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Exploring Life & Business with Matt Bramlette

Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Bramlette.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
My professional background is in graphic design/advertising. My last job before starting a business was at an advertising agency in Kansas City, Mo. I wanted a new career direction and rather than just searching typical jobs, I made a list of things I liked to do that weren’t specifically job related. Long story short, I landed on opening a retail shop that focused on small independent brands. My goal was to stay in a creative field and work with other people that enjoyed what they did. I have always liked to support small/independent businesses and this was a way for me to help others with their dreams of making a living off their creativity. Mid Coast Modern opened in 2015. Soon after, a second business was formed: Bear Soap Company, which is co-formed with my husband Rick Leavitt. We really didn’t have any grand plans for Bear Soap other than just something else to sell at Mid Coast but after doing a lot of local craft shows, we ventured into other cities to do some events. Things just organically grew and fast forward four years, we needed more space to make the products [which were being made in a small room in the back of Mid Coast Modern].

In 2019, we opened a second shop call Soap Bar and brought the bath/body category [Bear Soap products] out of Mid Coast. We designed the layout to have a larger workspace in back that could also double as a space for classes.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The first location for Mid Coast Modern turned out not to be ideal for retail/foot traffic. It was a learning experience and the silver lining was it gave me more free time to learn how to run a business. I basically set everything up from scratch with zero previous experience in retail or starting a business. It was a challenge at times. The first year of most new businesses is usually a struggle and there were the doubts of whether it was a bad idea as I sat through days of maybe one sale. But, I had no backup plan so felt determined to make it work somehow and with a bit of patience, luck and persistence, it’s become successful and having a second shop just seems wild at times. Living in the same city most of my life gave me an advantage of having connections. And I lucked out with a good amount of media attention along the way.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
Mid Coast Modern is a retail gift shop specializing in modern handmade and indie brand goods. About half our stock is made locally. We chose not to focus exclusively on local because we wanted the flexibility to curate a unique selection. Part of the fun is the curating and it’s rewarding when you see customers excited to find something unique. Over the years, we have grown into a go-to for many customers that need a quick gift or personal treat.

Bear Soap Company is our bath and body brand. We currently make nine different products including body soaps, solid shampoo bars, shower steamers, beard products, bath bombs and solid cologne. Though our products are mostly unisex, we do focus visually on mostly middle-aged men in our ads. It’s something we found missing from mainstream brands and it sets us apart visually. It also represents us as the owners.

Soap Bar is an extension of Bear Soap Company. It’s our retail flagship where we produce all our products. The shop also carries a number of independent skincare brands that feature non-toxic ingredients and sustainable packaging when possible. We recently set up a small liquid soap refill station as well with a goal is to promote reuse of plastic containers instead of getting a new bottle each time. What sets Soap Bar apart from other similar shops is we actually make products in-house and take customers on a tour of our workspace. The behind-the-scenes is a fun customer experience. We also offer bath bomb classes.

A new service we’ve started to offer is custom /private label products. We’ve done soaps for weddings, hotels, bath bombs for employee appreciation corporate gifts, private labels for other shops, etc.

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
At Mid Coast, we accept product submission for consideration via email. There are a number of factors we consider when choosing brands. Same goes with Soap Bar. As far as Bear Soap, we offer private label and event gift collaborations. If you have a wedding or some other event that you’d like to include a soap, bath bomb or shower steamer, we can make those and leave our labels off if you want to custom brand.

The best way for people to support and follow our brands is through Instagram. Our handles are @midcoastkc @soapbarkc @bearsoapco

And of course, you can visit our two shops in Westport or shop any of the three brands on our websites.

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