If you liked the Special Feature on March 21st, I’m sure you will also enjoy today’s feature. As you may know, I love surfing the blogs from soapers and other crafters. One of the blogs I follow, The Great Cakes Soap Works Blog, had the cutest Valentine style soaps. Amy made these Sweet Pea & Rhubarb Soaps using cake decorating techniques! When she released these soaps to her store, I wanted to try them.
I promptly placed an order for not only soaps, but lotions and lip butters too! I ordered 3 of the Sweet Pea & Rhubarb Soaps and gave one to my mom, one to Taylor and the third is proudly sitting on our front counter as part of a soap display! I had to laugh, because while I didn’t get to try one, I still have four other soap bars that I ordered to try. The other soaps that I ordered are the Creamy Castile, Patchouli Beer Bar, Cinnamon Bun Coffee Soap, and Moroccan Spice Soap. The lotions are scented Fruit Stripe, Spiced Cider and English Garden! The three lip butters were flavored Vanilla Latte, Strawberry, and Butterscotch. Taylor promptly took the Strawberry Lip Butter and I haven’t seen a sign of it since, but she apparently loves it!
When I received my order, I had to show my soap around and finally I decided to e-mail Amy and find out if she would be kind enough to “sit down” for an interview. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have!
You began making soap in 2002 as Christmas gifts, what encouraged you to make soap in the first place?
I had set a precedence to give my two closest friends a handmade gift at Christmas. So that year I was searching online for ideas when I found Kathy Miller’s website and several others with all the information about how to make soap from scratch. The whole process seemed so interesting, yet challenging, and I knew I had to give it a try!
What do you enjoy most in your day-to-day work?
I think there are several aspects that I look forward to. First, is the idea of a new soap. What will it look like? How can I make it special? Second, is when I actually put the soap together and seeing how the soap in my head is translated into real life. Of course, the best part is then cutting the soap to see how it looks inside!
What separates you and your company from the competition?
That’s a tough question because there are so many great handmade soap businesses out there! My soaps are top quality – made with 7 different vegetable oils and butters. I’m starting to branch out into more of the artisan type soaps as well. I get compliments from shoppers and even other vendors on my presentation when I’m at the farmer’s market or other events that everything looks so professional, so they are surprised to find out that I make everything that I sell. This also translates to my online presence where I strive to create a very professional feel to my web store and blog, yet provide very personalized service. Melisa Carter, who is one of my customers in Zebulon, Georgia, sent this email to me last year: “Kenneth and I were commenting when our soap arrived yesterday, that you have done such a great job with your business. Very professional but yet personal. Kenneth has bought soap from a number of different people and he even commented how impressed he was.”
What advice would you give someone just starting their own business?
Stick to making soap! It’s the best selling product with the highest profit margin. Get a website started, then learn about search engine optimization. (I highly recommend Cricket’s SEO Techniques & Marketing classes, which are free classes via yahoo.) Have a customer list and send out regular communication with them via email newsletters. Have a presence on Facebook and regularly interact with your fans. And no matter how many people offer to sell your soap in their retail stores on a commission basis, don’t do it!
What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?
I would invest in retail and production space, and hire some help!
What was the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
How about getting my business set up on Quickbooks! I just purchased the software in December and I’m still trying to figure it all out. I finally started setting things up last month because I was completely dreading it. I like math, but this is just complicated.
What do you see as the coming trends in the personal care industry and particularly with the soaps and lotions that you make?
I see my customers constantly looking for the next new thing, so the new artisan style soaps are selling very well. I’ve also noticed that more and more people are looking for products they can use on their sensitive skin – that includes both soaps and lotions. One of my childhood friends contacted me recently because she found out that her oldest daughter is allergic to tree nuts and she needed a lotion that didn’t have almond oil in it.
What was one of your most memorable experiences while testing products?
As in one of my biggest failures? Let’s see, that would have to be when I tried to make an all-natural sugar scrub with a highly superfatted, hot-processed soap. One of my soapmaking friends had done it with coconut and jojoba oil, and I tried replacing some of the jojoba with apricot kernel oil. Well, it was way too thick. I kept adding more and more oils, but it never relaxed. I ended up with two gallon-sized ice cream tubs full of the stuff and added some fragrance and colors to it so my girls could use it in the bath. It actually went rancid before they had a chance to use it all!
What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?
Regularly sending out newsletters to my Preferred Customer list is one of the best ways. Finding ways to have sales is also key. I did a 12 Days of Christmas Deals last year that was highly successful. Facebook and Twitter have also been great ways to advertise. I’ve had orders from high school classmates who never would have known about my business otherwise!
When you aren’t working on your products, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m a mom and a wife. My girls are in 2nd and 4th grade, so one of the reasons I’ve kept the business small is so that I can spend time with them. My husband and I also enjoy lifting weights together 2-3 times a week and playing volleyball in our church league. If I actually have spare time to myself, I love to read a good book! But that is rare, precious time!
What gives you the inspiration for your products like the Sweet Pea & Rhubarb Soap, Fruit Loops Soap or even the Almost Paradise Soap?
These are some of my favorite soaps! The Sweet Pea & Rhubarb soap was inspired by the fragrance. I googled images of sweet peas and found one I thought would translate into soap. Then I took what I knew about cake decorating and applied some of those techniques as well as a technique from the Lovin’ Soap blog using bottles with yorker caps.
The Fruit Loops soap was inspired by the fragrance as well. Of course, the cereal is so colorful, and I wanted the soap to reflect that rainbow of color. I had seen a tutorial by Grumpy Girl on the CraftServer about how she made a salt bar soap with at least that many colors, so I knew it could be done.
The Almost Paradise soap was inspired by a customer. I had to poll my customers to come up with the name “Almost Paradise” for the fragrance. After that, I asked my Facebook fans what an Almost Paradise soap should look like. And wouldn’t you know, the customer who suggested the winning name also suggested that it should look like a beach scene. So that’s what I did! The sun part was inspired by Soaphora’s Chocolate Mint soap. I just used a much smaller pipe, so it was a real struggle to get the soap out! I was just so excited when the idea in my head actually translated into the final product!
Thank you for this great interview! I had so much fun writing back and forth with you. I hope others will find your products just as inspiring as I do!
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