My name is Jennifer, a new soaper, loyal customer to thesage.com and frequent reader of this blog. When I read the entry “Updates, Guest writer, and the Swine Flu” I realized I was reading it out loud to my boyfriend as if I was talking about people I actually knew. I gasped out loud and everything!
I decided to answer the call to be a guest writer because as a frequent reader I wanted to give back and I think that a lot of you would relate, or at least be entertained for a few minutes about my adventures in soap making.
My soap making business came about in a very strange way. I was searching for guns that fired ping pong balls for my boys on a website that sells surplus goods and ran across an ad for a lot of tiny glass bottles. It reminded me of my college days when I really loved Patchouly. I had a small bottle of oil that I wore every day much to the horror of my roommate who hated it more than anything. One day, the bottle mysteriously disappeared. Reportedly “dropped by accident” and thrown away. I spared my roommate and didn’t replace it, but loved it nonetheless.
So, I see these little bottles and think, hey, I wonder if I could sell this oil myself. I have been a professional website designer for almost 18 years and one of my recent clients was really into aromatherapy and I saw that it could be something that I could easily make and market. So, I started researching essential oils and as you know along the way if you research such things you will find recipes for scrubs, lip balms, shampoo, soaps, lotions, perfumes, oils and on and on and on. I could have filled an entire store with everything that I wanted to make which brings me to the learning part of this story.
They say that when you start a business you make many mistakes and learn lots of things. I have only been at this for a couple of months, but learned some lessons that I can share with you.
First, you can’t just make whatever you want and market it. There are rules in place from the FDA that are beyond what most of us can realistically adhere to if we want to market anything like a balm that aids in the healing of psoriasis. Turns out, if you make that claim you are in fact making a “drug” and you can’t do that from your home kitchen. Want to make perfume? Want to use Everclear to do it? Do you have a liquor license? Because you are in fact selling alcohol and if they want, the bureau of Alcohol, tobacco and firearms can pay a visit and leave you not very happy. (I have since learned that you can of course get around that by using Cyclomethicone which is available on thesage.com), but my point is this… There are rules and regulations from the FDA about making this kind of stuff and it took me days to try to comprehend them. So Lesson 1 is this… You can’t just do whatever you want. Make sure that you do your research!
This is what reluctantly brought me to making soap, because there are no incomprehensible rules from the FDA about making and selling it. At first, I was afraid of it though. Gloves, goggles, masks, leave no skin uncovered, really? I’m going to take some caustic chemical and turn it into something that I expect people to use? Well, once I got over the fear and tried it I was hooked. A cook by nature and a wannabe chemist at heart, this really turned out to be a surprise dream come true. Anyway, now I have so much soap at my house if I never sold any of it I would never have to buy a bar for the rest of my life. My children would not have to buy a bar for the rest of their lives either! There were so many essential oils and fragrance oils and additives available and I wanted to try them all! Seeds, salts, clay, pumice, colors and other stuff. Holy cow! The possibilities are endless which brings me to another lesson learned. I bought so many things that I lost track of what I was going to use them for. I would buy an ingredient for a recipe that I found, but when I would pick up said ingredient 3 weeks later I had forgotten what it was for! Worse, I made soap and don’t have the recipe I used to recreate it! So, Lesson 2 is this… Keep really good notes. Print and save recipes. I now have a 3 ring binder with lots of notes and recipes.
Being a professional website designer, I of course have an online store to sell my goods. However, while waiting for my soaps to cure and making more and more soaps, scrubs and other things along the way I got busy doing other things and haven’t launched my website yet. I have 24 different kinds of soap to sell but no one can buy them because my website which is finished and ready to go doesn’t have any products listed on it. It will take me a few days to enter them all on my website and get the store going. Lesson 3, could be don’t wait until it is overwhelming to enter all of your products online. Lesson 3 Part 2, people can’t buy what they don’t know is for sale!!!
I have such a wide variety of soaps, and some I know I will not make again because they might not be good sellers. I don’t know what people will want restocked for future purchase and what I can let go. Some of the soaps that I made I only bought enough ingredient for one batch of soap, so if that soap is popular, I will end up having to order more product which seems ok, but this means that I will have to keep a lot of ingredients on hand and therefore tie up a lot of money in making my products. I also don’t want to have a lot of ingredients sitting around going unused and possibly spoiling. While I haven’t officially learned Lesson 4 yet, I think that it would be to not have such a variety where I need to keep so many ingredients on hand. To me, buying more of one thing that gets used up quickly makes much more sense.
I do have an exception to this lesson though… One thing that I really think is ok to buy lots of is essential oils, fragrance oils, flavor oils, additives and colors! One soap recipe can be made using the same ingredients, but made a completely different product using different oils, additives and colors. When I place an order at thesage.com, I always order several 1 ounce bottles of essential, fragrance or flavor oils. It is not expensive, many of them are around $3.00 and they go a long way. If you find one you don’t like, 3 bucks isn’t so much of an investment that you feel like you’ve lost too much. I have even found a few scents that I thought I wouldn’t like that have become my favorites! Also remember, just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean that someone else is not going to love it, and you are making it to sell to them, not to keep for yourself! Test fragrances out with your friends and family! Lesson 5, sometimes it is ok to buy “too much” of these things!!!
One thing that I lucked out on for sure is that I found thesage.com right away. I have placed orders with other companies, but have found this place to be the best. I get really good quality products that comes in really good packaging that I can recycle and reuse. I will not mention names, but some companies send everything in plastic bags, which you could say saves money on shipping, but not enough to make up for the fact that when it gets here, I have to find (or even buy) a container to store it in. I have received butters and other items in zip lock bags that really didn’t travel so well. I have received open or broken glass bottles from other places too due to my order not being packed in the box carefully. I have found thesage.com to be the best, fastest and most careful out of all of the places I have ordered from. Most of the time they are the most cost efficient too. And their customer service is outstanding. As a newbie I ask silly questions and get fast, patient answers from friendly people. Lesson 6 find a great supplier. I did!!
So, I could go on and on about with more lessons, but If I don’t get my products listed and start selling something I won’t be able to keep up my new found love!
Get well soon Andee. Congratulations to Mouein, and to all my fellow closet cooks and chemists have fun!!! And, be nice to Tina!
Thanks for your post! I have been making solid lotion bars for years and am seriously thinking about opening a website. I am concerned about what I need to do before opening up shop. I know I need a business license…but not sure if I need liability insurance, etc.