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When Adriana Notte counted over 300 finished bars of soap on her curing shelves, she knew it was time to start selling the bars, or work hard on getting dirty!
How does one become a soap-maker and then create a business that uses the Internet to market their product across the world? The power of ‘aroma’ had always intrigued Adriana and her interest in aromatherapy began when she discovered gardening --- what to do with all the flowers, herbs, and botanicals planted? Essential oils and fixatives soon became a common item in her home.
When her skin started to react adversely to commercial soap products, Adriana learned the art of soap-making, and was soon hooked. Lotions, creams, bath fizzys followed, supplemented by an extensive 14-week aromatherapy course. Aquarius Aromatherapy & Soap was born in 1998, and Adriana has been working (or should we say, playing) hard ever since. Her company is located on the outskirts of Mission, British Columbia, approximately 50 miles east of Vancouver, and 20 miles north of the US/Canada border.
Adriana is very proud of all her products; “We have shopped the world for our essential oils, and are extremely pleased with the therapeutic results of using the oils. As therapy with oils extends to our sense of smell, we have also added a line of fragrance oils. We now sell one of the largest selections of raw materials for toiletry, candle-making, soap-making, and bath balms.”
As she started her business Adriana had difficulty finding supplies at a price that she could afford and still produce a finished product affordable to retailers. “I didn’t want to spend all my time sourcing suppliers, I wanted to craft,” explains Adriana. “That’s when I realized that we needed someone in the Lower Mainland who could supply the professional and home crafter with a full line of supplies so that the crafter would have a one-stop-shop.”
So began Adriana’s two-year quest to find the best suppliers from around the world. “My goal was simple, the supplies had to be of superior quality, reasonable in cost, and preferably Canadian made or from a Canadian supplier. With Aquarius heading into its third year, we’re extremely proud of our supplies products, especially our Melt & Pour Glycerin Soap Base, which was created by a Canadian and made in Canada.”
Adriana’s inspiration for her finished soap line comes from many different sources, “This past Christmas season, we introduced a wonderful ‘cherub’ line of all natural soap, inspired by my parrots. Our packing included a cherub and we added a feather from the ‘angels wing’. The feather is a contribution from our parrots (no, I don’t pluck them, but I do have a box of beautiful feathers that I’ve been collecting for over 10 years).”
“Other crafters really inspire me, with their enthusiasm and willingness to share. I belong to many e-lists, and moderate one myself (eSoap on eGroup.com). I’m always so excited to learn that one of my customers who I taught soap-making to has sold their product to a store.”
When asked about what she loves about her craft business, Adriana is quick to answer, “Being able to be creative, seeing my ideas come to life. Walking into a store or a customer’s bathroom and seeing my finished product. I love being able to set my own hours since I’m most creative after 11:00 o’clock at night, but I would have to say that the greatest part is the people I’ve met. From suppliers to customers, the whole craft industry is filled with enthusiastic friendly people. When you’re doing something you love and enjoy, you can’t help but be happy.”
Like many craft business owners, Adriana admits the most difficult part of her business is handling the paperwork! “Yuk, yuk, yuk…. I spent over 20 years in accounting until I finally gave it all up to do what I really wanted to do. I’m having so much fun with the producing and selling, that it’s really hard to sit down and do the paperwork.”
The majority of print marketing for her company is done through Craftlink. “I like the magazine and feel good about promoting another Canadian crafter. On the Internet, we link to as many soaprings as possible, and we host an e-Group site. We also subscribe to a company that submits our website to over 500 search engines, which keeps us hopping.”
Adriana creates a unique marketing approach by supplying her finished product only to small stores, which allows her to get very personal with the owners. “I do a lot of walk-in cold calls to small shops. The small shop owners allow me to be creative in what I produce, as we offer custom work so that the small shop has a product that is unique to their store. We also offer custom labeling, which appeals to many shop owners.”
“Business started at the craft show level, but we ‘got promoted’. In September 1999 we exhibited at the Vancouver Gift Show --- Uniquely B.C. It was a very busy and exciting time for us, and as a result, we are now in the big times! My second order came from an owner/operated gift shop in Japan; so on the first day of the Show, Aquarius Aromatherapy & Soap became ‘global’. It was a rich and rewarding experience for us.”
In addition to the orders, the trade show gave Adriana valuable feedback on her product. “The gift show was such a boost for me, that people could see that I put my heart and soul into my craft. They commented that my soap bars were unique and wonderful.” But Adriana’s satisfaction goes well beyond comments and sales figures; she is rewarded by the results her customers receive from using her products. “I worked closely with a customer who had a very bad case of psoriasis on her hands. She had purchased an incredible amount of prescription lotions over the years. I put together a lotion specifically for her, and within three weeks of using the lotion she showed me her hands --- the psoriasis had just about all cleared up!”
In addition to wholesaling soap to gift shops, Adriana’s product is also marketed on the Aquarius website at: www.aquariusaroma-soap.com or www.esoap.ws
“The website has surpassed our wildest dreams. We have sold our products, both supplies and finished goods, throughout the world. We sell to Canada, Japan, China, the UK, the United States (almost every State), even Egypt. Well, the list goes on and on --- quite the feat for a business that started out of the kitchen, making 4 bar batches of soap!”
In addition to their website, Aquarius also lists products on eBay, with auction links to their website. This has been extremely successful and since eBay has a feedback system, prospective customers can see customer feedback on their product and service.
Always on the cutting edge, Adriana recently started to host a discussion group which can be found at http://www.egroups.com/group/esoap/. A friendly, open atmosphere is encouraged where all questions are eagerly accepted; the discussion group is a place to share information, recipes, and resources to the group.
When asked about using technology in her business, Adriana answers “We’re technology heavy! To keep in constant contact with our customers and suppliers I have a dedicated business phone line. This is a must for the small business owner who wants to have “time off” at night to be with the family! We also have a separate fax line (with a computer fax program so I never lose my faxes), and a cell phone. We have rented warehouse space in the United States, and have set up a computer in the warehouse so that we can use the computer to print out our postage in the United States. This saves us time at the US Post Office.”
Adriana believes that even though you’re a crafter, you must keep up with technology to promote your business. Many customers have found Aquarius ‘online’, or were referred to the company by someone on their eGroup list.
How does one keep up with all the work? Adriana does have help with three part-time employees and three contract workers who work from their homes packaging supplies for the company. “Our employee goal has always been to offer a place of employment that is fun and productive, a place where the employee can increase their knowledge and skill. ‘Don’t know how to make soap? Well, let’s take a day and just make soap’. To test new products I put together a test recipe batch with a draft copy of instructions, and let the employees make the product. They then go through the whole process alone and then fill out a comment sheet on what’s good, and what’s not. It’s a great way to test market and get your employees involved!”
Adriana loves to make soap and help to teach others how to make soap. Sharing rather than selling has created an additional sideline to her soap production business – providing quality supplies at competitive prices to small companies. As the supply end of her business continues to grow and demand more of her time, Adriana will be faced with the challenges of running two companies. It will be exciting to see how she chooses to meet these growing pains!
Adriana’s Tips for Growing Your Craft Business:
Product Quality – Create the best product possible!
I promised myself, years ago, that I wouldn’t sell a product that I didn’t truly believe in. If you ever feel uncomfortable answering questions about your product, don’t sell it. Go back and rework it, if it still doesn’t work for you, think about discontinuing that particular product.
Display – You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Place as much time and money into your display as you possibly can! How you display your product can make the difference of stopping a customer long enough to look at your products or not. Have products available that your customers can pick up and touch, let them feel ownership of the product.
Keep it Simple -- Don’t overstock your display.
Too much color just confuses and takes away from the product. We set up our entire display in the shop a week before a trade show and then went in everyday to see how it looked. Our display evolved over the week.
Salesmanship – Create a product guarantee.
For our finished product, we guarantee everything. Since we like to work on a personal level with our wholesale customers, we work with them to give them what they want in a toiletries product line that will set them apart. I try to keep in touch with my purchaser’s to see how the product is doing for them.
Promote Others – Help “sell” others.
As an additional service, we promote our customers. I’ve been exposed to many excellent crafters, and take every opportunity to highlight their work. As an example, I had a customer in Eastern Canada ask about lotion bars, which I don’t make so I forwarded their request to one of my customers in Richmond, Athena Herbals, who do make excellent natural products. We also own/host a WebRing which links to handcrafted toiletries sellers Internet sites (to join, click on the WebRing bar at the bottom of the Aquarius site)
Personalize – Create one-of-a-kind service.
One of the best features of being a professional crafter and small business is that you can personalize your service, take every opportunity to personalize and you will reap the benefits.
Promotion – Promote product and build community.
Most of our promotion is by word of mouth. We have a monthly contest on our website, and we donate a lot of our product as gift packages or items for silent auctions to local charities. Your best promotion is a good product that you can stand behind.
Network – The opportunity to teach and to learn.
I’ve avoided many mistakes by listening to the experiences of others. Don’t underestimate the power of networking!
Listen – Customers provide input.
Ask your customers what they want and then listen to their suggestions, constantly change and improve your product line. What worked last year, may not work this year. Always strive to come out with a unique product that is your own.
24/7 –Separating Work from Business.
Set up systems to separate work from family. Adriana is quick to give credit to her understanding husband. “I’ve been fortunate that my biggest supporter is my husband. When the business grew to a point where we were getting customer calls as early as 5:00 am, and as late as 10:00 pm, we moved the entire business to a separate shop on our property. Now, when the doors close I’m not looking at soap when I’m cooking dinner. We also regularly schedule days when we leave the property and just get away. We also have a rule that after work hours, we have no shoptalk. (But, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they?)
Professional Association – join one related to your craft.
Adriana is a member of the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, an international non-profit professional trade association to promote the handcrafted soap industry. The association also acts as a center of communication among soap makers and to circulate information beneficial to soap makers.
Today, Aquarius provides a source for all the supplies needed for a project -- from beginning to end, from beginner to expert. Raw materials are complimented with molds, packaging supplies, display cases, and items to compliment the crafters items.
The finished soap line includes a fun and funky glycerin line; an all vegetable based line; a children’s line; a variety of gift crates and baskets; and a line of aromatic products. Currently in development are an assortment of lotions, bath oils, and shampoos.
Aquarius’ Internet marketing strives to provide excellent service, their goal – to set the standard customer service. Aquarius Aromatherapy & Soap is committed to providing the best product possible, at competitive prices, and delivering those products in a timely manner. This is one company that really intends to ‘Clean up crafting’!
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