exactly what I thought it would, when we decided to participate. Being an online business, we are in everyone's neighborhood across the globe, but it's very hard to have local recognition if you don't participate in local events and markets. When our company first began in 2003-2007, we did sell at Farmer's Markets. This was before they were all around town and we have a very small local following. As we grew online, our local presence disappeared and it was sad the day we realized more people in California or The Netherlands knew who we were than here in Cleveland. And so when I looked for the best ways to get back in touch with our local community, I thought the Cleveland Flea would be a great way to do that. I was totally right, and after just a year and half of participating in Flea events along with just a couple other things, we now have a great local following and presence!  Thanks, Flea!

CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
SF: People don't buy 'what' you do... they buy WHY you do it!!

CF: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
SF: We only have 10 people that work here and 5 of us are immediate family and most of the others are friends going back 10-20+ years

CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
SF: I would only hope to hear that we make fantastic and effective products and that we treat our customers extremely well. 

CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
SF: I ABSOLUTELY LOVE "Grey Cardigan"!!  What a fantastic universe in that guys head....