Surviving the Summer Show Season

It’s the summer craft show season.

 

Most of the shows, in the northern part of the US, anyway, are held outdoors.  Merchants set up tents and sell at festivals and other outdoor public events.  With any luck, the crowds are out and about enjoying themselves, and, we  hope, spending their dollars on soap, candles, and bath and body products.

 

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  A day or a weekend spent in fun and games collecting said dollars.  Those who have done these shows, however, know the truth.  They spend hours in preparation manufacturing adequate quantity.  They set up their booths, sell for the long hours that the shows often demand, experience fickle crowds, and then take it all down and return home with what is left, all the while with a smile and perky attitude.  This description doesn’t even begin to mention the “good shows gone bad”–rain, wind, mud, extreme heat, even hurricanes and tornadoes, and so on, wreaking havoc on tents, customers, and vendors, alike.  Indeed, the life of a professional crafter who sells at outdoor shows is likely to include tales of surviving (or not) extreme conditions and other adventures of selling on the road.  Those who think it’s an easy way to make money will be quickly taught otherwise, even at their first show.

 

Not that it’s all bad.  Sometimes crafters hit the jackpot and find their goods selling like the proverbial hotcakes (although I have yet to see hotcakes being sold at all, quickly or otherwise, but I digress).  They meet wonderful people, be it other crafters, show staff or customers.  They glean valuable feedback about their products, and they might even get the opportunity to participate in some of the activity going on around them.  Not the worst way to spend the weekend, indeed.

 

Do you vend at summer, outdoor shows?  Do you find them to be enjoyable and lucrative, or do you not participate, seeing the shows as too much of a gamble, too much work, or tough on product?

 

 If you do like them, please leave your best tip for other readers to not only survive the shows, but to thrive at them.

 

Until next time, stay happy creating bubbles and wax fun.

 

Beth Byrne

Handcrafted Soap in the Media: Good or Bad?

Have you seen the advertisement on t.v. mentioning “homemade soap?”

 

The ad portrays two people meeting at a restaurant.  The woman is thinking to herself as she eats a hamburger about how the gentleman isn’t quite how he described himself online.  He then slides a bar of soap toward her that he had made and the announcer says something to the effect that his homemade soap is yet another thing less than desirable about him.  (Thanks to my cyberfriend, Elin Criswell, for pointing this ad out.)

 

What do you think when you see the ad?  Are you offended that the soap was meant to be a negative activity, as in, “What kind of guy makes soap?”  Or are you tickled to see soap in the mainstream to the point where it’s mentioned in the media?

 

Personally, I am feeling ambivalent about the commercial.  It’s obvious that the soap is not seen as a high-quality, desirable item or hobby, yet perhaps as they say, “Any publicity is good publicity.”

 

What about you?  Are you ready to start a letter-writing campaign protesting their characterization of handcrafted soap and therefore, those who make it?  Or are you already planning how you can parlay the publicity into positive marketing for your business?  Let us know how you feel.

 

Until next time, may each day include lots of bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

A Mold Obesssion

Some might consider soapmakers a weird bunch, especially when it comes to molds.  

 

Every container they come across is eyed as a potential mold. Nothing goes into the trash or recycling bin without consideration as to its suitability for soap. Indeed, every trip to the grocery store reveals potential.  Even goods for sale in home improvement stores and hardware stores are  fair game for holding soap. (“Hmm. . . I wonder if that mudding trough would be good for soap?”)  One might say we have a mold obsession.

 

I was especially guilty of this odd behavior when I was making melt and pour soap.  Every bit of packaging that came into my house, and sometimes even what I scrounged elsewhere, was a treasured mold–soda bottles (the bottoms look like flowers), cupcake packages with those lovely scalloped edges, and juice cans.  You name it, I used it.  Indeed, I tested the limits of packaging, being taught as as only experience can that rigid molds won’t release the soap and some plastic just won’t withstand the heat of hot melt and pour.

 

Of course, it’s important to remember certain principles before trying out unconventional molds.  When making melt and pour, remember that what goes into the mold must come out, so you need a plan for getting the hardened soap out or you’ll find yourself digging.  Additionally, the mold needs to stand up to the heat of melted soap.  With cold or hot process soap, it’s vital to remember that caustic soap will react to many metals, especially aluminum, so you need to be certain what kind of metal your mold is made of if you’re considering metal.  As with melt and pour, a plastic mold must be able to take the heat, especially if you put your soap in the oven to speed cure.

 

What unusual molds do you use or have you used?  I think we all have tales to tell about the strange or unique items we’ve used.  I’ve confessed mine, so now it’s your turn.

 

Incidentally, Pringle’s Chip cans and PVC pipe have become standard molds and don’t count!

 

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

 

Beth Byrne

Summer Musings

In my neck of the woods, summer weather is all but upon us.  No promises, but it’s possible we’ll have no more frosts until October.  The kids are getting antsy in anticipation of being out of school.  Neighbors start talking about their summer vacation plans. We roll out our favorite summer scents.

 

If you sell or make for yourself special scented items to celebrate summer, what are they?  Some like the fruits of summer–berries of many kinds, melons, tropical mangoes, papayas and pineapples.  Others like summer flowers such as roses, lilies, iris and sunflowers.  Still others think of grass, herbs and other “green” scents.  If that’s not enough, think of the rain and ocean types of fragrances that remind us of a soft summer rain or that camping trip we took  oceanside.  Oh, and don’t forgot other fanciful food scents such as toasted marshmallows, cotton candy and ice cream.

 

Makes me wonder how many people have bitten into a soap or candle, hoping it was something more tasty!

 

If not special summer scents, then perhaps you offer products for summer use, such as after-sun lotion or an extra light moisturizer.

 

Candlemakers, do you find that as temperatures soar, sales drop?  If so, do you notice that offering special summer scents or products appeals to your customers’ summer frame of mind so that you can keep those sales up?

 

I confess that for myself, lighting a candle seems less inviting on a hot, humid evening than it did on a cold one in January.  Still, for an outdoor evening soiree, I could be convinced to burn a tabletop full of them.

 

No matter how you look at it, the dog days of summer will soon be calling.  Will you be ready?

 

Until next time, may you be happily entrenched in bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

 

 

Five Paths to Inspiration

What do you do for inspiration?  Do you ever find yourself bored of making soap or candles or unable to motivate  yourself to make that next batch?

 

I do hear that comment every now and then, most typically in January and February after the busyness of the holiday season is past.  Many find that they just need a breather so they take a month or two off.  A greater number, especially  those in business, haven’t the luxury of taking time off so they rely on other means of keeping themselves motivated–besides dollar signs, I mean.

 

What to do?  Below are some suggestions for keeping that creative or productive spark alive:

 

1.     Read the Saponifier.  Yes, this is a blatant ad reminding you that this publication is a great source of inspiration, both as an artist and as a businessperson.  You can’t go wrong!  You’ll learn techniques, business practices and everything else you need to get you there or to keep your products top-notch.

 

2.    Birds of a Feather. . . you know, “flock together.”  Meet up with other soaper/chandlers and talk about your craft.  Bring ideas to share.  If it isn’t possible locally, go online.  Many yahoogroups exist for soapers and chandlers.  Facebook now features pages for soapmakers and candlemakers, too.  Follow people in your field on Twitter.  You don’t have to be an island.

 

3.    Search Your Engines.  Type, “handcrafted soap” or “handcrafted candles” and then check “Images” for endless, glorious photos that are sure to stimulate your creative juices.  Look for websites, YouTube videos or even blogs that inspire you, as well.

 

4.    Schedule it.  This is the least obvious option, but believe it or not, inspiration is also achieved by working at it.  Most people think inspiration comes to us in sudden bursts from the heavens (picture an ethereal white light and angels singing), but those in occupations where they are self-employed or responsible for their own motivation know otherwise.  You are your own motivator.  Keep a list of types, designs, scents, and so on that you’d like to try.  Even if it’s not part of your everyday line, trying something new is good for you.  It helps you to see your products in a new light and it keeps you creative.    Since you’re already the R&D department of your company, you’d might as well practice it.  If  you know you need something new in your line, schedule far enough ahead that you have plenty of time to practice before you introduce something new.  Forcing yourself, for example, to start planning a Christmas line on December 1st is far too late and is likely to be more stressful than inspirational.

 

5.  The Golden Rule.  Treat others as you would be treated.  Being an inspiration to others is sure to find its way back to you as personal inspiration, so make a point of sharing some of yourself with others.  Share experiences and results, give a little assistance, be kind.  Without cheating yourself out of what makes your product unique, you can be a help to others.

 

Doesn’t inspiration seem a little easier now?  What do you do to keep yourself motivated?

 

Until next time, happy bubbles and wax!

 

Beth Byrne

 

It Takes all Kinds!

I was thinking recently about all the types of soapmakers and candlemakers out there.

 

Some like to keep things as basic and natural as possible.  In fact, if it were possible to make soap without lye, these individuals would do it.  These candlemakers use natural waxes as opposed to using paraffin wax.

 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we know soapmakers who are concerned only with the process or the art of soapmaking and are willing to use whatever resources are at their disposal to make the soap they love.  The same is true for some chandlers whose main goal is either production or beauty.  It’s not that this group of crafters don’t care if their products are safe, they just believe that the legal ingredients they use are safe for their customers so they are free to use them as they desire.

 

Most of us, however, fall somewhere between the two extremes.  Some of us insist on organic carrier oils, but scent with fragrance oils. Others use only essential oils, but use synthetic or nature identical colorants.   Still others use no soy or no animal products or no palm oil.  Moreover, good share of cosmetic makers are searching for effective natural preservatives.

 

The choices are nearly limitless and may cause confusion for both newbies and the experienced alike.  What’s really natural or acceptable?  How much not-so-natural is acceptable?  If I make products without regard to their naturalness or acceptability to various groups, are my products inferior?  Add to that other concerns such as moral ones or sustainabililty and you have an entirely new set of questions.

 

With this vast array, we might believe that life would be much easier if we weren’t offered so many possibilities.  What does it gain us?  Quite a bit, actually.  First of all, it causes us to do research, the result being more knowledgeable artisans.  Secondly, it provides us with niche markets.  We can sell to vegans or vegetarians, to those looking for a more natural way of life, customers who avoid certain groups of ingredients or those who are seeking products they like the looks, scent, and performance of.  It really does take all kinds!

 

Where in this wide spectrum do you find yourself?

 

Until next time, may you happily wade in bubbles & wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Two Problems with Newbies

Have you ever heard or read something like this?  “I think a soap/candle/body products business would be a great idea, so I signed up for a show next month.  Please give me your best recipes.”  I have.

 

Equally disconcerting at an event:  “I make that product, too.  Where do you get your supplies from?  What is your best seller and how do you make it?”  I have been asked these questions.

 

I could go on, but you get the picture.  Is it a problem for people to ask?  Do you become offended?

 

Personally, I do try to keep things in perspective.  It’s likely that Newbie Ned doesn’t really understand what he’s asking.  He may think it’s as simple as answering the question, “Where do you shop for groceries?”  Those of us who have been in the business for awhile, however, know that nothing could be farther from the truth and we would do well to communicate that.

 

Molly Moocher may not get the concept of competition or research and development; so, when she asks where I get my supplies, ideas, and formulas, I try to keep that in mind.

 

Does that mean that I should feel compelled to answer their questions as forthrightly as they were asked?  Not a chance!  And it’s not that I am feeling selfish.  I have many reasons for thinking that spoonfeeding potential soap and candle makers is a poor idea, and here are two of them:

 

1.     Potential hazards to future customers are imminent in the situation where someone who doesn’t have a thorough understanding of their craft sells their goods.  Soap, body products and candles can hurt people when they are poorly made or when the maker doesn’t have a good understanding of what they’re creating.  Lye heavy soap damages the skin. Certain essential oils shouldn’t be used for skin care.  Candles with the wrong wick size can cause fires.

 

Those who have taken the laborious road of research and experimentation are more able to produce a good, safe product, and respecting that gives them a distinct edge over their inexperienced counterparts.  Skipping this process may have devastating consequences.

 

2.     Those whom see no problem in asking potential competitors questions whose honest answers would require the person answering to divulge proprietary information have little respect for the business or the person they’re asking.  We can hope the problem lies simply in naivety, but that is not always true.  Occasionally, they are simply ruthless.  Letting them run roughshod over you is not the answer.

 

Is it wrong then, to ask for help?  Not at all. Those who practice a craft have a wealth of experience to share, and I hope that they do.  However,  rookies should learn respect for the process and those who are experienced in it.  This alone goes a long way, both in their own development and in their relations with potential mentors.  It is, in fact, a fine line sometimes between asking for guidance and demanding, like petulant children, that others give us what we want, NOW.  Requesting guidelines or good books and websites to learn from shows an understanding of the rights of the other person to keep competitive information to themselves.  It also demonstrates personal ambition and motivation, a willingness to learn for one’s self.  That should be encouraged.

 

Not everything in life can be had handed to us without effort on that proverbial silver platter, and recognizing it is the sign of one who has true potential.  These are the people that most of us love to help.

 

How do you feel? Do you respond when you are asked questions by amateurs?  If you’re brand new, how do you ask for help?

 

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

 

Beth Byrne

 

Selling Seasonal Items; is it a Good Idea?

With Easter just ended, I got to wondering how many of us produce holiday products.

Did you make and sell or give away anything specifically with an Easter/Passover theme? If so, are you now sitting on bath bomb eggs and thinking your bunny soaps reproduced by themselves?  No pun intended with the eggs, of course. . . well, OK, pun entirely intended.

 

It seems to me that seasonal creations are a two-edged sword. On the one edge, they enhance our product lines and give us the opportunity to sell more product as customers buy holiday offerings for gifts and home. That translates to sales and profits, of course, so it seems like a great idea. If you’re a hobbyist, seasonal creations are fun to produce and make great gifts for family and friends.

 

Looking at the other edge of the sword, however, our product ideas need to be planned out so that the items are ready well ahead of time so that we can start promoting them early. It also means extra production time, as well as increasing our marketing efforts. After all that, we are possibly left with product that is no longer in demand   and are then faced with storage issues or selling at a reduced cost, thus lowering profits.

 

It seems safer to create a regular line and not manufacture holiday products, but we may need to stop and consider how including them increases overall sales. Holiday products also allow us to introduce something new and fresh without requiring us to add them to our regular lines, which can be very appealing to the already overworked small business person.

 

What do you do? Do you make the products in the hopes or knowledge that it will be worth the effort in the long run? Or, do you feel that the risk of the loss associated with left over product is too much to make your efforts worthwhile?

 

Until next time, I hope you are busy in bubbles and wax!

Beth Byrne

You Are the Soap Master!

I’ve been checking out hundreds of photos of soap recently and I’ve been so impressed with the artistry that has been displayed by my fellow soapmakers.

 

I thought back to the days when I first began reading about making soap.  Not only were pictures harder to come by, but soapmakers just were not doing as much with their soaps.  Yes, they were adding color, spices, herbs, and scent, but not the lovely designs I’m seeing now.

 

Also, the first design, it seems to me, was the swirl and we saw lots of one color swirls out there.  Shortly thereafter, we began seeing multi-color swirls.  It didn’t take long for even more ideas for beautiful designs to be employed.  We began seeing soaps that looked like desserts, layers, brand new types of swirls, and so on.  I like to think that the Saponifier, among other sources, assisted soapmakers in inspiring one another to kick things up a notch.  What I see now is nothing less than astounding!

 

And yet, a handcrafted bar of soap is beauty in its own right, whether it’s a plain castile bar or a more primitive looking bar.

 

I know that some soapmakers feel frustrated at not accomplishing a design that is as beautiful or as artistic as that of another soapmaker’s.  That feeling is unnecessary, however, because creating a good quality bar of soap is the goal.  Further work to make it even more visually appealing is simply icing on the cake.

 

That is not to say we shouldn’t be challenged to try new techniques or to create our own, only that we shouldn’t lose sight of what is truly important, a good soap.  If you’ve gotten to that point, you are already a master.

 

Therefore, now that you are a master, forge your own path.  Do you find swirling hard to do well?  Try something else!  Let your imagination wander and free yourself to experiment.  You might come up with the next new trend!  And even if you don’t, know that the fact that you make great soap is enough.

 

Until next time, keep yourselves in bubbles and wax!

 

Beth Byrne

 

 

Four Creative Personalities: Which One Are You?

What kind of crafter are you?

 

I have had fun and my share of challenges in perfecting, at least to my satisfaction, the perfect sugar/salt scrub.  It took me three years to get the product I thought was the best I could make it.  Not three years of constant experimenting, lest I make you think I was churning out batch after batch on a daily basis, but a batch here and there that I would change each time, looking for what was just right.  It was a matter of asking around or pondering what I might have in my workshop that could contribute to the final product I had in mind, putting it to the test and then manipulating the percentages until I was satisfied.

 

How do you develop products?  Are you a Mad Scientist who can often be seen in your lab (such as it may be) creating mysterious potions?  Or, conversely, are you a Reliable Recipe Follower who must be given a recipe that you follow to a T, and only a calamity will get you to change course?

 

Most likely, you’re somewhere in the middle.  Perhaps you’re more adventurous than our Reliable Recipe Follower, but you can’t imagine doing anything more innovative than substituting one oil for another in soapmaking or trying new recipes others provide, with only slight changes.  You might call yourself a Timid Tinkerer.

 

On the other hand, You may be much more willing to experiment and make substitutions than either our Reliable Recipe Follower or even a Timid Tinkerer, but you would never think to call  yourself a Mad Scientist.  You might be an Enthusiastic Experimenter.  You’re unlikely to change the world with a new product that only you have thought of , but you do take inspiration from other products and other producers to take your current products up a notch or two.

 

None of these descriptions is negative, by the way, just an observation of whom you are as an individual and how it affects your tasks.

 

A Reliable Recipe Rollower is likely to be efficient and saves money by keeping expenses down.  A Timid Tinkerer is open-minded enough to substitute ingredients and try new products within a certain scope.  This person will likely learn more than her less adventurous sister and adapt better to changing times, but will never be a mover and shaker.

 

An Enthusiastic Experimenter is usually up on the various methods, ingredients, and trends.  She may have more in her workshop than her less enthusiastic counterparts, but she knows her stuff and she isn’t afraid to try new things or to tweak her current ideas in her quest to make the perfect product.

 

A Mad Scientist is the person others count on for new ideas.  He is constantly thinking of how to create something brand new or how to twist and tweak a product to make something novel.  This is the person others follow, eager to try out his new ideas.  The downside of a Mad Scientist is that he may have trouble with consistency, clutter, and spending.

 

Which one are you and how do you feel about it?  Let’s hear your comments!

 

Until next time, happy bubbles & wax.

 

Beth Byrne

 

 

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