Sunlit Soap at www.sunlitsoap.etsy.com
Hello, Jan and thank you for being my first blog interviewee! Your soaps are extremely beautiful and they smell delicious. How long have you been making soap?
Hello to you too, Lisa. I am honored by your interview request, and thanks for the compliments! I’ve been making soap for about twelve years now. My “habit” was born the day my Mom (a talented crafter in her own right) gave me this book: The Complete Soapmaker: Tips, Techniques & Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps by Norma Coney. I was instantly, profoundly affected by the beautiful pictures, and thoroughly intrigued by the process. I HAD to try it for myself, and after a few initial “learning experiences” (okay, so they were mini-disasters) I got the hang of it and have been smitten ever since. I’ll never forget my first successful batch – I was thrilled to find a big solid soap in the mold rather than an oily mess, and I quickly cut a piece and thrust it under the faucet to see if it would lather (it did, and I must have looked the fool for the happiness it brought me!) I love the entire process, from dreaming up new ideas to challenging myself with concept and execution. I enjoy packaging or “dressing” the finished product in ever-evolving fashion, and if anyone wants to ask me about soap I can talk a blue-streak That’s saying something for a person who is probably recognized by people who know me as being a bit on the quiet side.
I can really appreciate the “sunlit” stamp you put on every bar. When did you come up with that? Do you feel it has helped customers remember your brand?
I put so much energy and love into my soap that it quickly became important to me to give it an identity that linked it to me and would be attractive and recognizable. I think I had the stamp custom-made by Soap Impressions in 1999, and it’s certainly gotten a lot of mileage! Initially, I just stamped the impression into soaps, which looked nice. Over time I experimented with stamping colors into the soap and hit upon the copper mica that you see on all the bars now. It’s (I think) unique to my soaps, and plays nicely with the Sunlit theme by really catching and reflecting light. It photographs well, too.
I set up my first Energy Shop booth one aisle away from you at a recent holiday show, and I tanked. It gave me a first-row seat to watch the magic of your day unfold. It seemed like the people were coming just to buy from you! Was that your first year at that show? Do you feel like your customer-base grew year after year? Did any customers come just to get their next supply of your beautiful soaps?
Don’t feel bad, I think a lot of people tanked that day. This year marked the fourth time I’ve done that particular show, although the last time was a few years ago so it hasn’t been consecutive. I’d also been out of the circuit for a while. The past shows were not as active as this one was, averaging about half the sales I was able to bring in this year. I couldn’t say if any of my customers year to year were repeat, but I have had people buy from me more than once in the same show. Sometimes they buy, and as they continue browsing and shopping they realize that the soaps make unique gifts (at a reasonable price point) for all kinds of circumstances: teacher appreciation, hostess gifts, party favors, stocking stuffers, etc. I’ve found that once people try it, they like it, want more, and are more likely to give it as a gift.
Your selling space looked amazing. What were you using underneath that cloth?
I asked my Dad (another talented craftsman, do you see a trend here?) to make me something that I could use to elevate the soaps on my table and give it some depth. His solution: beautiful handcrafted boxes with hinged lids that fold out and, when turned upside down, create a stair-step platform. Perfect for lining up and displaying soaps. This year was the first year I covered those boxes with the same material I use for the tables beneath, and I think that made a big difference in the overall look and flow of the booth. A good friend of mine suggested I consider doing that, and I initially rejected the idea because the boxes are beautiful and have real sentimental value to me. I’m glad I decided to try it. I learned from that experience that you can benefit by being flexible and open-minded. I used to be annoyed by constructive criticism; now I treasure it!
Your display was so tall that you had to stand behind it. Have you ever sat down at a regular table for a show? Do you feel that the height helped you engage the customers?
My first few booths were regular table-style. I learned by watching other, more successful, vendors that you need to capitalize on the “footprint” of your space, and use it to its full dimensional capacity. Eye level is ideal, but can be challenging depending on what you’re selling. I also think it’s best to create a space that customers can walk up-to (bar-style?), but aren’t forced to walk in-to (u-shape.) People don’t like to feel crowded or trapped, and most craft show booths are 10×10 or smaller – not enough space for tables, product, vendor and customers. Another benefit to a “tall” display that sits between me and the customer: I get non-viable space to bag items, write receipts, or put together more gift items to (hopefully!) sell. Another important component to a successful booth is signage, which can be challenging. Sometimes I feel like I could staple signs to my forehead and people still won’t read them! I’ve found that pictures grab people’s attention, and make them more likely to read.
You recently opened a shop on Etsy! What made you decide to try that website? Do you use (or have you used) any other online selling platforms?
Etsy is my first online platform, and I chose it because it makes the process of “going virtual” simple and painless. You post what you have to sell and aren’t married to the production of a certain product unless you choose to be. I like that. I’m in the process of learning how to drive traffic to my shop, and am enjoying meeting amazing people out there who are doing the same. I love that Etsy is for and about creative people, from the weekend crafter to the full-time entrepreneur, and it encourages sellers to work together rather than focus on the competition…refreshing! I was raised in a loving, creative environment, and I have a built-in appreciation for people who allow their natural talent to flow. I love and wear the beautiful bracelet I bought from The Energy Shop not only because it looks great, but also because I know someone (you!) put their heart, soul and own two hands into it. It wasn’t spit out of an assembly line or forced from impoverished laborers. Because it was made out of love, it is worn with love. I think people who look to Etsy get that, don’t you?
I sure do! Thank you, Jan!
You can visit Jan and see the rest of her amazing products at Sunlit Soap on Etsy.