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How did you get started selling your products?

  • Dove in head-first with a massive supply purchase

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sakura1024

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Hi all!

I have been making soap for a while, but just the basics. I work with M&P for various reasons, but I love it and everyone who has ever tried my soap loves it (I do add some extras to the bases, though). I have been doing this for a while, but just recently started thinking of selling my soap. I'm ready to get out of the photography business, and I might be getting a different "joby job", and selling my own bath/body products has been a dream of mine for about 10 years. Yesterday I was invited to join the local farmer's market in my little town, so I've been researching what it would take to get enough product to set up at the market.

HOLY JEEZE, start up is INSANE!

So, my question is this... how did you get started? Did you slowly build up product over time, did you dive in head first or did it happen by accident?

I know there will be the inevitable "Are you sure you're ready for this?" post, because I've seen them on every other post that I've been looking at all day. I've ran my own photography business for 6 years, so I know about pricing and business practices (I'm thinking of getting out because of the massive changes within the photography industry and the fact that everybody thinks they are a photographer and people in general don't value photography like they once did). I know there are a lot of variables, so please, I'm looking for constructive posts :). I'm just kind of wondering how everyone that does this for a business got started.

Thanks for looking!
Shannon

*Edit: I've decided that jumping into the Farmer's Market this late in the season without enough inventory built up just isn't wise, so I'm gonna sit this year out. But I would still like to know how those of you who sell more than just soap built up your product line. Did you work on one line at a time or a little of this, a little of that at the same time?
 
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lsg

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The only reason you will get a post that asks you to be cautious is because the people who are posting have experience with the business. We are not putting you down, but trying to keep you from making the mistakes some of us have made. If you sell, check your local and state regulations. You will also need insurance and a tax number. The bath & body selling community is huge anymore, so getting started may not be as easy as it sounds. People love my soap, lotions, shampoos etc. when they get them free, when it comes to becoming a regular paying customer, that is something else.
 

Ancel

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I think the trickiest part was the change in my relationships with all those who were given soap before. When you start selling you start thinking 'inventory', and you can't just give like you did when you were testing and or just sharing. Like lsg says paying customers are not necessarily going to be the ones who were so happy to receive before.
That being said selling at farmers' markets is great fun and I'm sure you'll find happy clientele.
Have fun!
 

dagmar88

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I pressed the wrong button.
Make sure you have everything you need to make a professional and consistent product before you start selling.
Go at it like you would with any other business; as soon as you start, it's not just a hobby anymore.
 

sakura1024

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The only reason you will get a post that asks you to be cautious is because the people who are posting have experience with the business. We are not putting you down, but trying to keep you from making the mistakes some of us have made. If you sell, check your local and state regulations. You will also need insurance and a tax number. The bath & body selling community is huge anymore, so getting started may not be as easy as it sounds. People love my soap, lotions, shampoos etc. when they get them free, when it comes to becoming a regular paying customer, that is something else.

I wrote this very early in the morning, and some things may have sounded wrong. I didn't mean to sound ungrateful or rude, I just meant that after having my own photography business, I'm really big on making sure my business is legal. I preach that to "photographers" all the time. Some people try to get away without insurance, licenses and paying taxes and I call them out on it a lot. It gets on my nerves when I work so hard to price myself correctly in order to pay studio rent, insurance, taxes and everything else, but because they don't operate legally, they only charge $50 for the session and a disk.

As far as testers becoming paying clients, I don't expect that - that happens with photography, too (actually, there are a lot of similarities between the businesses). The people I photographed during my "Portfolio Building" phase would never be willing to pay for "real" photography and still expect me to shoot them for free for the rest of my life.

The difference is, with photography, you don't have to build up an inventory before you hang up your sign. Aside from the equipment (which some people try to get away with just their iPhone *blech*), you don't have to have a huge initial investment anymore. And that is where my question came from... I just wanted to know how people start building inventory in this business.

I hope that clarifies some things so I don't offend anyone else :).
 

Moonshea Botanicals

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I haven't started selling yet. I just got into the 'I know how to make soap! Let's give it away as gifts!' phase. I do plan on going forward and selling. Maybe in the next year or so. But I was so gun-ho about jumping in head first when I was unemployed. I had no clue what it took at the time (I do CP exclusively) and now I at the point that I'd rather get my recipes right than put an inferior product out there. And I have noticed I have become a soap snob on top of it.
My best advice, since you know the business end of selling yourself already. Enjoy the creative aspect of it all. Don't burn yourself out too fast by thinking only business.
 

savonierre

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Take your time and have the best product you can possibly have before you start selling. I spent 2 years researching and perfecting and am happy I did it that way. The soap making is the easy part imho. The insurance and labelling, packaging and everything else that goes along with selling your product takes time and money to develop too.
 

Marilyna

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Assuming from your post that you already have your products the way you want them.

Why not make as much product as you can afford and take it to the market? Then take whatever you make over booth rent and buy more supplies? With MP you don't have to wait a month for cure. That's what I did when I first started selling back in 2000.

That's what I would do. You don't have to have a brimming booth to get started. Get out there and sell what you have. That's my opinion. Plus, doing it that way, you can see what actually sells rather than stocking up on supplies for products that may not be as popular as you predict.

Seems to me there aren't that many actual soapers in business on this board. If so, there don't seem to be many high volume sellers. Not that I'm one, either LOL
 

MaitriBB

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If it were me, I'd spend this summer going to the market and seeing who is there already for competition. There may already be 3-4 M&P vendors out there, you won't know unless you check it out.
 

Parke Co. Grapevine

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This is an intriguing thread for me, cause we are in the process of moving from a homeschool/hobby/locals business to putting investment into growing a large circle of steady customers. (took 5 years to get here...) *My* idea for your situation would be:

If the rent for the farmer's market is cheap ($$ per day, for example) and you have enough stock on hand to do a small display, you could have fun planning the display for a week or two to meet folks, see what is selling, what customers ask for, etc. You may only break even when all the math is done, but what you learn will be invaluable.

If the market is well established with a seasonal rent, you have 9 months to get ready for next season. Plan your budget; start really comparing suppliers; become a 'spy' and ask Qs, etc. Again, I would go spend time visiting your market (and others in the area, too) to get a feel for the clientele and what people want. We sell organic produce, flowers/herbs, CP soap and my husband's crafts. CP means a long lead-time to have product ready for the next event, or to fill a large order. That has been a bit overwhelming to work into our family's lifestyle and routine. Sounds like your body products and soaps will allow a bit more relaxation in prep-time, and time to budget for purchases, then of course, re-invest into the business as your sales grow. Although . . .

I have found, with soap and body products, that people are *always* interested in something new, from someone new, as well as the old favorites. Keeps it fun and interesting - always an excuse to try something new! We have enjoyed making our own family recipes for soaps, with family-unique scent-combos. Two that were 'hits' a couple years ago did not sell well this year. One soap that had so-so sales in 2012, I tweaked this March 2013, added pink clay, changed the name and label (scent and recipe was the same!) and WOWsa - it's been our top seller. Sold out as soon as it was cured. Have retail orders for two shops! Was it just the pink? Is that a hot color this year or something ? ? ? LOL The next best-seller was a lavender combo that I made up just to use some old EO's that I had in the cupboard. Turned out very nice and I have big orders for more. Glad I took good notes of my work, so I can duplicate it!

We are in a very low-population and low-income area, but with festivals and tourism. At our tiny neighborhood farmer's market, I sell at wholesale prices and often give 'sample-freebies' of new scents/recipes to the clients there, because they were our original customers. They give us honest feedback but keep purchasing and trying whatever we offer. My soaps sell for $1+ more per bar at retail in the next county; some of our regulars gladly go there and pay retail when they can't make it to the market. Our 'expansion' this year was intended to be slow, but it is growing fast. For 2013, we have done two spring weekend events, the market for summer saturdays, one retail spot (in a friend's store on commission) and a facebook page. Each month, the volume of sales has doubled. :grin: I am now being cheered on to make at least 1,000 bars for the fall festival - WE love and appreciate our customers!
 

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