Hobby to Business Series: Packaging

Product packaging tells the story of you and your brand. Not only does it make a great marketing tool, it also helps you and your product stand out among competition. Packaging is one of the final touches put on a finished product and can sometimes make or break a sale. Our brains process visual information in a matter of seconds… what do you want your customers to remember about your brand?

Think of packaging as a first impression that will help your customer understand your product and its intended use.

Types of Packaging

Bags

Sometimes a brown paper bag with is all you need for packaging. This would be a viable option if you were selling, say, a grab bag of something like candy or soap sample bars. A bag with a window may be a great option as it allows your consumers to visualize the product.

Of course there are many types of bags available, some made of plastic, some paper, some fabric. Organza bags in particular offer a luxurious look at an affordable price. Perhaps you could sell that lavender cold process soap with a few lavender buds in a purple organza bag.

Boxes

Boxes come in all shapes and sizes. They can be custom made to fit your product in all kinds of dimensions and materials. Let’s think about something purchased from Amazon. What is the first part of the packaging we see? It’s that brown box with Amazon printed all over it sitting on our doorstep.

This can also be considered the product’s outer packaging. This is the first thing your consumer will see. Outer packaging is typically designed to protect your product. This is especially important if you are operating a small business in which you take orders online and ship your products out.

Of course, the box doesn’t have to be the typical cardboard box. Many people opt to sell their soap bars in white boxes with windows because it allows for safe handling, plus it gives the customer a visualization of the product.

Clamshell

It probably wouldn’t be practical to sell soap bars in individual clamshell packages. Doesn’t everybody just love those? I hope you sense my sarcasm. Yes, I am referring to those beloved plastic clamshell packages that require scissors or a knife to open if they are tamper-proof sealed.

Maybe soap wouldn’t be too appealing in a clamshell package, but what about, say, wax melts or votive candles? This style of packaging can be very useful in that it allows a place for the product to be made, stored, and pieces can be used individually

Do you want your customers to be able to feel your product? If so, this method may not be quite on point for your product packaging. Don’t get discouraged – it’s all about what works best for you and your goods.

Hang Tags

These are fantastic for sticking to a budget while still offering relevant packaging. You can purchase them in many places like craft stores or online shops – I’ve even able to snag them at the dollar store at times/

Take into consideration if this is the right type of packaging for your product. For example, it may be a little odd to buy a bottle of soda that has no label wrapped around it, but has a tag hanging from its neck. Is a hang tag appropriate for your product? Would your product look right with a tag hanging from it instead of a “traditional” package?

Hang tags are a great option for candles. These allow the customer to gain all important information such as fragrance, instructions and contact information – while also being able to remove the tag if they’d like to keep a more chic look to their newly purchased candle.

Header Cards

Header cards are simply cardboard or cardstock that is folded in half and stapled to a bag, usually a type of plastic, that holds the product.

You know the little $1.00 bags of candy that adorn the snack aisle of drug stores? They usually have a header tag that hangs from the rack of the display. The header tag shows the candy type and logo, with its more pertinent information on the back of the header tag such as nutrition facts, ingredients and contact information. They are usually easy to open, but are typically not resealable. They hang nicely, but how would they look stacked or placed flat on a table? Probably not as good.

Backer Cards

Quite similar to header cards, backer cards are the same type of design except the cardboard or cardstock extends down to the bottom of the bag containing the product. A great example of a product that utilizes a backer card would be a multipack of car air fresheners.

Shrink Wrap

Using shrink wrap protects your product from the elements and still allows the item to be tangible and seen. This is a great option for items like bath bombs that need to be kept safe and compact. Shrink wrap is an application that works for a wide range of products, anywhere from bacon to soap.

Products can be shrink wrapped at home by using special bags and a heat source such as a hair dryer. The convenience and practicality of this method makes it one of the most popular in our niche industry.

Cigar Bands

This is one of the tried and true, go-to methods for packaging bar soap and one of my personal favorites. These are simply a piece of cardstock, tissue paper or another material wrapped around the bar horizontally. This allows a place for potential customers to pick up the bar without necessarily having to touch the actual product.

This type of packaging lends itself to our senses of touch, sight and smell. With a majority of the product exposed, we can see what it looks like in its bare form, how it smells, how the texture feels. You can even have the cigar brands printed to only have your name and ingredients on the band – this way, moving forward the only variable that would need changed is the scent or style of the soap.

Thinking Outside the Box… Literally

One example of unique packaging that comes to mind for me would be an item offered at my local gemstone and crystal shop. The owner sells plastic Easter eggs that encapsulate an assortment of six or so tumbled & polished gemstones. These are sold at a discounted price: they are $0.75 for each Easter egg, or you can go for the larger mystery assortment that comes in a stapled brown paper bag for $2.00. Whenever I go in the shop with the intent to buy a specific item, I always end up leaving with one or more of both. I am an adult and the element of surprise created by the ominous packaging still piques my curiosity. Do I need to really spend that $2.75? No. Do I spend it anyway? You bet.

Are you able to think of a time that you may have bought a product and then realized the only major appeal of said product was its packaging? Sometimes the packaging may be more memorable than the product itself and it’s no surprise that unique packaging helps drive sales.

Planning Ahead

Now that you’ve got an idea of some of the different types of packaging out there, let’s take a peek at four more steps I think are imperative to the packaging process.

Gather Inspiration

Some of my favorite online resources to get inspired are Pinterest and Etsy. If you’ve ever been on either site, I’m sure you are familiar with how one click leads to another and you look up only to find two hours have passed by. Containing user-created content, these two websites are very powerful in terms of researching the handmade market. Google Images is another great place to go for insight as to how other products similar to yours are being packaged.

Deciding upon packaging for your product is a process that should not be rushed. Next time you head into the store, find a moment to observe displays, aisles and how each product is lined up on the shelves. The shampoo aisle is great for this. Choose a brand and look at each variation of their shampoo or conditioner. Based off of the imagery, style and logo, are you able to tell that the curly hair shampoo is in the same lineup as the shampoo for damaged hair? Successful brands are able to easily do this because of the uniformity of their packaging and appearance. By knowing what everyone else is doing, it is easier to determine which direction you should go.

Consider Practicality

Does your packaging fit your product? Would you put a powder or liquid in a jar, or a solid substance in a bottle? I didn’t think so.

Of course this entails a bit of common sense – it’s a no-brainer that some products simply will not work in certain types of packaging. Make sure your packaging is practical especially in the sense of sturdiness and safety. It would be an awful shame if your beautiful item didn’t make it flawlessly through transit and didn’t have the durability to protect your product

Does it Complement Your Brand?

Your packaging is essential to maintaining a concise brand image. Consistent packaging within your product lineup will without a doubt increase your brand recognition. Think of those golden arches. You already know I’m talking about McDonald’s, right? That’s because their consistency and color scheme has lasted for decades and by now, we automatically associate that symbolism with a specific business.

Perhaps you sell all natural soap and you want matching packaging. You could use recycled brown paper as a cigar band which adds minimal waste, yet still offers your customers a specific look to go along with the necessary information required on a label or packaging. How about soaps for kids? Those should probably be packaged with a little more protection, don’t you think? Maybe something brightly colored and sturdy would be best for that specific demographic.

Affordability

Consider your budget and don’t forget to create a long-term plan. Some variables that need to be worked into the budget are printing fees, paying a graphic designer for your brand’s artwork (this is usually a one-time cost unless you continue to add new products to your lineup), cost of materials, cost of your time or whomever may be packaging the product and the cost of different types of materials. Shipping costs should also be taken into account.

You may want lavish packaging for your soap, but it may just not be realistic at this time. Packaging costs should always be kept minimal, so maybe it is not realistic to be offering that silver foil embellished package with ribbon on your soap bars.

Putting Your Plan in Motion

Take enough time to do your research on these key takeaways. It’s never too soon to start looking – start by looking at the contents of your linen closet or pantry to find some examples right in your home.

Join us next week as we take a closer look at appearance – if you’re setting up your small business, it’s wise to conjure up a logo early on. What is your vision and how do you intend to make it come to life?

Lavender Cold Process Soap Recipe

Introduction to Cold Process Soap

If you are reading this blog post, chances are you have already heard of or have used cold process soap. It surpasses melt and pour as my favorite method of soapmaking for a number of reasons. So, what exactly is it and why is it known as “cold process” soap? Simply put:

Oils + Lye = Soap & Glycerin

The alkali (sodium hydroxide) and the fatty molecules (oils) combine to make a soap molecule. The glycerol separates, becoming glycerin (the moisturizing part of soap) and the water evaporates over time, which is known as the curing time. I always think of cold process soap as being “old fashioned” and believe it or not, there is actually nothing “cold” about the process. The alternative method, hot process soap, follows the same guidelines except the recipe continues to fully cook (cure) the soap in a heated crock pot.

My favorite thing about making cold process soap is that I get to control each and every ingredient that goes into the bar. I chose the oils in this recipe because they are affordable and have some wonderful skin-loving properties. Rice Bran oil is especially gentle for sensitive skin, which makes this a lovely soap for just about anyone. This recipe produces a nice, creamy lather with plenty of bubbles, thanks to the Coconut oil. A variety of oils are typically used because all oils have different types of fatty acids which contribute different properties to the final bar of soap such as lather, cleansing and moisturizing qualities.

This is where a soap calculator comes in handy. Since each oil is comprised of different fatty acids, they each react with the sodium hydroxide differently. The soap calculator takes these different factors into account and provides the proper ratio of water and lye to complete the chemical reaction necessary. I rely on SoapCalc.net but there are several great calculators online. Make sure you follow their instructions as each one works a little differently.

Before going any further, please refer back to our post on lye safety. It is EXTREMELY important you understand how to handle sodium hydroxide with caution. Mishandling of lye leads to injuries such as chemical burns and we do not want that! This is why it is detrimental to wear personal protective equipment (often referred to as PPE) such as long pants, long sleeves, gloves and protective eyewear.

It’s completely normal to be nervous the first time you work with lye, but try not to let it terrify you. Keep in mind there are already many household products we use on a daily basis that are dangerous if not handled properly. Take the necessary precautions and you’re good to go.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

9.6 oz. Sweet Almond Oil
8.00 oz. Rice Bran Oil
14 oz. Coconut Oil 76 Degree
12.16 oz. Distilled Water
4.79 oz. Sodium Hydroxide (Lye)
1 oz. Lavender 40/42 Essential Oil

Additional Supplies:

Heat Safe Containers
Cutting Board
90% Rubbing Alcohol
Digital Scale
Thermometer
Stick/Immersion Blender
Gloves
Eye Protection
Long sleeves
A child and pet-free work space

Let’s Get Started

The first step you need to take is to clear yourself a work area with a generous amount of space. This type of soapmaking requires a lot of moving around, pouring of containers and use of different tools, so you don’t want any extra clutter around.

You will need a digital kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients properly. Remember, when we are working with soap, we are measuring in weight, not volume or fluid ounces – even with a recipe, failure to accurately measure ingredients will negatively effect your end result. I like to view cold process soapmaking as basically just chemistry made fun. Ensuring a complete chemical reaction when mixing oils and lye will secure you a successful batch of cold process soap.

At this point, I like to begin by weighing my water and fragrance. I have found that weighing everything in the beginning (except the lye, which you definitely do not want sitting out in an open container) helps me keep a good pace and doesn’t distract me by having to interrupt my flow to measure more ingredients. With that said, measure 1 oz. of Lavender essential oil and 12.16 oz. of distilled water in separate containers and set aside.

In another container, measure your liquid oils. It is best to weigh each oil individually and then combine, as this will avoid any over-pouring. If you choose to add all of your oils to one container, do not forget to tare your scale in between ingredients. I prefer to measure my solid oils/butters separately as I find it helps with accuracy and minimizing mess.

Once the oils are combined, it’s time to put them on the double boiler on medium-low heat. Wait until all oils are completely melted and transparent. Once the oils are completely melted or have reached 130 degrees, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Measuring the Lye

Safety first! If you aren’t already wearing your personal protective equipment, now is the time to suit up. DO NOT PROCEED WITHOUT SAFETY GEAR!

Carefully open the 2 lb. container and gently measure 4.79 oz. of lye by sprinkling it into a heat-resistant plastic or glass container. Take care not to pour the lye from too high above – you don’t want to get it anywhere except the container. Recap the lye and store in a cool, dry environment. If left in unfit conditions, it will attract moisture from humidity in the air and begin to cake and clump.

There’s a common misconception that soap contains lye. This is not true. While lye is used to make soap, once a complete chemical reaction has occurred – known as saponification – there is no remaining lye in the bar of soap. This is why it is so important to accurately measure your ingredients. Overuse of lye will produce a bar of soap that zaps and is irritating to the skin. Using too little will result in a soft, squishy bar that contains too much oil.

Measure 12.16 oz. of distilled water in a separate container. ALWAYS ADD LYE TO THE WATER!  Do not add the water to lye. Doing so can cause splatter, lye caking at the bottom of your container and overheating. Slowly incorporate lye into the water by again gently sprinkling it in while slowly stirring the water. Continue to gently stir until all the lye has dissolved. As you can see, the lye water heads up relatively quick, reaching temperatures of up to 200° F in some cases.

There will be fumes at first! For this reason, It is important to mix the lye in a well-ventilated area. 

Combining Oils and Lye Water

Allow the lye water and oils to reach 110° F or below. Temperature plays a key role in cold process soapmaking so you’ll want your lye water and oils to be within 10° of each other. If you soap at too high of a temperature, your soap will be prone to overheating which can cause the soap to crack down the middle and expand out of the mold.

Carefully pour the lye water down the shaft of the stick blender. Doing this will prevent any caustic water from splashing out. Once the lye water is completely poured, gently pulse the blender a few times until you begin to see trace.

So, exactly what is trace? Trace is what occurs when raw soap begins to thicken. There are 4 stages to watch for:

  • The first stage is emulsification – this is when all evidence of oils are gone, but the mixture is thin and liquid-like. The lye water and oils are just beginning to combine.
  • The second stage is thin trace – the mixture is opaque and when you lift your mixing tool out and let a drip fall back in, it will rest on top before sinking back in. This is when I typically add my fragrance or essential oil.
  • Medium trace – you can lift a spatula out and drips will rest on top without mixing back in, you can “trace” trails into the top of the mixture and they will stay. The mixture will still be pourable and this is a good time to get it into the mold as it will be less likely to have air bubbles.
  • Thick trace – a custard-like consistency. You will feel resistance when trying to stir. At this point you are better off trying to scoop your soap into the mold than pour it.

For this recipe, I will be mixing in the Lavender essential oil at thin trace. I pre-measured 1 oz. of essential oil so I didn’t have to interrupt my work flow to do a new measurement. This Lavender 40/42 essential oil is standardized to ensure consistency from batch to batch and it is perfect for soapmaking and other bath & body products. If you want to get fancy, you can even sprinkle some lavender buds on top of the soap when finished. I recommend using the Super variety of Lavender buds which are known for their vibrant purple color.

Pour the mixture into the mold in a back-and-forth motion. Use a spatula to remove any residual soap in the container – we don’t want any waste! Give the loaf mold a gentle tap on the counter to eliminate any air pockets.

By the time the soap is in the mold, it will have thickened up a bit more. I use this block of time to give the top of my soap some texture. I used a wooden skewer to make swirls for this batch. You can smooth it out with a spatula, add texture with a fork, spoon, almost any utensil you’ve got will work. This step is completely optional but it’s fun to jazz it up a bit. When you are finished texturizing, give the soap a few sprays of rubbing alcohol. This helps prevent soda ash which can be unsightly. Soda ash occurs when unsaponified lye is exposed to carbon dioxide in the air and is purely cosmetic.

Store the soap in a safe place that is out of reach of children and pets. Now the waiting game begins.

Unmolding the Soap

It is important to allow the soap to set in the mold for at least three days. Since this recipe is composed of liquid and soft oils, it takes a little while longer to solidify.

I highly recommend placing the soap loaf in the freezer a few hours prior to unmolding. Since the soap is still soft at this point, the freezer helps make unmolding a breeze. Pull away at each side of the mold, flip over and push down on the bottom and wait for the vacuum seal to release.

Cutting the soap while it’s still cold is a good idea. Having it in a more rigid state will allow for easier slicing. You can use a soap cutter or a kitchen knife. This recipe yields approximately 10 x 1″ bars of soap.

Allow the soap to cure for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Remember how we mixed lye into over 12 oz. of water? Well, that water is still in the loaf of soap and needs to evaporate. This is exactly what happens during the curing process. The excess moisture is able to leave the bar when exposed to air, which results in a harder, longer-lasting bar of soap. 

In Conclusion

Cold process soapmaking is such a valuable skill to have. It gives me a sense of self-sufficiency and self worth. I too was hesitant at first, but I didn’t know I could do it until I did it! Now I’m constantly brainstorming for new ideas and new recipes. I’ve got a lifetime supply of soapy gifts for my family and friends!

Soapmaking allows you to craft something practical that is definitely not going out of style any time soon. There will always be a need for soap! You can even formulate recipes for laundry soap or shampoo bars with this method. You can tend to your hygiene with the peace of mind because you know exactly what is in that bar of soap. Cold process has so many different techniques to learn and we look forward to sharing these with you in the coming months.

Have you started cold process soapmaking yet? If you are an experienced soapmaker, what piece of advice would you offer to a beginner? Let us know in the comments below!

Hobby to Business Series: Establishing Your Brand

Over the last few weeks, we’ve explored the first steps of turning a hobby into a business. With products developed and numbers crunched it’s time to define your brand identity. Get your notebooks out because there is plenty of research and pondering to be done before you offer your product. How you brand your company will play a key role in determining your success as a small business. It’s time to think about what makes your product special and why someone should buy it. Your brand is the best way to show the world why they need what you have. We’ll walk you through the key aspects of developing a brand.

Define Your Target Market

The word “targeting” tends to have a negative connotation, but when it comes to business, it’s imperative to really dive into exactly who you want your customer base to be. By learning the needs and desires of your potential market, you will be able to cater your business to a specific demographic. This will help you concentrate your efforts to customers who actually want what you are selling. The following are just some of the factors to take into consideration about your target demographic: age, gender, spending habits, location, special interests. This is just a short list of different ways to define your customer but taking the time to understand who will be buying your product will help you make the best-informed decisions about where and how to sell your product.

Another important factor you should consider is the spending habits of your potential customers. Do you intend to sell your product (let’s say it’s soap, of course) as an aesthetically pleasing high-end luxury soap at a higher price? How about selling your colorless, unscented soap at a more affordable cost with minimal packaging? These two bars of soap will likely be purchased by customers for different reasons .and different expectations about how much it should cost.

In your mind’s eye, picture yourself at your craft fair booth, at the counter of your storefront, or watching sales pour in from your online shop. Ideally, who is patronizing your business? What is important to them? How is your product improving their daily life? How will your overall image as a business attract people to you and your products? Another practical angle to take is this: who do I want out to be out there purchasing and advocating for my product?

Define Your Mission

Having a well-defined mission will help you in branding your small business because it will help you remain focused on why you started your business in the first place. A mission gives your business purpose. What makes your brand unique and what is the “why” behind your business? What kind of values do you want to share with your customer base? What do you stand for? Why should they buy from you?

Do you sell soaps made with only the finest oils, such as argan oil, perhaps infused with silk for that extra luxurious touch? Is your lineup vegan and free of synthetic ingredients? Are your melt and pour soaps shaped like animals and geared toward children with their bubblegum and fruity fragrances?

Shared values are the most important part of having a solid mission. People will always gravitate towards what they identify with. Maybe I want that silk and Argan luxury soap because I just turned 30 and I’m freaking out about how my skin will look in the next ten years. Someone who purchases this product probably values the importance of skincare. Maybe they’re like me and want to improve their skin routine before it’s too late, or another person could have a medical condition like eczema and needs those skin-nourishing oils. Either way, the consistent value here is skincare. For a company like this, do you think they would attract more customers with a colorful display or perhaps a more subtle, simplistic layout?

There are a lot of people that would be interested in vegan and synthetic-free soap! This is especially true with more people moving towards more plant-based living. With the knowledge and research attainable at the tips of our fingers these days, it’s not hard for us to learn how commercially produced soap really isn’t the greatest stuff to be putting on our skin. Maybe your mission is to educate those who are unaware and introduce them to the world of all-natural skin care with no animal-derived ingredients.

Kids love fun soap! Perhaps your children or grandchildren inspired you to launch your business. You could build value into your company by showcasing a cool soap that makes bathtime fun. After all, you were inspired by those little ones, so obviously family is important to you and probably to your customers, as well!

Define Your Business Identity

By defining your mission and values, you can make informed choices about how your business will be perceived. We all have a favorite brand we rely on whether it’s a store you always buy jeans from or a restaurant your go to regularly. Take a moment to think about why you like them and consider how you feel when you think about them. I buy my jeans from the same store not just because I like how they fit but I know they are good quality. I am happy to spend my money with that brand because I trust their products. Once you find a brand you like and trust choosing them when you need something new becomes automatic. Your business identity is what attracts people to your products. A great product without a brand is like a black and white photo of a rainbow. How will anyone know there is something special there?

This is your small business; your vision coming to life. You are the voice behind your brand. What key messages do you want to communicate about your brand? Who are you? What do you have to offer? More importantly, why should people buy it?

Consistency in your aesthetics, mission and values will provide an opportunity for you to connect with your customer beyond a simple transaction. You are responsible for being your brand’s biggest advocate.

Research Your Competition

One of your goals should always be to differentiate yourself from your competition. Back to our example of soap. Take a look at what makes other brands in your industry stand out. Is it their consistent packaging? Perhaps their labels are all uniformly black and white but the soap bars themselves are bright, neon colors. Something like this would make their brand particularly easy to spot among the competition.

Are they offering something that you do not? Let’s say your line consists of cold process soap and lotion bars fragranced with only essential oils. Your brightly-colored competitor sells bath bombs to accompany their radiant soap.

If you are making cold process soap and lotion bars, I am going to predict that your customers may like a similar product to go with your line, such as a bath tea or soak since that lends itself to your all-natural values. Perhaps you could sell a kit containing a variety of your products to appeal to a different niche of the market you share with your competition.

It’s always a smart move to check out your competition. However, I personally feel it is important to not look at them as competition. I’m a firm believer that we all have a lot to learn and by opening ourselves to seeing what others have to offer. This can give you insight into what’s selling vs. what’s not, as well as the different price points and range of products other businesses offer.

Making Your Brand Come to Life

Your branding should always have a cohesive look and feel with your product lineup, company mission and business identity. Make your brand recognizable! You want to have consistency in your image with the same color scheme, font, and logo placement.

If you are going to take your business seriously, you have to be willing to invest time and money into the branding process, especially as far as your visual representation is concerned. Creating a logo is fun and exciting but can pose as a difficult task, simply because there can only be one logo for your business. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. This will be your constant visual identity and should remain consistent on all your products, advertisements and content.

Take your time with the process of physically branding your business and your product! The process can take weeks, months, even years. Don’t rush it! You deserve the best for yourself – after all, you’ve come this far and beautiful physical materials like labels, displays and advertisements should be used to compliment your product lineup. Don’t think you have to do this alone. You may know established business owners who have already been through this process. Even if they are in a completely different industry the principles of creating a brand are the same.

Sure, you may be in a hurry to get your product out there and available for purchase,  but the work you do now will set the tone for how your business will launch. Do you really want those patrons to remember you by some good-smelling soap with a sloppy label that doesn’t even have your company name on it for the customer to order more? Scientific studies have shown that visual information is processed through the brain almost instantly – you want to make sure you leave your customers with a good first impression of your business and your product. Your overall image and product will be what earns you repeat customers in the future.

In Conclusion

Establishing your brand entails so much more than coming up with a cool logo and neatly packaged product. Successful branding encompasses a variety of areas including your website, packaging, business cards, social media presence, and online advertising.

So, who would want to buy your product? I can’t answer that for you but I hope this week’s article has helped you develop a clearer vision of how your brand will look to the rest of the world. Once you develop your brand the decisions about how to package and label your product, where to sell and how to market will become much more clear. 

Our Favorite Diffusers to Fit Any Budget

Are you new to the world of diffusing oils? Bulk Apothecary offers a wide variety of diffusers to enjoy in your home or work space. If you have never used a diffuser in your home, you’re missing out! I’ve always been a big fan of testing out the waters before I make a financial investment, so I would like to share with you some of my budget-friendly favorites.

AromaSphere Diffuser – $11.25

Available in six different colors, the GreenAir AromaSphere diffuser is the ideal diffuser for an enclosed work space such as a cubicle. It may be powered by two AA batteries or by utilizing the included USB cord. This diffuser is powered by a small fan and does not require water. There are three replacement pads included and refills are also available. Simply drop your essential or fragrance oils onto the pad, push the button and enjoy your favorite scents. Buy it here!

Compact Travel ScentTrekker Diffuser – $22.50

Perfect for on-the-go aromatherapy, this diffuser fits nicely into most vehicle cup holders. USB-powered, this diffuser has a maximum 6-hour run time and will auto power off. If these features weren’t enough, this product also has a beautiful ring of color-changing lights that can be turned on or off to your desire. I love using it in my car and office. This is one of our favorites here at Bulk. You just can’t beat the portability. Buy one here!

Cloud Mist Mini Diffuser – $22.50

With a water capacity of 100mL, this diffuser boasts 8 hours of run time with your choice of white light, color-changing light or no light at all. This is a great product for those looking for a diffuser that will cover a little larger area such as a bedroom or bathroom. It has one, two and three hour timer settings so you can leave it running without worry. I especially like the timer when I am diffusing Lavender to help me relax and fall asleep at night. The changing colors are another one of my favorite elements of this because it’s just so relaxing to watch. It’s also got a high and low function. Buy one now!

SpaRoom Marble Mist Ultrasonic Diffuser – $35.00

These are beautiful and fit in quite nicely with home decor or you can use one to add some chic to your work environment. The intricate beauty of these hand-blown glass diffusers make fantastic gifts for friends and family as no two are the same! (Don’t be afraid to treat yourself, either) The MarbleMist has a traditional AC plug. With solid and rotating light functions and automatic shut off, these eye-catching diffusers are one of our customer favorites. Buy one now!

 

Ultrasonic Dual Mist Oil Diffuser – $39.99

Not only does this one look cool, it is cool! This diffuser has a more modern look and has two rotating mist nozzles that you can adjust in whichever direction you desire. You can diffuse oil in this for up to 16 hours at a time on the intermittent mist setting as it has over an 8oz. water capacity. It’s also got the same lovely optional colored lights, timer settings as the above diffusers, but the double misters make another one of my favorites. Buy one now!

Once you decide on a diffuser that fits your desires, give this Autumn day diffuser blend a try. It’s October and the temperatures here in Ohio have been lingering around 80° but that isn’t stopping us from enjoying a little bit of Autumn here in the office! Combine 5 drops of Orange essential oil, 2 drops of Clove essential oil and 3 drops of Cinnamon essential oil in your diffuser for a magnificent, spicy, rustic citrus blend to fill your space. This could be seen as the “easy” version of doing a crockpot air freshener, most often done by simmering orange peel and cinnamon sticks in water.

What are some of your favorite Autumn scents or blends? Drop us a comment about any further diffuser questions – we are here to help!

Hobby to Business Series: Calculating Cost

Foreword

With craft show season rapidly approaching, I wanted to share how to take a closer look at your production costs so you can effectively price your product and see some return on investment.

While there are many other associated costs, for the sake of this blog post we are just going to take a look at the very basics: cost of ingredients, cost of packaging and cost of your time. These simple calculations will help you determine which ingredients to use and will give you a visual and accurate financial plan. Since we’re just turning our hobby into a business, we don’t necessarily need to worry about wholesaling and overhead costs like storefront electricity, employee wages, etc… yet. I am going to use cold process soap for this exercise.

The Breakdown

For demonstrative purposes, let’s say I am going to my first event and I need to know how much profit I can make. The recipe I will be using for this example is one of my more gentle formulations. Even though it’s got a higher Coconut oil percentage, it produces a stable, creamy lather and is great for sensitive skin. (I am excited to walk you through this making recipe in next week’s blog tutorial!)

I normally only make small batches, so to product 10 approximately 4.8-5 oz. bars of soap, the recipe calls for the following:

I want to scale my recipe up to make a 100-bar batch for the show. Since my original recipe yields 10 bars of soap, I am going to multiply the ingredients by 10 so I can determine how much material I need to purchase.

Just take a look at the savings when buying in larger quantities. Here at Bulk we make it easy to determine your price per pound of product. On each product page, the selection menu will indicate the total price as well as how much you pay per pound. To the left you will see pricing for our Coconut 76 oil. For this endeavor, I’m buying 35 lbs. because I am going to be using a lot in my recipe. One of the advantages of scaling up your business is the ability to buy in bulk, thus saving drastic amounts of money. In today’s economy, it just makes sense.

Review your personal budget and decide if you will save money in the future by purchasing in bulk.

Scaling Up

The chart below shows each ingredient broken down in weight and cost per pound and batch. One of my favorite resources for creating spreadsheets and documents is Google Drive due to its ease of sharing and intuitive, user-friendly nature.

Scaling the recipe up to 100 bars will require over 30 lbs. of raw material. This will be over a $100 investment so it is important we calculate our profit margin. Each bar of soap weighs approximately 4.8 oz. which is actually about industry average.

Now it’s time to calculate how much each unscented bar costs. This is the first step to setting your price. A batch of unscented soap will cost me $52.77 in materials, but I need to make sure I pay myself for this, too! This is built into the cost of each bar by deciding how much I want to pay myself per hour, multiplied by how many hours I put into a batch from beginning to end. I’ve found that on average, a batch takes me roughly a collective three hours. I’ve decided I am worth $20/hr for this venture. This will add $60.00 worth of labor into the cost of my soap. When I divide that by my yield of 100 bars, my cost works out to be $1.12 per bar. Since I bought my ingredients in larger quantities, I was able to save more more money, therefore increasing my profit margin.

On Fragrances & Variety

I want to have a variety to offer my customers so I need to factor in the cost of the fragrances I’d like to offer. This works pretty much like my base oils, and I like to figure this pricing by utilizing the price per pound displayed on the Bulk Apothecary website. I multiply the weight of the fragrance oil in pounds by cost per pound so I am able to determine that I need 1.22 lbs. of Lavender fragrance oil, which costs $11.81/lb. In this example, you can see I also did some pricing for Grapefruit Rhubarb and Cedarwood Patchouli fragrance as well. Having the price per pound displayed on the website helps me calculate whether or not a particular fragrance oil would be cost effective.

It might seem like I am at my final cost per bar but we’ve got one more factor to consider – packaging. Presentation is important, but I don’t want to lose any potential profit by using expensive packaging just because it’s pretty, especially for my first event. So, I decided on simple shrink wrap sleeves for $0.11 each and well-designed professional looking labels for $0.13 each.

So, back to the Lavender example – I set my spreadsheet up to add my total packaging cost of $0.24 ($0.11 + $0.13 = $0.24) to my individual bar cost giving me a final Lavender bar cost of $1.36.

 

A common price I’ve seen at local craft shows is between $5 and $8, but that may vary depending on your location. It is important to also take into consideration the varying markets and sales trends of your area.

I decided to set the Lavender bar at $6 for the purposes of this exercise. If I charge $6 and it costs $1.50 to make the bar, packaging included, I could potentially make a profit of over $450.

Once I have done this for all of my fragrances, I can begin to anticipate my potential profit at the craft event. I did this by adding my potential profit for all 4 varieties and then subtracting the costs to participate in the event – booth fee, time at the event, display materials etc. I calculated this to be about $305. Now that I am able to factor in these costs, let’s take a look at my potential event profit:

I can now see that my potential event profit is over $1,500.00 – wow!

In Conclusion

Let’s face it – this definitely isn’t the fun part of starting your own business, but what is fun is seeing what potential your financial future holds. Once you have a spreadsheet established, you can begin to adapt this model to any products you may be selling, or even to keep track of your own personal budget. Often as Artisans we get caught up in all the making that we forget that numbers, too, are very important.

Do you see why buying in bulk can help save you money? What has helped you scale up your production or track your sales? Please let us know in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

Lye Safety

Halloween Recipe Roundup

Our Favorite Halloween Recipes

With Halloween approaching next month, we wanted to share with you a quick roundup of some of our favorite Halloween recipes! 

Halloween Bath Bombs

Get into the spirit with this fun, kid-friendly activity. This recipe is a spooky take on the classic bath bomb and uses fun shaped cavity molds instead of the classic bath bomb sphere. You will learn how to use rubbing alcohol and pigment powder to paint on bath bombs. How cool is that?!

Spooky Soap

Create a classic Halloween themed soap from our melt and pour base. This spooky tray mold is perfect for those who want to practice the technique of dispersing colors with a pipette dropper. We enjoyed making this and we know you will, too!

Bewitching Bath Salts

Bath salts are probably one of the easiest homemade products you can make, and one of the most relaxing! With busy lives, everyone can appreciate a nice, detoxing soak. But just because they’re easy to make doesn’t mean they have to be boring!

Pumpkin Sugar Whipped Soap

This tutorial will show you how easy it is to make your own luxurious sugar scrub. Stephenson’s OPC makes for a wonderful foaming bath butter ready for additives such as fragrance, colorant, sugar and salt. 

Beginner Spooky Soap

We kept it simple with these fun, colorful Halloween themed soaps. Perfect for the beginner, this recipe includes melt and pour soap, easy-to-use color blocks and fun molds that will make this a great project for even the little ones.

Tell Us About Your Halloween Creations

We would love to hear from you! Please show us your favorite Halloween creation over at our Facebook page.

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.