Our business launched on Etsy just less than a year ago with 10 fruit soaps and a £2000 pound investment (all our earthly money as it turns out along with some kind donations) and a dream to somehow use soap-making to grow into a social business, gain a reputation as soap-makers capable of making unique and exquisite soaps whilst generating a much needed income for ourselves...
This has the potential to be a long post if I don't break it up into a few different manageable chunks.
- Achievements to date
- Where we are at
- Where the future lies.
Achievements to dates: Few people like blowing their own trumpet. I'm lucky as I get to blow my wife's trumpet on our behalf. Not only has she made some fine pieces of cosmetic Art - but her creativity has meant ScENT has been discovered by tens of thousands of people all over the globe in just one year.
Internet communities those smitten with a love of Carla's Art have been fantastic at helping to promote our work on newsletters, forums, magazines, blogs and hosting soap parties. People we didn't know a year ago have become some of our most crucial bedrocks of support. Thanks to this blog alone we have had over 5000 visitors, requests for wholesale accounts, soap-making workshops and for editorial photos. People like Linda Cooper, Lu Smith, and domestic sluttery have been brilliant at promoting us in their blogs.
Creative connections (an on-line networking site for Crafters) took us under on our first on-line virtual Craft Fayre known as CraftFEST. Their support launched a huge magazine article promoting Carla's work and resulted in me stepping up to the mark as one of the Leader's of the event and provided a fabulous support base of promoters and supporters of ScENT Cosmetics.
ScENT been featured in magazines, asked to produce an exclusive range for Folksy in the run up to Christmas as well has being featured on WowThankYou, Luulla and Etsy homepages. Oh, and how can I forget the wonderful joy of having the top three most voted for soaps on Craftjuice! Carla even made it into a magazine in South Africa!
So, where are we at?
It was all pretty amazing stuff and not bad for a £2000 investment. So what of the practicalities? Did we break even? Have we got a wholesale client base? Have we made our millions yet?
Crucially, we broke even. The accounts indicate a profit if we take into account our stock - but the reality is that there are expenses we didn't put through the account to ensure the business avoided debt. Things, which if the business is to be a success, require ScENT to pay for in it its own right.
Still, not bad for early days of a business with little or no capital.
Did it account for hours worked? NOT A HOPE. We have slaved our little hearts out day and night to ensure we were on the right path. It is not unheard of me starting on the computer at 6.30 and both of us finally resigning ourselves to beds at 11.30 pm in the evening. That said, it is work mixed with parenthood, life and all manner of other joys. We have been able to fit the business around us to a greater or lesser extent. That both of us are able to be at home for breakfasts, lunches and dinners is a sacrifice worth paying for if we can make ScENT work. There is no doubt the kids suffered a little this year as we both tried to get to grips with our roles within the company but thankfully they are at a great age whereby they are able to play with each other, not really know or see our busyness and young enough to forget.
On the up-side though we have also learnt to make cleaning products, breads, sweets, cut glass, make coat-hangers and endless other distractions.
So much time was spent working on packaging, labelling, legislation, pricing, and setting up Internet shops that only a person doing something similar could possibly understand. Carla toiled countless weeks doing more than she had to because we didn't have the cash-flow for larger equipment or more molds etc - making the first year extremely labour-intensive.
We knew wholesale would be difficult to offer to shops due to the hand-painted nature of the soaps. It seemed ridiculous that Carla and I would only manage to scrape a measly £0.70 per hand-painted apple whilst a wholesaler would manage to make more on it that we did. However, we needed other avenues to sell. Sale or Return was definitely the way forward for us last year. Anything that was returned became vital stock in the run up to the busy Christmas period. We did eventually offer wholesale but the profit margins are definitely not as competitive as a retailer would expect. The reason? Postage. Northern Ireland is penalised heavily for purchasing anything from the UK. Without doubt - the years ahead require that we are innovative in making as much as possible from scratch to avoid these ridiculous extra costs. It is the only means by which we can become competitive.
One other massive out-lay for us was the experimenting required with our packaging. Due to the very nature of our soaps - we had to find a way to package them sensitively and beautifully. No existing soap packaging seemed to work and despite making-do with a few solutions for a while, it was obvious our packaging had much to be desired. It took a product designer telling us that the wooden boxes looked "crude" to get me back onto the packaging band-waggon, desperately trying to find a solution. Packaging immediately added £1.00 per soap if it was to retail in a shop - making the soaps (particularly the small ones) seem ridiculously expensive - despite being worth every penny! Whilst a soap at £9.00 may be fine in somewhere like Liberty's of London. The Kingfisher Craft Gallery in Killyleagh may find it totally impossible to shift any soap on our behalf if we were to charge full price.
One big surprise was the discovery that Craft-Fairs do not work for us! We always got our money back, with just one exception, but it never proved worth the 6 hours of standing at a stall. Craft Stalls are something we are very reluctant to do in the future - with very few exceptions. Perhaps it is down to the economic climate or because stalls are increasingly expensive; perhaps our displays are inadequate.
One other BIG surprise was meeting the need for soap-making workshops. We always knew that if we were really going to make the business work there would need to be an element of teaching and soap-making parties. There is no competition within Northern Ireland for tuition and as we have a name for selling soaps unique to us - easily prove ourselves competent. Our background in community work, youth work and social business only enhance our portfolio. Initially we saw this part of the business as the social aspect (whereby we could teach youth groups etc) but in May an opportunity arose to work with Ards Council in - and we seized our moment. Not only was the course over-subscribed but so did the next 3 workshops. The marketing material that went with these events also led to a number of one-on-one workshops. Creative Peninsula, we salute you!
The feedback from these workshops, one-to-ones and soap-parties have blown us away and ensured that we plan to grow this aspect of the business in the coming year. (More info to follow)
Where the future lies:
We are quite excited with all that is to come in the forthcoming year. There seems to be no end of possibilities. So here is the summary - with more to follow in another post specifically stating how we think ScENT can grow as a social business.
1. Exploration of a new line of Novelty soaps and Gift Soaps. Soaps that are easier to make and a little more profitable - thus ensuring that the Soap Art we are known by can still be produced but without needing to depend on Carla to making every hand-painted soap herself. This will allow others to come on board as the business grows.
2. Cold Process. Up until now we have focused on Melt and Pour soap as it allows us to be creative with the shapes and colours. As time progressed we began to sell some cosmetics too but knew that a time would come when we would have to look into selling Cold - Process Soaps. The reality is that Cold Process Soap can be just as artistic - and we have discovered that you can use an oven to make some gorgeous soaps - something - we haven't seen done over here yet either! Cold Process allows us more control over ingredients. It allows us to make items for those who only want to use natural or organic ingredients. It can be entirely fairly traded. We can make it all from scratch - which will help with the postage costs and we have a young couple hoping to come on board to specialise in this product on our behalf.
3. Aromatherapy. As teaching becomes a core aspect of our little business - Carla is undergoing a course in Aromatherapy. This will allow her to specifically teach on the use of essential oils and their properties in cosmetics - thereby specifically able to offer workshops and products for a wide range of skin conditions.
4. Distillation of Essential Oils: Along with making Melt and Pour soap base from Scratch we are looking at distilling our own essential oils. I'm excited about this. We want to know how to do both of these so we can take this knowledge into a social business idea we have in mind. There is a bit of capital involved - but we are definitely gearing up for this one with gusto!
Here is the course we want to do subject to cash:
5. Workshops: We offer one-to-one workshops already but we have also teamed up with Hunter's Lodge to offer fabulous group workshops (up to 8) all situated at this gorgeous B&B. They offer an afternoon tea and having had some of Jenny's Lemon Cake I can only say that I'm checking in for some on my next visit!
6. Social Enterprise: And really, here we have found our little niche. Always wanting to be a social enterprise we have been actively looking for ways to grow sustainably whilst also blessing others. We have looked at ways of working with youth groups and are still looking at ways to raise funds for schools and charities but nothing has really clicked by way of offering employment, experience etc. to others in the community around us. Recently we were approached by a couple of mission organisations about facilitating soap-making workshops in developing countries. Initially we got frustrated that Cold Process soap-making was the only real avenue of soap-making that developing nations could pursue as this wasn't an area we were experts in we had to say 'No'. As time has progressed however, we began to realise that we do have experience in social business, soap making and mission. If we could learn how to make Melt and Pour Soap from scratch, distill our own oils and pass that knowledge on - as well as teach how to make Cold - Process Soap then we could really help establish a sustainable social business' abroad.
This thought grabbed both of us. Carla and I got excited! We began realising the potential of what we, as ScENT could achieve globally as opposed to locally. We began to feel invigorated about the incoming year...
To find out more about our social project - watch this space.
You see, I may not have been blogging lately - but we have certainly been active!