|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • ROBERT R. TAYLOR U 1935 — 2013

    Softsoap entrepreneur changed the way we wash up

  • LOS ANGELES — With one stroke, entrepreneur Robert R. Taylor made a fortune, changed the way America washed up, and doomed the bathroom soap dish to virtual obsolescence.
    • email print
  • LOS ANGELES — With one stroke, entrepreneur Robert R. Taylor made a fortune, changed the way America washed up, and doomed the bathroom soap dish to virtual obsolescence.
    It was Taylor who turned hand soap from a slippery lump to a dab from a pump. Taylor, who created Softsoap, the first mass-marketed liquid soap pumped from a plastic bottle, died of cancer Aug. 29 in Newport Beach, Calif., family members said. He was 77.
    Softsoap was one of his many successful ventures, which included Obsession, a fragrance he developed with Calvin Klein and promoted in steamy ads that stimulated both sales and controversy.
    But it was Taylor's famously bold gamble on Softsoap that still is the stuff of business school case studies. The problem, as he saw it, was that larger competitors would quickly copy his idea and sweep Softsoap off the shelves.
    In 1980, the small Minnesota company he founded, Minnetonka Corp., introduced his new soap line with a $7 million ad campaign. By comparison, the yearly ad budget for Dial, the biggest soap of the day, was $8.5 million.
    While the ad blitz drew consumers, "the threat of imitation was real," wrote business professors Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff in their 1997 book "Co-Opetition."
    "Softsoap was hardly a patentable invention," they noted. "Pumps had been around since Archimedes."
    In what the authors called a "bet-the-company move," Taylor secretly ordered 100 million of the little plastic pumps that were at the time used to dispense various lotions.
    That tied up a full year's production of the pumps' only manufacturers, giving Taylor time to establish his brand without rivals. In 1987, a few years after the soap giants caught up, he sold Softsoap to Colgate-Palmolive for $61 million.
    "The best way for an entrepreneur to compete in today's marketplace," he told The New York Times, "is to avoid competition — or at least find ways to circumvent it."
    Born in Baltimore on Sept. 1, 1935, Robert Ridgely Taylor grew up in Cincinnati and displayed a flair for business early in life. As a boy, he sold a homing pigeon to a pet store several times, family members said. After graduating from Miami University in Ohio and receiving an MBA from Stanford in 1959, he worked for Johnson & Johnson before starting his own business with a $3,000 investment in 1963.
    Run at first from Taylor's Minnesota home, Village Bath Products made hand-rolled soap balls marketed in homey glass jars and baskets. There also were fruit-scented shampoos, cocoa-butter soap designed to look like candy bars, body "paints" for kids taking baths, and hundreds of other upscale variations on the workaday soap cake. "My dad and I did all different kinds of formulations in the kitchen night after night," said Taylor's daughter, Lori Lawrence.
    In addition to Lawrence, Taylor is survived by his wife, Mary Kay Taylor; daughter, Karen Brandvold; and six grandchildren.
    A son, David Taylor, died in a 1984 avalanche in Utah.
Reader Reaction

      calendar