The Full Interview with Pam:
Kettlepot Soap - Owner
1. Are you self-employed? Do you have a day job or second job?
Actually, I am not self-employed. I maintain my Kettlepot Soap venture along with my full time day job.
2. How long has your business been operating?
I began KPS in 2000 and have had a fun and challenging 12 years in business.
3. How did you start your soap business?
On a trip to Ireland, I found some fabulous all-vegetable soap. It was a wonderful bar. I found that I was unexpectedly interested in how it was made. I did some internet research and read some books about making soap and felt that I had found a new creative niche. Many test batches later, I developed a formula that I liked and learned a lot about oils, fragrances, essential oils, additives, colorants and soap chemistry along the way. Making soap is relaxing, colorful and my workroom is very aromatic!
4. How important have good employees been to your success?
KPS is a one-woman operation. From my experience in the working world though, I can only imagine that in a micro-business, every employee must be top notch.
5. What three pieces of advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
a. Know your skill 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.
b. Know your target audience and develop your brand in keeping with your product and audience. Don’t try to please or sell to every one as this just isn’t going to work. Decide what you want to make, how you want to present it to the world and pay attention to feedback.
c. Make changes when you need to but not on a whim. Once you’ve established yourself in the marketplace, be sure you investigate an idea before you plunge into it. For example, if you change your formula, your regular customers will notice it so you should be confident you are making an improvement. It is also possible that laws applying to your field may change so be sure to keep up with the FDA guidelines (for example, if you are making skin care products or food).
6. How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Generally, I’ll give a new product or scent a year or so before I’ll decide to either discontinue it or make other changes.
7. How many hours do you work a day on average?
On average, I work 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 something to do from making product, maintenance of the website, packaging, books and formulating.
8. How do you manage fears as a business owner?
You have to be prepared to lose everything you put into your business. I know that sounds like a harsh thing to say, but despite someone’s best efforts, a business can fail. You should not expect to lose everything, but you should be prepared and have a plan in case that happens.
9. What is the best way to achieve long-term success?
Happy customers and outstanding customer service. I think that for a small business, you need a strong customer base. Happy customers will become repeat buyers, will tell their friends and will buy your items to give as gifts. This is all an excellent way to get word out about your business.
10. Where did your business's funding/start-up costs come from, and how did you go about getting it?
Since I started soaping as a hobby rather than a business, I didn’t take out any loans or other funding. Believe it or not, I was actually able to buy a number of suitable tools at second hand stores or yard sales. The bowls, mixers, pots and pans were good enough to get me started making soap. I used some personal money to buy ingredients and, after starting to sell, I reinvested all monies earned in KPS for better tools, equipment, etc. After beginning to sell, I made it a goal not to utilize personal funds to maintain or expand my soap business.
11. How do you build a successful customer base?
I think that if you have a great product, your customers will help build your base. I use shows, markets, craft/gift stores and email newsletters to let people know about KPS. I help customers try new products by including samples with orders and I have a lot of testers at shows so folks can try before they buy.
12. How did you decide on an internet business?
When I started my online store in 2003, the internet was clearly a new way to reach people and to provide an outlet for people to restock between shows. Also, soap is an odd commodity as it is quite heavy. It is a lot of work to do each show in that many pounds of soap must be managed.
13. Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My Dad was my greatest inspiration. He supported our family by running his own business and supplementing with odd jobs when needed. I know it was a lot of work for him and, now that I am older, I find it inspiring (and amazing) that he managed to provide such an abundant life for us.
14. What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
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 sits 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 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 being 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 maintain 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.
15. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I think my two most satisfying moments were 1) my first internet order and 2) my first “thank you” note from a customer telling me that they were thrilled with my Kettlepot products.
16. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?
I think the difference between these two types of folks 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 own ideas and dreams. And some folks, like me, find a way to do both J
17. How do you go about marketing your business?
I always carry business cards and give them out when I can. I need to also start carrying samples to go along with the cards. I use email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter and am currently advertising via an online radio station. I have also had shirts made with the KPS design that I wear at every show. I’ve given the shirts to family and friends who have supported me along the way. Great banners say a lot at shows.
18. What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
When I have time, I garden, knit, sew, crochet and someday hope to make jewelry with all of the beads I’ve collected.
19. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
For me, the biggest sacrifice is free time. I don’t have much of it J A second sacrifice is space in our home. Soaping supplies take up a lot of space!
20. Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I’m not sure I have a favorite company but I do think my new favorites are independently owned businesses. I enjoy seeing the lovely things that talented crafters are making and selling on their own websites and via other sites and in local shops. It is nice to know that my purchase was hand made in our own country.
21. Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
That’s a long time to envision! I plan to continue on with KPS, growing my product line and providing skin-care treats to happy customers for the foreseeable future. I suppose, though, that once I can no longer lift and move 40 or more pounds at one time, I’ll be selling mainly online and via craft and gift stores.
Interview by email on July 6, 2012
By Ruby Fa'agau