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


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

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


Vote for American Made Soap!

I have exciting news to share.


One of ours has made it as a finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made Awards!  His name is Andrew Fuller, and he is a soapmaker from Des Moines, Iowa.  His business name is Cirmes Tonsorial Parlor (cirmes.com, cirmes.etsy.com).   Andrew entered the contest and has made it all the way to the finalist level.  As a matter of fact, he’s in 2nd place!


Please vote for Andrew as he is representing us as an industry and makes an awesome product, besides.  As he stated yesterday, “Thank you, beauties. This is a REAL FIGHT and I need all of my soapy friends to rally behind me and get the word out. It’s amazing what we can do as a group.”


Here is the link for the contest.  You may vote once each day:  http://americanmade.marthastewart.com/profiles/andrew-fuller-836


Let’s cheer Andrew on and see one of our own win!


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

Beth Byrne

Artisan Giving

Most of us are gearing up for the holiday season.  We’ve planned our production schedules and are working to get our holiday products ready for the throngs of buyers who demand our wares (in our dreams, anyway).   With all of our planning, sourcing supplies and making product, we might be forgetting something.  Of course, it may already be part of your plans. What is it?  It’s giving.  Giving back can be an enriching experience and something we should all be considering.


The idea of giving or giving back is more prevalent during the holiday season than at any other time for most of us, so it’s a timely subject of discussion, even though it isn’t limited to that small space of time between Thanksgiving and December 26th (for our Boxing Day observers).


Do you give regularly during the holiday season or at some other time?  Do you give of yourself?  Perhaps you make one big annual donation or several smaller donations throughout the year.  Maybe you teach your craft to others or volunteer in some other capacity.


I know that we small business owners are terribly busy and often running on a shoestring budget, so that giving is sometimes the last thing we worry about.  Other times, we are stopped because we don’t know the best way to give, desiring that our gifts be used to their best possible use.  I know I’ve struggled with both.  I donated to a national organization that collects soap and sends it to third world nations, but then I learned that it costs more to collect, prepare, and ship the soap than it would cost to pay someone in the country to make it.  I have not substantiated this, but it made sense.  I decided then, to make my donations more local because it would be the most efficient use of my product.


I’ve read about a few other soapmakers traveling to countries to teach women to make soap and sincerely applaud them for their efforts to bring our craft to people who need it.  Some reach out to people in their own communities, as well.  Others donate money to the favorite charities.


What about you?  Do you agree or disagree with sending donations to national organizations?  How do you make a difference in your community or your world with your craft, whether it be soap, bath and body products or candles?  We’d love to know what you do.


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


Beth Byrne

Oil Crazy

In my pre-soaping days, I never dreamed that I would become an oil connoisseur.  And yet, like many soap and bath and body artisans, I have. I love oils!  Trying different kinds in soap and other products and observing how they perform is something I truly enjoy.  I only wish I could try them all.


It’s a good learning experience,  substituting one oil for another and playing with percentages, especially in soap, not only for satisfying my own curiosity, but because  substituting one or more oils for another sometimes becomes necessary.  We see that Possessing  the skills to do so is important to becoming an experienced soap and bath and body artisan.  For instance, when olive oil’s price climbed so high, I learned to make soap without it and found that what I came up with, I liked as much or more than my soaps with olive oil.  Moreover, now that jojoba oil is becoming more difficult to find and prohibitively expensive, I am formulating without it and am finding that I can live without that lovely, liquid wax.  Of course, I will be more than happy to use it again once the price comes down.


Most people wouldn’t understand this thrill that some of us get from testing new oils and in studying the results of swapping out one oil for another, but I have to believe that I am not alone here and that some of  you are shaking your heads up and down in agreement and enthusiasm.  Right?


Tell us whether or not you feel comfortable swapping out oils, what some of your favorite oils are, or which oils you like the most.  I really want to know I’m not the only one!


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


Beth Byrne

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