What Does 2013 Look Like to You?

 

Hanukkah is over and Christmas is almost here!  By now, if you celebrate, you’re probably checking your lists and making last-minute purchases or creations, decorating your home or attending the season’s festivities.  In all your doing, don’t forget something very important to your business.  You may be thinking, “I know.  I need to get my tax receipts ready,” or,  ”I need to notify my customers that I am taking a vacation,” or even, “I just have a few orders to fill.”  They’re all important, for sure, but not what I’m talking about today.

 

The most important activity you will undertake for your business is a review of 2012 and planning for 2013.  Start with reviewing your business plan.  Does it need revision, or do you simply need to review it so as not to lose sight of your goals?  Next, take a look at  your activities for this past year.  What worked and what didn’t?  What propelled you toward your goals and what made you stray?  Did you find that you fulfilled your plans or did you fail to make them?

 

If, for instance, you find that the small craft shows you did were a financial loss, ask  yourself why.  It may be that this is not the venue for you or that your customers are not there–at least not at the ones you were at.  It may be that your booth needs an overhaul or that you need to work on your sales skills.

 

Perhaps you’ve been wanting to secure wholesale accounts, but have been afraid to take that step.  Now is the time to research the subject so that when you approach a business owner, you will do it with the knowledge and confidence of a seasoned professional, thus providing an attractive product that makes it hard to refuse.

 

You may want to get serious about business by developing a website, a Facebook presence and joining a professional organization.  You’ll need to research, plan and work, which will take time and resources, so good planning is critical.

 

Have you missed the boat once again on holiday products because you didn’t start them early enough?  This is where planning comes in!  Think about how much time you’ll need to get a product ready to roll out and write in on a calender.

 

Of course, planning is essential even to hobby soapers/chandlers.  Doing so will increase your productivity and decrease your last-minute stress, and who doesn’t value that?

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for opinions and advice, but be careful whom you ask.  The help of professionals such as accountants and lawyers will be invaluable, as will your customers’ and even others in your field or other small business owners.  Be careful of naysayers, however, who will dissuade you without having the basis to do so or those who haven’t the background to advise you in crucial matters.  Gather up your research, opinions and advice and make your informed decisions.

 

Seriously considering all of these factors will serve you well as you embark on the new year.  Granted, it’s actually a little late if  you haven’t begun already, but better a little late than not at all!

 

What does 2013 look like to you?

 

Wishing happy holidays to all,

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Eureka!

As I was decorating our Christmas tree, I thought about how I’d chosen ribbon, bulbs and other decorations to suit my tastes and my chosen color theme.  To be sure, our tree is no “designer tree,” as I hang any ornament that is given to us or that I make or purchase just because.  I do,  however, try to keep some semblance of order by using like elements that create a tree that looks coordinated, yet pleases my family and me.  Nevertheless, not everybody’s tree is like mine.  Some are country primitive, others are Victorian, and yet others are modern.  Some are even made out of peacock feathers!  I thought back to our family tree as a child and how one year after my whole life of the usual real tree with a motley assortment of decorations and tinsel, my parents bought an artificial tree and Mom decorated it with silk balls and little elves.  She was quite pleased with the looks of her tree and it suited her, although I would have preferred using our old ornaments and the ornaments that had previously belonged to my grandfather.

 

What does this have to do with soap, candles and bath and body,  you ask?  It’s individuality!  We use our creativity and individuality every time we make a batch of soap, candles, shower scrub, whipped body butter, or anything else we do.  Yes, we may carefully copy someone’s else’s formula and directions the first time, but we usually have to try out many variations and tweak them before we hit upon the One That We Love.  Doing the Happy Dance, we feel as if we’ve just reached the peak of Mt. Everest.  We’ve arrived, yes we have.  And that’s the way it should be.  We should go through a learning period; we should have to try different ideas; we should have to tweak.  That’s what makes us unique and our products, proprietary, because we’ve put our heart and soul into their formulation.  Our products don’t look like or perform exactly like someone else’s.

 

Of course, it doesn’t end there.  We still must find out what our customers think.  We have to package and we have to market before we can reap all of the benefits of product development.  Nevertheless, the most satisfaction we get is likely to be that moment when we test our own formulations and find that we’ve created something truly wonderful.  Eureka!

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Eight Ways to Sell Your Products

This is the time of year when most of us sell the greatest volume of soap, body products and candles of the entire year.  Moreover, most of us want to capitalize on that and sell the most we possibly can.  We also have many choices for selling our goods.

Farmers markets are popular among vendors and offer several advantages.  They are generally inexpensive and attract a good source of customers who appreciate the natural goodness of soap, candles and body products. They can be an ideal place to begin.

Craft shows run the gamut from inexpensive to expensive, customers who fit your niche to those who don’t; well run and attended to, well, the opposite, they are popular choice for the beginner and experienced, alike.

A number of those in cottage industries sell via consignment shops, where others won’t consider them.  Renting shelf space is sometimes an option, as well, and may be a good option.  A storefront allows the owner to do whatever she desires, but takes capital, inventory and business sense to succeed.

If one is willing to put the effort into a website, she stands to expand her business to virtually anyone, anywhere.  The same is true with internet handcrafted sites such as Etsy and Artfire.  All require, however, fees for listing or selling or monthly costs, as well as the added job of shipping goods.

Finally, some choose wholesale, although it’s usually a choice of those more experienced in selling of course, for several reasons. The requirement to produce in large batches, the tight deadlines in getting product ready, and the ability to negotiate contracts require a skill that most who are new to selling, lack.

How do we like our options, and how do we decide which ones to pursue?  To be honest, it’s often simply a matter of which opportunities fall into our laps.  We use the trial-and-error method until we find those that best fit our products and our needs.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can take some time to find our groove–the choice that works best for us, individually.  Others of us determine our niche and goals and realize from inception of the business which selling venues will best help us reach our business goals.

Which methods do you prefer, and how did you get to where you are?  What is one piece of advice you would give to the hobbyist who is working on turning her hobby into a business?

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Wanted: Emulsion Junkies

I admit to being crazy about emulsions, especially as they pertain to soap, lotions and creams.

 

A scientist I am not.  I was never fond of chemistry until I embarked on this soap and stuff adventure a number of years ago.  I actually remember my first lotion emulsion.  Following the directions in The Herbal Home Spa, by Greta Breedlove, I warmed my water with a little borax and in another pan, warmed my oils and beeswax.  I slowly poured the water phase into the oils phase and voila!  I had lotion.  I went on to experiment with other emulsifiers such as lecithin.  Soon, I discovered e-wax and was really on my way in having obtained a stable emulsion.  I experimented with various oils and water amounts and later, with BTMS and other emulsifiers.  It was fun.  To be truthful, I can’t say my mistakes were fun.  The time I forgot the borax that was to accompany my beeswax and I ended up with a separated mess was not fun, but I did learn a valuable lesson about a borax/beeswax emulsion.

 

Later on, I got up the nerve to make cold process soap and again, was fascinated with emulsions.  That combining sodium hydroxide and oils could produce a hard bar of soap was fascinating and I couldn’t get enough.  I still can’t!  When that separating oil and water becomes one at trace, I get a little thrill of wonder and success.  Although I don’t do it often, hot process is just another variation of that process that amazes me with its results.

 

I am writing this because I just know that I am in no way unique.  You likely share a similar story or we would have no need for the Saponifier.  We have our individual differences–you may have begun with soap and then moved to lotions, or you may make only lotion or soap; nevertheless, if you enjoy making one, you’re an emulsion junkie just like me.

 

So, how about it?  Do you declare yourself an emulsion junkie?

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

New Issue in Review!

Have  you devoured your November/December issue yet?

We at the Saponifier have done our best to bring you all of your favorites.  From your favorite suppliers, scents and products, to recipes revisited and those for winter, you’ve likely enjoyed reading about them and perhaps have even tried some of the recipes.  Were your favorites mentioned in Beth Byrne’s, Raves for Faves article?  Have you sampled tried and true recipes from, Favorites Revisited:  Saponifier’s Best-Loved Recipes, by Tamara Dourney, ornew recipes in,  All-Time Winter Skin Favorites:  Scrubs, Creams and Lotions, by Marla Bosworth?

 

We’re certain you enjoyed other helpful articles that will allow you to manufacture more efficiently and profitably, such as Victoria Donaldson’s, Personalizing for Small Orders.  Or perhaps, you’re working up new formulas for scrubs of any kind, so you loved, Natural Exfoliants, by Erica Pence.  What are your favorite exfoliants?

Are you looking for something new and exciting for candlemaking?  If so, you’ve likely made plans to try Fire and Ice candles, by Erica Pence.

We’re sure you found exceptional business advice by Melinda Coss, in her new column, Savior Faire and Consistency–the Mother of Success, by Alexander Sherman. What did you find most helpful?

I found myself already thinking spring with Elizabeth Sockol’s, Wake Robin!  Were you as fascinated as I was by the many uses for this lovely herb, as well as its history?

Let us know how you’ve enjoyed this issue and used the knowledge you’ve gained.

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Molds: Not Just a Tool, but a Passion!

Soap molds.  They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.  Some need to be lined; others don’t.  You’ll find fancy molds and plain jane log or slab molds built with scrap wood in just a few hours.  Molds aren’t just a tool, but a passion!

 

We soapmakers love our molds.  For some of us, a walk through the grocery or hardware store is more of a mold-finding expedition than it is securing food for our families or tackling our next diy project.  Every empty container is eyed as a potential soap mold.  We even have our families trained to save containers that appear to be suitable for soap.  This was especially true for me as a beginner making melt and pour soaps.  I used empty juice cans, plastic packaging and bottoms of soda bottles, to name a few.  In doing so, I also learned what didn’t work.  The plastic packaging had to hold up to hot soap being poured into it and a rigid plastic would be next to impossible to remove soap from.  Yes, every soapmaking session was an adventure in resourcefulness and creativity, and it was fun.

 

This kind of behavior isn’t conducive to production soapmaking, yet many of even the most seasoned soapmakers engage in the practice at least once in awhile.  And why not?  It keeps us on our toes and renews our creativity.  It might even lead to the Next Big Thing in our product lineup!  If you think about it, we might not have round soaps had it not been for some clever person  in the hardware store who took a gander at pvc piping, or upon emptying his cylindrical can of potato chips wondered, “Hmm. . . can this be used for soap?”  What’s even better is how soapers share their discoveries so that all might benefit from both their successes and their failures.

 

What about you?  What is the most unique container you’ve ever used for soap?

 

Until next time,

 

May your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Five Ways to Survive the Silly Season

The Silly Season is upon us.  

 

Silly Season, in case you don’t know, is roughly that period of time between November and Christmas when many businesses do the bulk of their sales.  Add that to the busyness that most of us find ourselves immersed in with friends and family obligations and other activities, and you have a Silly Season, indeed.  Even hobbyists find themselves in a similar situation with their desire to create lovely gifts for all of those fortunate people on their lists.

 

We all need to cope with this season and create ways to make our way through and come out the other side, victorious, having neither damaged theirs or their families’ health and sanity, so ideas to get the discussion going follow:

 

1.     Plan ahead.  Take a bit of time to sit down with your calendar and plan what you can do between now and the date you want to cease production by.  Take into consideration your other obligations and your health and sanity.  Even those among us who find planning to be sheer agony can benefit.  You might not write, “Nov. 4, make Peppermint Soap,” but you might make a list of what you want to make and think about how much time it will take you to accomplish it and then decide how much fits into your timeframe.   If  you need supplies, order now.  Don’t put yourself in the position of stressing over whether your order will arrive in time for you to make the products your customer wants.  Allowing two weeks for shipping to you is a good idea at this time of year.

 

2.     Bring in holiday help.  Every retail store that is busy during the holidays does it.  It may be worth the cost in order to have the product your customer wants.  If you’re lucky enough to have good friends and family who will help, don’t be a hero.  Let them!  Reward them, of course, but take any good help you can get.

 

3.     Encourage your customers to order early.  Don’t expect that they will automatically take into account your busy schedule or the fact that you have limited supplies.  Instead, head those last-minute shoppers off by making it attractive to order early.  Offer a coupon for a November purchase, feature weekly sales in November, or promise a freebie with their order, anything that will compel them to order now rather than later.

 

4.     Limit your offerings.  I know, I know, you want to offer every holiday scent candle or soap shape that you and your customers like, but resist the temptation.  Instead, offer just a few holiday products.  It’s less confusing for your customers and for you, and keep in mind how much easier it is to make three large batches of scents/colors than it is to make thirteen.  Even for regular stock, you might consider cutting back to your most popular products and scents for the season.  If you find that you don’t have time to keep up with your regular line, don’t bother to offer holiday products. It’s better to end up with twenty lavender candles after December 25th than to end up with twenty Balsam Fir candles that are in low demand the rest of the year.

 

5.     Set a “last date to order” date and a “last day to purchase” date, along with any other rules that will make the season tolerable.  Set specific times of the day for phone orders, a cut-off date for special orders and gift baskets, or an “in stock products only” date that will work for you.  Don’t find yourself stressing and losing sleep for a bar of soap!

 

If we think about it, we can brainstorm a multitude of ideas to keep us on track and sane through the holiday season.  I’m not suggesting that we can make the next two months stress-free, but I am suggesting that we exercise some control over the season and not let it defeat us by looking realistically at our individual situations and planning how we will deal with them to only do what we can reasonably do and by finding ways, big and small, to make our goals attainable.

 

What do you do?  How do you manage Silly Season?  We’d love to hear your ideas.  Let’s help each other get through 2012!

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

What Kind of Artisan Are You?

Before I get into the topic of this post, I’d like to express the thoughts, prayers and well wishes of everyone at the Saponifier for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  Please know that we are supporting you as you recover from this devastating storm.

 

And now, for our blog.

 

We can usually group ourselves into a type of artisan, at least where our work habits are concerned.  Some of you plan far ahead, writing an annual plan. On January 1st, you begin following the plan you drew up the previous year.  You have each month and week carefully planned, with each day outlined.  Little room is given for spontaneity or procrastination.  Others of you fly by the seat of your pants, however, making what you feel like making when you feel like making it and selling what you’ve got or playing catch up throughout the season until December 25th.  You often spend long hours while the urge strikes to create and produce.

 

Most of you, I suspect, find yourselves somewhere on the continuum between the ultra-organized and disciplined and the disorganized free spirits.  You may plan out an annual calendar with monthly goals and then at the beginning of each week, choose what you can accomplish that week.  Others of you simply work on your goals throughout the month, getting done what you can.  Or you might just respond to your inventory, making more when it reaches a certain level so that you don’t run out of any particular item.

 

No matter how you look at it, planning ahead is a sure-fire method for avoiding panic and distress.  The more we plan, the more we are likely to accomplish.  What could possibly be wrong with an outlook like this?  Sometimes, the ultra-planner is unable to see far enough ahead to deal with the reality that life brings and doesn’t respond well to customer demand or other market conditions.  She has difficulty dealing with anything that disrupts her plan and may find herself discouraged about her inability to fulfill the goals she’s set.

 

Not all of us are built that way however, and some find their creativity is stunted by having to plan and to work by that plan.  Believe it or not, I have observed that the “seat of our pants” kind of approach is often nearly as successful as the plan written on January first and followed as close to the letter as possible.  These free spirits accomplish a great deal while in the mood and what they churn out is their best work.  The downside of that is the example of the pretty cold process Christmas soap that they have the inclination to make on December 10th.  The soap won’t be ready in time, and even with shortcuts, won’t get properly promoted for those crucial and time-sensitive holiday sales.

 

What’s an artisan to do?  It’s important to look at yourself and decide where you fit on the continuum and how it has affected you.  If you find that you’ve missed opportunities by being inflexible, plan for 2013 to leave yourself a little leeway.  Promise yourself that you will review your goals and readjust your priorities when it makes sense.  On the other hand, if you realize that you’re not accomplishing your goals and instead running after this and that, you know that a planning session is in your future, including a plan for further planning on a regular basis.

 

Where are you and what can you do to make your “artisan life” better?  We’d love to hear your views.

 

*Note:  watch your mailbox.  It’s just hours before your copy of the Nov./Dec. issues arrives!  It includes our favorites and the annual Raves for Faves Survey!

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

 

News About Soapermakers and Soapmakers in the News!

What are your fellow soapmakers doing these days?  From whom do they purchase supplies and how are they promoting their businesses?

 

If you’re curious, you’ll soon find out–that is, if you’re a subscriber of the Saponifier Magazine.  We’ve spent a great deal of time compiling votes and getting the results ready for you to peruse, so we’re eager for you see them!

 

Meanwhile, it’s been exciting to hear reports from my fellow soap/candle makers about their success in getting public exposure for their products.

 

One such person is Michelle Rhoades, who incidentally, is a Saponifier subscriber.  Michelle recently reported that she has been featured in Southern Living’s Christmas at Home Edition, 2012. She was contacted one day by a representative from Southern Living because they liked her website.  She was skeptical about whether the offer was genuine or not, but it was, and now Michelle’s soap is beautifully photographed and described in the magazine!

 

Michelle only began making soap in 2009, but quickly, by 2010, in fact, quit her day job and began her business,  Mossy Creek Soap.  Michelle not only sells her soap and candles, but also teaches classes.  She and her husband Dan reside in Kathleen, Georgia, and have an 11 year old daughter. Michelle mentors her 15 year old niece, as well.

 

Michelle gives the Saponifier partial credit for her success by stating, “. . .  information that I received from Saponifer helped me succeed.”

 

Another soapmaker, Lauri Isle, of South Bend, Indiana, was also recently featured in Midwest Magazine for her soap, candle and body products business.  Lauri is co-owner with her sister of SACS & Co, a brick and mortar business located in Winona Lake.

 

You may also recall reading a blog post not long ago about Andrew Fuller of  Tonsorial Parlor and his involvement in the Martha Stewart Handmade contest.  You’ll be interested to learn that he came in third place!  Way to go, Andrew!

 

A hearty congratulations goes out from the Saponifier to these fine artisans, along with our wishes for great success.

 

Remember, keep an eye out for the delivery of the Nov./Dec. issue in your mailbox on Nov. 1st!

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Soaps with Swirls, Twirls and Whirls

Have you seen the beautiful cold processed soaps that soapers are creating?

 

In various places on the internet, you’ll see beautiful multi-color swirls, swirl designs with their own names, peaked tops, cupcake soaps, and soaps that look like cake–and that’s just the beginning, swirls, twirls and whirls abound.  I am impressed daily by what my fellow soapmakers are capable of, most of them better than what I am able to do.  I feel that I make a good quality soap, but not one as gorgeous and imaginative as what I see from some of my colleagues.  It’s truly enjoyable to gaze in wonder and delight at their creations.

 

It makes me wonder, however, is a plain jane bar of soap acceptable anymore?  Will a bar of one color, no swirls, no peaks and  no design be received with as much joy as the bar that bowls you over with its intricacy?  Might the soaper who makes that plain bar be seen as a lesser soapmaker than her fancier counterpart?  I wonder if the bar has been raised or is in the process thereof (yes, pun intended) to require a soap not only to be well made, but gorgeous, too.

 

So far, the soapmakers I’ve seen have been very supportive of each other’s work and it makes me pleased to be in the company of such individuals.  I have seen men and women who cheer each other on and who freely pass along hints and favorite suppliers.  I hope that continues and that it is widespread, not just where I hang out.  I do wonder, however, where soapmaking is taking us as an industry and whether this will separate the novice from the professional and whether the customer will eventually demand artistic soap.

 

What is your opinion on the matter?  What do you make?

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

 

« Previous PageNext Page »