This is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of my latest eBook, Organic and Sulfate Free Melt and Pour Glycerin Soap Crafting Recipes.
I used to buy my herbs, soap bases, molds and oils from suppliers in buildings rather than online. Nowadays, I order online because I make soap part time and don’t sell it. Over the years, I’ve learned what makes a good supplier — one that you will order from repeatedly.
It helps if the site is visually appealing, showing photos of their supplies. How well laid out is the site? Does it have a prominently placed search feature? Can you find the type of soap base you need? Are the soap base’s ingredients listed? What other products are available from fragrances to molds to packaging?
This is where you’ll want to shop around to compare where you can get the best value. Do they sell their soap by the pound, two-pound container, or only in larger quantities? Keep a list either on a computer document or on a pad of paper and write down the amounts that a given supplier charges. Do they have a sale page; a closeout section/discontinued products area? Perhaps they have a customer rewards program that will help if you plan to purchase a lot of soap. Do they offer coupons, discounts or free shipping? Is there an order minimum? By scrutinizing the site, you may end up saving money. If you’re a newbie to soap crafting, it’s practical to order the smallest sizes available so that you don’t end up with products that you never use or have to sell/give away.
Variety of Products:
Large suppliers like Brambleberry.com carry an array of products. This is the ultimate convenience in one-stop-shopping. If you’re just starting out and have to buy most of your soap bases, scents, molds, colorants, etc. you can also fill your shopping cart with way more than originally anticipated, so be careful.
Types of Payment:
Do they accept PayPal, major credit cards, eChecks, money orders, cashier’s checks, C.O.D. or other payment options? Can you snail mail them a check? Do they accept international orders? Do you need to register to make a purchase or can you bypass registration? Can you order online, via phone, fax, snail mail or email?
About the Company:
How long have they been in business? Are they online only or do they have a storefront? Do they provide free soap making/soap crafting resources? Does the owner or owners make soap and have an extensive background in soap/bath and body products crafting? Do they have a blog? If so, how frequently is it updated? Are they on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc? Do they offer discounts or coupons? Are there free video tutorials, and/or recipes? Do they sell eBooks and books?
I’m happy to introduce Pam, the founder of Kettlepot Soap. Pam is a very experienced soap maker from Ledyard, Connecticut, who makes Kettlepot bar soaps from scratch in a 220 year old New England farmhouse. All handcrafted soaps contain top-quality plant oils, essential and fragrance oils, natural pigment colors, herbs, flower petals, exfoliants and other goodies. Her numerous other handmade products include: bath bombs, lip lotions, hand and body lotions, sugared body polish and body butters, massage bars and more! [Click images to enlarge].
What prompted you to start making soap and/or bath & body products? I started soaping quite a few years ago after returning from Ireland where I bought some lovely all-vegetable bar soaps. I wanted to recreate the soap and scent; that effort started my foray into Kettlepot Soap.
What types of soap do you craft? What types of bath & body products do you craft? Since making my first bars of soap, I’ve added quite a few other handmade items to the KPS line: lip balm in an amazing number of flavors as well as custom-scented lotions, sugar scrubs, body butters, bath bombs, bubble bars, and massage bars. I find that my customers really appreciate being able to buy B&B in the scents they prefer. It’s like having your own personal line of skin care products made just for you!
When did you decide to sell your product[s]? KPS has been in business 15 years. It seems like I have always been making and selling crafts made from a variety of mediums. Once I was confident in my recipes and skills, it seemed natural to move into selling soap.
Do you sell your products at crafts fairs/markets, bed & breakfasts, stores, etc.? I mainly sell online and at crafts shows. Shows are a great way to introduce new products. I bring testers for nearly every product so people can try before they buy. Also, I really enjoy meeting my local online customers in person. Over the years, I’ve made quite a few new friends. Online selling does have the drawback that customers can’t try items before buying. Online does have at least one advantage though; I don’t have to worry about rainy weather!
What is your favorite fragrance or essential oil? What are your most popular scents? Scent is a very personal choice; this is why KPS features a wide variety of soap scents at any given time as well as custom-scented goodies. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite scent as some days I like light, clean scents and other days I like deep, earthy scents. I don’t even have a favorite flavor of ice cream!
Where do you get your packaging ideas? I’ve been sewing since I was in grade school so it was natural for me to use fabric in my packaging. Like many new soapers, I tried wrapping my soaps with fabric and tying them with raffia. I soon grew tired of all that knotting and switched to boxes. I still use fabric, coordinating the colors and patterns of the fabric with the colors, scents and patterns of the soaps. My customers rave about my soap packaging; they reuse the fabric-wrapped boxes as bookmarks, drawer sachets and gift boxes.
What advice would you give to newbies? Research, test and experiment with every product you make. Understand your ingredients. Use a preservative. Get insurance. You don’t need every FO/EO or every ingredient under the sun. Don’t rely too much on trends; you need to establish your niche and signature and provide your customers with reliable products. Read and apply the FDA rules and guidelines for labeling and product descriptions.
Do you have any funny anecdotes about unusual customers? Well, I know there is a raccoon out there that figured out that chocolate chip scented soap is not very tasty! A friend of mine’s son took a bar camping. He was pretty surprised to find teeth marks in his soap one morning.
How did you come up with your company’s name? As boring as it may sound, the name just popped into my head. Kettlepot. It just stuck. But after about 10 years as KPS I thought about changing the name to something more ethereal or evoking nature: Dragonfly something, Blue Moon something, Fair Maiden something (you get the idea). After searching a number of names, I realized that there are just too many soap companies with too many names in those categories. Rather than change, I decided to stay with Kettlepot ~ it’s established and unique. Website:http://kettlepotsoap.com
I’m happy to introduce of Irena Marchu of Ginger’s Garden. Irena is a very experienced soap maker from Rancho Mirage, California, who makes handmade artisan soap. Her array of handmade products include: wet shave soaps, lip balms, lotions [made to order], body wash, body scrub and shower gels containing local ingredients, liquid soap, natural aftershave and natural perfumes.
[Click images to enlarge].
What prompted you to start making soap and/or bath & body products? My mother and grandmother made soaps, herb infused oils and balms. I am following in their footsteps.
What types of soap do you craft? What types of bath & body products do you craft?
I make many types of handmade artisan soaps. This includes cold process soaps, cream soaps and shaving soaps. My lotions are made with natural oils and butters which are beneficial to the skin. I also make lip balms, liquid soaps, bubbling bath salts, body scrub made with local dates, men’s aftershave, Zodiac natural perfumes and gift baskets for any occasion.
When did you decide to sell your product[s]? I’ve made soaps since 1969 and helped my mother sell at local markets. I started to sell professionally in 1991.
Do you sell your products at crafts fairs/markets, bed & breakfasts, stores, etc.? I sell mostly online and through wholesale accounts.
Do you sell online? If so, what are the advantages or disadvantages? Yes, I sell online at http://www.gingersgarden.com The advantage of selling online is I don’t need to take my products from place to place.
What is your favorite fragrance or essential oil? What are your most popular scents? I love well aged, iron distilled Patchouli oil. My most popular scents are my own blends like Suede, Enigma and Amerikesh.
What soap and/or other bath & body crafting books have you read and been inspired by? I got to meet Alicia Grosso at one of the Soapmaking Conventions. She has a lot of knowledge and her Soapmaking book is one of my favorites. Kevin Dunn’s Scientific Soapmaking book has information that is not available anywhere else. I refer to Essential Oil Safety book by Robert Tisserand when I’m making natural perfume blends.
What soap and/or other bath & body videos have inspired you? When I have the time, I look at swirling videos on Youtube. They give me ideas on how I can make my soaps different.
Where do you get your packaging ideas? I prefer to keep my packaging simple. My soaps are in boxes to protect them from fingers and dust. I want my packaging to look clean and professional.
What advice would you give to newbies?
Anyone that’s just starting on their soapmaking journey needs to read and research, use a lye calculator, know what each oil and butter brings to the table and follow all the safety guidelines. When it comes to handmade artisan soaps, there is no shortcut to making it safely and letting the soaps cure properly.
Do you have any funny anecdotes about unusual customers? At one of my markets, I had a boy take a bite out of one of my soaps as he thought it was cheese. His facial expression was priceless. One older man took a bite at one of my soap samples as he thought it was a brownie. He quickly realized it wasn’t.
How did you come up with your company’s name? My middle name is Ginger and I love gardens. That’s how my business name of Ginger’s Garden came about.
I’ll be featuring a soapmaker and/or bath and body products crafter every Wednesday on my blog. If you make and sell soap/bath and body products, including: aromatherapy products, body butter, lotion, bath bombs, ANY type of soap, perfume, lip balm/body balm, shower gel, salt/sugar scrubs, shampoo, candles, etc., please let me know!
Currently seeking participants who sell at a crafts fair, farmers’ market, boutique, bed & breakfast, or other retail establishment. Do you have your own website? Sell on Artfire, Etsy, eBay, Face Book, a blog, or an online mall? Open to anyone who sells anywhere – but the interview will be in English.
This is completely FREE! Share how you began making your own products, why you sell them, and what [or who] inspires you. I’ll send you a list of 12 questions and you may answer all of them or only a few. Please include links to any photos—four photos per interview is the recommended number. Don’t forget to add your shop’s URL/blog/social media links will be shared in the interview. This is a great way to get free publicity!
If you’d like to be interviewed, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.orgPlease use “Interview with a Soapmaker/Bath and Body Products Crafter” in the subject heading.
All interviews will be seen as a keyword-friendly post with your name/company’s name in the heading. All interviews will be on my WordPress page: https://lisamaliga.wordpress.com
I’ll promote the interview on my Face Book page, both my Twitter accounts, Tumblr and Pinterest.
I’m sharing some basic tips on how to launch a crafty eCommerce business website.
Your website is your storefront. Will you design your own website or hire a professional? Another option is to get a predesigned virtual store at Etsy, eBay, Artfire, WordPress, etc.
Buy Your Domain Name
Usually it costs less than $10 per year.
More than a decade ago, I bought the domain name everythingshea.com which I still own. Although people from China wanted to own it, I said no, you can use whatever you want in Chinese but in good old American English it’s still EverythingShea.com. After all, I started this company because I love shea butter, and all my products contain shea butter.
Internet History: Archive.org
If you’re not already familiar with http://www.archive.org you might want to be. If you start an online website, whether you’ll be running it as a store, or just as a nice online display case of your product[s], it’s a helpful site to visit. You can see just about any website’s history or find out if the website ever existed and/or what it looked like years ago.
PayPal Shopping Cart
I used PayPal as my shopping cart. It’s free and all you pay is a small percentage for each sale. If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, PayPal is an option you’ll want to consider. Also, PayPal is the payment of choice on Artfire, Etsy, eBay and many other online shops.
It’s All About You!
Aside from having an eye catching, keyword-friendly main page, I recommend having an About page on your website. Visitors can get to know about you and your products. This increases customer confidence, tells us how long you’ve been making your products, and what inspired you to make them.
This page should feature information about the origins of your company. Share photos of your products—even if it’s only one. You can also have pictures of you and/or your workplace. If you have a soap site and sell soap bars or shampoo used for animals, show a picture of a dog being bathed in your soap. For an author’s website, display your picture, book cover, and/or workplace.
Expanding the WWW
The WWW is like the universe – expansive! It grows page by page, picture by picture, and video by video–every day and night. Like authors writing more books and uploading them onto Amazon, B&N NOOK, Kobo, iTunes, etc., the more titles you have, the more web pages you have, the more likely you are to be noticed.
Each page should accurately represent your product and not use any tricks. I’m a firm believer in quality versus quantity. Show and tell the audience why they need to buy your product. Be creative. Use photos and videos. Make it a visual feast that engages even a casual surfer. Lovingly describe your products, attracting people in such a way that they want to learn more—and become your customers!
Testimonials – Ask for them. Get them. Use them with the buyer’s permission.
Free Samples or Paid Samplers?
As I was running an online only store, I didn’t offer free samples. However, I sold samplers containing several varities of shea butter and handcrafted soap. I always included a sample with any PAID order.
However, for authors, offering a free eBook will attract more readers. And there isn’t any mailing fee!
Crafting books are always in demand, especially around the holiday season. In 2011, I published my first melt and pour soap crafting ebook. Since then, I’ve noticed a proliferation of other ebooks on all types of soap crafting methods, along with how to make other bath and body products. Many of them are written by authors who write about a variety of nonfiction topics.
Last month I was contacted by an author of a soap making book in search of a review. I was interested in seeing what types of soap it covered so I agreed to look at it. When I received the PDF copy, I noticed it had photos, always a plus, but the material seemed to be regurgitated. After reading it, I learned nothing new. Contacting the author to inquire about her soap making experience, I didn’t receive a response.
And that’s the problem with many of the newer titles; the author is just repeating facts they’ve either read online or in other books. Some of them aren’t avoidable, like the history of soap making, but others are. There have even been cases of ebooks that were “written” by authors who found content/recipes on websites, copied and pasted them into a file, and slapped their name on the content.
What I’d encourage you to do when buying nonfiction titles is to take a minute or two and see if the author is an expert in the field they are writing about. When it comes to soap, lip balm, lotions, perfume etc., see if they discuss how they make and/or sell the product[s]. If they don’t sell what they are writing about, then check to see how long they’ve been making the products.
Other tips on finding worthwhile ebooks:
~ How long is the book? Amazon posts an approximate page count, as do other online bookstores. Using the sample feature can give you a clue as to how long the book is, especially if it contains a table of contents. In fact, most nonfiction books should contain one.
~ What is the book’s price? Free. Well, why not take a chance if you have the room [and the time!] but for books priced at $0.99 and above, I’d recommend that you read the sample to see if it’s going to be of interest to you. Another gripe readers may have with a soap crafting book is that it might be about a different type of soap making technique than what they’re seeking. By checking out the sample you avoid downloading the “wrong” type of ebook.
~ Does the book include recipes? Does it only contain recipes? Are the recipes indicated by grams/ounces? Both? If it only contains recipes, does it give information that might be necessary such as safety tips, where to buy supplies, basic facts about soap and/or other body products? For those who make soap from scratch, recipes with accurate measurements are imperative as lye, oils, water and other additives must be carefully calculated.
~ Is a supplier/resource section included? I think it’s helpful to provide resources so that people can easily locate any of the ingredients that the author writes about. When I first began crafting melt and pour soap, I didn’t have any ebooks to read with lots of pictures and step by step instructions. Now all of us do, as there are many to choose from!
I’m no stranger to craft fairs and farmer’s markets as a customer. I’ve attended these types of events since I was a kid. They’re fun to go to and I know what to look for when shopping for soap and other bath and body products.
What initially attracts my attention is how the soap is displayed. Nice, neat rows of soap? Stacks of the stuff? Baskets, containers or little tubs brimming with it? Soap that needs to be cut for you like wheels of cheese [think Lush]. Soap loaves? Some shelves flaunting your soapy wares? For lots of brilliant examples, go to Google images and type in “soap displays for craft shows.” You’ll see loads of ideas in just the first few images.
The Scents of the Season
I’ve read and seen that there are certain scents that sell better in the warm weather than around Christmas or in cold weather. In warm weather, the trend is for lighter fragrances like florals, especially lilac, lily of the valley, sweet pea, anything with the word “blossom” in it, and fruity scents. Consider the fruits that ripen during the warmer months: Strawberries, peaches, watermelon, mangoes, papayas, blueberries, plums, etc. Vanilla is a warm aroma that is associated with baking but is good any time of year. You can’t go wrong with a fresh green herbal fragrance or one reminiscent of the garden, like mints, thyme, or rosemary. Then you have the perennial citrus favorites: lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit. You’ll attract customers with fragrances that smell like the elements: ocean breeze, tropical rain, fragrant meadows, country roads, or forests.
In the fall and winter, the aromas are a little heavier. Say hello to pumpkin–that’s a perennial fall through Christmas favorite. And for Christmas, you’ll have candy cane/peppermint, eggnog, balsam, bayberry, cinnamon, Christmas tree/evergreen, mulberry, and frankincense and myrrh.
To Wrap or Not to Wrap?
Unwrapped soap, [naked soap], shows off the products to the fullest advantage. You can clearly see the size, color, and texture. The customer can get up close, and smell the aroma. The problem with naked soap is that it’ll be handled by anyone. Also, by not having labels people with allergies won’t see if it contains a potential problem ingredient. A label should be included with each soap whether it’s written on a chalkboard, printed on a sign, available on slips of paper or on the backs of business cards.
Which leads to how you bag your bars of soap. No matter what type of bag you use, always include a business card/flyer/brochure/postcard that has your vital stats like your website address, email, business address, phone number, and all-important company name. If you’re a wholesaler make sure that’s mentioned in your promotional literature. That customer might own a hotel, bed and breakfast, or shop that will be very interested in your products.
Who doesn’t love free samples? I do, but I don’t expect them. Unfortunately, some people think you should not only provide freebies, but you should either give your soap away or offer substantial discounts. And they’ll come up with some pretty wacky reasons as to why they’re so privileged. Including little bars or slices of soap [along with your contact information] is a goodwill gesture. It often leads to more sales. It’s also recommended that you clearly label the name of the soap/product freebie along with a brief description. Lavender Soap is usually sufficient for people to figure out what it is, but that perennial kiddie favorite, Monkey Farts, might need a few keywords to explain that it’s a fruity or coconutty soap.
Pricing – Buy 3 get the fourth bar free or any variation that promises a free bar of soap will get me over to your booth in a flash! People enjoy getting bargains.
Soapmaker, Salesperson—or Both?
Standing behind a booth all day selling your wares can be a challenging to the more reserved soapmaker. However, you’re the expert. You know every aspect of your soaps from ingredients to oils to molds to packaging. Sometimes dealing with various personality types can be taxing. You’ll encounter the inevitable free sample trolls and the free recipe trolls. In other words, there will be people who want to do exactly what you do. You can’t control that. I’ve seen and read about this countless times. Just be polite and don’t indulge them.
Some soapers prefer having a salesperson do their work for them. Whether an employee, or a relative or friend, as long as they can effectively answer questions and promote your products. And please be a conscientious soaper that has extensive knowledge of your product along with lots of experience when it comes to making it! Many times, I’ve wandered into a crafting forum and seen newbies in despair over their soaping boo-boos that have come belatedly to their attention during a craft show. That includes soap that started as sapphire blue in the morning but the sunlight faded it to pale blue or even bone white. Soaper, know your products!
Another advantage soapmakers have by selling their wares at a public venue is the opportunity to meet customers and listen to their needs. You’ll see trends in fragrances. After the venue is over, take inventory and see what your hot sellers are and what doesn’t do as well. You might consider offering a special ordering service to those that want unfragranced soaps or palm-free soaps, etc. Perhaps you have many fragrances/essential oils that aren’t used in your current product line—if you have customized scenting you’ll attract new customers.
Whether you sell soap and supplement it with other products, packaging it in a gift basket is another way to attract interested customers – no matter what time of year.
Have lots of fun, sell lots of soap and know that you’re making the world a cleaner place one customer at a time!