Interview with Ed Gardner
QUESTION 1
MADISON DAVIS LACY:

You told me you were inspired when you started your business way back in 1964. And you were a schoolteacher then. Tell me that story. How did you get into that?

ED GARDNER:

Well, you know, when you got a wife and four kids, you're making, making ten thousand dollars a year, ah, you wonder how you're going to make it to send those kids through college and so forth. Ah, and we just felt that we had to do something else beside just um, ah, became a--Not that it wasn't a good job as a teacher, assistant principal, but the dollars were not there. Addition to that, that was the time that Dr. Martin Luther King struggled in the south. And we felt so inspired that the, particularly those young Blacks youngsters who were giving up their lives in many cases, and Whites, too, suffering so that we could probably have a better life for all of Black Americans throughout the nation. So we just kind of felt that um, maybe we could do more than just being a schoolteacher. And we felt that our best chance to go into business. I was not a picketer. I was not a marcher, but I felt that I could somehow--I was naive enough, felt that I could build a major corporation supplying jobs for hundreds of people. I was just that naive, you know. And so I was selling hair care products out of the back of my car, up and down 47th Street, 63rd Street, making twenty-five percent profit on a part-time basis. So I think I can make one of these proc--So I started going down the basement, stirring my pot there with some wax and petroleum on a hot plate. And I got a product that looked pretty good. I said, "Gosh, this is a good product. I think I can sell it to the beautician." Talked to the beautician, said, "Mr. Gardner, where ever you got that product from, don't ever bring it back here again." It was just that bad. But again, I wanted to build a major Black bus--I went back and started stirring the pot again. No chemistry background. No business training, but I wanted to be an entrepreneur and a business person. So we finally improved the product, took it back. She said, "That's great. Leave it just like it is. Don't change it." And from that point on we started building the present multi-million dollar Soft Sheen Products Company. But it was all based upon the fact that we wanted to do more of what Dr. King was talking about. He says, "If you open those doors, who's going to walk through there?" Now we had to have businesses to supply jobs, so we wanted to supply those jobs. And that's why Soft Sheen was built from the very beginning.


MADISON DAVIS LACY:

All right, stop down for a second