“Growing Your Soaping Hobby into a Business”, presented by Brandy McClurg

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“Growing Your Soaping Hobby into a Business”, presented by Brandy McClurg



So now you have made the decision to turn your soaping addiction a/k/a hobby into a viable business. Now what can you do to grow your sales. There are numerous options nowadays to initially get your product out there in the public eye. Etsy, Amazon, Craft Fairs, Farmer’s Markets, etc.   These options tend to be for onesie, twosie soap sales but you need to sell 100’s of bars to make it profitable. So what are your options to achieve these kind of sales?

As in any market, you need to start by getting copies of trade magazines. They will have articles about distributors, distributor margins, names of key trade shows and contacts that will help you in your marketing strategy.   They will also typically have yearly directories that can help you understand what kind of competition you actually have.

Gift marts are an excellent place. They contain a lot of rooms where products are displayed all year long. Most of these rooms are maintained by independent sales rep companies. They are typically open only by appointment but do offer special days every quarter where you can actually come in and check things out.

If you are a buyer or if you have scored a buyer’s pass from a store that already sells gifts, you can see the show rooms and meet the reps in person. If you are unable to get your product into one of these marts at that time, you can still walk away with valuable information like contacts of different sales reps that you can contact and approach them to sell your product at a later date. To find the names of reps, you can start by going to the gift mart in person or go to their web site and then look through the listings of the show rooms to see the ones that carry lines like compatible or comparable to what it is that you are wanting them to carry, like your bath bombs or lip balms, lotions, different stuff like that. Obviously one that sells fishing tackle, probably not wanting to go to that rep.

Brittan passed out a handout that has a list of the US and Canadian Gift Marts. I believe one of them has the web sites that are linked with that. Not everyone has a web site, but it does break it down by state, so that helps.

We are going to talk about sales reps. A sales rep’s main purpose is to introduce, educate and take some orders for products. In return they receive compensation for doing so. They provide experience, expertise as well as industry knowledge. Stores will purchase from anyone, but they prefer to purchase from a few vendors and that is where a sales rep can really help you. They currently sell to your target market, your target stores, so they can go to that store and say, “Hey look, I’ve got this awesome bar of soap from the XYZ Company, would you like to start carrying this?”   If you walk in and start talking to the owner of the store, you may get somewhere, you may not, but they’ve already got a rapport with the sales rep and the sales rep has provided them quality product and if they’re going to stand behind your product, even though they get paid, most likely the owner of that store is going to give them the time of day long before they’re going to give you the time of day.   Sales reps are not cheap, but they can get your product in places that you may never be able to get into and they do a lot of the leg work for you. You can be in Florida and your stuff can be in California and you don’t have to step foot in California. They can take care of that for you. So where do you find these sales reps?   You can go to region gift shows, gift marts/showrooms, talk to other manufacturers in your niche. They will tell you who the good reps are and the ones to avoid. Bad news travels way faster than good.

Trade magazines, they have sales reps matching services. You can look online to find and you can also purchase lists of sales reps.

Gift shows are nice because it gives you a chance to meet the buyer face to face. They provide an excellent way to network with other wholesalers and as a new wholesaler, gift shows are a way to promote your products and to learn about how the shows actually work. You also get feedback on your products as well as ways to make them more desirable. It is always a good idea to check out the gift show before actually signing up to sell your product there. That way you have an idea of what kind of products they carry and once again if the name implies something else, like fishing, but then when you get in there all they have is cooking, you’re not going want to put your pans in there per se, so you want to make sure the gift marts and the shows and stuff that you are doing are actually related to the product that you want to get into these other stores.   You also have a chance to skip out all of your competition. Remember to have all the information on your products and business cards with you as many buyers will not purchase at that moment. They will take your information and they will go back and they will mull it over and decide what it is they want, compare you to other companies, but if you have no information for them to take with them, they may not remember your name later. If they don’t remember you, you’re probably not going to get a sale later.  

You must remember, sales representatives are independent business people who carry products for a number of manufacturers.   Hopefully after talking to one, you will find one who is willing to carry your product and stand behind it. If it doesn’t work, you at least have some insight as to what they feel would better attract people to your product, like sales reps. Maybe it’s something in your packaging that kind of turns people off, or maybe it’s the way that you present it, but it gives you a little bit of feedback from someone who doesn’t know you, because let’s face it, family is not always honest. You know, they are unbiased, they deal with these companies who do the body care industry and they know what sells and they know what doesn’t sell in certain areas because that’s their bread and butter. If the product doesn’t sell, they don’t get paid. It does them no good to have 100 bars that nobody wants.  

You can also talk to different people there that do the same thing you do. A lot of them will give you ideas and hints on what they did to get into the business, you know different things that they had to do and they’ve learned along the way.

Retail shops are another good way to get your products out there but there is an art to who, when and where you should pitch your product to. You will want to introduce you products in a way that the potential carrier will be able to see how your items will mesh with their store.   When showing your products to a potential shop, you will want to be able to explain how to display your items attractively in their store, possibly with a well-done-marketing card that describes your unique product.   Be creative in your presentation as it will stand out from the other products that they carry. Offer just a few of your popular ingredients as store owners are busy and only want a quick overview. You’re an important part of the presentation so be conscious as to your appearance as it can reflect good or bad on your product. Come to the appointment alone so that way you don’t have any distractions, the kids sitting out in the car waiting for you is not a good idea. If you have to do it, just make sure they don’t come running in the store or stuff because that’s distracting and you do need to make sure that you actually make an appointment because store owners are busy and they do not like people just showing up expecting them to give their attention. You know, as a business person, you need to understand that if a customer comes up and needs their attention, they are going to take care of that customer and getting huffy and kind of like are you going to hurry up doesn’t help you at all. It is something we all forget because we are all so busy about all of the rest of our lives but they are busy as a business owner and one day you will be there.

Your product may be great, but if you approach a retailer the day after they have been to a gift mart, the chances are they are not going to want to carry your product at this point because most of them go to these, they spend way too much money and it is not a good time. So you will want to research and see when the gift marts happen and don’t pitch your product to a company around that time. You know there are companies that won’t go to it but a lot of them do and no sense to set yourself up for failure at that time if you don’t have to. It’s not good on the ego and don’t do it if you don’t have to.

Always make sure to call to make an appointment. Monday’s most places are usually closed. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings typically tend to be a better day. The later week they are getting ready for the weekend and changing out their displays and different stuff like that.   You need to go in, take just a few of your really good products, you know show them a catchy way. If you are going to display this, maybe you would have a nice wooden shelving that they can put up there with a little greenery where it can set on the shelf that contains all the soap, they just need a space about like this, they don’t have to rearrange the whole wall for it. Make it as easy as possible for them. The easier you make it for them, the more they’re going to like you.  

Remember that not every product is right for every store, so don’t get down and discouraged if one store turns you down. It wasn’t meant to be and sometimes we look at stuff and we just really want to get our stuff in a store that we will just go anywhere and then you stop and stand back and you look at it, you’re like, “My product really wouldn’t have went well.” You know if they are a synthetic based product and yours is all natural and you don’t have all these like strong smells and stuff, their clientele are used to the perfumey all this. You know it’s not the greatest fit, even though it’s along the same lines of product, the differences are there.   Remember if your product is irresistible and you are persistent, you will find a store that is interested in your product just the way it is. A lot of the owners will also recommend different stores that you can go to and say “Well this is not something I would carry, but maybe so and so down the street, this is something more like they carry.”   Most of them are pretty nice like that, not all, but most.

Private labeling, we touched on that just a little bit. This is kind of like private labeling.   You are bringing your bar here. If Derek is putting his name on it, he would be branding it as an Essential Depot soap, even though you made it. Is this going to get your company recognition, not as your company, but is it doing to sell bars of soap and get your soap out there, it definitely is.   Like Essential Depot being an already established company, and a well-established company, people may go “Hmm, okay I know who these guys are, they sell great stuff, I’m going to buy this.”   But if you got a company over here nobody has ever heard of, your packaging isn’t quite as nice, they go “Hmm, you know same price, no I’m probably going to buy over here”. Honestly when it boils down to it, you’re selling your soap. When you sell your soap, you make money. It doesn’t have to be your company, it is still your soap, it’s still your formula, it’s still spends the same.   Honestly and think about it, if you do private labeling, you throw it into a nice little package, you ship it to them, they take care of the labeling, they take care of the marketing, all you’re doing is making it, throwing it into a little container or however they want it packaged without a label and ship it to them. You do very little touching of it. They get to do more of the back end work that costs more money. Labels aren’t cheap, you know they do all the marketing for it, you just produce it.

Not all companies are good candidates in private labeling arrangements. Usually companies make more money when they produce something in-house; but there are a lot of companies that honestly when it is said and done for the time, it is cheaper to outsource it to someone else. If they could make this bar for a penny and it cost you a dollar, they are probably going to find a way to make it in their location. But say you have a company who makes wash cloths and they need to carry something to go with their wash cloths besides towels, well they can carry soap, they can carry liquid soap, they can carry different products like that. They are not set up to make that, but they can find you, your stuff can go with that.   So light stuff, you need to pitch toward companies that sell stuff that complement what you’re doing, not the opposite end of the spectrum.

And remember knowledge is power. The more you know, the better you can present your company and your product. So arm yourself with as much information as you can find to help you be more successful.


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