Hayward — When Lee Williamson landed on United States shores 18 years ago for what was supposed to be a six-month vacation, he admits he was instantly drawn to the American lifestyle. Williamson, 38, never left.
"I fell in love with the country and I fell in love with the American Dream," he said.
Williamson, who lives in Union City, founded the San Francisco Bath Salt Company six years ago. He says the business continues to grow amid a national economic downturn, with his privately held company's year-to-date revenues up more than 30 percent.
Williamson claims bath salts relieve a variety of ailments including skin dryness, muscle fatigue, and stress. He said he generates a majority of his revenue from manufacturing salts he imports from the Himalayas and the Dead Sea.
"It all goes back to the ocean," Williamson says. "Everybody knows how amazing ocean water is, how great you feel when you come out of the ocean, how cuts and grazes naturally heal with the ocean.
"Basically, you're bringing the ocean back to your bath."
Williamson said his south Hayward-based business sells bath salts to the Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton Hotels, and has nondisclosure contracts with several other high-profile companies.
He says transitioning to retail is central to his company's growth strategy, he said.
"That's where the real success and the money's going to be for us," Williamson said. "Building up that brand image.".................................................
After touring Central America, he was studying to become an overseas English teacher in San Francisco when he came upon a bath salt kiosk at Pier 39 where colorful scented salts were sold in bulk seemed to attract a crowd every time he went by.
"I was just thinking, 'that's something I do every night,' " he said. "That was the catalyst. I said to myself: 'I'm going to do something with this.' "............................................
Williamson considers SFBSC to be the culmination of his efforts to find and execute a successful business model................................
SFBSC staffer and longtime friend Dan Elmer said Williamson's closing ability separates him from an entrepreneurial graveyard of failed businesses.
"Everyone has business ideas and everybody has big ideas, the difference is that Lee can make it happen," Elmer said. "It's one thing talking about it, doing it is another thing."
Williamson said upon his arrival to the United States he was among six fellow countrymen who drove cross-country in a Volkswagen van that fell apart when they reached the West Coast.
He said he scrambled for work............................... He eventually took jobs selling Jacuzzis in Sacramento, futons in the Bay Area and working at a Las Vegas Casino, before entering the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley.
He said it was during long days commuting to San Jose from his Discovery Bay home that he learned to value the benefits of bath salts.
"I really wanted to do my own thing, but I really wasn't sure what," he said. "I just had this idea that this should be more mainstream. More people should be taking baths."