Sue Kerber first began making hemp-based lotions for her son Zak–now a partner in RAD Soap along with his brother Max–when Zak was a young child. He suffered from eczema and Sue could not find anything else to soothe his skin. Years later, when her family was going through a financial crisis, she decided to turn her avocation into a business and began making natural soaps to sell at farmers’ markets. The products were so popular that a buyer from Whole Foods noticed the crowd in front of the company’s booth at the Troy Farmers’ Market and had to check it out. RAD Soap products are now available at 28 Whole Food locations. This relationship forced the company out of the family’s Cohoes basement and garage and into a 4,000 square-foot building in Albany.
Today, RAD occupies a 15,000 square foot building in Menands. It operates a store in Stuyvesant Plaza and sells through more than 200 retailers nationwide. Its products have been featured in national magazines and the company did a promotional tie-in with Universal Studio’s blockbuster Jurassic World.
The main issue RAD has faced is keeping up with the growing demand for its products. Because its soap-making process is different from anyone else’s, scaling was not easy. For a long time, it used about 100 stainless steel “soup pots”, which had to be filled and prepped one by one. The process was slow and laborious, limiting the company to about 1,000 bars of soap a week. The manpower needed to produce each batch made it difficult for the company to invest in expanding its product line.
The company also has been limited in its ability to purchase hemp from New York farmers, since this means shipping the crop to its processor in Colorado–a difficult and expensive proposition.