Let me tell you about Fast Buys...

Every few months I send out a newsletter and post a Fast Buy to the web site, so I thought I would explain a little more about them here.

More and more I get asked to make up something special for a customer. I LOVE this challenge. Sometimes it is simple: please just make me something that has been discontinued. Sometimes it is more difficult: please make me something using these 10 ingredients, only organic, and by next week.
I do my very best to make a product that I think the customer will love, and one that is something I can stand behind. I won't make things using ingredients in proportions I do not think are safe for the skin or that will turn out to be an inferior product. If I cannot develop a product that is good enough for me to sell in my regular lineup of products, then I won't sell it to just one customer either.

Once I work through the research and development with the initial customer, I put the product out to a wider audience as a "Fast Buy". This helps me in a few ways. 1) I can gauge interest in a product and that may mean I will make it again in the future 2) I can make a larger batch: like cooking it is often difficult to scale down my batches and 3) I can reduce the cost by buying ingredients in larger quantities.

One of my most recent examples is the Fast Buy for "Love" soap. This fragrance was discontinued back in 2008 but has a small, loyal following. Typically once each year I get an order for either soaps or lotion bars in this scent. Here is how it works:

1) The initial customer asks me to make the product and I quote a price, and a minimum order. In the case of soaps, it is 10 bars.

2) I offer the product as a fast buy. Other interested customers place orders for the item, prepaying, knowing the ultimate ship date of the product. The initial customer and these pre-orders typically receive price breaks based on quantity ordered.

3) I tally the orders and return to the initial customer in order to verify the final order. If I have gotten enough interest, often the minimum order is reduced. For example if I have another person who wants 5 bars of the Fast Buy soap, then the initial customer will only need to purchase 5 bars themselves. If they still want all 10 bars, fantastic, I will make enough for everyone. But if they only want 5 now, that is fine too, I just can't make less than 10 of one type of soap.

4) After the order is made and shipped, any leftovers are placed on the web site under specialty soaps.  If they last a year, then they are put onto clearance.

So there you have it! This is how my Fast Buy system works. Keep an eye out on the newsletter and on the Facebook/Twitter feeds in order to see what is coming up next. Right now I have three items in the works that are supers specialty items and will be limited quantities, very exciting stuff!


More Organizational Secrets :)

This is one of my most serious challenges throughout the years. It is tough to keep everything organized. Sometimes I get calls wanting me to make a product I haven't made for years, sometimes it is another artisan asking me if I could recommend a show, often it is just me trying to remember where I stored the new jars that just came in.

The easy (or maybe hard) answer is that I keep copious amounts of notes. Every supply that comes in is documented, where it came from, how much it was, and where I put it (sometimes my attic is a great storage place, but I forget what is up there).

Every batch of product I make is documented: what the recipe was, what fragrance I used, how much of what herb, etc. I can go back years and be able to make something again (or at least a close facsimile given current supply of ingredients).

Just about every time I purchase an ingredient I am sent a sample of something else. Some of these are things I can use right away or give to family and friends. But when I get samples of fragrances I keep a master spreadsheet of them to use as future reference. Every one gets put into a glass bottle and given a number. That number corresponds with a spreadsheet that tells me the manufacturer, the year I received it, the price at the time, and a description of the scent. This is handy because when someone calls me up looking for a special order they can tell me they are looking for "blueberry" and I can tell then I have 13 different variations for them to choose from (blueberry pie, blueberry syrup, blueberry bread, blueberries, blueberry-vanilla, and on and on). It is like my own little reference library or scents.

My show files are color coded. Green files are shows that we are doing this year, or have done in the past and really did well at but for some reason we are not returning to this year. Yellow files are shows that are on the fence. Maybe it is getting one last try before I drop it, maybe it is under new management, or in a new location, or the date has changed. Something is going on that makes me want to take a closer look at this show and reevaluate my participation in it. The yellow reminds me to do that. Red means bad. After years and years, sometimes it gets to be difficult to remember where you have been. Is the application you just received for something your have tried already, something you have just been told about by friends, or just in the same town as another one you have bombed at? Each show gets a file and they are in red, so when new applications come in I can refer back to these and figure out my schedule. I don't get into the details of why the show went "red file" because I trust myself enough to know there was a good reason and that is good enough for me.

These things I put in place early on in my business so it was simpler to keep going with them. If you are already busy it can take some time to put things in order, but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

Let me know what you do to stay organized :)


Interesting things you learn

So I was doing some research into Sassafras.

Way back when , it was used in the production of perfumes and to scent soaps and even in aromatherapy. It's root extract was also used to make root beer. Today I can still get sassafras leaf powder (Gumbo File) to thicken gumbos and other Cajun foods. I wanted to use it in soap like it had been used historically as a fragrance, and my herbal research taught me it was though to have antiseptic properties and would be good for skin sores.

But why is it nearly impossible for me to get the essential oil? Because this is yet another example where "natural" doesn't always mean it's good for you.

Safrole, the main component in the oil was found to be carcinogenic (and causing liver damage) in the 1960's and was banned from being used in mass produced foods and drugs. As of 1994 sassafras root extracts that have had their safrole removed are still able to be used in brewing teas and root beer.

But the main reason I can't find it in quantities large enough to make a few hundred bars of soap with? Because safrole is used in making the drug XTC (Ecstasy). There is even a DEA Notice to the Public on their website: NOTICE - Safrole and Sassafras Oil are used in the Illicit Manufacture of MDMA. 

Well all right then. No natural sassafras for me.

I kind of wonder if my Google searches have landed me on some DEA watch list already ;)

So I have decided to skip the fragrance this year. I need to look into if these non-safrole extracts can be used in soapmaking or if the fragrance will dissipate too quickly to be worth it.  

But that is the fun of my job...I learn something new every day!