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Making soap began as a hobby. Pam’s inspiration came from her trip to Ireland. There she found an all-vegetable soap that knocked her socks off. Having an inquisitive mind, she wanted to know how this type of soap was made. She read books, conducted Internet research, and experimented on making soap herself. She made herself an expert in fragrances, essential oils, additives, colorants, and soap chemistry. After a bunch of test batches, she developed her own unique formula. That was the moment her hobby turned into a fledgling business. Kettlepot Soap is now a successful one-woman operation. In addition to its financial rewards, it keeps her workspace very aromatic.
Pam’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is as follows:
1. Know your craft inside and out. Become an expert. Know how to make it work, and know how to fix it when it fails. Don’t sell before you are ready as you don’t want to sell inferior work….it’s hard to keep customers that way.
2. Know your target audience, and develop your brand in keeping with your product and audience. Don’t try to please or sell to everyone as that just doesn’t work. Decide what you want to make and how you want to present it to the world. Pay attention to feedback.
3. Make changes only when necessary. Once you’ve established yourself in the marketplace, be sure to investigate new ideas before incorporating them. If you change your formula, your regular customers will notice; be certain that you are contributing improvements to your products and not otherwise. Also, your business and/or products might be regulated by laws pertaining to your field so be sure to stay informed and follow the guidelines. For example, if you are making skin care products or food, keep up with the FDA guidelines.
The five key elements for starting and running a successful business are:
1. Plan your start: Design a plan to get you from the starting line to the finish line. This includes setting goals with timelines so you can measure progress, a budget, a separate checking/PayPal/credit card account and a way to track your costs. Decide how much you are willing to invest (and possibly lose) and be sure to keep your spouse/partner informed. Find and subscribe to user groups and forums; be a nice player there and don’t expect people to share their secrets but do expect to help and be helped. Set up an organizational system that works for you. For making soap, I need to have my recipes, ingredients, costs for ingredients, orders, tax information and forms, bank statements, etc all organized and easy to access. Get a great name for your company and search to be sure no one else is using it, particularly in a related field. Have a “spill” plan for when something goes wrong. For example, a lye spill or an oil spill needs to be cleaned in different ways. Check out what insurance you may need, formation of an LLC, find a small business lawyer and an accountant.
2. Plan to sell: Have your website, shop or show plans in place. Study the web sites of people who make and sell something similar to you. Visit shows you may want to sell at to see how your products may fit. Shop your own website/Etsy/Artfire etc and see how you like it. Have excellent photos of your work. Determine your policies for payment, returns, lost parcels, hosting sales, theft, complaints and compliments. Decide how you will communicate with and advertise to your customers (such as email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Register and trademark you company name and logos and designs. Know how much it costs to make each item, your wholesale mark up price and your retail market price. Understand your profit margin. Be the expert at your craft. Only sell excellence.
3. Start selling: Be sure you are as expert at your craft as you can be before selling. Review your start up plans to see how you are doing to get your shop going and adjust your plans accordingly. Practice setting up your booth for shows and take pictures so you can assess and make changes. Start to think about what you need to do to maintain your business and add those plans. Chart data to measure your goals. Assess your organization and make necessary changes. Monitor what you are buying and what you are using and omit things you don’t need. Start to figure out what you can buy in bulk for cost savings. You’ll be even busier once you start selling.
4. Plan to maintain: Now you have orders coming in and need to juggle filling orders as well as everything else! Review your maintenance plans to see how you are doing and how to improve. Keep charting data to measure your goals and sales. Revisit your profit margin: Do you need to raise the margin? Move more units, or both? Assess your organization and make necessary changes. Monitor what you are buying and what you are using and omit things you don’t need. Keep figuring out what you can buy in bulk for cost savings. Invest in tools that may make production easier and quicker. For soaping, buying “linerless” molds and good soap cutters has saved me a lot of time.
5. Plan to expand, maintain or close: All of these options involve many decisions and can be analyzed in similar ways. Do I need to add products or subtract? Have customers been asking for X or Y? Do I have enough customers? Am I enjoying things? Do I thrive on the challenges? How do my sales REALLY look? Do I want to borrow to expand? Do I need to? Do I have the space or time or energy to expand? Will I need to hire help? How will I keep everything organized and stored if I do expand? Can I operate more efficiently and effectively? For example, the next major expansion for my soap business would require a building with temperature and humidity control, the means to have pallets of oils and lye delivered, the means to store thousands of pounds of ingredients, the means to measure, melt and manipulate ingredients for batches of soap that weigh 30+ pounds, a kitchen to handle the large pots and pans and other greasy tools, and a place to store thousands of cut up bars of soap. At this point in time, I’m maintaining with manageable growth.
Pam shared more in-depth information about Kettlepot Soap. Generally, she gives a new product or a scent 1 year or so before she’ll either discontinue it or make further alterations. On average, she works on Kettlepot Soap products for 2 to 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. To accommodate extra holiday business or shows, however, it can take 5-10 hours of work a day to keep up. There is always work to do – making the products, maintaining the website, packaging the goods, reading books, and formulating.
As a business owner, she manages fear by taking a realistic approach to the entrepreneur world: Be prepared to lose everything you put into your business. If this philosophy sounds harsh, it’s because it doesn’t sugar-coat reality. Despite an entrepreneur’s best efforts, a business has potential to fail just as it has potential to succeed. Pam explains, “You should not expect to lose everything, but you should be prepared and have a plan in case that happens.”
The best way to achieve long-term success is by keeping happy customers and providing outstanding customer service. Especially for a small business, the owner needs to attract a strong customer base. Happy customers: 1) become repeat customers, 2) tell their friends, and 3) buy your items as gifts. Creating happy customers is an excellent way to get word out about your business. In this way, customers help build your successful customer base. But this is a result of having a great product! Pam uses shows, markets, craft and gift stores, and email newsletters to inform people about Kettlepot Soap. She helps her customers try new products by including samples with orders. And she has a lot of testers at shows for folks to try before purchasing.
As far as Kettlepot Soap business’s start-up costs, Pam did not take out any loans or other funding. She began soap-making as a hobby. And believe it or not, she was able to find a number of tools, such as bowls, mixers, pots, and pans, at second hand stores and yard sales. She used her personal money to finance the acquisition of these tools and ingredients. When she made the transition of hobbyist to small business owner, she took her profits earned through Kettlepot Soap, and reinvested them by purchasing better tools, equipment, etc. Since beginning business, Pam made it a goal not to utilize her personal funds to maintain or further expand her business. The business must stand on its own.
Kettlepot Soap opened for business in 2000, and the online store opened in 2003. The Internet has offered a new way to network and to provide an outlet for her to restock in between shows. (Soap is an odd commodity because it is quite heavy. To meet the demands of shows, a lot of work is required to manage these heavy products.) Pam went on to share that the two most satisfying moments in her business were Kettlepot Soap’s first internet order, and her first “thank you” note from a customer telling her that they were thrilled with Kettlepot Soap products.
Kettlepot Soap is marketed in various ways. Pam always carries business cards and gives them out when she can. She plans to carry samples to give out with the cards. She uses email newsletters, Facebook, and Twitter. Currently, she is advertising via an online radio station. She also uses banners at her shows and wears customized shirts featuring the KPS design. She’s also given shirts to family and friends who have supported her along the way.
Pam’s greatest inspiration has been her dad. Her father supported the family by running his own business and supplementing the business with odd jobs when needed. She knows it was a lot of work for him, and now that she’s older, she finds it inspiring (and amazing) that he’s managed to provide such an abundant life for her and the rest of the family.
Pam shares that the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else is how they tolerate risk. Some folks are risk adverse and need to know that they will get paid and have health insurance. Some folks are willing to forgo that security for pursuing their dreams. And some folks, like the owner of Kettlepot Soap, find a way to do both. When Pam’s not busy creating products for Kettlepot Soap, her hobbies include gardening, knitting, sewing, and crocheting. Someday, she hopes to make jewelry with all the beads she’s collected. As an entrepreneur, the biggest sacrifice Pam has made is her free time. A second sacrifice is space in her home. Soaping supplies take up a lot of space! Pam doesn’t necessarily have a favorite company, but she does think that her new favorites are independently owned businesses. She enjoys seeing the lovely things that talented crafters are making and selling on their local shops and on their own sites.
When asked where did Pam see Kettlepot Soap in 10 or 20 years, she replied that she plans to continue on with KPS, growing her product line, and providing skin-care treats for her happy customers in the foreseeable future. Pam added that should there come a time when she can no longer lift 40 pounds to meet the demands of selling soap at shows, then she will then sell mainly online and via craft and gift stores.
Excellent plan, Pam! Thank you for being an inspiration.
Interview completed by email on July 6, 2012
By Ruby Fa'agau
To read the full interview with Pam, click here….
kettlepot Business Card:
Kettlepot Soap's various creations: