Self-doubt and the Modern Woman

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concerns – for myself, my business, my general state of affairs over all. I’m doing a lot of soul searching, because I think I need to know what’s truly bugging me. I keep coming back to one thought – I’m just not happy. We all go through it – at some point, we realize that we’re just not happy. We’re not happy with where we are, what we’re doing, and sometimes we’re not happy with our mate. Fortunately for me, my unhappiness has nothing to do with my husband. It has everything to do with my business. Everything that is bothering me is a result of my business. And so, I’ve made a decision, one that isn’t what I hoped to be considering after a year in business, but one I think is best for me and my family.

After the spring shows are over in May, Suds & Stitches will become primarily an online business. I will do the occasional show, but for the most part, it will be online. I will also be cutting back on the number of soaps I keep stocked – perhaps six to eight “regular” scents/bars that I keep on hand at all times, and a few rotational/seasonal type fragrances, for not more than 15 variations available, with the exception of the Soap of the Month Club offerings. Soap of the Month will still continue on, of course, and I will still offer lotions, night cream and lip balms. I will also continue to offer monogramming and the occasional embroidered items.  And I will continue to pursue some wholesale opportunities, so if you know anyone with a small business who might be a good fit, let me know.

This is not where I wanted to be at this point in my business, but the reality is, we’re just not making money. The booth fees are high (often $100+ for each show; we have one coming up that I paid almost $300 to be in), and for items that sell for, on average, $5 each, we have to sell a LOT of soap just to break even. My hope was always that we’d eventually be able to stop doing the shows and just move to an online store (and maybe eventually, a brick & mortar), but I thought I’d have more repeat business before that happened. We do sell quite a bit of soap at our shows, but after taking in to account the cost of gasoline, booth fees, food, the occasional motel, and the cost of making product, we’re usually lucky to break even.

For the most part, our customer base has been fabulous, but we’ve missed some sales I thought we’d make. People who encouraged me to do this, to expand into making more wax items, more soaps, more lotions, embroidery, and who swore they couldn’t wait until we did it so they could buy the things they requested. I understand that things come up, and no sale should be counted on before it happens, but I’ve had so many people who claimed they “couldn’t wait” who then never placed an order or came to a show to see what we have to offer. I’ve offered discounts and coupons that no one ever took advantage of, and made sure that not only was I competitive with my prices, but that I offered more than others – more variety for shirts, bigger bars of soap, show special discounts, and other things. Things that no one took advantage of, and things that no one showed any interest in at all. It’s depressing. People at shows who “just love” this t-shirt or that, but wanted it in a different size/color/style. People who swore they were going home to place their order on the website, then never visited it at all. People who would PM me on Facebook wanting special discounts, shipping offers, etc., who then wouldn’t buy whether I gave in to their requests or not. Friends who wanted me to make this fragrance or that and they would DEFINITELY buy it, but when I made it, they were no where to be found. I’m not bringing all this up to make people feel bad; it’s just part of the process I’ve gone through to make the decisions that I’ve made.

I’m looking for another job. I have hope that I can find something soon so that we’ll still have money in our bank account that we can use to pay off some bills, and maybe take a little vacation. I’m not looking in just Houston, because let’s face it; no matter what people tell you, this is still an oil town, and without the oil, there aren’t many jobs. I want to stay in Texas at least, but if I can’t … well, things happen that are sometimes out of our control and we have to roll with the punches. It’s what I’m best at doing, after all.

One area where owning my own business has impacted my decision making, however, is in trying to shop local and small as often as I can. It’s not always possible, because sometimes local places don’t have what you’re looking for, and small doesn’t always have the variety. But it’s taught me to try the local places first, because when I can purchase from one of them, maybe I’m helping to keep their doors open. And there is little that is more depressing than having to close your business.

All in all, owning my own business has been an interesting experience, and I’ve learned a lot from it. I wouldn’t trade the last year for anything. But perhaps now it’s time to move on and find something else to do.

So long, 2016

It’s difficult to believe that we’re standing at the cusp of another new year. It seems like only last week that I was wondering what the new year would bring, and what I’d be doing after being laid off from the job I’d held for the previous six years. Little did I know, expect or imagine that I would be where I am today. While others may not agree with me, I think that this year has been an amazing journey and a lot of fun, and I’m glad I’ve been able to shift gears and find something new to do that I truly enjoy.

I’ve learned a lot about how to run a business, and what I’m good at (the creativity of coming up with new products) and what I need to work on (dealing with people who ask questions designed to either stump me, make me feel or look stupid, or people who have ideas about handmade soaps that are incorrect). I’m better at talking to people than I thought I was, but Chris excels at it. Both of us being somewhat anti-social, that was a big concern for me, but we’ve both handled it quite well, and Chris exceptionally well. But to be honest, that man can do ANYTHING he sets his mind to, so I shouldn’t be so surprised at how well he does with salesmanship. I’ve also learned that I cannot please everyone – a difficult concept for me when I first started out, but less difficult as time goes on.

“Do you have Sandalwood soap?” (“Not right now, but I am thinking of adding it because I get asked for it a lot.”)

“I bought this soap from  you last year, but you don’t seem to have it now.” (“It wasn’t me, but maybe we can find something else you like even better.”)

“Are all of your soaps vegan?” (“No, I like the fluffy lather I get from using lard, but let me show you which soaps are vegan.”)

“I’m looking for all natural soap; is your soap all natural?” (“There is no such thing as ‘all natural’ soap, but here are some that don’t have fragrance oils in them.”)

And so forth and so on.

The single biggest issue I’ve had is running out of stock and not having some of my most popular fragrances all the time. In our defense, I’ve made about 50 or so different soaps over the last nine months, and I didn’t know starting out what was going to be a big seller and what wouldn’t be. We took half of July and the whole month of August off from shows, and set about making soaps for the fall. We had NO idea that we’d run out of all of that soap in September! I mean, we just did not expect that sort of response. I’ve tried cutting back the number of soaps we have in our “core line up” but the reality is, every time I take a soap off the table, we either get requests for it, or our sales slip. We never do as well when we’re out of our best selling soap, Pride & Joy, for example, as when we have it. But we see almost an equal slip when we’re out of Born to be Wild and In the Air Tonight. I am currently working on building up stock for all of our soaps, and it’s going to take a while. The plan is to make four batches of each soap, and when we start selling the third batch, to make another two to four batches, depending on how quickly it seems to be selling. I also think that a big reason why we do so well at most shows is because we do offer a large variety of soaps, so we’ve decided to have at least 20 different types of “core” soap at each show, as well as a few seasonal soaps. Start looking for some Valentine’s fragrances coming in the next couple of weeks, along with some St. Patrick’s and Easter soaps to follow very shortly. I am also expanding our regular line of lotions and creams, and I will be making them in larger batches so they’re always available.

But what about the embroidery side of the business, you may be wondering.

Well, I’ve learned a lot there, too. I need to get more items done and photographed well to put them on the website. In addition, I will be adding some new things like place mat sets, table runners, small quilts and the like (it is, after all FABRIC arts). It will take time to get all this stuff done, but as it’s completed, I’ll take photos and post them on the website. And don’t forget – this side of the business is completely customizable, so you can contact me at any time to request something and I can make it for you.

I’m learning about website design. Earlier this month, I transferred my hosting from eHost to Shopify. There are a couple of reasons for this, but most importantly was that I wanted the shopping experience to be fun and pleasant for my customers. I’m still working on it – I have photos that need to be taken and I’m not completely thrilled with the way the site looks right now. But I’m no webmaster, so I’m having to learn a little at a time, while trying to run the business, and do the books for both my business and Chris’s business. I could work 20 hours a day and still not get everything done I need to do, but I’m trying. If you know anyone who can do a killer website who might want to barter for soap or custom embroidery, let me know. 😉

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who has purchased soap and/or embroidery from me over the last nine months. To be perfectly honest, I’ve put a LOT of applications/resumes out there to go back to work, and no one is beating down my door to hire me. This business HAS to be successful, and 2017 is the year it needs to be successful. So every time someone buys something from me, and every time they come back, or they tell me just how much they love something I made, it is just the most incredible feeling in the world. I never want that to change, because I enjoy it so much. So, head on over to the website and make me feel good by placing an order. 😉 If you do, I’ll give you a 15% discount off your $20 order; just use coupon code EOY15 at the checkout. At $50, you get free shipping, too! This offer is only good until Saturday, January 7, 2017, so don’t wait. Order now and make sure you get the items you really want.

Our first show for 2017 will be the Second Saturday show at Parkgate Community Church in Pasadena, so make plans to stop by and pick up some fabulous handmade soap!

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2017 be everything you want it to be!

Another Wednesday, Another WIP

I don’t really know what’s going on lately but I am like, totally focused on Pam’s quilt. I’ve spent the last several nights working on it, which is a really good thing considering that it takes a bit of time to piece each block. Remember how easy I said the “Block B” was to put together? Yeah, well, that’s not really the case with Block A. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass, but I think it’s going to be well worth the effort. When I bought the secondary fabrics for the quilt, I loved them. Then when I started to piece them together, I wasn’t so sure … they weren’t bad, but they weren’t what I wanted. But that’s really nothing new to me. Photos always help!

After realizing I wasn't satisfied with the colors in the quilt, I took a photo to check them.

After thinking I wasn’t satisfied with the colors in the quilt, I took a photo to check them.

Once I took a close look at the photo, I am very happy with the overall color scheme and how the secondary fabrics fit into it. I realized that the problem isn’t with the fabric or the colors; the problem is that when I’ve considering doing a green & purple quilt (one of my favorite color combos) I always envisioned it as bold, bright colors on black. Obviously, this isn’t that quilt. But the darker colors are P E R F E C T for the cream colored background in the primary fabric.

Once again, the proof is in the photo, and I’m very happy with the color combination for this particular quilt. 🙂