Making custom bars for a customer

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Mighty Mama

Mar 21, 2013
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Knysna, Western Cape - South Africa
I've been approached for creating a custom shaving soap for a local barbershop. I've gone ahead and bought ingredients and, working closely with the owner, I've made quite a few sample batches of shaving soaps. Each one of these with different fragrances/clays until we figured out what worked. In all this time I have not charged him figuring that once the prep work was done, I would be reaping the benefits of recurring orders.

Today someone else approached me about creating a custom dog shampoo bar and I can see I am going to be making sample batches etc again! Feel like somehow I should be compensated for this but not sure how to go about it..

Any advice/tips would be so welcome. Much appreciated!
Maybe say you need a startup supplies nonrefundable fee since they want it custom ordered and made. Come up with a price break even amount and go from there. I don't sell, however, so hopefully someone with experience can help!
Sadly, if you have already agreed to make the samples but didn't say anything about compensation, it would appear very unprofessional now to do so in the case of the barbershop client.

If you haven't started on the samples for the dog shampoo however, I wouldn't go thru the ringer and keep making several batches..that could get expensive. I would make a couple batches and let them pick..if they wanted more choices, then you may be able to explain how much its going to cost you, and that if you make more samples you will have to recoup some of the costs in a fee.
Agree whole-heartedly with Jstar. One or two samples should be plenty to demonstrate your abilities and product. After that I'd charge for more experimentation. People tend to think the supplies and your time are free. It's funny how people think they are "doing me a favor" by asking me to make soap for them. I'm sure these folks don't want to take advantage, but it's easy to allow them to do so.
You really need to stick with either private label or contract manufacturing using a client's recipe. Developing a recipe requires a lot of R&D and unless you want to find out for yourself and own the recipe, it's not worth your time unless you charge by the hour and for the ingredients.

So, to answer your question about how to charge, you charge by the billable hour and add in the cost of ingredients. Your billable hour should include time to make the soap and time to cleanup. Time to make the formula is kind of wishy washy since you could be taking a shower and be working on it. I'd recommend a flat fee if you feel the need to bill for that time as well.

Coming at this from a billable hour service perspective.
Ha. Interesting post. I am in the process of trying to duplicate a discontinued BBW lotion for a customer. Decided not to charge her as it may be a good seller if I succeed and I am getting feed-back from her but this is definitely unknown territory....
It's a good idea to set the expectations in advance. I can see a custom shaving soap recipe being a great marketing tool. I can also see the barber believing that he/she "owns" it because he/she facilitated development.
Yes, make sure you have been clear who owns the recipe. I make soaps for a private label and we have agreed that I will make the soaps exclusively for her store, but I retain ownership of the recipes. So when she decides to discontinue a recipe, I can then make it for my own label (under a new soap name) and sell it. This happened recent, actually. Patchouli wasn't selling well in her store so she discontinued. I re-named it and it sold like wildfire at the farmers market. Different clientele
I can also see the barber believing that he/she "owns" it because he/she facilitated development.
I make soaps for a private label and we have agreed that I will make the soaps exclusively for her store, but I retain ownership of the recipes.

Even tho it would be in bad form to now charge the barbershop for the samples, its perfectly fine to iron out the details once they have chosen the soap they want..and making sure they understand that it will be made exclusively for them until whatever time you both agree upon, but that you are the sole owner of the recipe. And without a doubt, get a legal contract drawn up with everything included.

Most definitely do not turn over the recipe. I have a FO manufacturer/supplier that buys his chemicals from a company close to him, and they wanted him to go 'partners' with them..only they wanted his recipes for his FO's too...when he turned them down they suddenly didn't want to partner with him any longer...go figure :roll:
With the barber shop, it's going to be difficult to impose new rules midway through the game, so to speak. I'd work with them unless or until they become abusive of your time and materials. At that point, I'd consider a suggestion made earlier that you provide them with 2 or 3 additional choices and tell them it's time to make a choice. Someone also mentioned that you absolutely should not give them the recipe, which is an excellent point.

Now, with new customers, I'd consider few different options- a flat fee per batch of R&D soap paid in advance, or perhaps the hourly option mentioned earlier. Then to make this unpalletable expense more bearable, perhaps offer a 40% refund on that R&D expenditure after they have purchased a certain volume of soap. Or maybe, 10% refund on every order until they have their R&D money back- it needs to be enough where you're dangling a tempting carrot, but low enough that you are still making a bit of profit even after the discount.
I would not suggest discounting R&D costs. The incentive should be to make more orders, not pay for the R&D. If a company isn't willing to pay for the R&D, and you don't have a reason to do it (ie profit, personal gain, etc), then just don't do it. No one's holding a gun to our heads.

Time is our most precious commodity, we just trade it for material things.
Thanks for all your input!

I have gotten lucky in this aspect. I had 2 co-workers ask me to duplicate a soap for them that replicated a body lotion they use. One was a male and the other a female.
I "smelled" the lotion on Jay and went home and worked on the scent. I got close enough that he buys my soap and it is a good seller at vending events.
The other one I smelled the lotion in the bottle and went from there. Got close enough on that one that she also buys my soap.

I think I would give the barber a couple of samples and have the business pay you for any other samples in the future. Oils, EOs and your time is not free. :wink:
Thanks again for all your insights! I will definitely draw up a contract of some kind for the guy from the barbershop. A soapie friend of mine suggested charging a flat rate (R 600.00) for product development which includes samples. She charges extra for stamping and labelling. I like the idea of a flat rate, makes sense to have that money up front.

I need to sit down to come up with several different options; buying in unwrapped, uncut logs of soap or cut and packaged bars of soap.

Moving in the right direction - much appreciate your input...
I would recommend including a limit to the number of samples that get made for them, I could see that getting out of hand if you did not.

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