The Week in Soap: 11th March, ’18

I normally try to get this weekly round up out on Sunday evening but yesterday was Mothering Sunday here in the UK and there was no way this was going to get written last night.  I had a lovely day actually – woken by very excited children at 7am and brought a card, flowers AND chocolate in bed.

Lilies & Apple Blossom

Lilies & Apple Blossom

A quick 5k run at 8.30 was followed by an extremely good breakfast at a local cafe Caffi Gwynant, a long walk in the hills:

Beautiful Snowdonia

Beautiful Snowdonia

and the day was rounded off with a roast dinner at home with my mum and her partner.  A glass of wine turned into a couple more, and while we managed to get the washing up done, writing wasn’t really an option lol…

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  The week started, as it so often does these days, with a soapmaking session… Four loaves of Bewitched:

Bewitched colours ready to go

Bewitched colours ready to go

Bewitched in the mould

Bewitched in the mould

And I also made two loaves of Castile.

Castile in the mould

Castile in the mould

Castile  isn’t one of my best sellers, but I have a small (and growing) group of return customers, so I always make sure it’s in stock.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos worth sharing of the cut of these two yet, but here’s a new photo of Bewitched from a batch that’s just finished curing…

Bewitched Handmade Soap

Bewitched Handmade Soap

I sent out a couple of wholesale orders last week – one to the shop at Storiel in Bangor, and one to Siop Ogwen in Bethesda (which reminds me I really need to update my stockist list), and I also spent the best part of one whole day wrapping and labelling bathbombs…

On Thursday we woke up to an unexpected dump of snow, and soon after we got notification that the school was closed.  The kids were thrilled, me not so much – another day’s work missed, but we baked a couple of Lemon Drizzle Cakes so it wasn’t all bad 😀

Lemon Drizzle - yum!

Lemon Drizzle – yum!

Did you see my Happy Mail on Instagram or Twitter?  The super generous Terry of Oldways Soap agreed to trade soap with me, and this is what our postie delivered last week:

Aren’t they gorgeous?  Five varieties of soap (one of which has already joined me in the shower) PLUS a bunny each for the children (who were utterly thrilled – far more than they ever are with any of my bars lol…)  Terry is an expert at the Hot Process method (which I tried for the first time a couple of weeks ago) and she’s given me some hints and tips for my next batch which I’m looking forward to putting into practice soon.

So other than sending out the usual stream of retail orders for soap and bathbombs, that was my week.  This coming week is going to be very busy – I have a bathbomb making workshop on Saturday morning, and then a craft fair on Sunday, both of which I need to prep for.  I also have a few wholesale orders to get out this week, I’m making soap tomorrow (Tues) for a change, I have a networking meeting on Wednesday morning, AND my grading for my next kickboxing belt is on Thursday.  Plenty to write about next week lol…

Thanks for reading, back soon!

Vickx

 

 

 

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The Week in Soap: 25th Feb ’18

Happy Sunday folks!  Hope you’ve had a good week?  It’s flown by here – can’t believe it’s Sunday evening once again…

So, as it’s already 8.30pm and I still have a mound of ironing to get through, I’m going to make this fairly brief.

I made another 8 loaves of soap this week.  This was on Tuesday, as once again my regular Monday making needed to be postponed as the children didn’t go back to school after their half term break until Tuesday. These are four loaves of Luscious Lavender and four loaves of Blodau (Flowers):

Luscious Lavender & Blodau in the mould

Luscious Lavender & Blodau in the mould

This follows on from the previous week’s enforced trial, and it truly does save a significant amount of time.  I was a good 90 minutes faster making those eight loaves this week than it took me a fortnight earlier when I made two loaves each of four different varieties.  Now, you know by now don’t you that I LOVE making soap, but when I’m making restocks I just need to get them done as quickly as possible, so this is a big win for me.  A couple of close ups of this week’s makes:

I’ve finally hit my goal of having 1000 bars in stock (as I write the exact figure is 1041 bars) but I’ve realised over the last few weeks that it’s not enough, and I need to have at least 100 bars of each variety in the core range made at any one time. I don’t ever want to have to tell a wholesale client that they can’t have a particular bar, and whilst I’m prepared to accept that it may happen occasionally, it’s something I want to avoid if at all possible.  Obviously those 100 bars will be at different stages of the curing process, and so I hope that if I do happen to sell out of a variety, it will only be a week or two at the most before the next batch is ready for sale.

I gained a brand new stockist this week. I was contacted by Zip World about supplying soap to their gift shop at Zip World Velocity in Bethesda. If you’re a bit of a thrill seeker, do check out that link, you won’t be disappointed!! By last Friday they had received their stock and the bars were already on display. This is a quick snap kindly sent to me by a member of staff…

Soap on display at Zip World Velocity

Soap on display at Zip World Velocity

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were spent fulfilling orders and wrapping and labelling stock.  I’ve also been in discussion with another potential new stockist, more of which at a later date, fingers crossed.

This weekend has been a complete work free zone.  The weather was dry and bright, and although it was cold, it was the perfect opportunity to get out and tame a bit more of the garden.  I use the term ‘garden’ very loosely – it was an overgrown junk heap when we first moved in, and we’re spending an awful lot of time and energy clearing it, but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime I’m giddy to announce that I have ONE raised bed ready for sowing! Look at this beauty:

Raised bed

Raised bed – woop!

Want to know how much work that was? Every single last bit of soil in that raised bed was sieved, by hand, to remove every last bit of glass, stone and rubble, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it (well, until it’s full of edibles anyway!!) If I wasn’t so sore this evening I’d be happy dancing 😀

I have quite a long ‘to-do’ list for this coming week.  I was contact recently by Plastic Free Snowdonia who were interested in solid shampoo bars. I’ve not made shampoo bars for quite a while, so that’s top of my list of things to do. I also need to make up bath bombs for a couple of orders, and for the craft fair I’ll be attending next Sunday in Abersoch (for which I also need to make up a load of gift sets – Mothers’ Day is coming dontch know! :-D)  Finally,  I want to make some shaving soap this week, this is a new one for me – the potassium hydroxide is on order and I can’t wait to start experimenting with recipes!

And I nearly forgot – look at this happy mail I received this week:

Creative supplies

Creative supplies

This rather suspicious collection of white powders was sent to me all the way from Ireland by Barb of, erm, well… I’m honestly not sure if I’m allowed to say yet as I suspect there may be a big reveal coming soon… Barb if you’re reading this do let me know if I can mention/link your new company name 😀 😀   Anyhow, she and I did a bit of a swap – I sent her some soap and she sent me this awesome selection of cream / gel / lotion making supplies, and these, together with Lisa’s e-book, are going to keep me quiet for a good while 🙂

Thanks for reading, back soon!

Vickx

In case you were wondering…

… where I’ve been.

I posted in mid Jan with great intentions to get back on the writing horse, and then found myself paralysed with indecision about WHAT I should write.  I felt that I should recap everything that I’ve been up to since the end of October, but that felt like too big a job.  It would never be complete (and would probably not be 100% accurate either – I don’t have the best memory these days!) and I wouldn’t be satisfied with half hearted attempt.  Anyway, THAT is only reason I haven’t written anything for the last month.  Crazy really.

I’m jumping back onto it tonight, and from now on I’ll be doing my weekly roundups and any other stuff in between, just like before. I’m not going to try to backtrack, but if you have any specific questions about what’s been going on over the last few months, please just ask  (my memory’s not that bad ;-D) but I may well naturally fill in the blanks as I go along anyway.

The run up to the Christmas period was amazing, business-wise. I was busier than I had anticipated, and for that reason I’m still playing catch-up as far as stock levels go.  My current goal is to get to 1000 bars in stock over the whole range, and I every time I think I’m getting close, another big order comes in. Mind you, I’m DEFINITELY not complaining.

I’m making a minimum of 120 bars a week now, and if you follow me on Instagram (www.instagram.com/thesoapmine) you’ll know that Monday is my big ‘making’ day.  I’ll make four double batches every Monday (that’s my 120 bar minimum) and occasionally try to fit in another session later on in the week.

I’ve retired a couple of fragrances that weren’t selling so well – Delicious (a dupe of DKNY Be Delicious) and Boho Baby (Patchouli & Orange essential oils) have both gone. I don’t have any plans to replace them with anything permanent just yet, but if I come across a fragrance that I just ‘have to have’, I have the capacity.

This was the result of last week’s Monday session:

Four Double Batches of Soap

Four Double Batches of Soap

From left to right are Serenity, Welsh Rose, Tutti Frutti and Blodau (Flowers), and here are a couple of them cut:

Serenity Handmade Soap

Serenity Handmade Soap

and

Welsh Rose Handmade Soap

Welsh Rose Handmade Soap

I used slightly different colours for the Welsh Rose this time, and there’s a more subtle different between the pinks that I usually have (I’ve also just realised that this is such a fresh photo that I’ve not bevelled this one yet!) Anyway, I can’t decide whether I really like it, or I really don’t… Hmm… what do you think?

I’m going to leave things there for now, and not try to get too ahead of myself. I’ve already had some thoughts ping into my head for the next post, so I THINK I’m back on a roll. I’ll be doing my best anyway.  I’ll be back next Sunday for a full weekly round up, if not before…

Thanks for reading!

Vickx

A Spanner in the Works (Blogtober 25)

I had plans for today. Big plans. Important plans.

Today was the day for finishing off the wrapping and labelling of the first batches of Christmas soaps which had emerged, at the weekend, from their curing confinement

Today was also the day for delivering/dispatching said soaps to all the lovely people, both wholesale and retail clients, who had pre-ordered them.

I got up, and started making breakfast for the kids (pancakes, from scratch, in case you cared).  I made my husband a coffee and took it up to the bedroom. He works from home and I take him a coffee in bed every. Sodding. Morning.  Mind you, I can’t complain. I get a cup of tea in bed at the weekends. If I nag enough…

I digress. I should have known it was going to be a strange day.  Most days my kids are awake before me – they were both utterly rubbish sleepers as babies (my eldest was over 18 months old before he slept more than 2 hours at a time) and have always been early risers. Today, for the first time in our family history, I had to go in to each of their bedrooms and WAKE THEM UP!! (*Ahem* capitals are for effect – I didn’t actually shout – how mean would that be?!!)  Seriously though, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever had to wake one, or the other, up in the morning. Never, ever have I had to wake them both.

So, they were up a bit later than usual, and I was hurrying them along to eat their pancakes and get ready for school. At 7.45 the electricity went off. Complete power outage throughout the village. Never mind, teeth still got done, faces still got wiped, hair was still brushed and we put on layers of waterproofs to brave the howling wind & rain for the arduous 45 second walk to school (have I mentioned how close we live to the school?)

Did you see it coming? We arrived at the school door and were turned away. No school today – ‘Health and Safety’. Can’t do school without electricity. “Arrrrgggghhhhhhhhhhh!!!” (I might have said, under my breath)

So home we go. I couldn’t go to work, and I couldn’t even take the car to make deliveries as my husband, at a crucial point in his current project, needed to use the car to go hunt for the to nearest reliable wifi connection (which, it  turns out, is to be found parked up outside our nearest Tesco (8 miles away), laptop balanced on knees – who’d have thought??!!)

So I spent an hour trying valiantly to do ‘housework’ (but mostly boiling a pan of water to make cups of tea). The kids spent an hour not knowing what on earth to do with themselves until I remind them that they have some toys that don’t have screens…

Mum turned up at about 10.30am, saw the wild look in my eyes and took the kids for a couple of hours. I ran (literally, the rain was still an issue) over to the office and wrapped and labelled as much as I could in the gloom.  These are about half of the orders that were supposed to go out today:

Soapy Work in Progress

Soapy Work in Progress

It was dark, really dark, and although I had so much to do my eyes did get sore and I was glad when 12.30 came around – time to collect the kids.

The electricity finally came back on at about 5.30, just in time to illuminate our meal of  fish and chip suppers that Dean brought home, in full-on hunter-gatherer mode.  The family was fed.

I’m back at the day job tomorrow, so I have a lot of soapy catching up to do somehow but one thing’s for sure – I’ll be back with Blogtober 26 😀 #blogtobersoapers

 

 

A Change of Circumstance (Blogtober 20)

**Waffle Warning**  I’ve just reread this post before pressing publish, and it’s rather text heavy and lacking in pretty pictures.  While the turn of events is a little sad,  it’s exciting stuff in terms of growing the business and so I just had to share.

When I decided to take The Soap Mine forward as a bona fide business, I knew it would be a slow burner.  It was 2010, I had a small baby (I was still on maternity leave) and I had just discovered that it would cost me just shy of £1,000 a month if I went back to my full time job. Neither my husband nor I were happy with the prospect of putting our baby into full time childcare (I was a project manager in a Manchester ad agency – crazy long hours) and so I gave up paid work to become a Work At Home Mum and set to making a business out of selling soap.

I practiced and experimented for months and months, and finally applied for SAs (Safety Assessments – professionally certified documentation that proves that my recipes are safe), organised insurance and dealt with all the other legal admin that needs to be done in the UK before you can sell soap.

I spent a couple of years selling at markets and fairs in and around Manchester, and then we took the big decision to move back to my childhood home in Snowdonia, North Wales (well, not actually my childhood home, I don’t think my dear mum would have been too impressed at that, but the same village)  This was the turning point for my business.  I was able to slowly increase the number of wholesale customers that I deal with, start giving soapmaking demonstrations and talks, and supply local visitor accommodation with guest soaps.

Throughout most of this time I’ve also had a part-time job in the village pre-school.  For the last 2.5 years I’ve been the Assistant to the Setting Leader – just the two of us and up to ten 2-4 year olds.  Happy chaos!!  To be perfectly honest it would never have been my first choice – working with children had never been a dream – but I was offered the job when my youngest turned 2, and I could take her to work with me. There aren’t many jobs out there where you can take your child to work so it didn’t take me long to accept.

BUT, as I got busier and busier on the soaping front, I had started thinking about giving up the pre-school role and running the soap business on a full time basis.  My youngest started school full time this September, and so, with some trepidation I told my employers that I would be leaving at the end of the Christmas term.  Then fate decided to move things on just a little bit more quickly.  Last week, the Leader of the setting handed in her notice – 4 weeks notice. She has another job, and we can’t replace her.  Not for want of trying, there’s just nobody out there with the appropriate qualification who wants the job, and so she is literally irreplaceable.

So, sadly, we have to close the pre-school. We’re shutting our doors for the last time a week today – next Thursday, and I’ll be officially out of work.  Except I won’t be. I have more than enough to do with the business, but now I need to think seriously about growth, and increasing revenue.  It’s extraordinarily exciting, but ridiculously daunting too.  I have so many ideas and plans, and now I’ll have the opportunity to put them into action – wish me luck!!

Thanks for reading, back tomorrow!

Vickx

 

24 Tips for Giving a Soapmaking Demonstration (Blogtober 12)

24-tips-for-giving-a-soapmaking-demo

Last December, I wrote a post giving some hints and tips for giving a soapmaking talk / presentation, something I’ve been doing on a weekly basis for the last three years.  I also get regular bookings to do soapmaking demonstrations, which, unsurprisingly, take a little more preparation. It’s safe to say that it’s been an interesting learning curve, and I thought it might be helpful to someone out there if I were to note down some of the things that I’ve learnt the hard way.  Many may be no-brainers, but some of them might prove to be helpful. So no more waffle, here they are:

  1. Consider your fee before you’re asked so that you’re not coming up with a figure out of thin air (yep, that was me, and it was ridiculously low!)  It might be worth offering two options – one fee if there’s to be no selling involved and a slightly lower one if they’ll allow you to offer your products for sale after the demo.  In my experience they’ll always go for the slightly lower fee and you can take full advantage of the sales opportunity.
  2. If they’re happy for you to sell, make sure you take plenty of product, and some samples as well. If at all possible, make sure that you have plenty of the variety that you making on that occasion available for sale (ie if you’re making lavender soap in the demo, make sure you have plenty of fully cured lavender soap available to buy).
  3. Consider offering a discount to the audience on the regular price of the bars – I usually take 50p off the price of each bar for demo audiences. It’s not a huge discount by any means, and it’s doesn’t make too much of a difference to me, but it is appreciated by the audience.
  4. Take plenty of business cards.  You have a captive audience and a great opportunity to sell not only your soap (or other products) but your demo packages too.
  5. Be prepared.  Create a list (beforehand!) of all the things you need to take, and tick them off as you pack them.  There’s nothing worse than getting in front of an audience and realising that you’re missing a key piece of kit.
  6. Make sure that you know exactly where you’re going.  Google Street view has been my friend a few times when I wasn’t familiar with the venue.
  7. Decide how much preparation you want to do beforehand.  There are plenty of things you can do before even setting off for the venue.  I like to soap at room temperature, and so I prepare the lye water at home and transport it in a well sealed container.  I also prepare the oil/butter mix before I go, and depending on what facilities are available at the venue I may melt it down before leaving, or do it as soon as I arrive at the venue to give it time to cool (if you choose this option make sure that there is a microwave available to use)
  8. Wrap/secure oils WELL to avoid spillage.  Ask me how I know :-O  The passenger foot-well of my car has never been quite the same since the Great Oil Spill of 2016 😀
  9. Make sure you know how much space you’ll have. It’s also nice to have an idea of how many people are likely to be in the audience – is it likely to be 5, or 35?  (That will also give you an idea of how much product you need to take to sell)
  10. If you use a hand blender (or any kind of electrical equipment) remember to tell the organiser that you’ll need to be positioned near an electrical socket. If in doubt, take an extension lead.
  11. Be aware of your timings.  If it’s your first time you might unconsciously race through the process in record time, leaving the audience wondering just what happened there. Take your time and explain what you’re doing every step of the way.
  12. Let the audience know that you welcome questions at any time (providing you do, of course).  If you’re new to demos you might feel that having questions being fired at you could be offputting, but I’ve found that it’s a nice way to break the ice.
  13. Take samples of the ingredients to hand around the audience during the demo, eg fragrances (essential oils or fragrance oils), colourants, oils / butters in their natural state.
  14. Make sure you take plenty of towels and/or tablecloths to protect whatever surface you’ll be working on. I also have a roll of thin linoleum that I use to cover tables as I’d be mortified if spilt lye / raw soap and damaged somebody else’s property!
  15. Also ensure that you have plenty of cloths and/or paper towels to mop up any spillages.
  16. Don’t forget your safety gear.  It might be obvious, but it’s easy to forget the gloves or the goggles.  Make sure they’re added to your list (see point #4)
  17. Don’t ever use a new recipe or fragrance for a demo – make something you’ve made many times before, and that you know works. Don’t rush –  It’s easy to forget to add a fragrance or add the colourant at the wrong time if you’re feeling even a little pressured or anxious.
  18. Take a big plastic tub specifically to take home all the washing up.  I use big tubs to take everything to the venue and usually find that I can use just one of them to transport soapy pots and utensils home – you don’t want to be carrying them home in the same containers as all your non-soapy stuff.
  19. If you can, take some previously made soap in the mould to show the audience the unmolding / cutting process.  (And don’t forget your cutter!) It means that the audience can see full process from start to finish. I usually try to make a batch 2 days before I’m due to give a demo or talk, for this very reason.
  20. Consider talking about the wrapping process and/or  labelling rules & regulations.
  21. It can help to have some ‘interesting facts’ at your fingertips (eg history of soapmaking) should something take longer than planned. If, for whatever reason, your soap doesn’t trace as quickly as usual, you don’t want to be standing there in silence with an audience staring at you!
  22. Consider preparing a handout with a basic recipe and a list of resources should anyone want to try making soap themselves.  Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but in my mind it shows a generous spirit to be willing to help others get started.
  23. Know your audience language.  Now this is a  bit of a niche tip, I’ll admit, but I live in a bilingual area (English/Welsh) and while I’m comfortable giving a demo / talk in either language, I always make sure I know beforehand which language I’ll be using for that particular occasion.
  24. Try to enjoy it!  The audience will enjoy it much more if you’re having fun yourself. Smile a lot, crack a few jokes if appropriate, make it clear that you welcome questions and engage in conversation.

Hope they’re helpful to someone – if you can think of any more please comment below!

Thanks for sticking with me so far, nearly halfway there! Back tomorrow #blogtobersoapers

Vickx

 

Soap Samples (Blogtober 5)

Every time I cut a loaf of soap – I always have a fair sized chunk left over at the end of the loaf. Not so thick as to be a saleable bar but perfect to cut into four and use as sample bars.  Their uses, as a general rule, are twofold

1. As free samples to be popped in the box when anyone places an order and

Free sample bar

Free sample bar

2. To be given out to retail outlets with each wholesale order, one per fragrance ordered, so that customers can get a good idea of the fragrance

Retail samples

Retail samples

I ALSO have left over the very thin end piece that I slice off the loaf when I begin cutting it:

Thin end slices

Thin end slices

and recently I started wondering how I could use them.  A couple of years back, at Christmas time, I had bundled up various end pieces, wrapped them up in raffia and sold them as sample packs at market:

End piece bundles

End piece bundles

But I wanted something a little ‘neater’, and then I remembered this blog post by Emily at Soap & Restless, and went on the hunt in the kitchen for a suitably sized cookie cutter.  This was the result:

Cookie Cutter Samples

Cookie Cutter Samples

I’m still not entirely sure what I’m going to do with them. Maybe cut a hole in each one and string them onto some ribbon or raffia?  Or just use them as prettier free samples? It would be an easy enough process to continue slicing that last chunk into thinnish slices, so I should still be able to get four samples out of each end chunk…  What do you think?  Which sample would you prefer to get with your order?

Back tomorrow,

Vickx