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The long road of a local soap company: Nature’s Embrace opens retail shop in Detroit Lakes

The road from independent soap maker to small business startup has been a multi-year journey for Heidi Renney, but her Nature's Embrace Soap Company finally has a storefront on Rossman Avenue in Detroit Lakes.

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Heidi Renney, right, owner of Nature's Embrace Soap Company, helps, Nick Biermeier of Detroit Lakes, during his trip to the store during its opening week on Rossman Avenue in Detroit Lakes. (Dawn Duncan / For the Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Many entrepreneurial ventures have been sparked from unintentional beginnings.

For Frazee native Heidi (Holland) Renney, becoming the founder of her company, Nature’s Embrace Soap Company, which opened its first retail store in early January on Rossman Avenue in Detroit Lakes, was not what she imagined back in 2007 when she and her mother purchased a soy candle-making kit online.

They bought the kit and crafted a few candles, infused essential oils, and when done, had a good amount of oils left over. Renney looked for ways to use the oils in other handcrafted projects and, through an online search, discovered the art of cold-process soap making.

“I had to try it,” she said. “The internet made it sound impossible to do and so the challenge was there. I wanted to master the art of making soap and show that I could do it.”

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Heidi Renney, owner of Nature's Embrace Soap Company, pours soap into a mold. (Dawn Duncan / For the Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Renney purchased Tupperware containers, waxed paper, and commercial-grade coconut oil and went to work, adding essential oils to craft different scents of soaps, which then grew into making bars for friends, family, and a few craft shows. She had an informational page online where products were featured, but e-commerce sites were not yet common and customers had to call in their orders and arrange pickup.

It was then that Renney saw momentum building around her products, and eventually Maplelag Resort was carrying her soaps in their guest rooms.

But like many entrepreneurial stories, life set in and presented some uphill battles. Renney’s marriage broke up and, after going through a divorce, she found herself busy with motherhood and running a daycare business. She eventually remarried and she and husband, Rob Renney, a master planner at BTD Manufacturing in Detroit Lakes, blended their families.

She continued doing daycare until the couple decided together that it was time for a change.

“I needed to work, but it was time to leave daycare," Renney explained. "It wasn’t time to do soap making full-time, so I moved into customer service, where I worked for 10 years."

Busy with raising kids, including being stepmom to Karli, Jared, and Seth, and mom to Lilah and Milo, didn’t allow much free time. Then, in 2016, she had another child, Margo (now 5).

In 2018, Renney began training to be a yoga instructor, which she said was the real turning point as a person and eventually as an entrepreneur.

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“Yoga transformed my entire life,” she said. “I knew I had to get out of customer service and began making decisions that would help me create the life I wanted; to be a stay-at-home mom and have freedom in my schedule.”

After the pandemic hit, everything began to line up when she lost her job and suddenly had more time on her hands than ever before.

“I took quarantine and made something out of it,” she said. “I poured soap, and through doing this over and over, I realized I could make my company happen this time. I had the time and I was ready, mentally and physically.”

When she first started learning soap making, she used lard, animal fats, synthetic colorants and fragrance in her products. However, in her revitalized mission to create soaps that would not only clean the body but spark the senses and create emotional responses, she shifted to a new approach.

Today, all of Nature’s Embrace Soap Company’s products are “clean,” free of phthalates, parabens, sulfates, synthetic colorants, and harmful fragrance and chemicals. Each bar is made from plant-based ingredients, nearly the entire line is vegan (with the exception of a few products that contain honey), and all soaps are made with sustainability and eco-friendliness in mind.

“I make soap that uses plant-based oils, butters, colorants, and essential oils,” Renney said. “I feel confident recommending my products because they are made with quality, safe ingredients.”

She commented that people are drawn to the soaps because of their ingredients, but also because of the 20-plus varieties she offers, each with its own scent, theme and accent. These can include crystals, botanicals, salts, seeds and/or flowers, all aligned with the theme of the soap.

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A window display at Nature's Embrace Soap Company waits to attract customers during opening week of the new storefront in Detroit Lakes. (Dawn Duncan / For the Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Nature’s Embrace Soap Company offers a monthly box set that features three soaps not yet found in regular rotation; typically, one is based on something whimsical, the second is inspired by food, and the third, a season. For January, the three soaps in the set are Muladhara (red and for the root chakra, topped with a black tourmaline stone), Goats and Oats, and Hibernation.

For now, Renney said she is focused on ramping up production after selling out of 3,000 bars over the Christmas season. New ideas and formulas are being crafted and she plans on operating solo, but will grow a team gradually.

“I do look forward to the day that I am just the soap maker, but right now, I love being involved in the operations, too,” she said. “I want to stay hands-on, making each bar from scratch. I love the entire process and being a full-time artist.”

She also hand-polishes each bar of soap before it is ready for sale.

Renney’s path leading up to Nature’s Embrace Soap Company’s current state is one rich with ups and downs and soul searching. She said she is grateful for all of this, as it led her to running a business she's passionate about.

“I could not have done this without my husband, Rob. He supports everything I do, right down to my wild ideas like buying 14 end tables at a thrift store and having him saw them in half so I could paint them black and mount them on a wall in my new store!” she said.

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Heidi Renney, owner of Nature's Embrace Soap Company, smiles during opening week of her new store in Detroit Lakes. (Dawn Duncan / For the Detroit Lakes Tribune)

She also hopes young, aspiring entrepreneurs will follow their own hearts and pursue their own ideas confidently.

“There will always be the opinions and voices of other people trying to steer you, but listen to your own voice and follow your own path to success,” she said.

The store is located at 1208 Rossman Avenue and is open Monday through Friday.

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The new store front of Nature's Embrace Soap Company on Rossman Avenue in Detroit Lakes during the store's opening week. (Dawn Duncan / For the Detroit Lakes Tribune)

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