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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 ……

Chef's Soap

First Scent Experiments

I’m currently experimenting with new soap scents.  I’ve done a lavender soap already, using only essential oils and lavender bud powder:

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The smell is divine, and strong!  One of my customers told me that she’s been keeping it in her bathroom just to scent the whole room.

I’ve also tried out using fragrance oils.  I did a Rose Garden soap with Rose Garden FO and rosehip powder.  It smells good, but the scent is nowhere near as strong as the lavender.  I don’t know if that is a result of the differences between Essential and Fragrance oils.

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Next, I worked on a coffee-based soap for chefs.  Coffee is great at removing the scent of onions, garlic, fish, etc.  When I worked on the salad line, I could never get the smell of onions out of my hands and I was miserable, until I discovered coffee as a cleaner.  I’d always heard that coffee was great to smell between fragrances, but it never occurred to me to try it on my hands too.

Anyway, I made coffee out of the distilled water I normally use for soap-making.  At first, it smelled foul and I was seriously worried about the batch.  However, once I mixed it all together and got to trace, it smelled faintly sweet.  It doesn’t smell like coffee like I thought it would, but it does smell good and it has a pretty brown color.  It’s a bit neutral, not masculine and not feminine.