story by Dee DeJames • photos by Matthew Hrusecky
After 22 years in retail management and just three years shy of retirement, Kent Terpening was let go from his job. Instead of wondering, “What now?,” he shifted gears, cut to the heart of the matter and asked, “What job would make me happy?” Thus was born Kingsley Street Artisan Soaps in its former location in Fayetteville. They are currently available at several other locations, and their main store will be opening in Armory Square in Syracuse May 1.
His solution was inspired by his parents’ upbringing during World War II. They were raised with the concept that you made what you needed, and what you couldn’t make you did without. When Kent was growing up, he learned many practical functions through this philosophy.
The thought of his parents always making their own soap, and how Kent still used that family recipe to make bars for his own home, began to speak to his heart. He knew he was artistic, but could he make a living this way?
Vivid flashbacks of his youth unfolded. College studies in both upstate New York and abroad reminded him of the home where his father grew up on Kingsley Street in Bideford, England, and the days Kent spent with his paternal grandmother there. It was she who taught her soap-making skills to Kent’s late father, a Korean War veteran who had moved as a young man to America.
The concept was worth a shot, so Kent made 20 soap varieties and tabled at a local fire-hall craft show. He’d been trial-formulating some sugar scrubs and lotions at the time, so he brought those along as well. The show was a small success, but a success nonetheless.
By the third show at a local VFW, Kent incorporated the help of now partner Don Gebo. The show bombed. The conclusion? He had a good thing, but there was a missing link. It could be as simple as finding the right venue. At what shows would Kent with his artistic and retail skill, and Don with his practical sense and natural ability toward exposure, be smack dab in their perfect demographic?
The recipe for success
“The soap business is the new jewelry of crafting,” Don shares, as Kent nods wholeheartedly. “Anybody can make soap, but the key is having a brilliant recipe.”
According to Kent, who is a stickler for just the right ingredients, formulators need to know what they are doing, what feels good on the skin, and how their product works with water. Kingsley Street soaps are designed with New York State’s hard water in mind. The glycerin, or moisturizer, is left intact to leave the skin feeling fresh and hydrated, and each bar will keep its fragrance and lather from start to finish. Kent admits he will not skimp on the ingredients in his effort to bestow his consumers with the best possible product. He will use only a cold process method (producing a solid, lasting bar), and has the knowhow to anchor a fragrance.
Reinventing themselves to accommodate the needs of their consumers has been a successful recipe. Never wishing to become stagnant, they are always creating new product – a mantra for Kingsley Street. From bar soap to bubbling bath bombs, sugar scrubs to shower steamers, lip balms to lotions, candles, and even a men’s line of beard and shaving must-haves are but a few of the expanding line.
With a steady undercurrent of consumer trend veering away from corporate and more toward small business, Kingsley Street believes great product plus great value equals return consumers. However, one will quickly see that this venture goes deeper than a refreshing feel and can’t-do-without scent. For Kent, this family recipe is a representation of his heritage. It’s in homage to his father, and a labor of love in remembrance of his grandmother. That’s why the house on Kingsley Street is represented in the company’s logo.
It is this depth of caring that exudes in product and creator alike, a passion that shows in every formula, emanates from every conversation with Kent and Don, and keeps customers anticipating more.
“If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it’s going to show,” Kent avows. “I will always want to have our personality in our business. It is up to me to make the best product I can make to have the public be receptive to it. I want our customers to realize this because we’re no better than they are, and we never thought we were.” His words vibrate with a down-to-earth quality, giving credence to his statement.
Perhaps keeping Kent grounded is the knowledge that he’s never worked so hard for anything ever before, or perhaps it’s his one-on-one with his customers, his manner accepting and open to suggestions and requests. Whatever the reason, the combination of passion and personality, product line and value, is a winning formula for great products created by great folks.
Looking back, does Kent have any regrets? “Only that I didn’t do this sooner. I began this business because I had to make a living, but now I wish I had done it 20 years ago.”
Now that’s a spark not easily quenched.
Kingsley Street Artisan Soaps
Main store is relocationg to Army Square in Syracuse May 1