Special Orders: Inspiration from Customers

I love making soap. Now after saying that, I can honestly say that after making Lavender soap exactly the same way for the last 10 years, that particular kind has lost it's excitement factor for me. I no longer think "yippee it's lavender day", it's more like "ho hum, time to make the lavender soap, wonder what else exciting I can make today".

So the way that I break out of the doldrums of day to day production is with two things. First, every year I make 8 new fragrances. The research and development that goes into choosing these 8 and figuring out the best recipe to highlight the fragrance takes me at least two months each year. I keep a list of all the things that are asked for or suggested to me by customers, as well as things I see and hear that inspire me, and try out the things that seem different and well, honestly, affordable.

The second thing I do throughout the year is to make special orders. Typically what happens is that a customer has seen something or used something in the past that they would like me to make or try to replicate with my own spin on it. Often these are things people found on vacation and love the scent of, or have a particular ingredient that is of interest to them, possibly passed down through their ethnic heritage. Once they contact me I research the desired product and work up a price quote. Often we then have to work together to make some decisions: is it OK to use the third pressing of Ylang Ylang, because the first pressing costs $30 an ounce, or can we use sandalwood fragrance rather than the essential oil, wild-crafted rosemary essential oil, or just organic? Once I start posing these questions many customers are amazed by the number of decisions that go into just one kind of soap.

OK, now we have an agreed upon recipe, and a price quote for a 10 bar minimum order. Next the product goes out for a fast buy. I post the special order on my web site and send out a newsletter telling all about it. This helps me in two ways: 1) if enough people join in, then I can waive the 10 bar minimum order for the person who placed the special order, and  2) I can gauge interest in the product overall. Many special orders have gone onto be  a new product the next year, and some of those have even gone on to be best sellers (ginger white tea is an example of that).

Once the fast buy has been completed, I order the needed ingredients, and make up the product. Typically 6 to 8 weeks from the initial order, the product ships to the customers who have participated in the fast buy. Any extra soaps then go onto the web site and can be ordered by anyone, but I try to make exactly what I need for an order, so there usually only 3 or 4 extras available.

So thanks to everyone who participates in the special order and fast buy process, I love the inspiration that it gives me throughout the year, and leads me to work with new ingredients and combinations of ingredients that I would have never thought of on my own!


A Week Off, now I need a real vacation!

So I officially need a vacation to get over my vacation. Typically when we go and take time off, we just vegetate and relax, this time we had the opportunity to see things we hadn't seen before so every day was another excursion, both tiring on the mind and the body.

C and I, with two friends, took a cruise that brought us through Spain, Monaco, Italy, and Tunisia. It was amazing to see the "old world" and to see the architecture. The things that the human race could build hundreds of years ago is an utterly amazing sight to see. The fact that these things still remain is even more amazing to me, not so much because they were built to stand the test of time, but because I think humanity is overall pretty focused on the moment, so the fact we have saved these things and not torn them down is the amazing part.

It was rushed, many times we had just a walking tour and time for lunch in a location before heading off to the next one. I didn't have much time to really soak in the sights and the sounds of each place. All I know is that I would love to go back to Barcelona, and maybe some parts of Italy.

But these are the things that I learned:

1) I know Monaco is the playground for the rich. It was beautiful, but I didn't find it so special. Maybe I am not rich enough to "get" it.

2) St. Peter's Basilica is an amazing piece of architecture and should be seen regardless of your religion. The fact that they have to post signs with a dress code (no shorts, bare mid-drifts, or bare shoulders) makes me loose my faith in humanity, so did the barriers to keep people from damaging things (like playing in the confession boxes).

3) Just because they are European and dressed nice, do not assume they will be a gentleman. Jerks are universal.

4) I was so happy to return to our green landscape where there is so much space between us. Barcelona and Palermo seemed like walls of buildings when overlooking the cities. So very little green space, so many people.

5) If you can wing it in Tunisia you can wing it just about anywhere.

6) Refrigerator magnets are deceptively heavy. Buy enough of them and your bag will get heavy fast.

7) Try on everything before you pack it. Nothing like finding out the new pair of jeans you packed don't fit and you just dragged them halfway around the world. and back.

8) A carriage ride through Florence really is the way to go.

9) Do not bring a lace weight yarn project on the trip. You will mess up. You will pull it all out. You will do this three or four times. Think brainless and big (yarn and needles).

10) I expected more fragrance inspiration. I think of Europe as the home of great perfumes. The only handcrafted soap I saw was in Tunisia, and it wasn't scented with anything I could recognize.

And now I am back in the real world. There is lots of catching up to do. I have orders to send, inventory to deliver, shows to apply to and lots of laundry!

Hope to see you soon!


Closed for Spring Break! April 15-25, 2013

I have been suffering some burnout lately. I think it is a combination of so many different things. This year winter has felt like it was never ending, the work in the shop is in it's most intense time of the year, and I have been pushing myself to get lots of changes done in the office as well as on the website. Then in my personal life I have been working hard on the weekends to get some major projects around the house done before it either gets too warm, or I start show season.

But more than that I have felt a little disconnected for people and even myself. I really was experiencing it a few weeks ago when I posted about being a workaholic. Unfortunately, with that dedication to work, usually there comes some form of burnout. Lately, I just want to turn off my brain. I haven't even been able to enjoy my hobbies, like knitting. I have found personal relationships to be just too tiring to undertake. So I started to isolate myself, which really just fed into my ability to work and work and work, in turn burning myself out more.

So how do I break this cycle? Spring Break. I am closing up shop for almost two weeks and taking a vacation. The trick is taking a real vacation, unplugging the Internet, leaving the phone to ring, and not checking email every ten minutes. I have a bunch of things to do that I think will inspire me to explore new opportunities, both personally and professionally.

So fell free to email me, or leave me a phone message, or even place an order, but I am not shipping anything or making any phone calls till April 25th. I may answer emails every few days, so that would be your best thing to try, but I make no promises.

When I return it is time for craft show and farm market season to get started, and I will be ready, willing, and able to be my usual self: dedicated to making the best products I can, and giving you the best customer service I can as well.

Thanks for understanding and see you in a few weeks!



Out of my comfort zone

I had a heck of a weekend and now I feel all upside down.

I went to a two day seminar that was all about the business of crafts.But really to me it was about the business of art, or of fine crafts, and not the kind of work that I do at all. It was even kind of belittled a few times during the weekend, both by the presenter and by other people attending the seminar. I am very used to that belittling, unfortunately. Until I can sit down with someone and have a conversation about what I do and how it relates to what they do, I am just a lowly soapmaker, and it is so easy to sell a consumable product, I must not be able to fathom what they go through trying to sell their art.

Oh, but I do understand. So much about selling anything is about the story of the product. I have understood for years that people purchase me and my story as much as they purchase my product. Sales is also about gaining trust, you can't be slick or cheap anymore when it comes to your sales technique. But what I sell is one of the most personal items that someone can buy. You use soap in the most discrete and intimate areas of your body, places that some people don't even discuss with their doctor. So when I gain trust, I have to gain an intimate trust with my customers. When a customer spends the "typical" 15 seconds in my booth, I not only have to get them interested in the products thorough sight and smell, but I have to project an air of trustworthiness from the second they see me. It is often easier to sell a consumable product than fine art, but it is harder to get people to keep coming back time and time again.

The seminar itself is very much a blur. It was almost 8 hours a day of constant information being bombarded at me. I have so many new inspirations for things now. I have so many new things I want to do with my booth design, and with product names, and even things like new product pictures, that no customer may ever see. I have a list of new places to research, and suppliers to check out, and things to do now. But I probably won't get to many of these things for months and months. I need to process my information overload and see how it pertains to me.

But what I think for me was the most important lesson of the weekend was that I have to remember to think outside my comfort zone for knowledge and inspiration. Yes, many things covered in the topics didn't pertain to me, but the things that did, or the things I could bend a little to help me, really did get me thinking in ways that I haven't thought before.

Let them think of what you do as below them and then take all the knowledge you can get and use it to your advantage. In the end you will be the one with a sustainable business that you find satisfying and fulfilling. Never let anyone get in your way.


The Relentless Challenge

It is very hard for an artisan to figure out what shows work best for their product. Last weekend I participated in a fabulous small show. When setting up it had all the bells and whistles and I really expected something fantastic, but it tanked, and not only for me, for so many others as well.  Yet there were others that did very well. This always leads me to ask why there can be so much of a variance within just 30 vendors, all in the same place for the same timeframe. 

For me it just boils down to two things: demographics and attendance. 

This show last weekend was all about the eggs and the art was secondary. I watched many high quality egg artisans command top dollar for a top of the line product. Meanwhile, people with other items struggled to even make booth rental for the weekend.  

Artisans that make a product that meet a niche market don’t need a show with high attendance; they need a show with the right attendees. Someone like me who makes a more utilitarian product, often needs a high attendance because I can reach a percentage of those attendees and all the small sales then add up to a profitable show. Sometimes the perfect storm happens for me, I get a show with the correct demographics that give me a small number of high dollar sales, mixed with a large attendance that gives me a large number of small dollar sales. That is when I hit the jackpot. 

This perfect storm only happens a few times a year for me and is the elusive show I am always on the hunt for. I have learned over the years that there is no one thing that makes a show like this stand out to me. I know so little about new events when I apply to them:  location, cost, projected attendance, and hours. Not all expensive shows bring in the right demographics, and many less expensive shows tend to overstate their projected attendance. All I can do is the most research possible, make the best informed decision I can, and then just go and be at an event. 1 in every 12 typically is something that is profitable; the other 11 hopefully produce a few repeat customers in the future. 

This is why my show schedule changes so much from year to year. I am always looking for the best shows that suit my product. This is why my products are always evolving each year as well. But this hunt for the prefect show is one of my favorite things about what I do. I enjoy the relentless challenge.