February 9, 2007

Colgate

And the man behind the brand is...
William Colgate

When William Colgate went into business he had the toughest competitor of all - his own customers. Colgate set out to sell soap at a time when 75% of all American soap was made at home. One day was set aside in a housewife’s week to make soap from accumulated cooking fats. Colgate had to convince American women that not only was his soap cheaper and better but they weren't bad housewives if they didn't brew their own soap.

Colgate's father Robert had arrived in America in 1800 to take title of a farm and began to manufacture soap and candles. 19-year old William tried his own hand at making soap in Baltimore in 1802 but his business survived only a year.

Colgate resurfaced in New York in 1806, opening the doors to William Colgate & Company at 6 Dutch Street. He arrived at 7 a.m. and waited anxiously for customers. Finally around noon an elderly gentleman walked in and, after critically eyeing the new soap for what seemed like an eternity, bought a two-pound bar. Colgate had his first sale.

Colgate asked his customer where the soap could be delivered. It was an unheard of practice at the time to deliver bars of soap but Colgate had decided it would be his policy. He closed shop an hour early, made the delivery, and won a customer for life.

In the early days Colgate was soap-maker, buyer, salesman, bookkeeper and delivery boy. He knew his biggest weapon in selling soap would be fragrance. Home-made soap smelled awful and he thought if he could develop a scented soap pleasing to the senses he could win over the housewives.

It worked. Housewives began making excuses why they couldn't make their own soap and had to buy Colgate's. "Just tell your family you didn't have the ingredients this week," Colgate would smile. His business prospered.

In 1847 Colgate built a pan for boiling soap that held 45,000 pounds in a single batch - a world record. His business associates scoffed; they said he could never generate enough orders to keep such an enormous pan operating. Two years later Colgate had to move to even larger quarters across the river in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Colgate set aside a goodly portion of his income for religious benefactions and fathered 11 children. In 1857, after William's death, the company passed to his sons. They introduced the huge-selling Cashmere Bouquet Soap in 1872 and in 1877 introduced the world's most famous dental product, Colgate Tooth Paste, which sold in jars. In 1908 five Colgate brothers turned what had been a family business for 102 years into a public company, becoming what would be Colgate-Palmolive in 1926.

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