By Angela Rogalski
Delta native Jennifer Jones Knighton may live on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but she has a deep and abiding love for her hometown of Cleveland and for all things Delta. Knighton moved to the Gulf Coast twenty-seven years ago, and her business, Delta Soaps & Scents, is located in Ocean Springs, but Knighton says that she really got into the business of making handmade soaps and scents due to her love for the Delta and a bit of homesickness.
“Someone gave me an ornament that was the Highway 61 sign many years ago, and of course, the Delta holds a special place in my heart,” says Knighton, “all my family lives in Cleveland. And while I enjoy living on the Coast, the Delta will always be my home. So, after I received that ornament, it just made me start thinking and reminiscing a bit about the Mississippi Delta. I just starting missing home and the next thing I knew, I was making my own Highway 61 tribute. That design was actually the first soap I ever made.”
Delta Soaps & Scents began in 2011, and Cindy Tyler, who owns The Mississippi Gift Company, located in Greenwood, was the first business to place an order with her up and coming wholesale operation.
“Cindy has been with me since the beginning. I started doing the Highway 61 soap and then other designs just happened. The blues guitar soap, the cotton boll soap; and we started doing the mini cotton boll soaps for the Cotton House Hotel in Cleveland. Then we started painting the cotton boll on all of our bath bombs. I love doing it just to represent the Delta.”
Knighton says that what makes Delta Soaps & Scents so special is everything is handmade and very uniquely special to the Mississippi Delta. And everything is sold wholesale.
“We’re a wholesaler, we’re not a retailer,” she continues. “Everything is special ordered and handmade. We try to be unique and do things that no one else does. We don’t have a website because we ran into the problem of too many people in a certain zip code area stocking our products. So, there might be two or three stores in one small town stocking the same things. We want it to be more personal than that. I want to know what store is stocking what and if they’re the only business in that town selling that certain product. I don’t want another store two doors down maybe stocking the same items. We want to be a specialty wholesaler.”
Knighton adds to her specialty soaps and scents quite often and has seen her company grow exponentially since it began in 2011.
“We started doing the Delta Girl product line, the body lotions and the sugar scrubs, bath bombs and soaps and bath bomb cupcakes; we have just exploded compared to when I first started. We are now in a much broader area, about 620 stores from Missouri to Oklahoma, Louisiana to Tennessee. And that’s because we have found that there’s a little bit of the Delta and a love for it in every place we’ve gone. Anything that is Delta-related, people seem to be drawn to it. I even have people in France that order the blues guitar soaps. But France and Canada are really the only international places that we ship to. The expense is exorbitant to ship oversees and it’s a bit hard to do it as well.”
Knighton says she’s proud of how the business has grown since the beginning days of producing that first Highway 61 soap in her own kitchen.
“We now have a warehouse in Ocean Springs where we make all of our products,” she adds. “We ship everything UPS and me personally, I work six days a week, sometimes fourteen hours per day to meet our orders. But a word of advice to anyone out there thinking of starting a similar business, it’s very easy to get too big, too fast. Sometimes I back away and say, okay, we need to rein it in. And I do that because we’re a specialty company and we want to be able to keep everything handmade and different from everything else that’s out there. I really didn’t get into this to be worldwide or anything. I really just wanted to serve people who love the Delta like I do. And I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, even on the days I’m so tired I could cry.”