The State of My Union Update

I’m writing this post with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m ready to make a few changes in my life. On the other hand, I am not happy that those changes need to be made. And in any case, I’m frustrated and I feel like I’m bouncing from place to place, throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. As a result, I feel like my attention is split, my efforts are not focused, and my bank account is quickly being depleted.

A year ago, I started Old Fashion Soap Co., with the idea that I could take my tried and true soap making skills and turn them into a viable business. I had all these illusions of grandeur, of becoming The Next Big Thing in the cosmetic industry, and growing my business in to an empire of epic proportions. Of course, I didn’t expect this to happen overnight (or in a year’s time), but I did expect to be doing a little better than I am by this time. Still, we are building brand recognition, and our customers love our soaps. We’re getting that prized repeat customer, and that makes me very happy. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t very realistic of me to expect big things in a short period of time. I have never given up hope that one day, this little business can sustain our financial needs. But I have, on several occasions, lost my focus, mostly in an attempt to gain more sales in a short period of time.

In August of last year, I purchased an embroidery machine, primarily because my machine guy told me that people are “making six figures!” with their embroidery businesses. And that might be true, but this machine is not really conducive to that. A single head, single needle machine doesn’t turn out items fast enough for me to make six figures while also running a soap business. I started out by setting up the embroidery business independent of the soap business, but then combined them in a fit of frustration over paperwork and administrative tasks. That was a huge mistake, I know now. It has confused my customers, confused my potential customers, and, I think, diluted my target audience for each of the two lines. The biggest issue, however, is that the embroidery just doesn’t sell like I’d hoped it would. It really has become a financial drain on my business.

Last month, I purchased a heat press for a few reasons. One, I think that my target customer will like heat press items far more than they will embroidered goods. Two, I would like to be able to do more than just t-shirts and hoodies – I really would like to be able to offer some gift type items to my customers that are unique, customizable (I probably made that word up) and fun. And finally, I am tired of looking for things I want and not being able to find them. It’s annoying, and I want to create them myself since I can’t find a place to buy them. But you know … I really didn’t want to add yet another line to an already schizophrenic business. I know, you’re thinking, Let’s cut to the chase here, Jill. What are you trying to say? Well, here it is …

For the very last time, I’m making a change in my business structure. I’m separating Old Fashion Soap Co., out into its own company once again. There are caveats, however. I will be discontinuing the wax line once I’m sold out of what I currently have in stock. We will be offering soaps (bar and liquid), lotions, creams and lip balms. The product lines will be easy, simple and fluid, i.e., the scents may not always be the same, or everything may not always be available. There will be some “core” items that we will always try to have in stock, but there will be a bit of fluctuation, too. If you want an old favorite, we can and will make it for you, but it will take about a month for you to receive it (potentially longer if we have to order an ingredient in for it). But for the most part, the line up we have now will continue on, even if it’s not in stock every day.

I am setting up a new business for the t-shirts, gifts and other fun things. It’s called Heat Wave Designs, and I’m in the process of setting up a page on Facebook for it. There will be a website, and we will be at shows (even if it’s part of the OFSC booth). I also intend to set up an Etsy page for the company, even though I do believe that Etsy is over-saturated. To begin with, I will offer mugs, coaster sets, and t-shirts, and maybe a couple other things as I find them. I encourage you to follow the page on Facebook, even as I’m just getting started, because there could be some rockin’ deals on things that don’t work out exactly as I had planned. LOL But I think I’m on the right track; check out these items I’ve been doing lately …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will also be offering customized items so you can give gifts that are unique and fun, like photo mugs and coasters.

As for the embroidery, I haven’t quite figured that out, but at this point, I will still be offering embroidered monograms and a few items like the fishing cooler. One of the things I realized was that even though I was trying to give people more choices in the way I set up my current website, the reality is that people just found it confusing. So whatever it is I decide to do, I will definitely be addressing that issue by offering a particular t-shirt with a specific design. The only options will be color and size, and even the color selection might be reduced a bit.

These changes will start appearing soon. You can still use the same link to get to the website, but in the end, it will be more of a gateway to the two completely separate and different sites. Sometimes, I guess we have to learn by doing and failing, and this was a heck of a lesson. I really hope that you will check out both businesses, and that you will consider supporting small business by purchasing from one when it makes sense. And as a final plug for Old Fashion Soap, you should totally check out the website, because our May special is four bars of soap for $20. That’s just $5 a bar, and it’s a great value (most of my customers say their average bar lasts four to six months).

I am also looking for a job at this point, so if you know someone who needs a great all-round person, or a good cost manager, let me know.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for sticking with me through the last year. When I got laid off last year, I think I said that it was going to be a new adventure, and it has certainly been that. Your support has meant a lot to me, and I am grateful for all the kind words, the emails and messages that I’ve received. Thanks for everything, y’all!

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!

It really isn’t possible …

For me to suck more at blog posting than I do, and for that, I apologize. It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly TWO MONTHS since my last post, but I guess it makes sense because I’ve been so freakin’ busy, I can’t even keep up with what’s going on lately. But that’s what I’m here for today – to get caught up, and hopefully, stay caught up, on blog posting. So, let’s get started. 😉

First, on a personal note, I signed up for three accounting classes this semester. I just finished one up last week, and in the first eight weeks of the semester I learned something that’s vitally important. I do NOT want to be an accountant. The only enjoyment I get from any of these classes is the human interaction I get twice a week from going to my intermediate accounting class. Beyond that, I hate every single minute of the classes I’m taking. So I dropped the class that was scheduled to begin this week, and I will finish up the class I’m taking now, but after that I’m done with accounting classes. Maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much if I didn’t feel like it sucks valuable time away from my businesses, but I feel torn between doing school work and working on the businesses. I think “resentful” is a better word than “hate” though. I am very resentful of the time I spend doing school work when I feel it’s  not going to be very helpful in the future.

Which brings me to business … We have been going like gang busters on the soap front. A new show every weekend, a lot of work going in to the business, but not the results we had hoped to see at this point. So last month, we sat down and took a long, hard look at what we’re doing and we realized that the biggest inhibitor to our success is the way I scheduled shows. I looked for allegedly big shows that would hopefully bring in a lot of sales volume, but we’ve found that the attendance numbers for the two biggest shows we signed up for were vastly overstated. Sadly, both of those shows were “traveling shows,” meaning that we traveled to them and stayed in motels. As such, we made NO profit off either of them. We’ve learned our lesson, though, and all of our future shows will be within distance to get home at night after the show is over. We’re really excited to be staying close to home over the next several weeks – most of our shows from now until Thanksgiving will be at the Cy-Fair Exhibit Center located at 11206 Telge Road. That’s the FFA complex at Telge and 290, if you’re familiar with the area, right across Telge from Cy-Fair High School. We will be out there this coming weekend, at the Cy-Woods FFA Booster Show, so be sure to look for us there!

One of the things I’ve come to realize with all the shows and the focus on soap is that I have not been able to get much done for the embroidery business, but I really want to focus on that. In fact, the concept is moving from straight embroidery to other fabric arts as well, but I haven’t had time to devote to any of it really. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so glad that we’ve decided to cut back on the road shows and stick close to home from now on – it should give me more time to work on the embroidery business and get it up and running. I mean, check out this adorable hoodie sample that I did last week.

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Now, maybe it’s just me, but I think this hoodie would make a great gift for any woman. It comes in sizes from XS to XXL, and it’s super comfy! Of course it can be customized with your initials (I guess people don’t want to run around with MY initials on their chest LOL). I’m working on the listing for my Etsy shop now and it should be active by the time this post is public. But if it isn’t, and you’re interested in ordering this hoodie, just send me a message and we can chat about it. Who knew setting up an Etsy listing could be so complex?!

Anyway, I guess that about brings you up to speed for now. There are other things in the works, but I’m not ready to share those just yet. So stay tuned and please don’t fault me for being out of touch the last couple of months. I know I always say this, but I’ll try to do better; I promise!

 

Jill’s Fabric Arts

If you’ve been reading here for any amount of time, you know what’s been going on in my life over the last year. But if you haven’t, to recap, in February I was laid off from a job I held for nearly six years. I wasn’t able to find another full-time permanent job, so I decided to start a business of my own. I toyed with the idea of doing bookkeeping, but then decided to make and sell soaps. I have really been enjoying doing the soaps, but it is very labor intensive and I don’t think it’s as creative as I thought it would be. I’ve invested a lot of money in the soaps, and I intend to continue doing them, but on a more manageable level (i.e., not trying out every single fragrance that every single vendor offers). I’m thinking maybe eight to fifteen soaps, depending on the time of year. But my primary reason for cutting back on soapmaking is because I’m starting a new business!

Soon, I will be launching an etsy.com store called Jill’s Fabric Arts that will feature embroidered items, such as t-shirts, polo shirts, hoodies, blankets, and towels. I’ll also be offering some specialty art items that I’ll share with you as I finish them up. Most things will be custom orders, so you can choose your focus color, sizes, and designs. I am currently in the process of setting up wholesale accounts and ordering in sample garments and items that I will be embellishing, so the store won’t be launching just yet. But I am so excited about this new business, I couldn’t wait to share the big news! I have long wanted to have a business that will allow me to be flexible and creative, and I think this is it. I am super excited (if you couldn’t tell).

I am going to have a few sample items made and ready to share with everyone this weekend, so if you’re going to be at the Bellville Market Days on Saturday, look for us there. We will have lots of great soaps, as well as some sample items that you can look at and place your order. I know it doesn’t seem possible, but the holidays are just around the corner, so this is a great time to start looking for unique Christmas & Hanukkah gifts. What could be more unique than a gift that’s been personalized?!

Keep an eye out here for more news, sample photos, and other information on Jill’s Fabric Arts. Also, follow us on Facebook! 🙂

Water, water everywhere

Four years ago, Houston and most of Texas was caught in one of the worst droughts we’d ever seen. We prayed for rain, begged even. I swore that if it ever rained again, I wouldn’t complain because the lack of water was just staggering. I knew that once it started raining, it would be as if someone had turned on the spigot and forgot about it, and boy, was I right. Texas had so much rain in May that it would cover the entire island of Manhattan all the way to the top of the Empire State Building, four times over! Literally trillions of gallons of water has fallen on the Lone Star State since the first of May, and we have little hope it will stop any time soon. On June 2nd, Houston had already seen 80% of it’s normal rainfall for the entire month of June – that’s nearly eight inches of rain in less than 48 hours. I’m pretty sure that at this point, my feet are growing webs between the toes.

Sadly, all this rain has caused much chaos, loss of lives, and property damage. So, really, in the grand scheme of things, I have no right to complain or be upset, and there was that little thing I said during the drought. But just for the record, I was supposed to be at the Bellville Market Day today, peddling my soaps and other items; it was cancelled due to rain and flooding. I was very sad because I had really been looking forward to it, but I’ll be there in September (the next Market Day) with bells on, and hopefully no need for a life jacket.

During all this rain, though, I’ve been making progress on multiple fronts. My Star Wars quilt is coming right along – all the blocks are put together, and now it’s down to sewing the sashing between the blocks and making rows. I’m hoping to get a fair bit of that done today, because I’d really like to get this quilt finished up. Chris thinks I should try selling it once it’s done, but I haven’t decided about that yet. Maybe, but … I know he’d like to have it, too, so I’m on the fence about it.

Also, I’ve been prepping to make up a bunch of burp cloths to take to shows to sell. I did some looking around, and I found that a lot of people really like these, and they are fairly quick to make. I’m using flannel instead of cotton on mine, though, and I think they’ll turn out really well. I’ll post a photo when I have a few made up. Additionally, I’ve started doing some embroidery on towels to sell, and I may add other items to my line as I go. So, there are big things happening here.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little about my soaps, since that’s where most of my efforts are these days. I know that a lot of you are sewists/quilters, and I know that for me, at least, one of my biggest issues is dry skin. I hate using lotions when I’m sewing because I don’t want it to get all over my fabrics. That’s what makes me so happy about my soaps – I don’t have to use a lot of lotion to feel like my hands are moisturized. One client recently told me that she’s seen a lot of improvement in the skin condition on her hands, all because of my soaps. She was experiencing cracked, bleeding skin and within days of starting to use my soaps, it stopped. Another client posted this on her Facebook timeline:

So when I give Aubrey baths I would usually use Johnson Johnson bath time soap and I started noticing she would gets bumps on her skin so I switched to aveeno and that didn’t do anything different. I started using Old Fashion Soap Co.& her skin has been amazing! It’s so soft and no bumps. Definitely my favorite soap for sensitive skin.

If you have dry skin issues, or if you just want your skin to be in better condition (and with the summer sun and heat, who couldn’t use a little help with that?), please take a look at my website, Old Fashion Soap Co., and place an order today. You’ll be so glad you did!

This and that

I’ve noticed that after I finish a project, I usually want to take some time away from the studio. Sometimes, it’s only a few days; other times, it can be months. This time, it’s been about a month.

I finished the motorcycle quilt that I was working on for Chris. Overall, I”m pretty happy with the way it turned out, though if I had it to do over again, I would of course, do it somewhat differently. For instance, I wouldn’t cut the motorcycle fabric squares half an inch too small, then have to sash them! But for the most part, I’m satisfied with it.

Motorcycle quilt

Motorcycle quilt

I really enjoyed working on this one. I really enjoyed doing the motorcycle embroidery along the borders …

Vroom vroom!

Vroom vroom!

So after it was done, I decided to take a little break. Like I said, that’s my process. I think about sewing, but I don’t actually sew much during a break.

Then my grandmother passed away on the 9th of June. She hasn’t been well since January, when she had to have some heart surgery, and she just really never recovered. She meant a lot to me – I spent most of my summers as a teen with her.

Betty Reaid, 1923 - 2015

Betty Reaid, 1923 – 2015

She was 91 years old last December. Even though she wasn’t doing well when this photo was taken in April, she looked fabulous didn’t she? It’s like a piece of my heart has been stolen away from me.

But her passing awakened my need to be busy, and so I started a new quilt. I’ve been wanting to make a patriotic log cabin for a long time now. I once made a very small one and gave it to my former mother-in-law many years ago, but I wanted a big one for myself. This is the prototype square.

Prototype square for patriotic log cabin quilt

Prototype square for patriotic log cabin quilt

At first, I wasn’t too pleased with it, but it’s growing on me. I think it’s going to look really nice once I’ve got a few of these done. Of course, there will also be some blue in there as well. I’m hoping to have this quilt finished by July 4th, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

After this, who knows? Maybe I’ll actually tackle that applique quilt I want to do, or make myself some new clothing or something. That reminds me, I have been working on making myself a bra, but that is a post for another time.

In closing, just let me say – if you don’t spend much time with the older generations of your family, do it now. Ask them to tell you about their lives, and what things were like growing up. Because trust me, you don’t get a second chance.