Hobby to Business Series: Product Development

   
Foreword

“Imitation is sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton

In the last post of our Hobby to Business Series, What Will You Sell?, I shared some of my experiences in recipe and product development and today I would like to elaborate on that further. 

I was grateful to recently have had the opportunity to connect with a few of our small business owners on the touchy topic surrounding product development. Yes, the question. The one that when asked, will make you get a pang in your stomach. The one that may make you feel out of character, maybe even wishing to lash out at a perfect stranger. The one that when asked, you hear nails on a chalkboard even though there’s not a chalkboard in sight.

So, what is the question that’s so taboo, you ask?

“What’s your recipe?”

What’s So Offensive?

There is a lot of time and hard work that goes into product development. There is so much experimenting, testing and formulation to be done that we sometimes exhaust ourselves as Artisans. One investment we’ve all made is time. Time is difficult to quantify. We invest in dedicating our precious time to research, creating, marketing and advertising. We stay up late at night after the kids go to bed so we can tend to our craft without interruption. We have books on our craft, we have notebooks full of ideas, spreadsheets for product inventory, websites bookmarked. We take the time to figure out the wants, needs and desires of our customers. Many of us even make specially formulated products for certain customers who seek something unique.

The fact of the matter is that we are Artisans and have spent a lot of time, even though happily dedicated to our craft, and we can never really be fully compensated for that. Yes, we see the fruits of our labor in the smiles on our customers faces or the high sales volume this quarter.

You can exchange time for money, but not time for time.

Facebook friend Jody T said it best when she told us about a former customer of her asking for the muscle salve recipe that took her over a year to formulate.

“I spent so much money and time researching, I get frustrated when people want to just “make it at home” with the measurements and ingredients I use. I tell them where they can get things because I love your products. But I just tell them it’s a proprietary blend that took me a long time to perfect and give them a general idea what’s in it for allergen purposes. It’s also an income generator for me so why would I shoot myself in the foot by giving it away?”

Kathlaina S. added, “I think there’s a fine line between customers asking what ingredients are in your product to know what benefits will come from it, and asking what ingredients you use and where you get them from because they’re trying to replicate it. Customers don’t realize this is our livelihood and we’re not about to give away our secrets we’ve worked years to perfect.”

My Latest Product Development
Recipe, supplies, labeled tubes ready to be filled with moisturizing lip balm

I recently decided to formulate some lip balm. I have a tendency to stick to soap, so this was a little out of my comfort zone but I know my customers have interest. For this venture, I decided to start with our lip balm base with flavor at a 1% IFRA rate. It’s always best to start small – this way, minimal product is wasted or lost. By starting off with a low flavor ratio, I was able to get a baseline for how each flavor performed in the lip balm.

I am a huge fan of sample groups because this practice provides such valuable feedback, especially when you are developing a product you’ve never made before. (I highly recommend this to anyone developing a product in order to gain insight on your product!) I made 25 tubes of lip balm in each flavor so I could distribute them to an unbiased focus group. Each person got one of each flavor.

I included small cards for feedback and asked each person to rate each lip balm on a scale of “too weak,” “too strong” or “just right”. The results gave me black and white evidence as to what needed to be done to improve the product – in this case, the solution was to make a few of the flavors a tad bit stronger.

Due to the nature of the feedback, I increased the IFRA ratio of lip balm flavor to base and then repeated the focus group. While some improvement was noted, there were still two flavors that were not getting positive results. It is important to take the positive with the negative. Again, this was another indication that these two particular flavors still needed some work, even after round two of testing.

Developing a product takes time and patience.

Using my new feedback, I tried upping the IFRA rates again in two of the flavors. Again, they were not met with successful feedback so I decided to switch to two similar but different flavors. Sometimes the slightest variation can make all the difference! Remember, just because you determine a product isn’t going to work for you or your market, it’s not giving up.

In Closing

What’s your latest project? Do you have advice for how to answer difficult questions? Let us know in the comments below!

Hobby to Business Series: What Will You Sell?

Determining What to Sell

I firmly believe the old saying “slow and steady wins the race” holds true. As crafters, we often forget there’s a lot more to do than just making product. After all, that’s the most enjoyable part, right? There are numbers to crunch, planning to do and networking to be done. However, doing these things can become quite a difficult task if you don’t know exactly what it is you want to offer.

So, what do you want to sell? Soap? Bath bombs? Candles? Necklaces? Determining what to sell isn’t always difficult, but isn’t always easy. Take time to jot down your own thoughts and research and even patronize your competitors. See what’s selling. See what isn’t. Ask your friends and family what type of product they would be likely to buy for themselves or as a gift for a loved one.

Here are some things to take into consideration: Is your product going to be new to the scene? Is the market already saturated with this type of product? If so, what sets your product apart? How are you going to convey this message? Is it going to be in the ingredients, packaging; perhaps even the vibe of your booth or online store?

As I was thinking about what I’ve learned throughout the course of my research, I’ve pinpointed three categories that I think are detrimental to choosing what to sell. Let’s take a closer look.

Cost Effective

I have been tinkering with soapmaking for a couple years now and while I have learned a lot, I still have not launched my own business. You can search the internet for cold process soap recipes and end up with thousands of results, but I do not want to sell a recipe that is not mine. I have been taking this time to invest in research and product development to ensure I’m not just taking a shot in the dark.

A few months ago I made a cold process recipe that included several ounces of Argan oil and it was super successful. It lathered well, was creamy and delicious and left everyone’s hands feeling soft and moisturized. It got positive feedback from every individual that tried the soap, except there was one problem: I gave out so much soap to “try” that I had very little left to sell. As a matter of fact, I still haven’t sold any because there are two bars left and I’m just not ready to part with them yet. However, this is important in product development – honest feedback is indicative of how the masses will receive your product.

Don’t get me wrong, my employee discount is great, but Argan oil is still expensive and I’ve still got bills to pay and cats to feed! (So what, I’m that lady.) On my very small scale of production, Argan oil just isn’t a cost effective ingredient for me to use at this time. If you begin to sell a product you cannot afford to source, you will soon find yourself losing money. It’s important to start comparing prices of your raw components so you can ensure you are offering a cost-effective product for both you and your consumer. 

Unique

Let’s face it – handmade products are everywhere. Your product has to stand out in some way from your competitors, be it price, packaging, quality or message. 

I recently connected with a customer who reached out via social media. She lives on a farm and is able to source most all of her ingredients right at home. She makes cold process soap and incorporates her goats’ milk into her recipe. She then felts the soap with wool from their sheep. How cool is that? The more resources you have at your fingertips, the better off you are. This is the prime example of a unique product that is cost effective.

What makes your product special? Is the passion of your craft driven by your passion for something in your personal life? For an example, I’ve spoken with a customer whose family owns a bakery. She was expanding into offering candles in bakery scents for her customers. Not only does this tie into her own passion, but is also a relevant offering to her patrons. Maximize the most of every opportunity!

Another person may sell soaps geared towards children in fun shapes, scents and colors. Perhaps your product line will include a gift set that offers a variety of products in the same fragrance. Maybe you will exclusively offer bath bombs. In addition to your stock inventory, you could incorporate an seasonal line of products.

Solves a solution

There has to be a reason for someone to buy your product. Whatever that may be, you are selling a solution to your customer’s need. What is the need for soap? Easy – hygiene! Candles? They make your house smell great!

Or we can narrow it down even further to someone that needs an unscented soap due to a skin condition, or is unable to tolerate harsh chemicals due to their medical treatments. Maybe that customer happens to be buying a candle for their friend in memory of her late mother because the scent reminds her of the potpourri in her mom’s home. Perhaps the woman that just walked into your booth forgot about her cousin’s birthday party this weekend and needs to get a gift. Or, the customer bought a candle because they realized they have none in case of a power outage and thunderstorms are approaching next week. 

No matter how important or casual the reason, you are still fulfilling a need for your customer, be it a heartwarming gift or just a gentle bar of soap for hand washing. Your product, branding, customer service and marketing techniques will all help you build the target audience you seek, but everyone will always have a different reason for purchasing your product. I firmly believe as long as you serve your customer properly, the rest will take care of itself.

Conclusion

Once you know what type of product you would like to offer, the rest of your vision will begin to fall into place. With a well-defined product, cohesive branding and marketing will follow.

All About Cocoa Butter

Well known in the food industry, cocoa butter is also a key component in cosmetic ingredients. Though it has been used for thousands of years, this notable ingredient made its way into the mainstream with the classic Palmer’s cocoa butter lotion. Did you know that raw cocoa butter is quite the opposite consistency of lotion? It is a hard, brittle, butter at room temperature but melts easily at body temperature. Whether used in an application such as a whipped body butter, cold process soap or even in its pure form, cocoa butter has an abundance of antioxidants and emollient properties that are beneficial to the skin. Since most of us are well aware of the glory that is chocolate, let’s take a closer look at its origin and cocoa butter as used in cosmetic applications.

When the cacao tree reaches 2-5 years of age, it begins to mature and bear thousands of tiny white flowers. These delicate buds will decorate the trunk and branches of the tree, but only a handful will be lucky enough to be pollinated and fertilized to develop into a cacao pod.

The leathery cacao pod is shaped somewhat like a large squash and ranges in color from yellow to orange to even purple. The pods contains around 30 edible fruits, which some people have described as having a citrusy-mango tasting pulp. Each small fibrous fruit contains a cacao bean. Since the pods yield so little actual fruit, it’s too bad that is unlikely you will find this available in your local grocery store or specialty market.

After harvest, the cocoa beans (fun fact: after harvest, they are no longer referred to as “cacao” beans) are fermented and dried. The fermentation process allows the bean to organically eliminate its protective coating and helps develop the cocoa bean into a delicious, chocolaty flavor. The beans are then dried and deshelled to allow any excess moisture to evaporate from the bean.

Once fermented and dried, the beans are heated, usually by being boiled. As the heat allows the cocoa solids to separate, over 50% of the bean’s contents rise to the surface of the water in the form of oil – better known as pure cocoa butter.

Get to Know Our Cocoa Butter
Country of Origin: Africa
Botanical/INCI Name: Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter
Common Names: Cocoa Butter
Parts Used: Cocoa Bean
Melting Point: 34–38 °C (93–101 °F)
Color: Creamy off-white to yellow
Scent: Chocolate
Natural: Yes
Extraction Method: Steam
Refinement Status:

At a Glance:
Pure Natural Cocoa Butter
  • Strong, rich chocolaty scent
  • Light yellow to golden
  • Filtered for impurities
  • Higher in antioxidants due to minimal refinement/processing
Deodorized Cocoa Butter
  • Lighter odor
  • Off-white to yellow
  • Bleached & deodorized
  • Widely preferred in cosmetics due to lack of chocolate scent
Cosmetic Use

When cocoa butter is not being used on its own, it makes a great addition to several cosmetic applications.

You can find cocoa butter in a wide variety of products such as soap, lip balm, lotions and hair care products. Use it at a rate of around 5-15% of your recipe for cold process soap to yield a stronger, harder bar with added moisturizing elements.

It also makes for a great addition to body butters, but take mind not to add too much, as this butter is hard, crumbly and may cause the lotion to not be malleable. In a body butter, I recommend combining cocoa butter with softer oils such as sweet almond or jojoba to yield a more desirable, creamy consistency.

Tempering

It’s important to note that cocoa butter, like shea butter, is subject to grittiness. This is completely normal, does not interfere with the therapeutic qualities of the butter and is not indicative of a defective product. In this situation, the issue that presents itself is very simple – chemistry.

When this happens, it is due to the fatty acids separating within the butter. Each fatty acid molecule has a different size, so when the cocoa butter is subjected to slow fluctuations in temperature, it may sometimes gain this texture because the different sized fatty acid molecules are not evenly dispersed throughout the butter. An easy way to remedy this is to melt the cocoa butter down and then flash-freeze it by placing it directly in the freezer. The rapid cooling will ensure the fatty acids stay suspended and evenly dispersed among the butter, ensuring a smooth finish. This process is known as tempering.

What is your favorite application for cocoa butter? Have you used it in your personal care products? Let us know what you think of this awesome product!

Hobby to Business Series: Thoughts to Consider

Welcome to the third edition of our series covering everything you need to know about turning your hobby into a business. Preparation is key in almost any endeavor, and starting up a business is no different. Whenever I hear success stories of small businesses gone big, sometimes it seems too easy. Like how Jeff Bezos started Amazon out of his garage, or how Warren Buffet used his savings as a young man to purchase pinball machines to generate money to invest. Let’s be realistic – they are most definitely the exception to the rule, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t turn your passion into an opportunity for extra income or perhaps even you main source of income.

The common thread here is planning. Successful businesses aren’t built on luck, they are bright ideas transformed into real action with forethought and the ability to adapt as unexpected obstacles arise. This week’s article is all about taking the time to think about what really goes into planning the launch of a business. We’ll provide you with some questions to consider as you begin to plan out how you can turn your hobby into a business. As you read through I recommend writing down your answers to these questions so you can begin to plan the next steps for your venture. This article is really meant to help you consider all the variables of a business and each topic will be explored in depth over the coming weeks with the goal of helping you build a business plan that works for your vision.

What will you sell?

Will you be selling one item in a variety of fragrances or does it make more sense for you to offer a variety of products with a handful of tried and true fragrances? Think about the time it takes to make each item, the packaging you will need, and your ability to maintain a consistent supply.

How is your product a representation of yourself?

It is important to offer a product that is unique in its own way. With the recent boom of DIY projects thanks to the ease of sharing via social media, the soap and handmade product market may easily become oversaturated.

What sets your product apart from the others? Is this idea yours, or a copycat version of someone else? How long have you been working to master this technique? How does your product incorporate your personal vision and values? This is YOUR brand! The only boss here is you. So, I encourage you to write down feelings and thoughts you would like your products to convey to customers.

Example: I personally do not include Palm oil in my cold process soap recipes. The reason for this is because the use of Palm oil contributes to deforestation. I am willing to sacrifice a cost-effective ingredient for a value I wish to carry through into my end product. A customer who shares the same values about the habitat would be more likely to buy my soap than one that contains Palm oil.

Identify and define your market.

You must market your product to the correct audience. Too often in our industry, marketing is nothing but a shot in the dark. What this means is that a one-size-fits-all approach will usually yield less than satisfactory results. To avoid wasted time, effort, and energy, you must really sit down and get honest with yourself about one thing: Who would actually want to spend their hard-earned money on my product and why?

Say your product line contains nothing but all-natural ingredients. Your soaps are lightly fragranced with organic essential oils. Instead of plastic packaging, you use recyclable cardboard bands to package your soap. Once you know your vision, you are ready to determine who are your ideal prospects.

There are several types of customers who may be interested in these soaps for a variety of reasons. Maybe someone gravitates toward this product line because they have just been introduced to essential oils and wants to try them in soap. Perhaps another customer prefers this type of product due to a skin sensitivity. Another potential buyer may pick up a bar just because it smells pretty and they happen to like handmade soap. Someone else may buy your product to support local business. You must keep an open mind and consider many factors when marketing your product.

Where will you sell your product?

Many customers have great success selling their products strictly online. There are many platforms via Shopify, Etsy, Facebook Marketplace – the list goes on. Other crafters keep operations small and only sell to friends and family. Are there flea markets in your area? When was the last time you popped into your local Mom & Pop shop? You may be surprised how just a little bit of networking in your community will greatly benefit not only your business, but your expertise, as well. It is important to know what’s selling on the market. Meeting with other crafters and small business owners will lead to opportunities for learning, troubleshooting, guidance and support.

Example: I went to a local flea market last summer and sold soap sample bars for $1.00 each and made out like a bandit. A few booths over, someone was selling their handmade soap at a much higher price point (with no samples available) and her booth didn’t get much traffic. Of course it varies by region, but this crowd did not strike me as the type to pay $13.00 for a bar of handmade soap. For this endeavor, I was able to generate more sales in volume by offering a lower price point to fit the economic spending tendencies of those patronizing a flea market.

How do you actually make money?

How do you factor cost? You’ve mastered small batches but how do you scale up? A lot of people forget to factor their time in when trying to determine their cost. These are just a few things to consider when determining how much you should price your product. Take some time to think about the savings you will see when buying in bulk. Yes, you will have to spend more up front, but ultimately that will mean you earn more for every product sold. Can you scale up your recipes without compromising quality? Will you need help and can you afford it?

Example: My first go at selling product was very exciting. I’ve been making cold process soap for gifts and honestly just for fun for a few years now when friends and coworkers began asking if the could buy some. It doesn’t get much easier than that! I was more than happy to accommodate and began taking orders. I created a spreadsheet to factor my costs, determined my price and began making the soap. Shortly before I was ready to deliver I realised I needed packaging and labels! I had not put much thought into it until this point and had already agreed on a price to everyone who was interested. I found myself scrambling to find options that suited the vision I had for my products, but wouldn’t eat all of the profit I thought I would be making.

In Conclusion

These are just a few small bullet points to get you thinking about what it takes to move from hobby to business, so if you’ve taken some time to write down how you may want to handle these I encourage you to keep your answers and add to them as your move forward towards your goal. Each topic will be explored in greater detail in the future to help you fine tune your business plan and launch into a new opportunity.

All About Shea Butter

Loaded with vitamins, Shea butter has such a creamy, luxurious feel that it’s no wonder its popularity and demand are on the rise even after being utilized for generations. This butter is rich in oleic and stearic acids, making it an excellent moisturizer straight out of the jar. It easily melts upon skin contact and with its low comedogenic rating, it is an ideal emollient for people with acne and blackhead-prone skin, as it is unlikely to clog pores. This makes Shea butter a popular ingredient in bath and body products, namely facial moisturizers.

Naturally pollinated by bees, the Shea Tree (Butyrospermum Parkii) begins to bear fruit around 15 years of age and will continue to product fruit over the course of its lifetime — up to 200 years. This deciduous tree stands up to 80 feet above the dry, African Savannah where it thrives in its natural climate. Green fruits appear in clusters dangling at the edges of the branches and turn brown as they ripen. Each fruit yields one or two seeds, which is where the nourishing power of Shea lies.

The use of Shea butter has been traced back to ancient Egyptian times and has since been a key asset to the West African community, namely Ghana. It is mostly the women of the area who pick, clean, rinse, boil and process the Shea nuts. After harvest, the Shea nuts are crushed and heated into a butter. Impurities are naturally filtered out, resulting in a creamy off-white color. Impurities are naturally filtered out, resulting in a creamy off-white color. Unrefined Shea Butter (Virgin Organic) varies from being beige to tan and has a distinct smoky, nutty odor. At times Unrefined Shea will contain tiny shell debris left over from the manufacturing process. It is for this reason the prime choice for the soap making and personal care industry is refined Shea Butter.

At a Glance:
Refined Shea Butter
  • Odorless
  • Creamy off-white color
  • Filtered for impurities
  • Same properties
  • Often preferred due to being odorless
Unrefined Shea Butter
  • Smoky, nutty odor
  • Light beige to tan
  • Minimally processed
  • Same properties
  • Strong odor may not mix well in certain applications

Until I joined the team here at Bulk, I had never felt, let alone seen raw Shea butter. The idea of applying a vegetable fat directly to my skin seemed a little off-putting at first, but this is coming from a girl who cannot stand to even wear lotion or lip balm. (Seriously, I feel like there’s a film or something on me and I do not find it pleasant!) When I had the opportunity to get my hands on some Shea butter, I was blown away. And no, I am not saying that because I work for this company and my role is to write this article. I have always had issues with acne, mostly those pesky little blackheads. My skin is very oily so the thought of putting actual oil onto my skin sounded a bit silly to me.

Reluctantly, I dipped into the jar of Shea and was immediately impressed by its texture. It was creamy, odorless (I used refined) and surprisingly, it absorbed into my skin very quickly! (I have learned that sometimes it can appear gritty, but that is easy to correct and does not affect the quality of the product. We’ll cover that in another post!) I started to use the Shea butter as a facial moisturizer and while I have not necessarily seen a decrease in skin symptoms, I am definitely no longer getting red spots, dry patches and irritations caused by all the chemicals loaded into commercial lotions. Six dollars well spent!

Shea butter adds a luxurious feel to cold process soap and provides spectacular moisturizing properties. I tend to use it in my recipes from 5-10%. In body butters and balms, it can be used by itself or formulated with other oils to achieve the product you desire. A small teaspoon of Shea butter to pound of melt and pour soap base can help boost the soap’s nourishing properties. Shea butter is also often used in hair care.

Get to Know Our Shea Butter
Country of Origin: Burkina Faso, West Africa
Botanical/INCI Name: Butyrospermum Parkii
Common Names: Shea Butter
Parts Used: Seeds
Melting Point: 82-93° F
Color: Off-white to pale yellow. Unrefined: Light beige to tan
Scent: Refined: Slightly Nutty; Almost Odorless. Unrefined: Distinct Nutty Odor
Natural: Yes
Extraction Method: Cold Pressed
Refinement Status: Available in Refined & Unrefined
Organic Certified: Yes (Virgin Unrefined)

How do you incorporate Shea butter into your products? Let us know in the comments below!

Lemon Orange Blossom Melt and Pour Soap Recipe

After last week’s blog article, How to Make a Batch of Soap for Under $20, I was inspired to do another simple, economic melt and pour recipe. This recipe yields six bars of beautiful, zesty, sweet and citrusy soapy goodness.

Additional Supplies

Spray bottle with rubbing alcohol, kitchen knife, cutting board, Pyrex glass, spoon

Let’s Get Started

Begin by opening the container of soap base. Pull away the sides of the Stephenson container to release the soap. Flip the container upside down and push the block of soap base out. Using a kitchen knife or soap cutter, dice the soap into small chunks. Once the block has been cubed, place in a microwave safe container. Heat on bursts of 30-60 seconds at a time, stirring the soap in between. Use a thermometer and ensure the temperature ranges between 120°-140° F. The higher the temperature, the more likely your soap is to scorch or burn off the scent of the fragrance oil, so it is important not to work too hot.

All About That Base

Stephenson’s Carrot Cucumber & Aloe Soap Base seems to be one of our overlooked gems. It is vegetable-derived and contains no parabens, SLS or SLES. This base contains carrot seed oil, cucumber seed oil and aloe vera. It is high-foaming and has a great lather. This soap base is great for people who want to branch out and try something unique. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

This recipe uses 2 lbs. of soap so I used two microwave-safe containers to melt the soap. Once the soap temperature is in the ideal range, add the fragrance. I love Lemon Orange Blossom because it is all-natural and I thought the sweet citrusy notes would go well with the look of the Carrot Cucumber Aloe Base. Not to mention, this fragrance oil uses lemon and orange essential oils as well as other natural constituents, so it definitely fits the theme of the soap. This fragrance has an IFRA usage rate of up to 5%, so I am using 1 oz. of fragrance oil for this recipe as it calls for 32 oz. of soap base.

Gently pour the melted soap into each cavity of the mold. I just love the simple, classic oval bar this mold creates. Like many, I much prefer silicone to plastic, so that’s a plus, too. Once the soap has been distributed, spritz the tops with rubbing alcohol to ensure no bubbles occur and the soap has a smooth finish.

After pouring the soap and spraying rubbing alcohol, allow the soap to cool for at least six hours. Alternatively, pop the mold in the fridge to speed up the process. Side note: this may cause condensation to occur on the soap. Don’t be alarmed – you can easily blot off the dew with a paper towel. When the soap hardened, gently pull the sides of the mold away from the soap. You will be able to see the vacuum seal releasing as you pull apart. Flip the mold over on a clean, flat surface and gently push the soap completely out.

Do you have any questions or comments? We’d love to hear your inpu.! Please share with us in the comments below!

Small Business Saturday: Never Give Up

Make money. Create your own schedule. Be your own boss.

Who wouldn’t want to live this vision?

Turning your hobby into a business, like any endeavor, will have its obstacles, but there are so many benefits. One thing I wish people would consider more often is how far they’ve come.

Whether you decide to take the full leap into retail or just want to sell soap to family and friends, there are so many benefits to turning your hobby into a business.

My phone kindly reminds me of what I was doing on this day each year prior. Not too long ago, my first failed batch of soap appeared on my screen. I now giggle at how angry I was back then. I didn’t know the composition of certain fragrance oils could seize a batch of cold process soap. Had I taken the time to do a little more research before I started playing with caustic material and oil, I probably wouldn’t have run into this problem. Lesson learned.

I attempted three colors, so imagine my panic when I saw my soap batter turn to lumps and crumbles - talk about having to move fast! Unfortunately, I was unable to rebatch and this one ended up in the trash.

This happened several more time and I am sure some soapers could say the same thing. The point being: it happens. Even the slightest variable can alter an entire recipe or finished product. Temperature. Humidity. Oils. Additives. Timing. It’s all about finding what works for you, and I firmly believe one must go through the trial and error to not only gain knowledge, but also patience and gratitude.

Never give up. Had I let these follies stop me, I would not have been able to do my homework, master some (nowhere near all!) techniques, and become comfortable with the product I had to offer.

Just imagine the possibilities: becoming debt-free. Being able to stay at home with the kids. Earning extra income on the side. The opportunity to give back to your community. Networking to meet other crafters and small business owners with shared interested and goals. The ability to make a difference in someone’s life. Working on your own schedule. But, if you love what you do, is it really work?

One day it could be you proudly displaying your product at a flea market booth. That could be your product available in an online shop. It could be your product sitting on the shelf at a big box retailer. And it could be you making profit.

What are some of the biggest challenges you are facing? How have you overcome obstacles in opening and running your business? What piece of advice do you have to offer someone beginning their journey into selling and small business? Let us know in the comments below!

 

How to Make a Batch of Soap for Under $20

Soapmaking is such a rewarding hobby. Allowing you to express your artistic vision and create a product exactly the way you’d like it; soap makes a great gift option for family, friends, and even fundraisers. Some people may want to try their hand at soapmaking but it can seem overwhelming at first. Trust me, we’ve all been there. Here’s the thing – you cannot fail because there will always be a demand for soap.* Whether your creation ends up being sold on a commercial scale or you make it for personal use, it is a practical craft that will not go to waste. *Unless you spill the soap all over the floor like I have… then that’s a fail.

I was always fond of handmade soap, but had no clue how it was made. I knew it smelled better and lathered nicer than store-bought soap. Once I became part of the team here at Bulk, I began experimenting with our products and through much practice, patience, trial and error, I began to get the hang of this whole soaping thing. Keep in mind, I come from the car business – these products were all foreign to me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up being the one making handmade soap! I went from motor oil to sweet almond oil and I’m not complaining.

Today’s recipe was created with beginners in mind. I chose these items because it is possible to try your hand at soapmaking without making a huge investment. For that reason, the subtotal of these items will come to under $20.00 when added to your shopping cart on our website. This recipe will yield approximately 4-6 bars of soap, depending how thick you choose to cut them.

Additional Supplies

Spray bottle with rubbing alcohol, kitchen knife, cutting board, Pyrex glass, spoon

Let’s Get Started

Begin by unwrapping the block of soap base and proceed to chop into small cubes with a kitchen knife or soap cutter. Once the block has been cubed, place in a microwave safe container.

Since our color blocks are so highly pigmented, I only used about 1/8 of the color block to achieve a nice, subtle lavender hue. Place the color block slices into the cubed soap and microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring in between. When the soap has liquefied, remove from microwave and add fragrance oil. French Market is such a lovely scent, with mingling notes of tuberose, ylang ylang, lilac, vanilla and a touch of lavender, it’s strong yet subtle scent composition smells of pure luxury. Using a thermometer, make sure the soap temperature ranges between 120°-140° F.

Here we go – it’s time to pour! Gently pour the melted soap into the mold. I love this particular mold because I don’t have to commit to a large batch of soap. It holds 20 oz. so 1 lb. of soap fills it just over 3/4 to the top. It’s perfect for small batches and testing new recipes. Do you see all the little bubbles at the surface of the soap? That happened because I poured too fast and with too much force. Pro tip: Always keep a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol nearby, as a few quick spritzes will eliminate any bubbles or foam that have formed on top of the soap.

After pouring the soap and spraying rubbing alcohol, allow the soap to cool for at least six hours. Alternatively, pop the mold in the fridge to speed up the process. Side note: this may cause condensation to occur on the soap. Don’t be alarmed – you can easily blot off the dew with a paper towel.

When the soap is cool and hardened, gently pull the sides of the mold away from the soap. You will be able to see the vacuum seal releasing as you pull apart. Flip the mold over on a clean, flat surface and gently push the soap completely out.

Using a soap cutter, slice the soap into individual bars to the size of your liking. You can either do 1″ bars, or even cut them smaller to make sample size bars to share your soaping success with your family!

When did you start your journey into soapmaking? Do you have any questions or comments? We’d love to hear your stories! Please share with us in the comments below!

Turning Your Hobby Into a Business

The Birth of Bulk Apothecary

Picture it: Streetsboro, Ohio, 2008. A small company called Natural Essentials owned by a family with a dream to expose the public to the benefits of natural living without harsh chemicals. Natural Essentials was a direct supplier to companies for pre-formulated soap bases and raw materials such as cocoa butter, shea butter, vegetable glycerin and the like. When the economy began to take a downfall, The Pellegrino family began scratching their heads, wondering how they could turn their small business into something more profitable with greater purpose.

One family member said, “Hey, why don’t we start selling these products directly to the consumer?” And so, Bulk Apothecary was born in 2010 and consisted of one packer/shipper, one customer service representative and the CEO himself.

Now, let’s fast forward about eight years and three warehouse moves later.

We now have a 22,000 square foot facility dedicated to botanicals. Here you will find bundles upon bundles of lavender bursting with beautiful aromatic buds, sweet-smelling rose petals, clays being poured into buckets and vats of potpourri components to be fragranced by our customers.

Two streets away, we have another building. In this 30,000 square foot production plant, day and night we combine raw components to create lotion bases, body wash, shower gel and custom formulations

Today, you will walk into Bulk Apothecary and find that there is a full-time team dedicated to making our customers get the product quality and customer service they deserve. In our new warehouse, we’ve got 200,000 square feet of space filled with stocked product, order fulfillment specialists, product specialists, packers, shippers, inventory management, a dedicated customer service department, a team of graphic artists, a laboratory, maintenance technicians and so much more. In addition, we proudly employ individuals of all abilities, as this was part of our mission to allow people with various conditions to be active, productive, employed members of the community.

After providing our client base over 8 years of service, we’ve come to know and build relationships with customers from all walks of life. We have worked with patrons who spend $2.95 on a bottle of fragrance oil, to larger companies who require monthly orders of coconut oil by the pallet. No customer is too big or too small – here at Bulk, we want to help you grow and reach the goals you have set out with your hobby.

We sincerely believe in community and utilizing the resources you’ve got at hand and we would like to share with you what we have learned over our years of growth. If we did it, you can too, and we are here to help you along the way! We would like to introduce our new small business blog series.

In this series, we will be covering a variety of topics including:

  • How to brand your business
  • How to determine your market
  • How to price your product
  • How to efficiently increase your production
  • How to package and what packaging best suits your products
  • Designing labels for your product (and how Bulk can help!)
  • FDA labeling requirements
  • How to overcome objections from dissatisfied customers
  • Where to sell your product
  • Quality control

We hope you join us every Saturday as we will be covering a variety of topics pertinent to the success of the hobbyist who wants to take it to the next level.

All About Fragrance

ol·fac·tion
älˈfakSHən,ōl-/
noun
technical

  1. the action or capacity of smelling; the sense of smell.

The olfactory system is complex and still being studied in-depth by scientists. What we do know: Neurotransmitters carry the olfaction into the limbic system of the brain, the temporal lobe and the hypothalamus – where emotion lies.

Simply put, pleasant fragrances trigger emotional effects. Be it a romantic attraction or a scent that conjures up a childhood memory, most of us have a scent that can transport us to another and often happier place.

For me, it is the scent of Flex shampoo, which was launched in 1971 and remained popular throughout the 1970s and 80s. It had notes of balsam, vanilla and maybe a just a tinge of citrus. My father absolutely refused to use any other brand of shampoo, and in the 2000s when we realized it was being phased out, I would scour the local drug stores to gather any remaining bottles I could find. He was certainly stuck in his ways, but I knew how much he loved that scent, so I obliged as any daddy’s little girl would.

Fast forward to present day. Digging around in the bathroom closet looking my first aid kit, I spotted that familiar green bottle hidden all the way in the back. The lid is covered in a bit of dust, the remaining shampoo in the bottle has discolored, but I don’t care. I quickly swipe it up, flip the lid and put my nose above it. In that moment, the familiar, nostalgic scent transported me back to a place when my dad was still alive. I could almost feel his arms around me, giving me a big hug. It was such an intense moment that I forgot what I was looking for in the first place! Since his hair always smelled like Flex™, it was a fragrance association that I wasn’t even aware of until after his passing.

With over 300 fragrances, we often get questions from customers asking for more information about these products. Understandably so, because surprisingly, there is a lot to learn! What is the difference between a fragrance oil and an essential oil? What exactly is an essential oil, anyway? Can they be blended? Does one last longer than the other? What are the ingredients? How much should I use?

Whether your venture is in soapmaking, using fragrance for perfume or to diffuse in your home, we are here to help you learn all about fragrance.

Fragrance Oil

Fragrance oils are revered because they are scents that you simply will never find in nature. From unique scents to high-end perfume & cologne copycats, the possibilities are almost endless. The great thing about fragrance oils is that they offer a consistent scent batch to batch because fragrance oils are mainly comprised of lab-created elements. Many customers opt for this type of oil since they are typically more affordable than natural fragrance oil or essential oil. I’ve never smelled a plant that smells like Ramen Noodle Soup (our version) – have you? [Side note: it really does smell like the chicken flavored seasoning that comes in the foil packet, no joke!]

I love fragrance oils because I can blend them to create my very own individualized scents. For more information on how to blend fragrances that compliment each other, please check out our blog post about combining scents by using the fragrance wheel.

The Good:
Consistent
Variety of choices
Scent less likely to fade
The Not-So-Good:
Deemed safe by IFRA but ingredients are unavailable
Does not fit “all natural” business model
All-Natural Fragrance Oil

All-natural fragrance oils are composed of aromatic isolates from nature and essential oils. Much like essential oils, these fragrances have zero additives or unnatural elements. You may be surprised to find out how some of these natural scents are derived! For example, anywhere from flower petals and seeds to twigs and beaver castor sacs (seriously – it gives fragrances a berry-like scent), these compounds, believe it or not, can mingle together to make for an exemplary fragrance experience.

All natural fragrance oils are perfect for people who want to avoid using synthetic ingredients in their product but would still like to maintain a variety of scent other than those strictly distilled from plants. Natural fragrances offer a bit more variety than essential oils because of the various natural elements within their composition.

The Good:
Consistent
All natural
Ability to blend
The Not-So-Good:
Higher price point
Sometimes not as strong as synthetic fragrance
Standardized/Industrial Essential Oil

Standardized/Commercial essential oils are sometimes referred to as “nature identical” and they maintain a consistent aromatic profile. They have been altered from their natural state by adding, removing and combining aromatic elements from other natural sources. With today’s technology, scientists are able to isolate the desired aromatic constituents within the oil. These components are acids, alcohols, aldehydes, coumarins, esthers, esters, ketones, lactones, terpenes, oxides and phenols.Many companies in the personal care industry opt for standardized essential oils because it allows them to offer their customers an all-natural product while still keeping a more affordable price point for the business and consumer alike.

A perfect example of this would be our Lavender 40/42 essential oil. The “40/42” refers to the balance of Linalool and Linalyl acetate esters, which are what gives the oil a consistent scent. It has a balsamic woody undertone with a floral, herbaceous fresh scent.

The Good:
Consistent
All natural
More affordable than therapeutic grade
The Not-So-Good:
Limited selection
Essential Oil

Essential oils are pure and most commonly steam distilled or cold pressed and contain no additives. For example, it takes approximately 250 to 300 lbs. of lavender to make just one pound of lavender essential oil. The same amount of peppermint leaves is required to produce one pound of peppermint essential oil. That’s a lot of plant matter for just one 16 oz. bottle!

Essential oils maintain moderate consistency in fragrance from crop to crop, but may slightly vary. The reason? We are dealing with a 100% natural, pure product from Mother Nature herself! It is pertinent to understand there may be several variables that affect not only the scent, but also the price of the essential oil – market prices fluctuate, bad crop, harvest and availability will all play a role into the cost. Despite these two factors, the essential oils will always maintain the same therapeutic properties.

Some companies will encourage you to ingest these essential oils, claiming remarkable health benefits. So… let’s go back up two paragraphs. If there are 250 lbs. of peppermint leaves in that one pound bottle, that equals 15 lbs. of plant matter per 1 oz. So, essentially, (see what I did there?) that little 15 mL bottle contains approximately 8 lbs. of peppermint leaves. Now think about the sensitive mucous membranes in your mouth, throat and digestive track. Do you see how this could be a recipe for disaster? Essential oils have incredible potency and unfortunately, they are not FDA regulated at this time. Unfortunately, many people have experienced injury or illness due to essential oil misuse.

It is important to work closely with a physician and aromatherapist if you choose to use essential oils in this manner, but we strongly advise against it. Bulk Apothecary sells its essential oils for cosmetic use only.

The Good:
All natural
Aromatherapy benefits
100% Pure
The Good:
Slight batch variations
Higher price point
Scent may not hold well in some applications

There is still so much to learn about these products – so much that we hope you will be tuning in each week for our Fragrance Friday. We will be covering topics about fragrance applications, usage rates, blending, aromatherapy benefits, staff reviews of our scents and more. What questions do you have about fragrance oil? Is there a particular fragrance you’d like to learn more about? Drop us a note in the comments below!

Springtime Floral Blend Diffuser Recipe

Springtime Floral Blend Diffuser Recipe

Ingredients:

3 drops Jasmine Essential Oil

2 drops Ylang Ylang Essential Oil

2 drops Lavender Essential Oil

1 drop Geranium Essential Oil

Office De-Stress Diffuser Blend Recipe

Office De-Stress Diffuser Blend Recipe

Today we wanted to share with you one of our staff favorites! This blend of bright, energizing citrus rounded out by soothing lavender makes for a productive, upbeat work day!

Ingredients:

10 drops of Lavender Essential Oil

5 drops of Pink Grapefruit Essential Oil

3 drops of Sweet Orange Essential Oil

*Mix in diffuser.

Easter Egg Bath Bombs Recipe

Easter Egg Bath Bombs Recipe

 

Here’s what you’ll need:

 

2 C. Sodium Bicarbonate

1 C. Citric Acid

10 – 30 drops Forget Me Not Blossoms Fragrance Oil

2 t. Sweet Almond Oil

Spray bottle of Witch Hazel

2 Large/Medium Bowls

Empty plastic eggs (I got mine at the local dollar store)

 

 

In a large bowl, combine the citric acid and sodium bicarbonate by mixing with a whisk or large spoon. Alternatively, you can used your gloved hand. Just like baking, it is important to mix the dry ingredients before the wet ingredients. Divide the mixture evenly into two bowls.

 

Add coloring as desired – I chose pastel colors for this project. If you use mica, remember to use a teaspoon of Polysorbate 80 – this is an emulsifier and will keep the color from staining you or your tub. Mix until the coloring is evenly distributed.

 

Once the dry mix is ready to go, add the fragrance oil and sweet almond oil. Mix, mix, mix! Spritz witch hazel into the mixture as needed until the consistency is that of wet sand. You should be able to clump this mixture in your hand without it falling apart.

 

Layer the colors as you loosely pack the mixture into the mold, leaving the top of each side of the mold heaping with mixture. This will allow the bath bomb to fully form when you press the two sides of the mold together. There may be some trial and error in this – don’t give up! Sometimes this takes a little patience and practice.

 

Place the mold in your hand and gently remove the top. Turn the bath bomb over and remove the remaining half. Allow to dry overnight. Enjoy!

Coffee Cup Candle Recipe

Coffee Cup Candles

 

You might have seen those adorable candle mugs at the craft fair or online. Some are selling up to $25.00 for a small size mug.  Today I am going to show you how to make these adorable mugs at a fraction of the price. Look in your cabinets, do you see any mugs that you love, but just don’t use anymore? We all have our go-to morning mug, am I right? Look for something that you wouldn’t mind sitting on your counter or stove.  I found two that I bought and totally forgot about.  Those worked out just perfect!

Mug  (I used a 16 oz)

Nature’s Oil Golden Wax Akosoy 5702-00-77 1Lb

Nature’s Oil Creamy Root Beer Float Fragrance Oil

Wick

Whole coffee beans ( I used vanilla beans)

 

Step 1:

Place the candle wick in the center of a clean mug.  I used a little dab of glue from a hot glue gun.  It worked perfectly, however if you prefer to not use glue, simply place wick in center of the mug and prop up using pencils or skewers along with tape. This method works just as well.

 

Step 2:

Using a microwave safe bowl begin melting the wax flakes. Start at 35 seconds intervals. For best results, only do a cup or two at a time. Re-melt if needed, only at 10 seconds intervals or until you hear the wax my pop.  You can also use the double boiler method if you prefer. Just make sure to stir every few minutes.

Step 3:

Add 5 drops/shakes of Nature’s Oil Creamy Root Beer Float Fragrance Oil and 1/2 cup of whole coffee beans. I used vanilla beans. The combination together smells amazing!

Step 4:

Slowly pour the hot wax mixture into the mug, avoiding the centered wick. Be careful not to move around the mug. Let set for 24 hours before using.

 

Step 5:

Trim the wick, light and enjoy your new coffee candle!

 

We would love to see your creations. Instagram and Twitter followers use hashtag #bulkapothecary. We can’t wait to see what you created 🙂  Enjoy!

 

Coffee Cup Candle Recipe

Sunrise Blend Recipe

 

Sunrise Blend Recipe

Ingredients:

4 drops Grapefruit Essential Oil

1 drop Basil Essential Oil

 

Mix. Enjoy! 🙂

Midweek Essential Oil Blend

Midweek Essential Oil Blend