By Heather Hicks – We didn’t plan to have a soap business, in fact, I didn’t plan for dairy goats! Some of life’s best adventures are from following your children’s lead and that was the basis of this whole diary adventure. We started out with a couple dairy goats that were part of a mixed boer goat herd and after a couple years of the oldest adamant she wanted LaMancha, we got our first owned, registered dairy goat. By this time, we had what seemed at that time to be a lot of milk sitting in the freezer and those fateful words “you need to figure out what to do with all this milk and get those goats earning some of their keep.” Soap was the answer we thought and after some extensive research, months of practice and some planning we ventured out to our local farmers markets.
At this point, we had just a little invested, mostly using supplies from local stores and old tables with no real presentation plan. We ended up selling some soap, and gaining a lot of experience and insight. That winter, we did a lot of review of other soap sellers, set up a free website and made a business and sales plan. We also modified our recipes and tried out a few other products besides goat milk soap leading us to our current set up of well-organized displays that are color coordinated, complementary and distinct as well as seamless with our web store and sales links on social media.
Do we make money? Yes. Do we make a lot of money? No. Could we? Absolutely, with more time and marketing we could be very booming. We sold enough products in 2014 to cover the total cost of a trip to Harrisburg, Pa for the national rabbit show. Yes, we had both Boer goats, dairy goats, and rabbits we were showing in addition to this little soap venture.
There are several ways to make money with side businesses and we have dabbled in a few of them. They depend on what is going on in your life, farm, and community. We go to craft shows a lot and got our start this way. We have a web based business that feeds from Facebook and Pinterest. We sell in our local community. Any one of these can be a full-time focus and draw in customers, the key is marketing yourself and your products. Sales can be made from soap, how much depends on the area you are in, how much time you want to invest and how much marketing you want to spend. Test your market before making a big investment, see who is selling in the area farmers markets and craft shows and fill the gaps.
Craft shows: There are many, many articles, blogs and guides to craft shows from set up to colors to customers. The big thing to making money at a craft show is making sales. Seems logical – but making those sales can be tricky. It’s soap, it’s a dollar a bottle in the stores so what makes that bar of soap (which makes a mess) so great I should pay way more for it? That is the catch and the sales point. Working a booth in an area with a population looking for back to nature, all natural or already familiar with goat milk soap is a lot easier than going into an area that hasn’t “met” the benefits of goat milk soap before. Be ready for both, know your products and have scripts ready. Generally, the first time I go to an area, I expect to have a lot of conversation and not so many sales, little samples are great for handing out to literally get your product in the customer’s hands.
Complimentary products are another big way to make sales especially in the “new” areas unfamiliar with GM soap. After years of doing this, we now have two Goat Milk soap lines, All-Natural (fragrance, dye, color free) and “regular”. One early add-on was lip balm which was a dismal failure due to the formula, but after multiple reworking of the recipe, we have a very popular lip balm line. We also have Goat Milk Lotion in a wide range of fragrances, bath salts, solid bath oil, hand crochet soap scrubbies, bath fizzies all of which we added after the first year of soap selling. We recently expanded into face, skin and beard care with both men’s and women’s products. This was a very expensive expansion to the line but as we had family members asking for these products specifically, we knew we would have at least some sales.
Web sales take a lot of work unless you happen to have a broad net of friends that are in the handcrafted or direct sales lines and have an established “base” of customers to tap into. We see our best sales when we push from Pinterest and Facebook while also running paid ads on Facebook and Google around holidays. Because it is so driven, there does come some control over this by turning on and off your ads. Kidding season, I run no ads at all – I don’t need to try to get orders out during that time! There are a lot of ways to sell online, but the key to what we see is an easy web address, consistent presentation, and a catchy something. Buy your website address early on, it will be on everything and if you don’t you will end up re-purchasing all your business cards and printed materials as well as losing out on your web ranking when you change over to your new name. That is one regret I have as the name we had was long and not “memorable”. We purchased www.goatbubblessoap.com this year and are redoing all our printed materials and all our search engine, Yelp, Gooogle business, and other redirects. Also by doing this, unless you forward your old address to your new one, you loose links and what customers may have saved in their favorites. Pinching pennies starting out is necessary, but don’t pinch here and get the professional web address!
Our biggest sales area one year was the kids themselves! Sophomore year in high school, the oldest took around all her soaps and sold to teachers and friends at the high school. Kids selling something they made to people that know and support them cannot be underestimated. It is a fine line for asking all the time for fundraisers, but with goat milk soap you most likely won’t have any other fundraisers going on for goat milk soap! For those who have a farm stand or other selling venues, maximize on this! You don’t have to be and huge inventory to put out a couple varieties of soap. We don’t have on farm sales so this isn’t a sales stream for us.
Regardless of the sales stream, you are using, one critical impact is labeling and presentation. We went through multiple versions of our labels until we finally decided on the one we are using now. It is very simple and rather small, which allows the soap to be seen handled. Labels need to be big enough and clear enough text customers can glance at it and read it yet the label size doesn’t overpower the soap itself and stays on the bar. If the labels come off, if the display looks like it will fall, or if it is not inviting then there is nothing for the customer to “do” that feels comfortable to them. Make you display homey, inviting, open and understandable.
Photos tell a story and grab attention on the internet and are vital for web sales. Have consistency in your photos and layout with nothing distracting from the product. Tailor your photo to the audience – formal photos of product for you internet store, informal snaps uploaded to Facebook for events. Our best backdrop is a kitchen chair and a throw blanket – all our soap is pictured this way but looking at www.goatbubblessoap.com you would never know that’s a broken chair and blanket! Peruse our Facebook page and see how our labels, presentation, set up and photos have evolved over the past couple years.
Personal advice for newbies — read, read, read on making soap then get safety equipment. Learn your state and local laws, check out the insurance requirements and watch out for label pitfalls with the FDA. Plan for your soap to fail, it’s going to happen if you are making milk soap. Actually, for that first batch, make plain soap WITHOUT the milk and just get the feel for making soap. It’ll make laundry soap if nothing else! Milk causes soap to heat, makes it not set up right, climb right out of the mold and just make life miserable in general sometimes. Freeze your milk, cool your oils (if you have to melt them together) and if possible, be able to put the soap batter in the freezer. Read up on volcano-ing soap and “scary teeth”. It’s a bit exciting when it happens, so know ahead of time. When it does happen, just chop it up and throw it in the crock pot to re-cook the soap. It’s hard to truly fail a batch, but it is easy to get something you don’t expect! Sounds a bit like raising goats, they always seem to come up with something different and throw a surprise in once in a while.
We do a little selling in a lot of places when and where we want. We stock both what we like and what sells. We invite customers into our soapy adventures and post often to hopefully keep in touch. So far, it definitely pays for itself, and puts a bit of money in the pockets of the two youngsters who work on commissions. They have learned planning and scheduling, ordering and markup, tax and sales tax as well as customer service and marketing. Those are things that can’t be measured in price, but the smiles when they talk to customers and calculate their commission on their own are the best reward from our little soap shop!