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

 

 

Soap and Candle Spring Fling

If you’re like me, spring brings with its arrival a new excitement.

 

As the days lengthen and the sunshine warms, I too, come back to life.  That carries through to my soapmaking and body products.  I want to try new colors, scents, and techniques.  Admittedly, some work out better than others, but the not-so-good results do not discourage me too much because I keep at it.

 

On the other hand, how many times do we realize our mistakes could be better termed, serendipity?  That’s what I love about my craft.  I don’t always get in reality, what my optimistic mind imagines, but it’s almost always good, even if only for family use.  Sometimes, it’s even better than I imagined.  It’s at these times I’m most pleased.

 

It used to be that when a soapmaker made her first batch, or even when a more experienced soapmaker made an exceptionally good/beautiful batch, that we said we were doing a “Happy Soap Dance.”  I don’t see that often anymore, but it still exists!  I do the HSD after a good batch, if only in my head.  I’m quite sure I also wear a great big grin.

 

What about you?  Do you still get excitement and immense satisfaction from each (or nearly each) batch?  Chandlers, do you look forward to trying new things?  Or has soapmaking and candlemaking become routine, a chore that needs to be finished?   Tell us how you feel.

 

Until next time, Happy bubbles and wax!

Beth Byrne

Dealing with the Public: How do You do it?

Dealing with the public, any of us selling soap, body products, or candles do it.

 

We all get comments about our products that are inaccurate or even rude.

 

 ”That lye soap will take your hide off!”

 

 ”I’m not going to pay for that when I can get the same thing at the store for a dollar.”

 

“That (insert ingredient) is junk/disgusting/unhealthy.”

 

“I can make that for half the price.”

 

Other times, you may be asked, “How do you make that?  Where do you get your supplies?”

 

I can see you shaking your heads now.  You’ve heard it all.

 

On a more positive note, you may be asked, “What makes your product better than what I can buy at the store?

 

Admittedly, it can be a challenge.  Situations arise that we are unprepared for, leaving us groping for replies.  If you’re like me, you don’t always feel that you’ve dealt with their comments or questions well.

 

 

What can we do?  Lashing out at the customer or running into a corner to cry is not a positive response, no matter how tempting.  However, thinking about the questions ahead of time and preparing yourself with answers is key to diffusing  tense situations as is adequately explaining your product so that your customer understands how special your goods are and how fortunate the public is to have access to them.

 

I welcome shoppers asking what makes my products worth the money I charge because it’s a perfect opportunity to explain the ingredients and the process I use, and also the care I take in creating my goods, often convincing a skeptic that she wants to purchase what I have to offer.

 

The rest is a little more difficult, but if we’re in the trenches with the public, we must learn how to deal with comments and questions with grace and tact, perhaps even a bit of humor.

 

What do you say to rude comments that degrade your product?  I’ll get us started.  To, those who claim “lye soap” is harsh, I counter that it often was true in the past, but today, you’ll find soap to be a very gentle cleaner in comparison.  I then hand them a sample to prove my point.  I haven’t actually found that to sell soap to this group, but if I can get a few people here and there to understand the difference between old-fashioned soap and modern soap, we’ve all gained.

 

Your turn.  Choose any of the above questions and comments and tell us how you reply.  Let’s help each other!

Candles, Herbs, and Economics — Three Ideas for 2012

How is January coming along for you?  Are you reaching for your 2012 goals?  Taking steps to keep your resolutions?

 

If one of  your resolutions was to add candles to your bath business, you no doubt found Erica Pence’s article of the same title very helpful.  Just gather together the ingredients she lists and create away!  Tell us if you’ve used Erica’s directions to be just the ticket to your first candle.  Once you add candles to your line, tell us if they have boosted sales for you.

 

Were you as encouraged as I was to read, Planning for the Best When Experiencing the Worst, by Alexander Sherman?  I found his advice regarding positioning our businesses to be front and center as the economy rebounds (however slowly) and his enthusiasm for the future to be quite contagious.  I hope the same was true for you.  What are you doing to be ready for the surge in sales?

 

For all of us budding herbalists, the herbal monographs are always informative.  Even with more familiar herbs, I learn something new.  Elizabeth Sockol’s, Spanish Dagger, better known to many of us as Yucca, is no exception.  I never tire at learning more about the various uses for any herb, whether cosmetic, culinary, or medicinal.  Yucca provides no shortage of uses, even though none of them are food-related.  It is likely that some of our readers have used the root to extract the saponins.  Have you?

 

Perhaps Ginger oil is your preference.  Did you get any new ideas from Cindy Noble’s monograph?  I confess to using it only for culinary and medicinal purposes, except for a drop in the bath of a sick person.  We’d love to hear how you use Ginger.

 

Finally, be sure to check out the photos supplied by Jonathan Savoie and Madeline Novak of  Old Factory Soap Company.  They are truly inspirational!

 

Yours in the joys of bubbles and wax,

 

Beth

 

 

 

 

Silly Season Suggestions

Silly Season is nearly upon us.  You’re either shaking your head up and down in the affirmative, or saying, “Huh?”

 

Let me explain.  Silly Season refers to the flurry of activity involved in selling your products to holiday buyers.  Most of them are shopping for Christmas, but also for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa–did I miss any holidays?

If this applies to you, I am guessing that you’ve already taken stock of what you want to produce and what you’ll need to purchase to produce it.  If you’re really on the ball, you’ve purchased your supplies already and are working hard to shore up your stock to make it through that crazy time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ideally, I like to make my  soap in the summer and then everything else–lotions, body butter, etc.,  in October.  I make m&p soap in seasonal molds and scents.

What about you?  Do you plan well ahead or do  you find yourself perennially rushing to keep up?  How do you decide what to make and how much?  Share your secrets with us!  We can learn much from each other.  And if you don’t sell, the same principles probably apply to your hobby and holiday giving, so don’t think you’re off the hook.  Tell us how you plan ahead and prepare for a more controlled holiday season.

Soaper/Chandler meet-ups and You!

Have you ever attended a gathering or conference of soap and/or candlemakers?  

I have.  In fact, I recently returned from a state gathering, where my fellow soapers, chandlers and I had a marvelous time.  We talked soap, learned new techniques, shared a delicious lunch, bought from each other’s garage sales, and generally made it a great day for soapers.  It’s an event I look forward to each year.

Why do I value this event so much?  I can think of many reasons.  I get to see the friends I’ve made at previous gatherings so we can we catch up on our respective lives.  I get to meet new people and get their perspectives.  We get to talk soap!  It’s not every day for me that I find someone who appreciates and understands this craft as I do, and I’m sure the same is true for the other attendees.

In addition to these advantages, I have the opportunity to sell off my extras or my “I-bought-this-and-can’t-remember-what-to-do-with-it”  items, along with buying others’ items in the same categories.  I have the opportunity to dream big with the raffle prizes, and even to see the wonderful products that our vendor sponsors have sent for our doorprizes and goody bags.  I learn new techniques in the demos that other members kindly provide.

What about you?  Have you ever attended any kind of soap/candle gathering?  From lunch with a few other devotees to the annual HSMG Conference, tell us where you’ve been and what you find so compelling or enjoyable about the experience.  If you haven’t had the opportunity or haven’t made the effort, think about changing that at first opportunity, even if you have to initiate the project.  You’ll be glad you did.

Who’s next?

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