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January 10, 2008 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-01-10

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Business t entrepreneurships

Brothers Ken and Steve
Stone at Stone Soap Co.

Staff photo by Angie Baan

Stone Soap redefines
itself into a global
chemical company.

Bill Carroll
Special to the Jewish News


fter 75 years in the soap busi-
ness, Stone Soap Company is re-
inventing itself and diversifying
to stay ahead of competition and fight the
state's sagging economy.
The old-time Jewish family business —
it began when Ben (Benny the Boneman)
Stone picked up and sold fats, grease and
meat scraps on the Detroit streets — is
now being operated by the third and
fourth generations of Stones in two state-
of-the-art buildings near Telegraph and
Orchard Lake roads in Oakland County.

With carwash soaps and detergents com-
prising about 60 percent of its business,
Stone Soap is America's oldest and one
of the world's largest carwash chemical
"Any Michigan company that's content
to do business today the same as it did
five years ago is on a path to the grave
declared Steven Stone, 54, of Bloomfield
Hills, Stone Soap's executive vice president.
"Because of the poor economy in south-
eastern Michigan, we've had to re-invent
ourselves by becoming more vertically
integrated in chemical formulas and man-
ufacturing and by partnering in two joint
ventures in China!'
He and his brother, Kenneth, 59, of
Orchard Lake, Stone Soap's president, are
50-50 partners, grandsons of Ben Stone
and sons of Ralph Stone, who took over
from Ben and actually launched Stone
Soap Company at Russell and Ferry near
Detroit's Eastern Market in 1932 — dur-

ing the heart of the Great Depression.
Ralph had started at the age of 18 by
driving an old tank truck for his father to
pick up the fats and grease from butcher
shops and restaurants and selling the
material to rendering plants where it was
"cooked up" and sold as soap to busi-
With rampant unemployment and even
hunger in Detroit, Ralph's timing couldn't
have been worse. The Detroit Northern
High School graduate persevered in the
true spirit of American idealism and
entrepreneurship and began making and
selling his own soap, becoming a major
manufacturer of cleaning products. The
company served the personal care, indus-
trial, institutional, professional laundry,
hospitality and specialty packaging mar-
Ben ran the business during World War
II while Ralph was in the Navy for three
years, seeing action in the South Pacific.

Ralph bought out his father's interest in
the company in 1951, and died at age 88
five years ago. Ralph's brothers, Ted Stone,
now deceased, and Willie Stone of West
Bloomfield, also worked in the business
for several years. Steven's son, Jon, 28, of
Birmingham now is in the sales depart-

Carwash Boost
The company found one niche in the small
but burgeoning carwash industry in the
1960s, moving to an old chemical plant
in the warehouse district near the Detroit
River and originating several products
common in today's professional carwash-
es. These include pressure wash detergent
for the self-serve washes, rinse aid and
spay wax for automatic washes and multi-
colored foam shampoos for self-serve and
automatic washes.

Still Cleaning Up on page A28


January 10 • 2008


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