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HOW WE GOT STARTED

When the last student left my office in the Guidance Department of the high school where I have worked for thirty years, I was feeling as flat as a pancake.  I wanted to treat myself and feel better.  I figured some retail therapy might be a good idea, so I left the school and went directly to my favorite department store. I was still feeling stressed because even though my work day was over  my dogs were waiting for me and I had to start dinner.  I ambled about and made a mental note of everything in the store, but nothing sparked my interest or made me feel better.  That was until I saw a fragrance soap on a shelf full of beauty products.  I had seen these hundreds of times and passed them by, but this time, it clicked with me.

Of course, I bought it.  A shower with this stuff? Perhaps?  I drove home full of expectations.  After attending to the dogs, watering the porch plants, sweeping crumbs in the kitchen, taking off jewelry, getting out of my school clothes, there I was, in the shower, water coming down on my head accompanied by a block of fragrant soap.

 Oh, yeah!  I got out of that shower feeling relaxed, empowered, feminine again, as I left the days’ work and worries down the drain.  What happened I wondered?  I grabbed the crumbled soap wrapper and read the ingredients.  I could do better than this, I thought.  Though I knew nothing about soapmaking, my outlook after that shower made me feel I could do anything. I felt I could make a better product, a handmade product, with pure ingredients….and so began my foray into the wonderful world of handmade soapmaking.

THE HOUSE HAS BEEN TAKEN OVER

When I first started, it was a happy dance every time I ordered soaping stuff and it was waiting for me when I got home from work.  Actually, it still is.  But as time wore on, every corner of my craft room was crammed with fragrances, oils, boxes, soap mistakes, and molds.  My hubby would poke his head in, shake his head and sigh.  It was getting really hard to walk in there, and my workspace was getting smaller and smaller.

My solution?  The dining room table!  We didn’t use it for dining (does anyone?) and with its inviting expanse, I started to harbor my soaping equipment there.  The convenience was amazing, since I was now close to the kitchen sink, where all the action for soaping occurs.  The table was super handy as well as the chairs and the surrounding floor space for boxes and bags.  The kitchen counter was also the unexpected host of my handheld blender and an array of fragrance oils and spatulas. (At least my hubby could not complain about the spatulas being in the kitchen).  So there I was, concocting recipes and experimenting, creating my first soaps and feeling happy.  The house smelled wonderful, my hands smelled wonderful and all was good.

But the business kept growing...our first show was on the horizon, so we had to purchase a white 10x10 tent, tables, chairs, displays, table coverings, the works.  Not to mention all the plastic shoe boxes that held my soaps and bath bombs, trays for my handmade necklaces and bracelets and a cooler for our snacks and drinks!

As a result, my craft room, my dining room and the garage was now part of the my dream….

THE NITTY GRITTY

It was time to make our decision to go forward.  I say our, because my husband was very much involved in getting this business thing going.  What I’ve learned?  You will probably need a second pair of hands, eyes, and just general support.  A business has many pieces.  Can you do it on your own? Yes. But consider that you will have the creative side, the ordering supplies side, the packaging side, and the advertising/marketing side, among many others that just seem to pop out of the ether. 

It was now time to create the name for our business.  Nerve-wracking, because your brand, your design, the colors of your marketing products (labels, wrapping, brochures, mailers, etc.) will have to correspond with each other.  That is how a brand is built.  It has to be recognizable just by its image or name. 

So I kept thinking and thinking and saying names out loud.  My dogs names?  My grandkids names in a cute merge?  Something crafty that would describe all my interests?  The name popped into my mind unannounced one afternoon. Twig and Twine?  It sounded earthy and crafty to me and it didn’t fence me in.  I shared the name with my husband, who thankfully, liked it well enough, and checked it against other businesses in our state to avoid duplication, and thus, customer confusion (More about this later…). Once the check was done and we were free to use it for our company, (so exciting and official sounding)  we were able to complete all the paperwork to incorporate in the state of Florida as an LLC, which means “Limited Liability Corporation.”  We did this by using Google to get all the information we needed, and there was A LOT. So it can’t be a rush job…I recommend reading everything and understanding everything.  You will see that an LLC is a good thing. This is a good time to have that other person to help out with this project, as things are easier to figure out between two or more people.  This does not mean that your personal savviness won’t be enough, just that in my case, I was the creative soaping side of the business, and my technical skills and comprehension of the proper path to become a business was not my forte, unless I had to be pushed in that direction.  One of my mistakes was not checking the name of your business for a domain name in just your state, but nationally as well.  Though you are just starting out, it may seem overreaching or grandiose, but once you start selling online, you don’t want to confuse customers with a domain name that is similar to another one in any of our states.

Though it was a lot of information to go through, it was exciting, because right before my eyes I could see my business start to take form and strength. 

TO WEB OR NOT TO WEB? WEB!!!!!

An important piece of the soaping business is that your brand and your products need to be marketed online.  Due to technology and specifically social media, business marketing and advertising has made an exponential move from paper and mail to the computer and it’s many processes.   Everyone has a mobile phone, laptop, desk top etc., where they can see your products at their fingertips and order easily. If you are not tech savvy find someone who is to assist you.  Setting up a web site for your products is not as complicated as you might think.  Try going to go to an e-commerce site and you will discover that they have templates to choose from and the photos of your soaps and products can be displayed for free. 

Shopify was the best fit for my needs.  It’s connected to my phone and I can check for orders from anywhere. Instagram has been incredibly helpful for marketing as well.  It is great for showing pics of products and for connecting with people that you would not ordinarily meet.  I have gotten a lot of business because of this social media platform.  From my personal experience I can tell you that you can’t rely only on shows and festivals, as those depend on many factors (more on that later) and you might not make the profit you would like.  Having both the online webstore and showing your products in person at shows is the best way to highlight your products.

FESTIVALS AND CRAFT SHOWS

There are many festivals or craft shows in the nation and in your home state.  Google for this type of event, and you will see the huge amount of them throughout the seasons.  I’ve done many, with many different results regarding sales. It takes a lot of work to set up in a festival and the following is a good starter list of what you should have…..

10 x 10 white tent (This is what is usually accepted at festivals, etc.)Tables; which are the folded legs type used with linens or some kind of table wrap so it will look attractive. Use colors in your décor that is consistent with your brand. (see item #3). Décor items can be balloons, swags, greenery, colored glass bottles, rocks, sea shells, confetti, etc.Chairs: The folding type, just two, for you and an assistant. This is not the time for a bevy of friends to be in your tent just chatting away.  You have serious work to do and customers will avoid you if you are involved in something else other than tending to your product.  Remember, however, that you should stand when customers come to your tent. (More on that later…)Your Assistant: Prepare your assistant with all the information needed about your products as well as how to deal with customers in a professional manner.  Assistants also are valuable when taking turns to grab a bite to eat or for a visit to the restroom, which in some cases can be a port-o-potty.  Make sure your assistant understands they are to be with you in the tent at all times; you don’t want to have someone who meanders around the festivities or disappears on you for a long period of time.Signage; customers will start recognizing your company name in the colors and font that will represent your brand.  It is important that you maintain the look of your brand consistent.  Just take a look at your beauty products and groceries.  They have always kept the same look for years because they know that brand recognition is important.Money: Bills in small denominations for change as well as for food and drink for yourself.  Festivals and shows will need you to be in attendance for the entirety of the show and that could be a whole day. Bring a cooler with water, snacks, and sun protection.  Bring business cards, and your gadget of choice to process credit cards. My gadget of preference is Square, which attaches to my mobile phone and processes transactions quickly and easily, and directs the payments to my designated bank account.One thing that you should be aware of is the fee for your tent’s spot in the festival or craft show. This can run the gamut from $20 to $600 plus.  The point is, will you make a profit?  How much are you prepared to sell, and can you, based on the unit prices of your stock, their uniqueness, their packaging, and their ingredients.  Some shows are not as profitable based on the application fee, or how many other vendors are selling the same stock as you are, the weather, other activities in your city,  the amount of attendees, the type of weekend (long weekends are slower, do to the fact that potential customers may leave the area).  Breaking even can be okay, and it is always a great boost to your business and efforts if you put your name and your business out there, and to see how customers react to your product.  You can use it as exposure, meeting potential customers, and just a litmus test to your brand as a whole.  Even if you don’t make a profit, you can get ahead in many other ways.Take business cards and brochures that you may have created to explain your mindset for your business and your products.You will need to set up about 2 hours earlier than the actual start time of the event.  Be ready to follow all the organizer's rules about set up and break down your tent or tables.  Collect your trash and make sure that you leave the site as you found it.  That way, you will be invited to  events over and over again and the word will be spread that you are professional in handling yourself and your business.