Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Kindness, Coincidence, and Cruises


With all of the political craziness that has dominated my news feed in the last couple of months, I have been so saddened by all of the anger and divisiveness that I see among people that I know to be better than that. To say that I am alarmed by this would be an understatement. But when the world seems dark, you have to resist the urge to fall into the darkness and instead, shine your own light a little brighter. The easiest way to do this is to simply be kind. That is it, be kind, to everyone. No matter what.

   On my first day of 7th grade, I was the new-kid at school in a very small town. I had just moved from a private Catholic school in the Mid-West where I wore uniforms for several years. So when I showed up on my first day, not knowing what to wear and among a sea of unfamiliar faces, I was terrified. Every kid at my school knew each other, some since birth and most since pre-k. Everyone stared and whispered which made me feel even more terrified until one curly-haired, olive skinned girl that looked a little like me strutted up to my desk and introduced herself. She was friendly, loud and made no bones about asking me who I was, where I came from and did I want to sit with her and her friends at lunch?

   I am pretty sure she does not remember doing this, but I have never forgotten this one small gesture of kindness. She took one of the most terrifying and vulnerable moments for me and made everything feel warmer and safer. This is what we need more of. We need people to nicely ask the questions and extend some kindness. Her actions that day exemplify how I want my own children to behave when they see someone who is an outsider that may feel scrutinized or whispered about. I hope that they act just like her by extending a hand and offering to sit with someone that may need a friendly face.

    When I think about acts of kindness bestowed upon me over the years, she always comes to mind. This same girl is now the grown up mother of 5 boys and is taking them on a Disney Cruise after Thanksgiving.So it felt like a coincidence when she asked me to help her with her Fish Extender gifts, I was ecstatic to do so. I could not help but want to pour a little extra into making her gifts just right for her cruise mates. I hope that the recipients of her gifts can feel the kindness that was poured into them and I hope she feels it reflected back towards her family on their vacation. I always love special orders, they allow me to be highly creative but this time, there was something extra special about working on soaps for someone who set an example 26 years ago for the kind of behavior the world needs more of right now.  RJ, you are the bomb!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

5 Reasons I Am Very Bad at Business

1      Social Media Flop! I am involved with a handful of small business sites that give you pointers for increasing business. Every single one of them advises posting several times a day to increase visibility and make sure that Facebook sends all of your posts to every person who has liked your page. I hate pages that flood my feed with posts. While some are cute and funny, it can be a bit annoying to see a constant flood of non-sense and I often unlike those pages. I want to keep everything I post important and pertinent to what I am doing. I do not bombard social media with attention seeking posts because I do not like it when other businesses do that to me. I also do not offer give-aways for likes. I will not try to coerce anyone into like my page. Every one of the "likes" you see on my Facebook page is because the person behind the "like" came to my page to like it. It just feels more honest that way.

     Honest Prices. I know a soap maker who charges $15 per bar of soap. Why? Because people perceive her soap to be more valuable because of the price. This is called Perceived Market Value. This basically means that a consumer believes something is better simply because it costs more. Now, many times, you do get what you pay for. I use some very expensive ingredients in my products. Often the price of those ingredients fluctuate wildly based on market conditions. After the tsunami hit Thailand many years ago, the cost of patchouli skyrocketed. I lost money and quit making as many soaps with patchouli in the blend. This happens most frequently with essential oils as the production of the oils varies based on the annual crop yields. However, I have a formula that I use for pricing products that I believe is fair. My customers work hard for their money and I refuse to mark something up simply to make it seem more valuable. I often decrease my profit margin before I increase prices. This is true of any soap that contains clary sage essential oil at the moment. I am not going to raise prices unless I have to and I promise that I will respect your money as much as I respect my own because I know how hard we all work to make what we have.

     Bogus Claims. It is illegal for me to make any medical or health claims unless my soap has been through rigorous FDA testing. I do not have the time or money for complicated testing. I will never tell you that anything I sell will treat or cure any problems you have. Many people make a ton of money on promises that their products will make you skinny, cure your eczema, get rid of wrinkles or the saddest one, make your skin lighter. I cannot make any of those claims, nor will I. I have some soaps that are formulated for special areas like the face or for shaving. And I have some customers that swear by some of my soaps for certain issues but I will never market any soaps for that reason. That would be dishonest and illegal, I am not going to do either in pursuit of a dollar.
   Staying Small. I know my customers well and I often remember them by their favorite smell. I cherish being able to formulate special products for specific special needs. This can only happen with enough time to formulate and create products individually. If I were to “get rich” by making soap, I would not have the time to do this. I do not mind being small and I intend to keep it that way. This means I get to have meaningful, personal relationships with the customers who trust me to make their skincare products. Selling soap does not keep a roof over my head, nor does it pay the bills, in order to do that I would have to give up the ability to treat my customers like family members. I would also have to give up precious time with my children who are growing up too quickly. My life is more precious than the pursuit of another dollar. I like to keep it balanced and for now, that means staying small. I have no desire to see a bar of Bean Tree Soap in every bathroom in the country. But I do have a great desire to care about each person who does have a bar of Bean Tree Soap in their bathroom and make sure that those people adore the soap they are using.

     Give Away Stuff. Every box I mail out has a sample in it. While I cannot afford to give away samples without a purchase, I often include a little bit of something that might be of interest to the person that orders products. I also have customers test out new products and give me feedback. I make so many things that never see the website because I have not perfected it yet. If it is on my website, it is something that I love and I have had customers test out and affirm that they also love. Does this cut into my “bottom line”, you betcha! Do I care, nope! Not a bit, I want to make sure that I am absolutely proud of everything that says Bean Tree Soap on it.