Well hello, everybody!
This weekend, I spent my time down in Gambrills, Maryland, at a local antique, home, and artisan show - The Barn Show! A couple of my customers at my day job run the show for one weekend every season, and were kind enough to invite me to sell my soap at the Spring sale. I had a wonderful time and I am so grateful for the opportunity they provided me to sell my soaps in public for the first time ever!
I am glad I waited for such a long time to sell my things in person, because I wanted to make sure I really had a good handle on my soap making and could reproduce my soaps reliably. I have now opened my own little Etsy shop so that people who may be interested can purchase my soaps (or repeat items of what they've already purchased) instead of just grabbing them at a public market. I am also hoping, though, that The Barn's staff will allow me to come to their seasonal sales, and I am happy to volunteer one weekend every few months to help them out in exchange for allowing me to keep my items there! *Crosses fingers* We shall see!
I figured that this would be a great time to go over some of the things I learned this weekend, standing there on the sloshing muddy hay-covered ground as people hectically brought us items to purchase! My soap was set up on a table, in a little farm box, right by our checkout area. It was sort of a last minute thing to throw there - I couldn't be there on Friday (opening day!) due to work, and priced my items (they required special tags because it is a mixture of vendors that sell at the show) literally ten minutes or less before they opened!
I really liked the little display I had, however, I realized pretty quickly that I needed to open one of each of my soaps and set them out for people to "sample." Originally, I had planned to do this - however I was instructed by one of the staff not to do so, as they were going to scatter my soaps around the barn for people to purchase. But in the craziness of Saturday morning, with people running around trying to save items from the damp ground (it absolutely POURED on Friday, all day long), and trying to quickly price my soaps, and find space for the box, etc....yeah, the scattering didn't happen, and they all got stuck together in their box on the table.
So lesson one: Have soaps that people can smell.
It seems kind of obvious, but since I'd been instructed not to keep any open...well, I didn't. However, I noticed that once I had them opened, people definitely stopped to sniff them a lot more. Kids, especially, were super interested in all the smelly awesomeness, and that was really cool! The only down side was that, ya know, as kids do - they kept setting my soap bars back down sideways, or all askew, or flat on the table, etc. But they're kids - so there isn't a lot I could have done about it, especially across the "room" (well...under a tent...), where I was busily assisting with wrapping, checkout, reserving items for later purchase, etc. Next time, I think I will definitely keep some soaps open, and perhaps provide little trays or plates or something for them to sit on, so that they maybe make it back to where they belong (instead of little kids flopping them around). A friend of mine also suggested a little bowl of water for people to try the soaps, but the jury is still out on that. I'm not sure yet. Seems a little gross (if everyone washes their hands in the bowl? Kinda ew). I'll give it thought, though.
Lesson two: FEATURE YOUR INGREDIENTS!
This is something I really wished I'd done - my soaps had two different price points, and honestly, that was because of the ingredients in some of them. For instance, my oatmeal milk and honey soaps have colloidal oatmeal and goat's milk in them. They are made as closer to a castile-type soap, so as to be gentle on the skin. My "Under Your Spell" bars featured apricot kernel oil, mango butter AND shea butter - again, something that is nice and luxurious, and something I wish I'd featured to drive sales. I definitely wish I'd had a chance to be like, "hey, these soaps have colloidal oats and this here has some skin loving butters!" From across the room, though, I really couldn't. And I wish I had written on little chalk placards or something the featured ingredients of my bars instead of relying on people to maybe read the ingredients label on the back. I was definitely kicking myself for that by the time I left Saturday afternoon. Ugh!
Lesson 3: Make the display visually appealing.
While I liked the way my soaps were set up, I definitely had a lot of room for improvement. The little farm box I had my soaps in fit the theme and decor, but it also looked kinda clumsy, as the soaps were just sorta lined up inside, and as people bought them, they were falling everywhere and I kept having to run over and straighten them, as well as my sample soaps. Next time I really want to put more emphasis on the way the soaps are presented, and I'd really like to up my packaging game. Since this is my first time ever selling in public (and not to just people who know me), I am using shrink wrap and labels I got from Vistaprint. While the Vistaprint labels are nice, they really aren't the...erm...look? Feeling? I want for presenting my brand. I want something more whimsical and rustic, as opposed to just...kinda...plain. And I definitely think I could up my game to make the packaging look more professional too. A friend of mine is currently designing me a logo and I LOVE what she has done so far. Hopefully, in the near future, she will finish (or at least give me a picture of the inked version so I can at least get a custom stamp made), and I can get my own custom boxes and whatnot with my very own original label instead of something mass produced on Vistaprint.
Lesson 4: Don't skimp yourself on your prices.
Since this was my first time selling, I kinda lowballed myself on my prices (don't get me wrong - they were still a little profit, but I had to pay myself a lot less at these price points for my time and work). And the week beforehand, I also learned that the Barn takes 25% of what I make for themselves. I am fine with this, as they are the ones being kind enough to lend me their space, their time, their venue, their customers, etc. But what I should have done (and thought about doing but decided not to - derp) was worked a higher price-for-my-time into my overall price, and priced my soaps a little higher. After all, it is also my time, my work, my resources, my effort, etc., that goes into making these things. And the time I spent wrapping, labeling, weighing, doing the ingredients, etc., is not something I paid myself for AT ALL during this process - and truthfully, I should have. Especially since my heat sealer died, I had to rush order a new one, and I ran out of labels, and had to rush order more. All of that adds up. And it needed to be worked into my price.
Another suggestion was to average out the prices across all my soaps. Some are more expensive than others? Instead of having different prices, add them all up and divide said prices across all the soaps. That way, people can't opt for the "cheaper" soaps. I'm not sure how I feel about this, as some soaps had more/better ingredients than others (like mango and shea butter, goat's milk, etc)., and I think that featuring the ingredients in my soaps like I explained above would justify the price discrepancies and that the average of prices may not be necessary. Again, that's something I will think about - but I believe that if I feature my star ingredients next time, that will be enough explanation for the price differences.
Lesson 5: Make sure you check your shit!
What do I mean by this? I mean check your shit. Do you have enough shrink wrap bags? What happens if they tear - do you have enough to re-bag? Do you have enough labels? Do you have a backup heat sealer? If I'd actually checked that I had enough labels instead of just assuming I did, I would have learned pretty early on that I did not have enough labels and would have ordered more from Vistaprint without having to pay a $19.99 rush to get them in time to finish labeling everything for this weekend. And if I'd had a backup heat sealer, I wouldn't have had to frantically buy one on Amazon Prime on Sunday of last week. Ugh!!
So check yo' shit.
Overall, I had a wonderful time at The Barn Show, I saw a lot of really unique and authentic items, I met some really fantastic people, got to see my customers outside of being customers and instead being people, and sold approximately half the soap I took with me. Is it as much as I'd wanted? Nah. But is it still good? For my first time - and not being able to interact with anyone, AND missing the opening (and busiest) day? Yes. I'll take it. It's better than continuing to give soap away to everyone (though I do still do that, too).
I really hope that I can join The Barn Show during all of their sales, and stay all weekend this time instead of just one day! And I hope that in the future, I am able to apply the lessons I learned from my first time EVER selling in public, and create an even better display!
If you have any tips or tricks for selling in public, let me know in the comments! Until next time, happy soaping!
Elizabeth is a new to soap making, and wishes to share her journey in learning to make cold process soap with the hope that it will help other newbies who may stumble upon this site as a resource. From swirl techniques, choosing colors, combining fragrances, embeds, toppers, and textures, she chronicles her lessons and stories here.