The Soapmaker’s Sweet Spot

What kind of soapmaker are you?  Do you plan out your offerings far in advance?  Do you spend time developing intricate designs and precise colors?  Or, do you make soap as the spirit moves you?  Do you prefer soap with simpler colors and patterns, either because you’re not the fancy kind or to speed production?

 

A more important question to consider is whether it’s important or not to plan far ahead, to make artistically designed soaps, to be a free spirit or to keep it simple.

 

The answer, of course is, it depends–on a number of factors.

 

For some of soapmakers, simply making soap is the satisfaction, be it fancy or simple, unusually shaped or rectangle, scented or not, it doesn’t matter.  The magic of combining the alkali and oils and getting lovely soap is a reward unto itself.  For others, the design part of making soap is a large part of the attraction.  Artistic souls are moved by the possibilities of making patterns in striking color combinations and it keeps them going.

 

As for planning, well, planners know whom they are and free-spirits know whom they are!  For some, planning is painful and stifles creativity, so they make what they want when the spirit moves them.  Others find that careful planning  is the only way to get soap made and made well.

 

So then, should we all be striving for the same outcome?  Absolutely not!

 

If you’re selling soap, you realize that all things about your nature must be tempered by business demands.  It’s a simple fact that you cannot run a successful business without a good degree of planning, regardless of whether you enjoy it or not.  You also realize that you need to produce soap as quickly and as efficiently as possible in order to maximize time and thus, profits.  This realization usually forces us to streamline our creativity into something that we can do easily and can reasonably replicate.  Hobbyists, on the other hand, you have the freedom to spend as much time as you like to develop your skills and put your artistic abilities to work.

 

Even so, I hope that each soapmaker finds his or her “sweet spot.”  Gorgeous or utilitarian, rectangular or round, full of additives or not, well-planned or by-the-seat-of-your-pants, all have a place and a purpose.  Finding your purpose and working with your personality is the key to success, however you define it.  The Saponifier’s goal is to open you up to the possibilities to help you on your way.

 

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

 

Beth Byrne, for the Saponifier

 

PS – Subscribers, watch your inbox today for the 15th anniversary issue!  If you’re not a subscriber, quick!  You have a little time to make sure you get in on the fun:  http://saponifier.com/subscriptions/

Oh, Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer!

Proms are taking place–graduation ceremonies, too.  The school year is near or at its end and those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are almost upon us in the Northern Hemisphere.  Soon, we’ll be sleeping in, taking picnics and lying in our hammocks with a cold beverage at our sides.

 

I can hear you now.  “Lazy?  I don’t think so!”  I know and I agree.  Still, you must admit that it sounded good for awhile, didn’t it?  Ever since I became an adult I wondered who was enjoying those lazy, hazy days, because it wasn’t me!  Crazy yes; lazy and hazy, not so much.  In fact, this time of year is probably second only to Christmas holiday season for many of us, especially if we are gearing up for or already selling at  summer festivals.  We’re more likely making product at a hectic pace than we are lying in a hammock. (Naturally, you will want to take some time to soak in the newest edition of the Saponifier, and read up on everything moisturizing!)

 

Even so, it’s exciting to get ready for the summer sales season (say that three times fast), whether you have a brick-and-mortar shop in a resort town, you sell at the many festivals taking place or you wholesale to stores.  You have the opportunity to critique yourself this season, as well.  Are you focusing on your business plan?  Is your product line popular and pared to the best products?  Is your display as attractive as it should be?  Are you charging appropriately for your costs?  If you find yourself perfectly on target, it’s time for a pat on the back and a nudge to keep on going.  If not, watch for what you need to change and get your plan in place.

 

I don’t think I can give you any tips that will promise you that lazy summer, but if it’s going to be crazy, it might as well be a good and profitable crazy!

 

Welcome to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.

 

Until next time, may your days be full of bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

The Mom Market

It’s no surprise that since Mother’s Day is upon us, that my mind is on mothers.  Mothers come in all sizes and shapes.  They come in all types of personalities, as well.  Some are new, others are more experienced.  And yes, some are better at their jobs than others.  By and large, however, they love their children deeply and unconditionally.  They are their greatest source of satisfaction and joy, and admittedly, confusion and concern.  It comes with the territory.

 

How many of us owe our core businesses to moms?  I don’t mean by what our own moms taught us, although that is a good thing to acknowledge and appreciate, but our target market.  If most of your customers are women, you may very well be marketing to mothers, and you’re likely wooing them by offering their favorite scents, colors and the products they use most.  If this is true for you, how do you market to them?  How do you find them and how do you keep them as customers?  We know that moms are busy, so we need fresh ideas and tactics to reach their attention quickly and effectively.  Of course, your product selection and appearance are paramount to catching their attention.  Beyond that, what do you consider important?  Deciding which kind of mom you’re catering to will help guide you.  If you offer vegan products, you’re looking for a certain kind of mom–a “granola” mom who appreciates and seeks your offerings.  Others may be looking for organic moms or fashionista moms or moms in search of younger looking skin.  For every type of mom, a soap, bath and body or candle maker exists.  You just have to choose your kind of mom, develop your product line around her, and help her to find you.  Once she does, provide a quality product and service, and you’ll have a long-term customer.

 

Indeed, one of the things I like best about my job is knowing that I am supplying a mom with something to make her day more pleasant and a product that she feels good about using.  I like thinking that my products make her feel pampered and pretty or well taken care of.

 

What about  you?  What kind of mom do you market to?  What makes it worth the effort to you?

 

If you’re a hobbyist, you aren’t worried about marketing, but you probably make products to please others in your lives, such as relatives and teachers.  Whom do you create for?

 

Don’t forget to treat your mom on Sunday if you’re blessed to have her!  If you are a mom, let your family spoil you a little bit and take the day off.  Happy Mothers’ Day!

 

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

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

 

PS – if you’re attending the HSCG Conference next week, I’d love to meet you!

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

                                                   William Shakespeare,
Romeo and Juliet

What’s in a name?  If we take the fictional Juliet at her word, we might think, “not much.”  The reality, however, is much different.  Yes, your rose scented candle or soap smells the same no matter which moniker you attach to it;  but, in marketing the scent, you might want to take it a step further and create a name for your rose scent that evokes the imagination in a way that plain, old “rose” cannot.  For example, Dewy Rose, Ramblin’ Rose or Rose Cascade, say something more, something that triggers the imagination to become fully engaged with the scent.  By mere mention, the customer pictures roses at dawn before the dew dries off, or a strong-scented wild rose happily tumbling through the field with its wide open, simple flowers, or even a heavily blooming climbing rose bush, delighting both the eyes and the nose as it appears to flow down its peak.

If your scent lacks a strong single, natural note, you have even more room to play.  Close your eyes and  take a little sniff.  Let your mind wander and explore as it searches for a description of what you are smelling.  Does it remind you of a certain time of day or place?  Do you recall the scent somewhere in your past?  Do you see colors?  Are you transported to another season?  What kind of person do you feel would be attracted to this scent?  Any of these will provide you with material for choosing a name.

Conversely, perhaps this scent is indicative of a time period or a particular culture.  Do a little research and be open to names that pop out as you read.  Medieval Castle or Savannah Breeze may be your newest scent name.

Of course, clever naming isn’t relegated to scent, but to product, as well.  You’ll want to be clear in your name what your product is, but you do have some poetic leeway for making the name unique and appealing.  Why sell lip balm in a pot when you can sell lip butter?  Lotion is great, but body cream may be more attractive to certain customers.

You might even go totally off convention and choose a name that you have made up.  As long as it’s simple enough and pronounceable, it may be just the thing to get customers talking.  It worked for George Eastman and Kodak; it may work for you!

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

Beth, for the Saponifier

Is it Natural?

“Is it natural?”  If you make soap or body products, you’ve probably been asked this question numerous times.  How do you answer?  

 

This question is much more difficult than people often realize.  The average consumer is used to seeing the term, “natural,” several times each day, and seldom knows how to determine whether the product is truly natural or not.  In fact, they most often take it for granted that the natural product they’re buying is indeed, natural.

 

Those of us in the industry take a harder look at the issue, but may come away as confused as the average consumer.

 

Why is this?  It’s a simple answer to a difficult concept.  We have in the USA, no formal, uniform definition for the term, “natural,” where it applies to soap and body products.  Therefore, companies are in full compliance with FDA regulations when they call their products natural, no matter what is in them.  Yes, you read that right.  You may be appalled at what you suppose to be an oversight of government, but actually defining natural is harder than it appears on the surface.  Sure, we all think we know what natural is.  We may be hard-pressed to define it, but we have a “know it when we see it” idea of natural–except that it’s not that simple.

 

For instance, seeing dimethicone on an ingredient label, most of us would agree that it isn’t a natural ingredient.  Nevertheless, it began as a silica and is mixed with oxygen, carbon and hydrogen to get dimethicone.  If it is made from natural ingredients (albeit not plant-based), is it natural?

 

Let’s take a look at di-propylene glycol.  It began as crude oil, which is natural, but through many processes, becomes a clear, odorless liquid which is listed as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) and is used by the food industry?  Is it natural?

 

 You  might use cornstarch or its more processed cousin, modified corn starch or modified tapioca starch.  Some consider cornstarch to be natural, but not modified cornstarch; however, good old cornstarch is a processed product.  Are either of them natural?

 

How about fractionated coconut oil?  Some consider it natural, while others do not, citing the processing necessary to separate the long chain fatty acids from the short ones.  What’s your opinion?

 

Some believe that even essential oils are not natural, due to the efforts involved to distill or otherwise obtain the essence of the plant.

 

Confused?  The subject is confusing, for sure. Given the complexities, which I believe shall prove to be more common as science and cosmetics develop, discerning natural will only become more difficult.

 

It is true that a few organizations for natural products do exist and that they have set down standards to which their members adhere, but the organizations are entirely voluntary and hold no power of regulation.  You may even find, if you were search them out and read their standards, that you may or may not agree with them.

So, what is natural?  I think I’ll leave that to you to decide!

 

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

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Creating Your Signature Soap

Creating your own soap formulas; does the very thought appall you or does it excite you?  Perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders saying, “I do that all the time.”  or “Been there, done that.  I worked and tweaked and found my own formula a long time ago.”  

 

If you identify with the former, read on.  If it’s the latter, well, read on to see if  you agree.

 

My opinion is that every soapmaker should eventually develop her own formula(s).  It’s fine to start out with a well-designed, simple formula, but somewhere along the line, she should become curious about other oils and percentages and manipulating them to create a signature soap that she loves.  Yes, some of us get a bit carried away with this concept and never stop tweaking, but that’s another story for another day.

 

I’ve known soapmakers who enjoy the experimentation part more than any other component of soapmaking.  I’ve also known a few who found a recipe in a magazine twenty years ago and have used that formula since and that one only.  I suppose that isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s a good formula, but you’ll be a more knowledgeable soaper if you step out of your comfort zone and learn more about various oils and methods by doing some research and experimentation.

 

If you’re a brand new soapmaker, by all means, get a good formula, follow the directions, and make soap (after after putting your formula through a lye calculator).  If your first batch turns out well, it will encourage you to keep going.

 

Once you become more familiar with making soap, study various oils to learn more about what they have to offer soap.  Some oils produce lather, some harden the bar and others are skin conditioning.  A balanced bar will include good percentage of each.  From there, you’ll probably look for formulas for specialty soaps, such as facial bars and mechanics soap.  That’s where knowing your oils will come in handy and will save you valuable time and supplies in formulating those bars.

 

After some time and trials, you’ll consider yourself a knowledgeable soapmaker.  You’ll realize how little you knew at the beginning, and even though your soap was good then, you’re just so much smarter now!

 

Have you created your own formulas yet?  Are you fearful of doing so, or have you enjoyed the process?  Share with us what you’ve learned.

 

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

 

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

How Will Your Personality Type Affect Your Business?

It’s January.  A new year is upon us, full of hope for the future.  It’s time to let go of any failures, mistakes or bad attitudes of 2012 and spend 2013 pursuing our dreams.

 

It sounds good, doesn’t it?  We can let go of time wasted, attempts that we aborted and opportunities we let slip through our fingers.  Depending upon how you tend to look upon the world, it may or may not be true.  So, how does your personality affect your business?

 

If you’re a glass half full person, you’re probably charging your way down January’s road with glee and with the proverbial stars in your eyes.  You quickly forget problems of the past year or are able to chalk them up to experience as you make new plans to rule the soap/candle/bath & body world.  We’ll call you Olga the Optimist.

 

On the other hand, if you’re a glass half empty type, you may be feeling a bit depressed, unable to let go of  how this last year wasn’t what you wanted.  You realize all too well your faults–you’re too shy, not motivated enough, a poor sales person, your products aren’t quite as beautiful as the next person’s, you hate bookkeeping; they all haunt every potential plan.   You’re destined to repeat 2013, no matter how well others think you did.  We’ll call you Paula the Pessimist.

 

If you’re a realist, thinking about how the glass is both half full and half empty, you know that things can be very, very good or very, very bad, or anywhere in between.  You tend to set realistic goals and make contingency plans.  You don’t reach for the sky, but you’re not hiding in a corner, either.  You know that hard work and perseverance will get you to a certain place.  Your moniker is Roy the Realist.

 

People think that Olga the Optimist will go far, and indeed, it’s often true.  She is able to let go of past mistakes and continue on.  Nevertheless, her enthusiasm at times gets in the way of good sense, and her ability to forget compounds her mistakes because she doesn’t always learn from them.

 

Paula the Pessimist I liken to Eeyore, the donkey of Winnie the Pooh fame.  Eeyore types always remember the bad and never think things will work out well.  On the plus side, they see the pitfalls ahead and are very good at planning, often with some coaxing from a more optimistic person.

 

It would seem that being like Roy is best because he or she is, well, realistic.  However, this type of person usually doesn’t reach as far as the optimist would and is in danger of not accomplishing all the he could in his endeavors.  Not that there is anything wrong with being realistic, but a little dreaming is good, too.

 

You know what comes next–which one are you?  More importantly, is there any help for the negative parts of our personalities?

 

My answer is yes, of course!  Knowing yourself, the good parts as well as the not-so-good parts, is key to success.  You can teach yourself to hold back, to push forward, or to overcome other obstacles you face.  You can partner up with someone as a mentor who will compliment your personality and help where you are lacking.  You do possess what it takes to dream and make your dreams come true.

 

It’s January.  Go get ‘em!

 

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

 

Beth  for the Saponifier.

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

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