Dee Frohring’s oldest kids were 4 and 1 when she spied a neighbor hand mixing laundry soap at a yard sale. Intrigued by the idea of saving money and using a greener product to clean her family’s clothing, the Davie mom began making her own soap. A few recipes and fragrances later, and Frohring founded DeeTergent, maker of all-natural cleaning powders.
Here’s how she did it:
The Big Idea
DeeTergent is an all-natural, hypoallergenic, biodegradable, clean-rinsing powder that can be used for laundry or multipurpose cleaning. About a dozen fragrance varieties change seasonally. The product is sold by servings, not weight. The smaller size does 24 loads in a top-loading washing machine and 48 loads in a high-efficiency machine. It sells for $9.50. The larger size does 45 loads in a top-loader and 90 loads in a high-efficiency washer. It sells for $17.
A former U.S. Army helicopter mechanic and office manager, Frohring is mom of three boys: Billy, 7, Jaxon, 3, and Ryland, 1. She works full time as a commercial property manager in Fort Lauderdale and handles DeeTergent at night and on weekends. Frohring also is working on a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. Husband, Bill, works at his family’s business, Natural Chicken Grill in Davie. He manufactures the detergent and fills orders at night.
Frohring’s first soap recipe included borax, washing soda and a bar of laundry soap that she grated with a cheese grater. It cost a few cents per load and lasted forever, she said.
"It was just an OK cleaner," Frohring said. "But I was saving enough money, so the cost was worth the disadvantages."
When she became pregnant with her third child, Frohring decided to cloth diaper, and noticed that the soap left a residue on the diapers. She looked into the ingredients she was using and found it contained chemicals she didn’t like.
"If was going to make detergent, which was a lot of work, I didn’t want toxins, and I wanted something that was more clean-rinsing," Frohring said.
She looked online for recipes and found one that rinsed clean, but was unscented and "boring."
Frohring started looking for fragrance oils free of chemicals like phthalates, parabens and nitro musk.
She read online message boards to learn what natural cleaners were being used on cloth diapers, and what moms thought about them. She got on Twitter to learn about trends in green products and connected with cloth-diapering moms on Facebook.
Frohring read labels at the grocery store and researched product ingredients. She researched work-at-home mom products, to find out what customers liked and didn’t, and to learn from other moms’ mistakes.
Frohring decided to turn her handmade soap into a business in January 2011, after sharing her concoction with friends and getting good feedback.
She settled on a recipe of baking soda, washing soda, sodium percarbonate (powdered hydrogen peroxide), with 100 percent coconut oil castile as the cleansing agent. She set out to find fragrances that would leave laundry with a nice scent.
"I do seven loads of laundry a week. It’s boring enough. I wanted to make it more fun," she said.
Frohring went through 30-40 fragrance manufacturers before settling on one company. She started with five scents. Then she went to message boards to find mom testers.
"I shipped to 50 different places around the country," Frohring said. Each tester got three batches of soap and completed 14 tests on 14 different loads. Frohring collected data about water temperature, type of machine, type of laundry, results and satisfaction.
"I used that feedback to adjust the formula," she said. "I also got a lot of great feedback, which gave me confidence to take the plunge."
The Frohrings make, package and label the product by hand.
DeeTergent’s Facebook page launched in July 2011, and Frohring began meeting moms at gas stations and restaurants to deliver orders. She built her Facebook network through cloth-diapering community pages and groups like South Florida Moms Making Sales and South Florida Moms in Business. She offered samples to mom blog review sites.
She bartered product for temporary space at the Yellow Green Farmers Market in Hollywood and began visiting trade shows and craft fairs, which she found through South Florida Vendors United, a Facebook group.
She bartered more product with a graphic designer friend to build her website, which launched in December 2011.
In March 2012, she began renting permanent space at the Yellow Green market. DeeTergent is in two retailers: The Gathering Place in Miami, and Palms Birth House in Palm Beach.
This year, she began including product samples in gift baskets for celebrity moms such as Jessica Simpson.
Frohring spent about $600 initially for ingredients and event entry fees. She sells about 150 to 200 bags a month and became profitable in April.
Time management. Between a full-time job, raising three active boys, making product two nights a week and working the Yellow Green market on weekends, Frohring’s time is thinly stretched.
"Staying motivated also is a challenge, because it’s easy to get distracted and lose interest," Frohring said. "But I know we have something good, and I’m passionate about it."
Improving packaging, and testing new retail outlets, such as bundling samples for gift baskets and cloth diaper retailers. Frohring also would like to expand online visibility.
Frohring said she and husband, Bill, work as a team. She rises at 6:30 a.m. to get the boys off to school. Frohring arrives at her day job around 8:30 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. to pick up Ryland from day care.
Frohring makes dinner, assists with homework and gets the kids in bed by 8 p.m. Then the couple make and package soap, fill orders and check emails. Frohring is still nursing, so she tends to Ryland as needed, and wraps up computer work around 11 p.m. On weekends, she works the Yellow Green market from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
"Don’t let your fear stop you. Do your homework – it can help you avoid a lot of snags," Frohring said. "Be determined. You’re going to go up and down. Just keep doing it, even when it’s hard."