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

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Disaster, almost

Day 354 as a professional soap maker and I’ve had my first real lye burn.  Before you panic, let me be clear: I did not have to go to the hospital or seek medical help, but I cried — OUCH!  Honestly, I probably cried more for the lost product than I did for the injury.

To begin at the beginning:

I’ve been trying to catch up on some low stock, so I was multi-tasking.  Bad call.  While making a big batch of the Trousseau  and Hon(ey) Soap, I also decided to work on some lip balms and bag a bunch of orders from my office.  In doing so, I forgot to put together my soap molds until I had already mixed the lye solution and the oils!

Frantically, I screwed together the molds and poured in the unscented Hon(ey) soap.  I quickly realized that the soap was leaking out of the side; something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what in time to save that batch.  I will need to investigate that mold before I try again to figure out why it didn’t seal properly.  I dumped the whole thing in the sink, apparently getting some on my sleeve in the process.

Cranky about the first wasted batch, I mixed in the essential oils for the Trousseau Soap and started pouring into the other two molds.  The first mold went fine and I put it on the shelf to cure.  The second mold, however, was a complete disaster.  In my panic over the first mold, I must have forgotten to insert the second bottom liner of the acrylic mold, meaning that there were two huge holes in the bottom of the mold!  By the time I realized what was going on, half of the soap had gone straight through the holes into the burner compartments of my range, filling two of the burner areas!

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As I tried to get that mold into the sink as well, some of the soap splashed onto my face.  I tried to wipe it off with my sleeve, but only managed to get more on my lips.  My poor, stupid instincts kicked in and, before I could stop myself, I’d licked some of it off.  Now my cheek, lips, AND tongue were burning from the soap and the water from my tongue was making the lye in the soap burn even more.  I couldn’t get to the vinegar fast enough, and, even then, it burned.

I’m fine; my lips are now only a little swollen and my tongue is alright.  You can’t even tell that my cheeks were touched at all.  Mostly the right half of my lips feels red and angry.  Just in time for Thanksgiving lol.

All in all, it could have been worse.  It also could have been much, much better.  Out of the 50 bars of soap I was supposed to create tonight, I probably can salvage  20 (from the mold where everything went fine).  The rest of the soap will either be totally unusable (if it’s filled with junk from the range), good enough for me to use in my own shower (if it’s maybe a little junky, but safe), or turned into soap balls (if it’s fine but oddly shaped).

Lesson: Focus.  No multi-tasking!

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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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Fall Festival at Quarry Lake (September 2012)

Location: Greenspring, MD

Day of the Week: Sunday

Weather: Warm with a Breeze

Organization: Before the event, there was some information about load-in, maps, etc.  There was almost no visible advertisement on the part of the promoters, however.  They also spelled my business name wrong in all of the literature, even after I corrected them.

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

Crowd Make-Up: Mostly families, primarily Jewish.

Booth Fee: $110 for a 10′ x 10′ space

The show was a success, but I don’t know if I’ll do it again.  On the one hand, I more than broke even.  Not by a lot, but by enough, barely.  At the last show I did with Harris Promotions (in Pikesville), everyone lost money and it was a total waste of time and energy.  This show was at least financially worth it.

On the other hand, there are a ton of other shows during September, some of whom might be more well-run or more worth my time.  Next year, I may branch out.  I want to keep working with these customers; I just don’t want to keep working with this promotion group.

Honestly, I feel bad that the Jewish community of Baltimore is being offered such crappy craft fairs.  Both of the shows I’ve done in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods have been run by this same promotion group.  I don’t know if it is because the event organizers make assumptions about the kinds of products people in that community want, but they don’t recruit very many talented or interesting vendors.  I only saw a handful of other crafters there; most of the booths were staffed by big companies advertising services.  There were at least five different kinds of tub-replacement services, five different chiropractors, two or three urgent care clinics, several banks, and lots and lots of free junk.   Craft fairs aren’t much fun if all there is to do is make your way down the line and fill a bag with free lanyards and stress balls that will just clutter up your house later.  All day, my customers either complained that I didn’t have free stuff too or complained that there weren’t any other real artisans there.  It was kind of surreal.

I really just can’t get over the fact that they got my name wrong in so many different, frustrating ways.  When they sent out the list of vendors, I couldn’t find myself on it.  I finally realized that they had written me down as “Baltimore Bubble Cards.”  Now I can see confusing “Bumble” and “Bubble” (people do it all the time), but if they read my application enough to know that I was selling soap, why did they think I was selling cards?  I emailed to ask the promoter to fix the error, explaining that the word was “Bumble” because of the use of beeswax, honey, etc. in the products.  On the day of the event, they had clearly had time to fix it because then it read “Baltimore Bubble Crafts.”   So they changed it to “crafts,” but still didn’t fix the most important word in the name!

I get it; “Baltimore Bubble Crafts” makes a lot of sense … if soap was all that I do.  But I also quilt and sew, and I want to leave myself room to grow.  So nothing against bubbles, but it’s just not me.

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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.

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!

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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!

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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.