MIDDLETOWN — “Follow your bliss.” That’s what Marianne Markey told her daughter Stephanie Falsetta six years ago as she debated making goat-milk soap and lotions full-time.
Falsetta, now 44, was well-paid for her nearly two-hour morning bus commute from Middletown to her job in Midtown Manhattan. Over 13 years she rose from a law firm's administrative assistant to managing and tracking the legal budget for Christie’s auction house.
Making soap batches was Falsetta's hobby of three years — something she took online courses in, a pursuit that made her butter taste like whatever scented soap batch she refrigerated in her kitchen.
That was until Falsetta’s mother uttered those words of affirmation — words that amounted to, “Yes, late-30s daughter with three young children, ‘Quit your day job. I believe in you.’”
Today, Falsetta's business, Goats in a Coat, so-named for goat-milk soap bars covered in snappy, coat-like wrappers, is thriving.
She's selling 15,000 soap bars and lotion bottles per year in 40 varieties, via her Goats in a Coat website and at orchards statewide.
Each soap bar goes for $6, while 2-ounce and 6-ounce lotion bottles retail for $5 and $10, respectively.
Falsetta's non-goat-milk product line is thriving, too, with sales of 6,000 soy-coconut candles, and growing lines of lip balms, deodorants and shower steamers.
All the while, she's attracting national attention from the likes of People magazine and racking up private label contracts.
Among her four private label clients is Angry Orchard. She makes their cider-infused, branded soaps, along with candles and lotions with no cider.
“I can’t say I’m totally surprised” by the company's success, Markey said. “It’s a good product. Once people try it, they really like it.”
Falsetta credited the Orange County Industrial Development Agency’s Accelerator incubator, a nonprofit that supports start-ups and young firms.
“I wouldn’t have been able to grow without them,” said Falsetta, who’s been based at the Accelerator’s Middletown campus at the Touro Medical College for more than two years.
Starting off, “I was just in my house, and I was stuck,” said Falsetta, who projects she’ll gross $100,000 in sales this year, up from $70,000 last year. “I needed space, business advice and connections. The Accelerator has been invaluable.”
Today, Goats in a Coat employs three part-time employees, and Falsetta and Markey, 69, a retired accounts receivable manager, work full-time. Falsetta expects to graduate from the Accelerator in two years.
She hopes to open a production facility in Middletown, a city the Queens native has come to love after moving here 13 years ago. That’s good news to Middletown Mayor Joe DeStefano’s ears.
When it comes to small businesses investment in the mid-Hudson, “You see the same thing in parts of Newburgh, in Port Jervis” and elsewhere, DeStefano said. “It’s not just Middletown.”
“People are excited about the rejuvenation of small cities,” DeStefano added. “And Middletown and the Accelerator are supportive of small businesses.”
Trish Southway, Falsetta’s goat-milk supplier in Otisville, said simple, local ingredients make Goats in a Coat's products appealing. Soaps are made with oils, butters, goat milk and lye.
Creative scents, like olive branch, drunken goat (which contains a stout beer) and poisoned apple, contribute to the products' popularity, Falsetta said.
“Goat-milk soap works really well for people with sensitive skin, and for people who just want a more natural alternative to Dove,” said Southway, co-owner of Hidden Hollow Dairy and the Farmer’s Daughter Farm Stand.
Sharon Soons, co-owner of Soons Orchard in New Hampton, marvels at Falsetta’s sales. Soons sold the products first.
“I told Stephanie, ‘Soap doesn’t sell here. I’m not going to buy it as inventory. We can consign it,’” Soons recalled with a laugh. “Now, it sells like crazy, and I can’t even get her over here” to bring enough.