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.

woot.

 

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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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.

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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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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.

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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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Arbutus Arts Festival (May 2012)

Location: Arbutus, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Sunny with a breeze

Organization: Before the event, it was fine.  I did have to wait quite a long time for my confirmation letter, but it was pretty comprehensive.  The day of the event was a DISASTER in terms of organization–worse even than the Anne Arundel County Spring Craft Fair.

Crowd Size: Large and steady.

Crowd Make-Up: Lots and lots of families.  No pets allowed.  Generally young adults with new families.

Booth Fee: $90 for a 10′ x 15′ space

I honestly don’t know how to feel about today’s event.  On the one hand, it was extremely unnecessarily stressful.  On the other hand, I sold over $400 worth of soap!

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Let’s begin at the beginning …

Despite the fact that the festival opened its gates at 10:00 AM, vendors were required to show up to “be in line” no later than 5:45 AM.  I live two blocks from this show.  I really wanted to sleep in.  When I arrived at the designated intersection, there weren’t any volunteers or event organizers visible.  I went in a little further and met a man who told me all of the wrong advice.  After ending up at the far end of the midway, I was told to drive back and given more vague directions.  I finally found the person in charge of “row D” — a man who had us all park in a huge lot and wait … for over an hour.  There was no “line” and there wasn’t any clear sense of who was allowed on the street when.

Finally, by 7:30 AM we were allowed to drive onto the main street and unload our cars.  We were not, however, allowed to set up anything.  We were simply supposed to unload our cars, move them to the parking lot, and sit there for another hour while they fought with vendors whom the event organizers had apparently double booked.  One woman a few spots down from mine (more on her later), apparently paid for more spots than she was given (or misunderstood the size of the spots she paid for) and threw quite a tiff about it.  She got all of the people around her worked up and the vendors were having it out with organizers all up and down the street.  It was honestly the worst energy I’ve felt from a crowd in a long time.  Do you know how sometimes people just exhaust you before they even open their mouths?  This was that kind of angry, passive-aggressive crowd.  I just huddled up with my book and tried to tune it out until we were allowed to set up.

By around 8:30 AM, we were allowed to finally set up our tents and tables.  I’ve got the set-up down to an art by this point, so it only took me an hour (and that included walking all the way back to my parked truck because I forgot something).  Good thing too because the crowds did not waste any time rushing in!

The shoppers themselves were charming and interesting.  People had intelligent questions and got really into the products.  Soap is usually hit or miss, so it was nice to have a ton of people who appreciate handmade items.  There were a lot of young couples and young families.  TONS of strollers.  My neighbor (Sweet Pea Bowtique) was clearly thriving with all the new moms because she sells flower pins and baby headbands and all kinds of cute kid things.  I even ran into my college friends/neighbors who just had a baby and someone from my congregation!  Doing a show in my own stomping grounds was surprisingly wonderful!  I should warn you, though: there is a beer garden, so I think the crowd make-up really depends on whether you are closer to the kiddie zone or the beer garden.

The wind was pretty chaotic, and the only downside to the main part of the fair.  It kept blowing over my signs and knocking things out of neighboring booths.  One vendor had a whole section collapse and someone else had a glass vase tip and smash.  I cannot begin to say how glad I am that I bought the EZ Up Leg Weights!

Once the fair ended at 5:00 PM, folks started packing up pretty quickly and, once again, the place turned into a HOT MESS.  I took my time; I never try to rush because it just stresses me out.  When all of my things were packed, my neighbors were great and looked after the product while I got my truck.  Since the street was chaos, I pulled onto the curb a bit.  Without realizing it, however, I blocked the way of the “woman who threw a tiff.”  Her booth was three-spaces wide and she had a small semi-truck parked in the alleyway behind my booth.  I am pretty sure that the organizers did not know that she was parked there because they didn’t let anyone else keep their things strewn about.  Considering that she spent the entire day acting as if she was better than everyone else, I simply moved my truck fully onto the street when she asked because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

Apparently she did, however.  Despite being fully in my space and no longer blocking the alley entrance, she insisted that her large, wheeled  behemoth displays wouldn’t fit between my truck and the curb.  I tried to explain that it would only take me five minutes to load my truck and then I’d be on my way, but she wouldn’t listen.  She tried convincing me that I should block the entire road while I loaded my truck, that it was what “everyone does.”  Well I’m sorry (I’m not), but I try not to be rude and I think it is extremely rude to block an entire street’s traffic.  Why should one vendor get special treatment?  They shouldn’t.  Everyone pitches in to get everyone out as soon as possible.  Still, I scooted my truck up as much as I could without edging into my neighbor’s space and decided that I was done trying to make the miserable woman happy.  She continued to shout-whisper about how I was extremely rude.  One of the other vendors I’d chatted with during the event came to my defense, calling the woman out and they got into another shouting match.

So listen up, fellow vendors: whether you have one space or three spaces, you are the same as everybody else, for good or ill.  Paying for three spaces does not guarantee you special privileges.  It does not mean that you are better or that your products are better.  And it certainly does not mean that the entire staff of the event should bow to your whim and ignore your flagrant disregard for the rules.

… rant over.

At the booth I

First Craft Fair Reflections

Yesterday was our first craft fair and, wow, I learned a lot:

  1. Rain sucks, especially for soap.
  2. I need a foldable table with a handle instead of the monster banquet table I borrowed from my mother.  My hands hurt from gripping the metal underside.
  3. Wheeled carts for hauling all of the plastic bins are genius.
  4. Put as much product as possible on the table, people like to touch and smell and see things.
  5. Buy a pop-up tent for outdoor shows … again, RAIN.
  6. Get a smartphone credit card reader … impulse buying!
  7. Men and women, old and young, everyone needs soap.
  8. Bring more plastic baggies to protect the soap from the rain AND cute baggies with our logo.
  9. Don’t worry about the competition; everyone has a different market.
  10. HAVE FUN, talk with people, and stop stressing about sales.  Friendly, approachable people make more money anyway.

We didn’t make a killing by any stretch of the imagination, but we more than broke even with the cost of the vendor fee.  For now, that’s all I wanted.  I met a lot of great crafters, got good advice, and signed people up on the mailing list.

The next show is in a couple of weeks, and I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.  I want to experiment with some new soap, shampoo, and lotion recipes.  I want to add some embellishments to the products and packaging.  I want my new business cards and banner to come in the mail! Weeeeee soap!

Plucky Peppermint

Plucky Peppermint Buzz

Tonight, I made two more batches of soap.  I’ve never done back to back soaping, but I’ll admit: it actually motivated me to clean up RIGHT AWAY.  I’ll have to try this more often!

The batch of Plain Jane Soap was simple enough; I’ve done that one plenty of times and it is the base I use for all of the other soaps.  The lye fumes got to me for a bit so I had to stand outside.  I wouldn’t have minded, but my next door neighbors are both cops and between the mad scientist look and the constant arrival of packages on my front door (often containing large quantities of lye), I’m sure I looked like quite the little meth cooker.

On the bright side, I turned my potentially awkward moment into a chance to talk up the soap business.  I figure it never hurts to mention (casually, of course), that I make handcrafted soaps and that they make wonderful gifts. WINK!

The next batch was Plucky Peppermint Soap, by request of my best friend.  She LOVES peppermint skin care products.  Lip balms, lotions, shampoos, you name it, she’s got it.  At some point, I’m sure she’ll talk me into making a peppermint shampoo bar, but for now, those are all fragrance free.

Anyway, peppermint essential oil has got a punch to it.  Between the lye fumes earlier and the extreme potency of the peppermint, I’m buzzing and a bit lightheaded.  I kept everything as far from my face and even breathed through my shirt, but even after it’s done, the smell is strong.  These are going to be some delicious soaps!  (Justin’s already talked about eating the “mints”).

Although I went without colorants this time, I think the main event will be the aroma.  Still, they’ll probably smell so strong it’ll travel through the internet!

Plucky Peppermint