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Sometimes, running a business in a rural area can be a labyrinth as one tries to chart a path to success. But for Garden Path Homemade Soap, an online shop ready to go was the path to success during a pandemic. But the folks at Garden Path never let the grass grow under their feet. While the online business thrives, Garden Path Homemade Soap founder and owner Tara MacWhirter is using this quiet time on the property to create a lavender labyrinth.

Online sales booming at Garden Path Homemade Soap during pandemic

While many businesses have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic, booming demand for their all-natural hand-washing products has kept thing busy at Vankleek Hill’s Garden Path Homemade Soap, which has seen a huge jump in business through its online store. It’s a scenario that was unforeseen when the pandemic first began.

“We had all these plans for 2020 and then everything got derailed when the pandemic hit,” recalls Tara MacWhirter, the company’s owner and founder. “(When) the pandemic happened, my goal was just to keep the business alive.”

Then something unexpected came about. As increased demand for handwashing products across the country caused a country-wide shortage, and Garden Path’s normally tranquil online store suddenly began to see a flood of orders coming in.

“(The website) just exploded with online orders,” MacWhirter says – attributing the jump in online demand for Garden Path’s products to a variety of factors. “I think people were starting to look more local and with our pickup option on the porch they could get what they needed without contact. Secondly, more people were going online.”

MacWhirter believes another reason for the boost in sales is because the natural ingredients and formulas used in Garden Path’s products help prevent the dryness and cracking experienced by many people washing their hands more than ever during the pandemic.

“We make homemade soap, which is so much better for your skin and is full of oils,” MacWhirter emphasizes. “So for all these people who are washing and washing their hands that’s a huge difference. People also need lotions and butters (for dry skin). We have all these products and they’re local and good for you.”

The huge spike in online orders came as a surprise because over the seven years Garden Path has been in business MacWhirter had many times tried to boost the company’s online sales, but with little success. As local purchases and visits to the property continued to form the bulk of Garden Path’s business, the company had in recent years opted to focus primarily on site tourism as a way to increase sales growth.

“We originally were trying to get more traffic to our website and we tried all kinds of things, but it just didn’t seem to be helping, so we decided to focus on what was working; which was bringing tourists to the property,” MacWhirter recalls, noting the company’s plans for 2020 included multiple ideas to increase traffic to the property. “But now suddenly people have found us online and our online business has increased exponentially.”

Just because online sales are booming in 2020 does not mean the company has forgotten about its traditional tourism-based business model. With Garden Path’s usually busy location effectively closed to the public, MacWhirter and her husband Scott are busy working on projects which were difficult to accomplish when property was crowded with visitors.

The most ambitious of those is the creation of a beautiful labyrinth right at the main entrance. There, they have planted lavender, which was in past years grown in another section of the property. In addition to its prime location to be viewed by customers entering the property, the spot is ideal for the delicate plant.

“Lavender likes very sandy soil and this section is almost pure sand,” MacWhirter observes, adding that planting in the form of a labyrinth was an idea that popped into her head once the move of the lavender began. “The labyrinth came about because I thought instead of planting in rows it would be nice for people to walk through it.”

Once dried, the hand-picked lavender is used in multiple products sold by Garden Path, such as soap and face scrubs. Known for its soothing effects, the plant is lauded by many as a relaxation tool. It’s one of many natural ingredients grown on the company’s expansive property. Others include Chamomile, Alkanet and Calendula – the latter is famed for its skin-healing properties.

“If we can grow (the ingredients) in Canada, we try to grow it here on the property,” MacWhirter explains. “Obviously we can’t grow things like coconuts or olives, but we do try to grow all the plants that we use.”

Growing the products used is a great deal of work; with tasks such as weeding, picking and hand-drying the material for future use requiring significant labor. However it demonstrates the company’s commitment to the use of natural products.

To view the products they sell, customers can visit Garden Path Soap’s website at www.gardenpathsoap.com. The store can also be reached by phone at 613-678-7298. Customers can have their orders shipped to them or choose to pick them up directly from the porch at Garden Path Homemade Soap’s beautiful property on Pleasant Corner Road.

Reid Masson

Reid Masson is a graduate of Algonquin College's Journalism Program. He has over 20 years of experience as a staff writer and editor for various newspapers across Canada, including The Ottawa Citizen and Brockville Recorder and Times.

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