Lavender. Rosemary. And Sage. The approximately 60 litres of essential oils, which combine with the oil-alkaline mixture in the silver tank to form liquid soap, fill Soeder’s sealed production room with a spicy, comforting scent. Honey drips into the soap mixture via a hose. It is meant to make the skin soft and supple. Its steam mixes with the heavy air of this scorching hot late summer afternoon.
Johan Åkerström walks past the green barrels full of jojoba oil and other soothing soap ingredients and climbs a ladder to the opening of the floor-to-ceiling tank. He takes a close look at the golden liquid. Because what turns and foams here in a gentle rhythm is not just any soap, but more than two tons of natural "Herbal Garden Natural Soap" - the bestseller of the successful Swiss brand Soeder.
"The recipe is still the same as in 2015, when we sold the first soaps at the Christmas market," says Johan. At that time, he was still brewing them in tiny tanks in the garage of his city apartment in Zurich, while his wife Hanna, an ETH architect, created the design of the Soeder brand. Every ingredient in the tank has been weighed by hand – the ingredients are ready in green barrels.
From zero to two hundred thousand
It takes eight hours for the liquid soap in the tank to reach the perfect consistency. During this time, the young employees in green protective gear clean the utensils of the last production. Cleaning takes far more time than the production itself, says Johan with a Swedish accent. He invites us to take a look at the foaming soap. To inhale the beguiling scent directly at the source. Tomorrow, the soap will be poured into 4000 brown glass bottles. And soon afterwards delivered to the stores. In total, Soeder now produces over 200,000 litres of soap and other care products per year.
Who would have thought that, back when the couple only had a name and vision for their start-up, but no product? Who would have thought at the time that Soeder would be professionally producing natural soaps in a factory in Schwerzenbach just a few years later? That the airline Swiss would soon be knocking on the door? That Soeder will one day invent new soap recipes for chic Parisian boutique hotels – in a fragrance laboratory filled with hundreds of bottles full of high-quality essences? Or that the two founders are triggering a real hype with their refill concept – the first on the market?
"We were terribly naive back then," says Johan, laughing as takes off his net hood and face mask in the hygiene sluice and runs his hand through his shoulder-length blond hair. "In the beginning, we didn't even know how to make soap." Fortunately, he adds: "We were able to make the big mistakes when we were still small – and learn from them."
Efficiency thanks to High-Speed
Sunrise Business has also followed Soeder's rise with great astonishment and has supported the company since the beginning with the appropriate ICT solutions: In 2013, Soeder needed just two mobile phones and an Internet connection for the company's only Mac. Today, the company relies on reliable high-speed Internet to connect its numerous stores and secure its production processes. Thanks to Sunrise's technical infrastructure, the 64 employees work online from anywhere in the world and communication takes place via a common project management tool.
It is only thanks to this strong connectivity that the head of production can continuously adapt the plans to demand, says Soeder co-founder Hanna Olzon Åkerström: Instead of storing the soaps for months, they only go into production when a customer's stock runs out. In order to guarantee these efficient processes – and thus punctual deliveries – Soeder is dependent on the highest reliability of the digital systems.
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Hanna Åkerström, who is also originally from Sweden, leads us through the multi-storey house. In the small packaging room, where many small jars filled with lotions for first-class passengers are waiting to be packed and shipped between a bunch of folded cardboard boxes. To the warehouse, where plenty of packaged glass bottles are piled up. In the middle of the room are huge plastic tanks – they are the refill stations for the soap dispensers on airplanes.
However, Soeder not only relies on refill, but also on exclusively natural ingredients - without any sulfates, synthetic fragrances or microplastics. With this, Soeder is almost alone on the international market, says Hanna. In contrast to the competition, Soeder even produces the soap flakes independantly – in a cylindrical behemoth, a machine of British-Indian origin. Like almost all machines, tanks and production utensils, Soeder acquired it second-hand. "Sustainability has driven us from the very beginning," says Hanna Åkerström, "we really wanted something – just anything! – with which we can really make a difference." With the soaps, they have succeeded in doing so.
IoT next to restored soap machine
The young company, which today belongs to 25 shareholders, not only produces its own fragrances and soap flakes, but also does all design and marketing in-house. Hanna Åkerström even designs the hip concept stores herself. At the moment, she is working on the design of the new store in the new south wing of Zurich's main station. "It's going to be really cool." And, of course, the architect also designed and planned Soeder's new heart herself: the production facility in the urban "Werkstadt" in the former SBB factory halls in Zurich Altstetten, where the soap factory will move to in a few months. Here, the scent of essential oils will blend with those of freshly roasted coffee and processed leather.
"We are really looking forward to moving back to the city," says Hanna Åkerström. To a location that is as trendy as its brand. And that offers enough space to make production more efficient and modern. The filling machine will fill the chic glass bottles at the new location with soap – also thanks to the Highspeed Internet from Sunrise Business – automated and regulated using IoT (see info box). The new robot, which is currently still unpacked next to the filled Soeder soaps in the warehouse, will help with the packaging. The air conditioning is controlled via the Internet. And thanks to the cloud-based ERP system (see info box), the Soeder production manager will be able to adapt every order from anywhere in the future – and adapt the orders to demand in real time or correct errors if necessary.
The goal is to automate as many work steps as possible, says Hanna Åkerström. "That gives people time to take care of the important things." For example, about how to reintroduce the heat generated during the cooling of the soaps back into the cycle. In the future, a machine will also take over the production of the bar soaps, which Soeder currently manufactures extremely elaborately by hand. The noble Portuguese soap machine from the 60s, which Soeder has lovingly restored, will press, cut and pack the finely scented squares much more efficiently. In contrast to the filling machine without artificial intelligence, but with traditional machinery. Maybe it is exactly this mixture that makes Soeder so unique.
Internet of Things from Sunrise Business
The term "Internet of Things", or IoT for short, refers to the digital networking of "smart" objects. With IoT, automatic processes of internet-enabled devices in the home, office or production are monitored, analyzed and controlled from anywhere via tablets or other devices. For example, sun blinds, lights, air conditioning systems – or, as with Soeder, all kinds of machines. In addition to classic IoT connectivity, Sunrise Business offers a central web portal for the provision, activation and management of worldwide IoT connections, including data analysis and visualization, a 24x7 helpdesk and secure network monitoring. This makes it easy to manage SIM cards, contracts, invoices and usage data for any number of IoT connections and integrate them directly into business processes via an API interface.