Updated: Wed, 08/21/2013 - 00:09

BiS profile: Savannah Soaps and owner Peter Patel

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Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News Peter Patel, owner of Savannah Soaps.  Savannah Morning News
Savannah Morning News
Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News Peter Patel, owner of Savannah Soaps.
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Peter Patel

title

Vice president of sales and owner

company

Savannah Soaps

age

53

his journey

“After the end of World War II, my dad, at the age of 19, moved from India to Livingston, Zambia, where the British were looking for farmers. I was born there and went to college and university in England.

“When I returned to Africa, the opportunity for jobs was not great. I had a degree in chemistry but worked in one of my parents’ gas stations as a mechanic.

“I took trips to England, Canada and America looking for opportunities. I stayed in Calgary a couple of months with a relative and then with a friend in California.”

last stop, Savannah

“My sister’s brother-in-law had a dry cleaning business that brought me to Jacksonville. Later, I found a job on Tybee Island managing a condominium complex. I managed that business for about nine years and then decided to start a soap company in Savannah in 1989.”

family

Wife, Nanda and two sons Kush, 23, and Shiv, 20, both students at UGA.

“Both of my parents are still alive and travel between Zambia, Calgary and Jacksonville.”

education

A degree in chemistry from Leicester College in England.

getting started

“We wanted to manufacture hotel soaps. There are only about four companies in America making hotel soaps. We (with two partners) researched this for about two years, got an agent in Chicago, and ordered the machinery from Italy. It took a year-and-a-half to get started. I was in charge of marketing.”

Both partners have subsequently retired.

why he does it

“I always wanted to work in manufacturing. All of my friends did pretty well in manufacturing. I had the mechanical background from working in gas stations, and I could fix machines.”

his biggest challenges

“Competing with China and India. There are ways they can be dealt with because most people want American-made products. Imported soaps have a bit of a disadvantage with shipping and delay. We have a two-week turnaround time with our customers.

“Also, all of the companies that used to make soap, like Procter and Gamble and Lever Brothers, have stopped making hotel soaps.”

building the brand

“We sell to 50 or 60 wholesalers who sell to individual hotels. Our products are also used in hospitals, prisons, cruise lines, casinos, condominiums, bed and breakfasts and all kinds of enterprises. We do specialty soaps for dollar stores.

“We custom wrap for customers like St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah and the Pullman Company for use on trains.

“We also branched out into shampoos, lotions and dish detergent as well. Savannah Soaps is a one-stop shop.

“We ship all over the country, but we concentrate on the Southeast because of the cost of freight. We ship to markets in Canada as well.”

what he likes most about his work

“Things are always changing in the market so you don’t get lazy or bored. For instance, the packaging is always changing. You have to stay on your toes.”

how many employees

“We have five employees. When we get really busy, we’ll have 10. The machinery is high speed, and we can turn out 300 bars of soap a minute. Bottles are done at about 90 a minute. We have two soap lines and a liquid line.”

growth in a sluggish economy

“We have been very fortunate. At first we slowed down and now we are speeding up. Our edge is that we provide a less expensive product.”

the most important lesson he has learned in business

“You have to be fair with the customer.”

advice to young entrepreneurs

“I tell the young kids there are plenty of ways to make a good living in this country. Just come up with a good idea and stick with it.”

expanding the operation

Savannah Soaps currently operates out of two buildings with a combined 23,000 square feet. Later this year, they will move into a 65,000-square-foot facility on Stiles Avenue formerly occupied by Sysco Food Services.

contact

Phone: 912-234-7766

Email: mintsoaps@aol.com.

Website: www.savannahsoaps.com

Location: 3504 Edwin St.

Compiled by Barry Ostrow

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