I have been selling A Misty Dimness (AMD) Soap at craft shows since November 2015. I've gone through quite a few displays and setups since then. In 2015 I did my first and only show, in 2016 I did roughly five shows, in 2017 I did eight shows, and I'm finishing off 2018 with a whopping EIGHTEEN shows.
That is a lot of time to be hauling around a setup that I don't particularly like. I've changed and expanded my setup every year, thinking this year will be the year that I fall in love with my booth. So far, I haven’t experienced a mild state of like much less love. I don't like my display, my customers aren’t attracted to it, and it is not reflecting the quality of my product. Here's what's wrong with my display (ordered only by the order they came to mind):
1. Customers can't tell what I'm selling when they walk by.
2. It looks cheap.
3. No cohesive theme.
4. It doesn't adjust for stock fluctuations.
5. It isn't easy for customers to find what they want.
6. It isn’t easy to haul and setup.
It is the time of year where I start setting goals for next year, deciding where I want to take my product. I want to do fewer but bigger shows, some of those shows are juried based on product and display – and my display is sadly lacking. Looking further ahead, I’d like to do the 2020 South Dakota State Fair. This gives me roughly 16 months to design and test a booth display before the 2020 application is due.
Since September I have been obsessively thinking about a new display. I have researched, Googled, and Pinterested every soap display, craft show do and don’t, and craft booth tutorial on the internets, and I have cried in frustration. Too many of the booths require huge amounts of props or displays on par with what I already have. Some booths have more props than product! Why can’t I find the answer to “How do I sell soap at craft shows?”?
Light bulb moment. I can’t find the answer because no one else is selling MY soap to MY customers. In three years of doing shows, I have never let my product speak for itself. I’ve always done fast, or cheap, or “this craft show is in a school gym so it doesn’t matter what it looks like”. If my product were running the booth, what would it say?
I looked at my 2020 end game, closed my eyes, pushed down my fear, took a deep breath, and then imagined my soap selling itself at the state fair. What did it say? Who was it talking to? I’m not going lie, it seemed silly the first few times I did it, but after a few days a dialogue started to form. After two weeks of doing this every day, I finally had a very clear conversation and I knew what my soap was saying. Most importantly, I had found that one thing that my soap really wanted people to know, that expressed not only what my soap is but who I am as a maker.
I finally have direction for creating a booth that I’m already madly crushing on. I’ve completely stripped down my booth display to two tables. Yep, I’m even buying a new tent! I’m inviting you along on my journey, every step of the process.
The next booth display post (I can’t promise it will be the next post) we’ll talk about what my soaps told me, and how that translates into a booth display.
Stay Soapy, Friends!
October is not off to a great start. I have been sick for pretty much the whole month, I missed a week of work, and probably more concerning, I did not make soap (or do much of anything in the lab) from September 29th through October 18th. I was a sick gal. I didn't get any blog content made or YouTube video editing, in fact I didn't do a lot of anything, and now that I'm feeling healthy it is kicking me in the butt.
Am I worried or stressed out? A little, but not to the point of panicking. Why? 'Cuz I have a plan. That plan is called The White Board List.
The White Board List has been part of the soap lab for about a year, but it really hasn't been put to constructive use. I'd write stuff on it, erase it, write new stuff in an endless cycle of Just Having a List. I felt I was doing something, or being goal oriented, just because I had a list. Really though, I was not meeting any of my goals, I was running loosey goosey through my days in the lab, and I couldn't find my desk in the office to save my life. We won't talk about all the things I was avoiding for other areas of my business, or the deadlines I was missing.
I hit a wall in August. A wall of exhaustion and frustration. A wall that looked a heck of a lot like the Hall of Shame. Something needed to change. My goals needed to be at the front of everything I do. I made a list of my goals, and then I made a list of what needed to be done in September to accomplish those things. I put that list on The White Board. Front and center every day.
I then took that back on track list from The White Board, and made a monthly checklist - If I do these things every month, during these weeks, the jobs are smaller, I'm not forgetting anything, and I will accomplish my goals.
September was a great month. I didn't get everything done on the list, but I made lots of progress. At the end of the month, I evaluated, decided what was important for October, and created a new list. That list is keeping me sane right now because all of the things I want to do are on that list, but not all of them are priorities. I can edit that list, wipe things off, change things when better ideas come along, but not lose sight of my big goals.
And that is why I'm not panicking now. My white board list and the monthly checklist are working together to keep me on task on focused. I know what needs to be done, what is priority and what can wait until the priorities are done.
How do you use lists? Or not use them? Do you have a system for running your business, or your household? And am I really the only person who happily nerds out talking about list management?
Stay Soapy Friends!
I mentioned in this post that I buy soap from other soapmakers. It probably sounds crazy when I make and sell my own soap, so let me defend my craziness.
When I started making soap, I made plain unscented soap in small batches. I was still learning the process and tweaking my own recipe, trying different oils to see what they would bring to the soap. Most of the time I had no problems using unscented soap, but sometimes a girl has a hard day and needs a pretty soap in the shower to make her feel better. I went online in search of pretty soaps to use on bad days. I found a lot of them. I bought them all. *not really, my husband just thinks I did*
When I started making scented soaps, and selling them, I thought that would be the end of my soap buying days. Not true at all. I quickly discovered that no two soapmakers soaps are alike, everyone uses different oils, additives, colors, fragrances… and there was no way I could make them all, but I wanted to try them. I continue to buy soaps in fragrances that I like, but maybe my customers wouldn't enjoy. I buy soaps that use different types of oils because I want to see how those soaps age and how they feel in soap. I buy soaps that use different additives, such as vinegar or sandalwood powder, because I want to know what they feel like. Would my customers enjoy having these ingredients in my soaps? Would they make my soaps better?
While many of my soap purchases are made for research and development, not all of them are put under a microscope. Some soaps I buy because it’s beautiful soap, because I admire a soapmaker, or sometimes because I run across a soapmaker who is just starting out and needs a sales boost – I want to support her passion.
I don’t always buy soaps. I have friends who will gift me soaps because they know my passion for all things soapy. I’ve done swaps with other soapmakers, sending them a few bars of my soap for a few bars of their soap. I’ve had work colleagues who travel bring me back unique local soaps, giving me a soap collection from around the world.
This sounds like a lot of soap – it is! – and I bet you’re wondering, “Sherry, do you ever use your own soap?” Yes, yes I do.
If you come to my house, you’ll find my soaps at every sink in the house and at least one bar in every shower. My shower will have 5-7 soaps at any given time, about half of them being my own creations.
Want to see what goes in my shower? Follow me on Instagram @soapiesandsparkies to see what new soap I’m using. You can also visit my Photo Gallery, where I’ll be taking a more in-depth look at what goes in my shower.
All this to say, I love soap. I love making it, I love using it, I love looking at it. Soap is a functional art that makes my weird heart happy. What makes your weird heart happy?
Stay Soapy, Friends!
Bad soap happens. To clarify, I'm not talking about ugly or misshapen soap, or fragrances that don't smell good. I'm talking about soap that is spoiling.
Soap gone bad will do one of two things:
When using foods in soap, we use fine purees that allows the natural pH of the soap to preserve the small molecules of food matter. No big chunks allowed!
To preserve oils, we may add ROE (Rosemary Oleoresin) to our oils before soapmaking to prevent oxidation, or we may add EDTA or citric acid during the soapmaking process, which helps prevent rancidity. Some soapmakers, and I am in this group, chose to reduce the amount of free oils available for spoilage in the soap.
These free oils are called "superfat". A percentage of oils intentionally left out of the lye calculation that prevents them from turning into soap. Superfat is what makes handcrafted soap better than your average supermarket soap.
So how do you tell if your soap oils are spoiling? Your soap may develop raised portions that are slimy and... well... gross, like in the picture above. [side note just in case you're curious: I was given this soap a few years ago for Christmas. I found it just this weekend when I was cleaning out my soap stash. It is a goats milk soap, so I suspect that the soapmaker uses a high superfat in addition to the natural fats in the milk. This left a lot of room for spoilage. Lesson: Don't be like me, use your soap in a timely manner.]
If the soap is covered in a white ash that is not orange or green mold looking, that is a natural occurrence in soap called soda ash. It is not spoilage! I just wanted to clarify that, because soda ash does sometimes show up on my soaps. The EucaMint Coconut Milk soap is a popular soap that shows this phenomenon. It's safe to use and won't hurt you. (I'll talk about it in a future post.)
In the picture below, you'll see that this soap has orange discoloration, most noticeably surrounding the heart design. Soapmakers call this DOS, or dreaded orange spots. This soap was an experimental recipe that I made in the beginning of this year using sunflower oil. Unfortunately, I did put this soap into the store, but a few months later noticed that my stock had started to turn dossy, so I removed this soap and all the soaps that used that recipe. (I've gone back to my policy that all new recipes need to pass the 9-12 month life cycle test.) These orange spots are a sign that the free oils in the soap have started to turn rancid. These soaps will also begin to smell "off" or unpleasant.
Are dossy soaps safe to use? Yes, if you're comfortable using it, go ahead (and do it quickly because DOS will get worse the longer it sits)... but I don't want you to. If you ever find an AMD Soap that has developed DOS, please contact me. I'll send you a replacement soap.
What can you do to prevent soap spoilage? Use soaps in a timely manner. Even though I test my recipes 9-12 months before I make changes, I suggest never keeping more soap than you can use in a year. And yes, you can shame me because I don't follow my own advice. We'll talk about that in another post... Store unused soaps in a cool dry place, such as a hallway closet or linen drawer. Bonus! Your linens will smell awesome! Don't store them in a bathroom. Also, don't store soaps in a plastic tote. Shoe boxes or other cardboard boxes work great if you need to keep them bundled together. Plastic totes or bags invite and trap moisture, making your soap unhappy.
Life is too short to use bad soap.
Stay Soapy, Friends!