IMG_0931

Gaithersburg Olde Towne Fest (September 2012)

Location: Gaithersburg, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, there was plenty of  information about load-in, zones, and directions to the event.  Staff was available throughout the event to help answer questions and help finding parking.  Parking for vendors was extremely close by; I could have unloaded (with a cart) from my parking spot.

Crowd: A bit smaller than advertised.  Still, I had enough customers.

Crowd Make-Up: Mostly families, primarily Hispanic.

Booth Fee: $70 for a 10′ x 10′ space

This was a good show, but not a great show.  I will probably do it again.  I have a feeling that the event will grow as time goes on.  The organization of the event was great.  I got plenty of information, was directed quite efficiently during the event, and there were no obvious mix-ups of spaces like you find at some shows.  They also had done a lot of advertising beforehand.

On the other hand, there was a definite difference between being near the food trucks (lots of people and relatively peaceful) and being near the train station (extremely loud and a much smaller crowd).  At least five times during the event, a train came through the fair, blaring its horn and rumbling.  It was impossible to hear or even think with the noise it made.  I know that the organizers cannot control the train, but they should not put vendors so close to it.  It really interfered with sales.

On a more personal note, now that the oppressive summer heat is gone, I am seeing a lot more bees in my tent.  They smell the floral essential oils, beeswax, and honey, and flock to me.  I love seeing them buzz around the booth.  I had one hanging out on my scarf for a few minutes even!

I know that some customers get scared away by them, but I find them soothing.  One little boy was in the booth with his mother and he saw a bee on the ground.  Instead of having my reaction (joy), he freaked out and stomped it!  Then, he and his brother proceeded to watch in fascination as it struggled.  I was horrified and heartbroken.  Here I was, welcoming the bees and enjoying their company, and he just killed it with no regard for its right to life.  It made me feel guilty for having drawn the bees over, however inadvertently.

Catonsville Arts and Crafts Festival (September 2012)

Location: Catonsville, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, I had trouble getting confirmation that I was accepted.  I had to email them myself after I got a receipt to ensure that I was in.  I never really received any parking passes or snail mail info, so I was quite stressed going to the event.  During the event, things were very well organized.  They found my space with no problem, it was easy to load in, parking for vendors was nearby, and staff was readily apparent for questions.

Crowd: Great crowd!  While the streets weren’t packed booth to booth, I was never bored and always had customers to talk to and work with.

Crowd Make-Up: Mixed.  Families, older couples, teenagers, young parents, everyone.  All of the people I spoke with were interesting and asked intelligent questions.  Lovely people.

Booth Fee: $125 for a 10′ x 10′ space (if I had signed up earlier, it would have only been $75)

What a great show!  Despite the stress of getting to the event and not having paperwork, the event went without much of a hitch.  My truck had broken the night before and I had to cancel that night’s show (which was unfortunate, but really, I also felt pretty sick, so not that unfortunate), but in the transfer of materials from broken truck to my boyfriend’s wagon, I had forgotten my booth signage.  Luckily, I live less than 5 miles down the road, so I frantically drove home, grabbed my sign, drove back, and still managed to set up the booth in its entirely in less than an hour!  I rock.

The weather really helped make the day spectacular.  The sun was shining, but it wasn’t boiling like it had been all summer.  There was a bit of a breeze, but not so much that it knocked things off my tables.  It also brought out a lot of folks.  The only real downside to nice weather is that it brings out the browsers.   When there’s bad weather, you can be sure that anyone who comes out is a hardcore shopper.  When there’s good weather, you get everyone.

All in all, I would say that this is a must-do event for me.  If I can only remember to apply early, then it will be an even better show!

IMG_0904

Swirl – VICTORY!

Those who follow the blog closely will know that I have struggled with swirls since the beginning!  They would either blend too much or not blend at all (poor poor Plucky Peppermint …. you never swirl quite right).

BUT, I have done it.  I have made a swirl, a proper swirl!  The Poe-tchouli Soap is everything a swirl should be.  The first  test batch was too blended, but the normal-sized batch got it just right.

I’m using three colors here: brown, yellow, and white.  To create the colors I’m using black walnut hull powder, turmeric powder, and the soap’s natural off-white base.  Mixing them separately did take time, but I actually think that the extra time at trace made them more stable and less likely to blend.

I began by pouring a couple dollops of the brown, then a bit of the white, then a couple dollops of the yellow.  Then I added a lot of the white from a greater height, then topped it off with more of the brown and yellow, poured from various heights. Until it cures completely, the yellow will be that dark orange-y color, but once it’s done, it will be a much lighter semi-yellow.  HOORAY!

Check out the results!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_0886

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!

IMG_0874

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!

IMG_0830

Introducing Bumble Balms!

After listening to YOUR feedback, I’ve finally launched my line of lip balms: Bumble Balm’s!  These no-frills lip balms are as simple and pure as possible.  Sticking with my mission to produce high-quality all-natural skincare, the Bumble Balms contain only organic shea or cocoa butter, organic beeswax, organic olive oil, and essential oils.  You will never find synthetic flavor oils in these balms!

I thoroughly research the safety of the essential oils that I’ve used in these balms.  Only lip-safe EOs are in the Bumble Balms.  This limits the range of scents I offer, but you can rest assured that these products will be safe!  I’ve also chosen not to add any sweeteners to the balms to help you protect your lips.  Sweet balms tend to encourage us to lick our lips, which actually dries them out!  Here, you’ll get all the great scent and none of the temptation to lick your lips dry!

You can find these great balms at my Etsy store.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Introducing the Functional and Fragrance Free line of soaps!  These unscented soaps are without essential oils or non-functional colorants and are perfect for sensitive skin!  Check them out in the Bumble's Products pages!

Amazing Baby and Child Expo (August 2012)

Location: Sykesville, MD

Day of the Week: Saturday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, there was plenty of visible advertising and information about load-in, zones, and maps were provided well in advance.  During the event, some of the zoning seemed to get thrown out of the window (I was moved from Yellow to Blue), but things went pretty smoothly.

Crowd: Much smaller than advertised.  We were told to expect 3,000 …. there were probably 300.

Crowd Make-Up: Almost entirely families with young children.

Booth Fee: $125 for a 10′ x 10′ space

I am torn about doing this show again.  It was very well organized and the people running the event (Caring Communities) are a joy to work with.  However, the crowd was way too small for the cost of the event and there was no weather to blame that day.  I lost money doing this show, although less of a loss than at some shows.  I sold enough that it wasn’t a total loss, but some of the vendors nearby didn’t sell a single thing — unacceptable for a show of this cost and that was advertised this heavily.

Sykesville is a beautiful town and has a gorgeous main street.  I think that the townspeople would welcome more events here, but I do think that the labeling of this show as explicitly for “Babies and Children” scared some people away.  A few of the customers I spoke with mentioned that they came despite not having children, but that they felt a bit out of place. Others, parents, were disappointed with the limited offerings of free samples, rides, and games.

This show has a lot of potential.  Considering that there are shows with a much longer history who still can’t get the basics right, I hope that Caring Communities continues hosting this event.  I would suggest that they make some changes in either audience demographic or in offerings.

I’m willing to give it another try next year, but I will really need to see if I can afford another potential “lose-money” show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Screen Shot 2012-07-29 at 7.37.40 PM

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.

BMore Flag

Baltimore Icons

Hey B-more!  What’s your favorite Baltimore icon?  I’m coming out with a line of Baltimore-themed soaps and I’m looking for naming ideas.

fireworks-photos-156

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 ……