Monday, November 29, 2010

Some thoughts about selling bath & body products...

As you know by now, I don't sell my products. It's not that I lack faith in what I make - I know my products are well formulated, well preserved, and contain ingredients that offer great skin feel - but I simply don't have time, I suck at sales, I hate being on a deadline, and I like to change my recipes when I get new ingredients.

Disclaimer: I actually do sell products from time to time, but it's to cover the costs of sharing what I've made with someone. For instance, I might make more conditioner than I would normally make and accept money to cover the costs of my extra ingredients and packaging. 

It seems like the moment someone picks up a new craft, they want to sell it (and people seem to consider you a freak if you don't want to sell!). I see a lot of products for sale on-line that worry me: When I see a lotion with 25% e-wax or see a scrub with real avocado as the first ingredient without preservatives, I know that seller doesn't really know what she's doing. I will never forget the post on a forum (that shall remain nameless) where the poster put up a recipe for a lip balm containing Vaseline, lime juice, and sugar with the comment, "I guess I sell lip balms now!" (If you don't know why this is a bad idea, you're really not ready to sell!)

Learning how to make really awesome bath and body products takes time. You need time to see if the product remains emulsified, if the colour stays true, if the fragrance morphs, if the bubble bath maintains its viscosity, and if the product will hold up in bathrooms, warm cars, and cold basements. If you haven't tested your products under a variety of conditions for at least a year, I would ask you to consider waiting before you sell.

I consider myself an experienced formulator and creator, but I made huge mistakes the first Christmas for which I made bath & body products. I used a ton of dead sea salts, and my bath salts became bags of cement. I forgot to use Vitamin E in my lotions, which meant their shelf life was maybe 6 months. I used short shelf life oils, like grapeseed oil, in my bath bombs, and they were rancid within weeks. 

It takes time to learn your chosen art and become a true crafter. It's appealing to think of casting off the shackles of the work-a-day world and be your own boss, but there are so many factors to consider. Can you explain every ingredient and why you're using it? Have you created any of your own recipes? Can you tweak recipes as per customer requests, and do you even want to get into that whole custom making thing? Do you have any idea how to price what you're making? Do you have a brand identity that sets you apart from your competitors?

If you're considering selling your products, there are a few things to take into account.

1. Do you need to register your products or get approval of some kind from a governmental agency?
Health Canada requires that you submit information to them if you are selling, and most other countries have these kinds of reporting requirements. I understand the EU regulations are particularly difficult.

Click here for the Health Canada guide.

2. Do you need a business licence, tax registration, inspection of your home, and so on?
I know my workshop wouldn't pass an inspection with our local authorities. It's clean, but there's no way to sterilize wooden surfaces, and it would cost a fortune to install surfaces that would meet the stringent requirements. (Although I am planning on re-surfacing the floor and counter tops in the new year!)

3. Do you have insurance?
This is a big one. It's not easy to get insurance for bath & body products at a really reasonable rate because there is always the possibility someone will sue you! Talk to your local soapmakers' guild to see about coverage.

4. Are you labelling your products correctly? 
In parts of the world, INCI names are required; in others, not. Are you putting the ingredients in the right order?

5. How are you going to sell your product? On-line, at markets, through word of mouth, through house parties?
Everyone and their dog has an Etsy site, and there's no way to know which shops are good and which are scary! How will you define yourself? Do you have a branding idea? What will you use for marketing tools?

As an aside, if you're going to have a blog, have a blog, and update it regularly! You don't have to write every day - I recognize people have lives and no one's as obsessive/compulsive as I can be - but write a few times a week to get readers to remember to come to your site. It's frustrating to return to a blog two weeks later and see the same post you saw last time! Give people something to read and enjoy, and give them a reason to come back! 

6. How will you test your products?
Find a lab near you and get them to do some challenge testing on your products to ensure your preservative will stand the test of time. (And no, I don't know of any I could recommend.)

If you are ready to sell, there are agencies that can help you draft up your business plan and help you get started. Your town probably has a Chamber of Commerce or a Downtown Business Association and they can point you in the right direction. Look for small business agencies or local charitable or networking to help you learn the ropes, make connections, and promote your business. You might be able to get grants and financial support if you fit into certain categories, so look into that! (If you've been on EI in Canada in the last three years, you might be eligible for a small business grant!) And remember - making money takes money. If you don't have the right equipment and right supplies, you're going to be scraping by every month.

If you're doing some on-line buying for the holidays, consider a few things...
1. Does the seller call his/her products "chemical free"? If so, they really don't understand chemistry. 
2. Does the seller use approved preservatives in products with water? If not, then run away now! 
3. Has the seller listed all of the ingredients by their proper name? If not, then go to another store. (If there isn't a list of ingredients and your seller has a good reputation, write to them for more information. Some locations don't require retailers to list all the ingredients, and they're just following those rules!)

And a note to sellers in markets - Please be sensitive about scents. I love fragrance and essential oils, but when your stall smells so strongly of patchouli that I start coughing and have to leave that aisle of the market, you're not doing yourself or your fellow vendors any favours! 


Cocobong Soaps said...

great post! becoming a master of trade isn't going to happen in a year and why should it? and yes, please understand your trade to the T before you start selling your product

Tara said...

People always tell me I should sell my products, but it's not as fun as making them just for the fun of it!

Christine E. said...

Excellent post! Just today I found a shampoo on Amazon with the following ingredients list:
Mountain spring water, coconuts, hazel nuts, pine needles, chamomile, nutmeg, lemons, thyme, passion flower, apples, cocamide dea, cinnamon, eucalyptus, sea salt, geranium, raspberries, almonds, honey, love, smiles & hugs.

Anonymous said...

If I want to add color to my hair/body lotions which contains both oil & water, what type of coloring agent to use?

Do I use pigment or dye & where to get them?

Do I add them after everything has been added?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

If you want to colour your lotions, you can use water or oil soluble pigments or dyes. I'd use something like a Labcolours liquid dye, but you could use micas as well. I don't colour my lotions, but if I did, I'd do it in the cool down stage.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Christine! That's an interesting shampoo...or not shampoo as I can't see anything in there that would actually clean your hair. Although I'm fairly sure the coconuts are an all natural way of saying some surfactant originating with coconuts but in no way resembling coconuts any more. Just curious why someone would include cocamide DEA but leave out a preservative? That's where you draw the line?

I am getting tired of the cutesy, "love, smiles & hugs" addition in the ingredient list. We get it. You like making bath & body products. I can only imagine if we all had to be honest about our attitudes when we made our products! My ingredient list last week would have read something like "...fragrance, preservative, annoyance at the power going out right in the middle of heating & holding." I'm sure my product user can feel the frustration as she slathers it on!

Thanks for sharing this find!

Kuldip said...

For adding colors to a lotion or Shampoo base use FD&C colors ,water soluble type. Best to dilute as 1% solution. When looking at colors in an ingredient list you will sometimes see it listed as for example C.I. 19140 which is FD & C yellow No 5.
Best way to add a color or fragrance to a base is to warm the base in a microwave.Warm it slightly to get the base loosened up and then add the colors , or fragrance or even your "fairy dust" to make a conformed and uniform product.

Marnie said...

Awesome points here Susan. I still can't stop thinking about the lady who was selling her lotions online and stating there were chemical free...she preserved each bottle with 1 tsp of honey. She's now using a preservative BUT you still need to "shake" her lotion before each use. Now what's deceiving about her is that her site is absolutely stunning. Her labels are beautiful too. So it appears to me that she spent more money on the appearance rather than the quality and integrity of her products. That is something people must remember. All icing and no cake make for one-time purchases.

Christine E. said...

Haha Susan, yesterday BF and I were discussing ridiculous things we would put on labels, like 'desire for world domination'. I have heard that putting love, hugs, etc on ingredients lists is not actually legal... know if this is true? I know the rest of the list isn't legal.

Yes, I thought the same thing about why list cocamide DEA but not a surfactant or preservative. I also wondered if the fruits & nuts were extracts and this is a non-lather shampoo, but on their website they say it makes 'lots of bubbles'. It's bad enough when the truth is stretched with the qualifier 'derived from coconuts', but this is just outright deception. Yuck. I mean, can you imagine what this would look like in a bottle if that list was truthful - coconuts, apples, hazel nuts and pine needles?! Not to mention how it would look after a week with apparently no preservative. Boo.

sonja said...

I hope you know what a wonderful site you have created. You are so informative and I am so so so grateful for all of your hard work. I DO want to sell all my body goop one day, but know that it will take some time. When I do start, I figure I'll begin with soaps and then branch out. Your post was brilliantly humbling.

Anonymous said...

question is it wrong to have a surfactant derived from coconuts?

Sandra said...

@ Christine: my boyfriend and I joke about the same thing! World domination by shampoo, I mean :P

Anonymous said...

Great info thanks for sharing.

The Nova Studio said...

This is such a good post. It can be hard to wait until all your ducks are in a row, so to speak, to start selling - but if crafters do their due diligence before becoming businesspeople they'll be much more successful in the long run!

Anonymous said...

I think that these are important issues that should be addressed, but I also think that focusing on the problem and ganging up on people and making fun of them is immature, fruitless and does nothing to solve the problem or make the world a better place. It also seems that the comments from from a place of unrest, misery, hatred, or even possible jealousy. You are forgetting that at some point you didn't know everything and someone taught you or you read a book or website to learn. Some people don't know things that you know. If you have such a problem with people not knowing things become an educator and teach people the right way to do things, by outlining step by step solutions, by holding a local class about preserving home-made products and charging a small fee so it's worth your time, by posting a video of how to do things correctly, by writing a book, publishing and selling it. Or seriously just be quiet. You waste everyone's time with this immature nonsense and I am sure that we are all adults.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Anonymous: Are you serious? Are you actually serious? Do you have any clue what I offer to the bath and body community for free? Do you have any idea of what I offer for classes, craft groups, ebooks, blog posts, and more? Wow! This is the singularly most ridiculous comment I have seen in years. I'm not even sure why I'm writing in response, except that I simply can't believe someone could write such a bewildering comment. I am genuinely surprised.

Vanessa said...

I am looking to start my own business. This is so discouraging. I want to start with body butters and scrubs. Which would be better to use butters that are made with just butters, oils and some type of fragrance or butters made with water, etc. And I am a newby, but Im a licensed Ethetician (surely that makes one of us feel better about my decision). Thanks in advance.

I also am going to take Jane Barber's class this fall.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Vanessa. Why is this post discouraging? I'm trying to give you advice on what you need to know before selling your products.

Vanessa said...

Oh no no no. That's not what I mean. I absolutely love the post. What I mean is Im impatient. I want to learn what I need to do. I guess what it boils down to is Im ready to get started yesterday. What you say and recommend is not discouraging. The process is. Going from a to z.

Vanessa said...

What would be better to use butters that are made with just butters, oils and some type of fragrance or butters made with water, etc.

What is better to use as a fragrance? Fragrance oils or essential oils?

Anonymous said...

Great post! I had no idea grapeseed oil has a short shelf life. Which oils have the longest shelf life? Thank you :-)

Charity said...

Where is the best place to start to master the universe that is lotion and soap crafting? I feel like there is so much information out there. I am using preservatives already and have a small amount of ppl that seem to really like my first couple experiments...being on mat leave no one wants to take these products for free so they "donate" money to me lol, so that I can keep experimenting. I know that is what it is, experimenting bc I am in no way a pro. But I love doing it, I love giving someone something and telling them all the amazing benefits of the products (mostly natural) and the ingredients and their properties. But I want to do the trade proud and be able to understand it as much as I can. You are so kind to educate and offer this information, I just dont know where to begin. Chemistry is not my strong suit so having it "englished" out for me helps lol

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Have you tried the newbie section of this blog?

Anonymous said...

I'm rather surprised at some of the comments. This is something that I am exploring as well. What I don't understand is why some people don't spend the time READING and LEARNING about this stuff?? Essential oils are NOT a harmless substance, you can really burn yourself and others if it's not used properly, just like someone should KNOW that water and oil don't mix well without a solubilizer in it. I can't stress enough that READING READING READING is the starting point!!