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 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!