Year One PROFIT!

Last night, I sent in my tax returns for the first year of the business.  Whew!  What a long process … so much terminology to learn!  Still, I have a much better sense of how to organize my records for next year (for advice on that, see my Spreadsheets for Small Business series).  But you know what’s even better than getting the taxes done?

SHOWING A PROFIT!  After everything was calculated and done, Baltimore Bumble Crafts showed a profit of $15 in its first year.  HOORAY!  HUZZAH!  CHEERS!  This is a BIG deal.  At some point in the first three years, every business had to show a profit in order to prevent being forever and always relegated to “hobby” status.  This means that if you don’t show a profit in the first three years, you cannot write off any of your expenses and everything you make shows up as income, even if you actually lost money that year doing it all.  This is the worst-case scenario for any business.  And now, I. Am. Safe. Forever.

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New Soap Names!

One of my goals for this year is to unify my branding a bit more.  Last year was a bit chaotic and, while I liked the old names, that’s all they were: things I liked.  This year, I wanted my product lines to have a bit more internal logic.  Therefore, the new theme for the soap names is ………………………….drumroll please

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Literary References!  After lots of feedback from customers, I’ve come to the realization that the whimsical literary names were the hands down favorite.  It also doesn’t hurt that I teach English during the week and have lots and lots of favorite poems, novels, short stories, plays, and authors to draw from.  You’ll still only see “Things I Like,” but there will be a bit more consistency there.

So, for those of you who just want to find your favorite soap and couldn’t care less about its name, here’s a handy chart:

Signature Scents

Functional and Fragrance Free

Reflection on the First Year

It’s been over a year since I began this business in earnest.  When I began, I honestly had no idea what I was doing or how to go about anything.  I’ve never taken business classes, and in the beginning, it showed.  After a year, I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I can see the improvement already.

I’ve accomplished a lot of my goals:

  • My products are in retail locations.
  • I have repeat, loyal, fabulous customers. (THANKS)
  • My products lines are continuously expanding.
  • I’ve established a proper home office, with work stations and streamlined storage.
  • I donated over $75 to environmental charities.

Still, it’s good to set goals for year two, so here goes.  By the end of 2013, I want to:

  • Donate at least $200 to charities
  • Sell products in at least two retail locations
  • Cut my business debt down to no more than $2,000
  • Trade-in for a more fuel-efficient business vehicle
  • Streamline my branding, logos, and naming conventions

Some of these goals are bit of a stretch, but any small business owner knows that it’s all about dreaming big!  If it wasn’t, none of us would make it past year one!  To my fellow vendors: onward and upward!  To my customers: I can’t do it without you either!  A sincere THANK YOU to everyone who helped me get this far!

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Dawson’s Market Grand Opening!

Baltimore Bumble Crafts’ products will now be sold at Dawson’s Market in Rockville!  The Grand Opening is today and there will be free samples available all day!  The shop is in Rockville Town Square and has plenty of parking nearby.  As of today, the following products are available at Dawson’s:

Look at that beautiful inventory!

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Bulk Blunders

Budgeting can be tough as a small business starting out.  To save and still provide high-quality organic products, I need to buy bulk as much as possible.  I’ve also started selling wholesale (more on that to come, wink!) so every penny counts these days.  Sometimes, however, this gets out of hand ….

Normally, I order organic carrier oils by the gallon, in jugs that have handles.  I was creating a lot of recycling, and since I work out of my home and we already recycle, the recycling bins (yes, plural meaning three full-sized stand-up bins) were overflowing each week.  Baltimore County co-mingles, so we take advantage and recycle everything that can’t be composted.  I needed to find a better solution or the waste management people were going to start yelling at me.

When I realized that I could save packaging and money by ordering the carrier oils by the pail instead of the gallon, I thought it would be perfect.  Don’t ask me why, but I didn’t even think about what those pails would look like or how heavy they would be.  Foolish.  So foolish.

Here is the pail of organic soybean oil, next to a gallon of organic olive oil in the normal-sized jug:

Clearly, there is no way I can lift that pail by myself.  I guess maybe I thought it would come with a removable lid and then I could scoop it out with a pitcher ….?  Either way, I didn’t think it through.  So last night, like the hero that he is, my boyfriend used his “man-strength” to pour while I tried to catch the soybean oil in my measuring pitcher.  Even as strong as he is (and he is significantly stronger than I am), he had trouble with that beast of a pail!  I mean, I lift and carry a 50-pound tent on the weekends and haul 160 lbs. of tent weights around craft fairs by myself and this thing scares me!

Even more absurd, the bulk organic coconut oil didn’t even come in a pail at all!  It came in a bag.  Like a boxed wine.

What if I had punctured the bag while opening the box?  What happens when the temperature in my house drops below 76 degrees F (realistically 80 degrees F)?  How the heck is this supposed to work?  Even boxed wine comes with a spout!

In all honesty, I should acknowledge that the website where I purchase my carrier oils does mention in the fine print that this is a “bag-in-a-box,” but I never envisioned this!  I suppose I pictured it as a solid, but then again, it is summer.

Lesson learned, I humbly submit myself to the mockery and shame of the blogosphere.  Judge me if you will, but learn from my mistakes.  Tiny Business Owners: bulk is NOT your friend!

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Upcycled Soap Boxes

Soap is pretty indestructible, but even the hardest soap can get damaged during transport.  Since my soaps are definitely not the hardest on the market, I’m always looking for new ways to protect them.  After looking into pre-made soap boxes, I realized that the cost of boxes was a little high for my finances.

Being the self-sufficient crafter I am, I’ve decided to make my own and rather than buying new card stock, I realized that I could re-use card stock from packaging!  DIY + sustainability = yippee!  In a fabulous excuse to get in touch with all of the people I never have time to see anymore, I sent out requests for old cereal, microwave popcorn, or granola bar boxes.  Dozens of boxes later, I finally got a chance to make my beautiful soap box!  Below you’ll find directions on how to make your own.

Materials:

  • Cereal Box
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Black Marker

Step 1: Prepare the Box and Gather Supplies

You will need to flatten the box and open the glued portions so that it is a single layer.  You’ll also want to gather scissors, glue, and a black marker.

Step 2: Outline the Soap

Working vertically, outline around the long, skinny length of your soap bar (in my case 4″ x 1″).  Do this twice; this will become the flap that closes your box.  Then set the bar down on its biggest side and outline it.  Do another skinny end, then another big side.  Finally, you will want to create side flaps, approximately 1″ around the outside of your initial outline.

Make sure you are working on the side of the box that has the design.  You want the outside of the new box to be the inside of the old box.

Step 3: Cut the Box

Once you’ve outlined the box, you can cut along the outside lines.  Then, you can begin cutting out some of the flaps.  Check twice; cut once.  Don’t cut until you are sure that you are cutting the correct section of the box.

Step 4: Score the Cardstock

Now that you’ve cut all the sections of the box that you need to, use your scissors to score the fold-lines.  Start out scoring lightly; you just want to be able to fold along these lines.

Step 5: Fold the Box

Fold the boxes along the scored fold-lines.  Make sure you fold towards the side with the design (what used to be the outside of the old cereal box).

Step 6: Glue the Box

Now that you’ve folded the box and feel comfortable with the shape you’ve made, glue each side.  Depending on the glue you are using, you may need to use either a paperclip or binder clip to hold the parts together while they dry.  I usually find that the Elmer’s glue I use dries quickly enough that I can just hold it for a few minutes.

Step 7: Put the Soap Inside and Enjoy!

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Display Evaluations: One Store Front

Everyone knows that it’s a rough economy.  I can’t afford to pass up on a single potential sale, especially with soap’s small profit margin.  This is why I’ve been tracking my booth layouts to see which system works best.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Booths with One Store Front

This layout puts me right in front of the customers.   They can see everything that I have to offer and they do not have to decide whether or not to enter the booth, which intimidates some people.  The main disadvantage is that this layout has limited space.  On the other hand, this was a great layout when I had low inventory and wanted the tables to look full.  Another advantage is that I can move the tables either closer to the entrance or further into the shade depending on the weather.  This is crucial since the soaps and lotions need to be kept out of the sun and rain.

 

This layout relies on customers’ willingness to enter the booth.  During bad weather (high heat or rain), folks are more than happy to seek shelter inside.  They do not all make purchases, but I do see a lot more foot traffic with this layout if the weather is killer.  On the other hand, if the weather isn’t pushing people into the shelter, then this only works for determined customers.  The bright side here is that if someone enters the booth, I know they are genuinely interested.  This is also a decent layout if there are two storefronts, one in front and one in back.

This layout allows me to separate special products, especially the fragrance free line.  This is nice because it means I’m not accosting people with the scent of the soaps.  Since the kind of people who need fragrance free products are also usually sensitive to air-borne scents, it only makes sense to put their products up front.  It also gives people a chance to see some of the products as they walk past and a chance to come inside for more information if they want.

This layout allows for the most display space, but requires an additional table.  As with the other internal layouts, this requires that customers enter the booth to see the full range of products.  However, once they enter the booth, I have the chance to talk with them, get a sense of their interests, and suggest products that they might appreciate.  Having those one-on-one conversations is really important in a business like mine that deals in intimate issues like skincare.

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Six Months of Vending: Reflections

I’ve been vending at craft shows, farmer’s markets, and fairs for almost six months now.  Those of you who’ve been following this blog know how far I’ve come, but let’s take a moment to reflect.  In the beginning:

  • I sold only 5 types of soap, and only soap.
  • I was using a heavy, metal banquet table, borrowed from my Mom (THANKS MOM).
  • I had no clue how to display my items.  I just sort of set them on the table and hoped for the best.
  • I guessed at what a reasonable price would be, without considering all of my material costs, transportation, market fees, or labor.
  • My labels contained only the most basic information about ingredients, and not always in the proper order.
  • I tried to please everyone.
  • I went crazy shopping online for essential oils, without any clue what I would use them all for.  I just wanted to smell them!
  • I put most of the initial costs on my personal credit card (super No No).
  • My products used conventional oils and some synthetic fragrance oils.

I did a lot of things wrong, in hindsight.  SIGH!  Still, I did the best I could and, for the most part, realized very quickly when something was not working.  Let’s see how I’m doing now:

  • I currently have 8 types of soap on the market, with several more in the testing phase.
  • I have introduced 3 types of shampoo, with plans to introduce at least two more.
  • I have introduced 8 types of lotion and have begun to transform those lotions into lip balms.
  • I have introduced 5 types of sea salt scrubs and hope to expand into Bath Salts soon.
  • I’ve got beautiful, light-weight bi-fold tables, two canopy tents, and plenty of pretty displays for the tables.
  • I receive compliments on my table displays constantly, including one from the leader of an art conservatory who used my display as an example of “doing it right!”
  • I’ve begun tracking (some might say hyper-tracking) my costs, sales, and prices, down to the most minute detail.
  • My labels fit FDA guidelines and best-practices for soap-makers.  Hooray!
  • I’ve started to finally dip into my fabulous stash of essential oils and have begun thinking of fun new combinations, just in time for the holidays.
  • I set up my DBA, business banking and credit accounts, and got all my insurance and licensing.
  • I only use organic oils and essential oils (with one exception) in the products.

Hooray progress!  All in all, I think I am finally getting into the swing of this business.  I’ve got my production system in place (barring natural disasters, ahem!) and I can really focus on the little things now.  There’s a million things I want to do with this business, but I know I need to take things in baby steps.  With that in mind, here are my goals for the next six months:

  • Take some gorgeous photographs of the products to put on Etsy and this site … sorry iPhone, you just don’t cut it anymore.
  • Maximize my booth space by getting some nice vertical displays (shower caddies, anyone?)
  • Create seasonal products, like gift baskets, in time for the holiday shopping season.
  • Start making some bath textiles.
  • Minimize spending and start to chip away at that start-up debt.
  • Arrange to take the Basic Certification test through the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild (a formality, but one I’d like to do).
  • Get my products into at least one retail location.
  • Figure out this whole “twitter” thing.
  • Have fun!

I’ve got some bold goals, I know.  Here I go ……

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Fitted Tablecloths

Up until now, I’ve been using safety pins to keep my tablecloths from blowing in the wind and tripping any customers.  It wasn’t a beautiful or perfect solution, but it got the job done for now.  Still, I always knew I wanted to upgrade to fitted tablecloths as soon as possible.

One snag: buying fitted tablecloths is expensive and there aren’t very many attractive choices!  I really like my grey-blue linen tablecloths from Target; they are the perfect shade and they have an amazing texture.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to them and it seems disloyal to abandon them.  SO, I decided to sew them into fitted tablecloths myself.

It was a bit tricky, especially given that I hate hate hate pinning.  Rather than wrestle with the pinning and the sewing machine, I chose to hand sew them.  To be my usual lazy self, I taped the sides to the table top and then pinned the top part of the tablecloth to the taped-down sides.  Then, I used a variation of an appliqué stitch to join them.  I think the finished product looks even nicer than it would have if I’d machine sewn!  It took longer than I thought, almost 3 hours for the first one.  Still, it should get faster now that I know what I’m doing.

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Getting Ready

I’ve come a long way in the last few months.  My products lines have expanded and I’ve got a lot more equipment.  When I think back to how easy getting ready for the last show was (and how nervous I was anyway), I have to laugh.  One table, one tablecloth, and a bunch of soap … embarrassingly easy set-up.

Today, I’m getting ready for the Anne Arundel County Flea Market and I cannot believe how much more stuff I have this time around!  I’ve added three more types of soap and five new lotion recipes, and I’ve got lots of new banners, signs, business cards, samples, etc.  I’ve also switched to organic ingredients so I have a whole bunch of discontinued conventional oil soaps to sell at a discount.  Hopefully they’ll fly off the shelves at $1 a chunk!

Tonight, I’ll have to pack up the truck and get things set because tomorrow morning I’m getting up at 5am to drive to Crownsville, MD for the show.  Wish me luck!