Selling Comfort

Patti Wandover’s Marblehead Soap Co. began as a mission to heal herself — and grew into a shop so successful that it just doubled its size in a brand-new building. 

As a child, Patti Wandover was always uncomfortable in her own skin. 

That’s because, she says, her skin produces very little oil, leaving her constantly itchy, flaky and dry. 

“I don’t have the oil that normal people do,” she says. “My parents would lather me with Crisco. And Crisco is disgusting.”

Wandover, who grew up on a farm in Brimfield, Ohio, noticed that she felt better after milking the family goats and applying a product called Bag Balm to their chafed udders. “My hands were amazing,” she says. 

That’s when she realized she wasn’t destined to be Crisco-coated forever. She began experimenting with lanolin, coconut oil and other ingredients in a quest to make products that worked for her sensitive skin.

Fast-forward a couple of decades — and a lot of experimenting in her kitchen — and she had not only found the right combination of ingredients for her skin, she was ready to sell them to others. She opened her store in 2016 and watched business steadily grow. 

Now, after five years in business, her Marblehead Soap Co. is moving into a brand-new building in downtown Marblehead, Ohio. (The grand opening celebration begins at noon July 2 and will feature a band, food truck and other festivities.)

At 1,600 square feet, the store offers Wandover twice as much space to display all the lotions and soaps she makes, as well as a select assortment of items from other vendors, including blown glass imported from Poland. She likes that she can be whipping up products in the workspace at the back of the store at the same time she chats with customers. 

“It makes a big difference,” she says. “I’m making product 30 hours a week. It’s nice to be able to talk to people.”

Wandover has developed a huge following of people looking for more natural products and — while she shies away from making any kind of medical claims — her customers appreciate the simplicity of her formulas.

“There’s nothing in the stuff besides good stuff,” Wandover says. “[My products] are feeding the skin, not coating it. There’s a big difference.”

Wandover tears up for a minute when discussing some of her most appreciative customers — those battling cancer. Her own mother passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2019 and, during her treatment, she found that the lotion she used burned her skin. When she switched to Wandover’s Hand & Body Balm (see sidebar) her skin was soothed. 

“Hospice nurses started going, ‘There’s something to this. Can we buy this?’” Wandover says. “That was a validation for me. When you’re going through radiation or chemo, anything with a fragrance … there’s so many interactions you could have.”

But it’s not just the product she’s selling. It’s the whole Marblehead area and lifestyle. Many of Wandover’s products are named for local places and traditions (like the Walleye Wash and Lake Erie Beach Glass bar soaps). 

“We sell comfort from home,” she says. “It’s all just grown into something crazy.”

Fan Favorites
Marblehead Soap Co. owner Patti Wandover says these six products are the hardest to keep stocked on her shelves. 

• Hand & Body Balm ($9.95). This unscented balm is made with coconut oil, olive oil and shea butter. Wandover estimates she makes about 100 gallons of balm a year — and ships it all over the country.

• Bar Soap ($4.50). Each year, Wandover sells over 19,000 slices of soap (made with either goat’s milk or glycerin) in more than a dozen different locally themed scents, including “Sunset on Marblehead,” “Put-in-Bay Sunrise” and “Lakeside Love.” As a mother of three now-grown boys, she also came up with a few fun scents designed to encourage soap use, including “Chunky Monkey Farts” and “Mayfly Madness.”

• Mature Face Toner ($6.95). Wandover says this product — made with rose water and organic white willow bark — has become a cult favorite in her shop. “Your skin just goes ahhhhh.” 

• Shower Steamers ($1.95). These are snapped up so fast that Wandover has had to get a bit tricky. “We hide them,” she says, pointing to a half-concealed shelf in a corner of the shop. “Or one person will come in and buy them all.” Available in scents like lavender, lemongrass and peppermint, these single-use aromatherapy discs are designed for the shower floor and activated by water. 

• Pure Lake Erie Raw Honey ($14). Wandover’s father is a beekeeper — and she’s followed suit, tending 11 hives at her 9-acre farm, where she also grows apples, peaches, blueberries, lavender and more. “All sorts of good stuff,” she says.  

• Hand-Blown Glass (ranges in price). All of Wandover’s decorative glass comes from a town in southern Poland. She hangs smaller orbs in a window to reflect light, while larger pieces can serve as a centerpiece or garden art.