Sitting on the corner of North Main and Mount Diablo, you will find Walnut Creek’s local soap salesman. His everyday life may seem somewhat routine now, but when Bill McGeehan took the chance of a lifetime moving from snowy Pennsylvania to the sunny and crowded streets of California, he had no idea he would end up selling soap. Thirty years ago McGeehan first came to California while visiting some friends. After much convincing from a woman who he is still friends with today, he went to the unemployment agency. Taking a job on a whim, McGeehan moved to California in 1989.
About 11 years ago McGeehan started his very own soap business. After McGeehan and his wife had divorced, he wanted to help get her back on her feet financially. When I asked him why he started his business he said, “I had an ex-wife who had difficulty getting her life together after we both decided things were over, and I started this as something for her to do so she wouldn’t be leaning on me to take care of everything for her money-wise,” said McGeehan. His wife was not as enthusiastic about the idea as the customers, so a couple weeks passed and McGeehan shut down “Hope Soap”. Eventually McGeehan received multiple calls and texts from people who wanted more soap. “So many people liked it and family liked it so they got involved”.
Even though McGeehan is the only one sitting on the corner selling soap, this is in no way a one man operation. Hope Soap is made in the homes of friends and family with goat’s milk. The tags and soap are all handmade and unique. “Originally a friend created our business, and the family started building on it, and we’ve changed it over the years, and that’s how it gotten to this point 11 years later,” said McGeehan. Originally an RV salesman and disability consultant, McGeehan was at first hesitant to give up the stable job he had, but as McGeehan said, “I gave up what I was doing because so many people wanted this.” Every month or so McGeehan’s family and friends make big batches of soap, predicting how much they will need in advance. Soap may seem like a slow-moving business, but in reality, there are some days where McGeehan can’t carry enough soap, so he has a place where he stores it downtown.
There are specific seasons where he does better as well. “The number one season is probably this time of year, followed by probably Mother’s day, Father’s day, the late summer holidays for the college age kids, and then it picks up again around now.” McGeehan also works pretty flexible hours, starting at 11, and he stays downtown till late afternoon, usually stopping for lunch at Tomatina or other local restaurants. McGeehan says that one of the highlights of his job is meeting new people. He has some regulars but also can count on new business every day. Regardless of weather, you will see McGeehan out there everyday with his brown basket and multi-colored soaps. Made with only 6 ingredients, these soaps are specially produced with no chemicals or highly processed ingredients.
It was McGeehan’s first wife who convinced him to use a wheelchair. She wanted him to be in less pain, and a walker wasn’t cutting it anymore. At a young age McGeehan was diagnosed with cerebral palsy along with vision impairment. These “challenges” do not hold him back, and he doesn’t believe in seeing them as a roadblock or reason not to do the things he wants to do. “Some people use their disability as an excuse for not finding success. If you are brought down, your chances of success are not over,” said McGeehan. His Hope Made Soap may have been started for his wife, but in the end he kept the business going so that he would have a job that allows him to make income for himself as well as provide hope for others in the form of soap. Having spent a long period of his life in a wheelchair, McGeehan is used to his own everyday life and is very happy with his business. Staying in the soap industry was a hard choice for McGeehan, but he loves producing quality work for his customers.
Since McGeehan is his own boss, he has the flexibility to still have hobbies and pursue other interests. It’s McGeehan’s future dream to start a business remodelling trailers for disabled people. His past in disability consulting and his trailer make him the perfect candidate for the job. Residing in a trailer park in San Pablo, he would easily be able to follow that dream. California has been McGeehan’s home now for almost 30 years.
Spreading hope through soap has been McGeehan’s mission for almost 11 years. He has spread positivity in his brown basket and made a name for himself on his own corner of Walnut Creek. It’s easy to just mention “soap guy” and easily recognize McGeehan’s face and his aromatic and all-natural soaps. From his humble origins in Pennsylvania to the long journey east in February 1989 to his hardworking spirit today, there is a larger story to this humble salesman. There are many things constantly changing in Walnut Creek, but you can always depend on McGeehan to be there, greeting customers with a smile.