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Winter 2011 Soap that Looks Good Enough to Eat

Art of Soap brings a delicious-looking traditional Turkish product to the U.S.

Under the brand name Art of Soap, Maye LLC sells fruit baskets, but they’re not filled with fruits one can eat. Instead, the company’s 90 colorful products—which closely resemble watermelon slices, bananas, kiwis and other fruits—are soaps that only look good enough to eat.

Based in McLean, VA, Maye LLC was launched in May by Mustafa Esenkal, Ali Bahadir Yesil and M. Tolga Yalgin, as the U.S. distribution arm of a well-established fruit soap company based in Istanbul, Turkey. While the U.S. venture is new, the concept of fruit soaps has been around in Turkey for hundreds of years. The decorative soaps were given as gifts to leaders of the Ottoman Empire and their families, and to visiting foreign dignitaries.

For a period of three years, beginning in 2003, Esenkal and Yesil worked with several specialty retail concepts in Virginia and other states. These concepts included sunglasses, scooters and other toys. Late in 2006, they saw a need in the specialty retail marketplace in their native Turkey and returned there to open kiosks and restaurants. While there they realized that Turkey had something to offer the United States. Early this year, they began working with Yalgin to introduce Turkey’s traditional soaps to the United States and the rest of the world.

Cart operations

Maye LLC currently has eight retailers located in New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland. The Turkish company that manufactures the soap also operates carts in several countries. In addition to selling the product wholesale, Maye LLC operates its own cart in the Tysons Corner Center, a large mall located in McLean.

The soaps are handcrafted with natural ingredients in Turkey. To create the lifelike pieces, the soap is mixed with musk, fragrance and rose water and is shaped and dyed to resemble peaches, apples, grapes or other fruits. According to Yalgin, in addition to offering a high-quality product, the company sets itself apart by virtue of its large production capacity.

Turnkey package

The retail prices for the soaps range from $3.25 to $11.99. Yalgin points out that customers prefer buying multiple soaps packaged attractively in a basket as opposed to individual purchases. “This increases the average amount of the sale made to the customer.” The company constantly adds products, reacting to input from its customers.

A startup cart or kiosk package including 3,125 pieces is $4,399.50, according to Yalgin. Markup is up to 400 percent. The company supports retailers with labels, stickers, signs, arrangement lists and sales scripts. It also assists with mall placement, and location setup and training. Training emphasizes education and customer service to give sales staff the tools they need to create a loyal customer base.

The carts and kiosks are attractively merchandised to mimic a real fruit stand. This is a definite draw for passersby. “[Customers] come here because they’re hungry,” Yalgin says, adding with a laugh, “Sometimes they take a bite.” Once mall customers are at the cart, the operators can then educate them about what the products actually are.

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Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .

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