Saturday, March 31, 2007
Thursday, March 29, 2007
For $30, you'll have enough materials to make, package and label 8 - 10 bars of adorable Easter themed soap - and memories of fun creative family fun to last a lifetime.
Steak Soap anyone? The soap is scented with Cranberry fragrance and apparently was designed to match a meat-themed-bathroom. You would think I was kidding ... but I'm not.
It's a very cool example of creativity and thinking outside the proverbial, cliched box.
Bramble Berry and Otion are incredibly excited to sponsor the opening band Captain Seahorse for the Bite of Bellingham this year. If you're in the area, join us. If you're not, think good thoughts and pray for good weather for our outdoor concert!
When I don't find what I want, I switch terms, try the " " in different places or just plain skip to page 10 on the search engine and hope that it's a better fit than the first 5 pages of non-hits. I never switch search engines. It turns out that I'm not alone in this. According to Convera, 93% of search engine users don't switch to a new engine if they're not getting the answer they want out of the first engine.
Why not? They're different companies, with different algorithms. You would think that we'd all switch. But instead, we just bang our head against the same wall, but in a slightly different spot by trying to refine the search engine terms.
Only 10% of searchers find what they want on the first attempt. And only 21% of online searchers feel like their search engines understand the queries.
Well, duh. They're computers, not humans. Of course they don't "understand" your search engine query! But aside from that, artificial intelligence is supposed to be farther along than only getting 10% of our search engine queries right.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
The Women's Hall of Fame honored four amazing women for their outstanding service to Whatcom County. I was most touched by Rosalinda Guillen who spoke passionately about the plight of the farm worker and the need to reinstill a sense of pride in the important work that they do.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Thank you very much. Pfizer.
Yes. Book-of-the-month club
Thank you! THank you! Little Casars
Very Funny. TBS
What's your number? Express
And service marked:
The Paper Element truly makes some of the most sassy background paper for signs. It can easily take Rub-Ons so that makes it versatile for greeting cards (if you're like me and you happen to do both). Be thinking about your summer craft show booths. How nice would a uniform sign program look? For what it's worth, I ordered $250 worth of heavy stock paper for signage at Otion for this summer and fall.
Ms. Faiola,I just loved your story on yahoo.com. It epitomizes the American dream. It's awesome!I, too, wanted to join the FBI after the military. I was recruited in NC but the wait was too long for me, 8-10 months. So I ended up working with UNIX-based systems. I think it was the better choice in the long-term.I'm trying to start a small business, too, but it's not easy drumming up customers. I'm keeping my day job for now. :)
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Chris and I went out to dinner last night with a super cool couple - Max and Sarah from Handcrank Films.
We went to Anthony's and watched the most amazing sunset, complete with hundreds of seagulls drifting up on air currents and a double rainbow! It was entirely picturesque and reminded me why I live in Bellingham - because the 4 days a year that it's not raining or having an epic windstorm that rips my roof off and breaks my retail store windows, it's gorgeous.
Dinner was delightful and I was entirely inspired by Max's theory on working to live and not the other way around. When he mentioned that he worked 40 hours a week or less, I about fell off my chair in jealous amazement. Here's a small business owner - and a successful one! - who is living the dream of working a normal week while still running his own show.
When the entire table, spouses included, started animatedly talking about what work meant to each of us, I realized that it's easy for me to put in 70 hour weeks routinely because I love what I do. I literally work my hobby. It's a dream job. I'm surrounded by people I genuinely respect and admire. I have an amazing customer base. And, I get to immerse myself in soap, toiletries and good smelling things all day long. What's not to love? So, when I find myself logging into work at 10 p.m. at night, it's not with a heavy heart and irritation. I log into work with supreme joy and anticipation over what I will find and be able to accomplish.
Last night, over brownie fudge sundae dessert at the Bellweather, surrounded by great new friends and in a wonderful atmosphere, I felt so lucky and blessed. I'm going to try to hold onto that feeling for the rest of the week.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I just read an interesting blog posting saying that bar soap was becoming a thing of the past. The rationale for this theory is that consumers are switching to liquid soap for any number of things - from fragrances, to added vitamins to larger bottles of soap meaning less trips to the grocery story.
While I get that soap and bathing is very much a personal preference, the reality is that soap (any soap - liquid or bar) is a rinse-off product. Rinse-off means that extra vitamins don't much matter - they wash right down the drain.
Less trips to the grocery store? Well, maybe but I don't know that this is the case either. You use more liquid soap per use than bar soap. And generally, liquid soap costs a minor fortune compared to bar soap.
And fragrances? I take umbrage to the idea that liquid soap somehow has more fragrance options! As someone who sells bar soap fragrances, I am pretty sure anything you can get in a liquid soap, I can get you for bar soap.
I think that Joyce is overstating the liquid soap case and believe that bar soap is definitely here to stay.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
We have aggressive SPAM filters at work but still Bramble Berry gets thirty to ninety emails a day that want to buy our product (without knowing what our product is), give us money (normally from a deposed dictator that obtained said-money fraudulently), or just want us to invest in some new company (which will be hitting it big "any day now!"). It's irritating from a normal "Ugh, and I waste my time on this?!" standpoint, baffles me from a "And yet people believe this myth be true enough times to make it worth the scammer's while" perspective and infuriates me from a "And I pay someone to sift through these emails?!" view.
Supposedly filtering SPAM costs $874 per employee per year. I'm not surprised. So, that means that I spend $21,850 (give or take a few hundred dollars) per year because some industrious spammer bought a program to send out Viagra emails to 30,000 people per hour and .0001% of those people end up buying the Viagra, thus making it worth said spammers money.
I love this quote from the article referenced above:
"If one of out of every 72 of your employees showed up to work and slept all day, you'd be upset about that, but you're losing that productivity simply because you have spam coming through."But I digress. Head over to the 'Dish and read the thread about one small soaper's dilemma on whether to treat a phishing-type email as a legitimate business inquiry. It certainly gave me food for thought.
Thank you so much for my box of goodies... As usual, every Bramble Berry Fragrance is fabulous! I have to tell you, I am totally amazed by each of them... Talk about a diversity of scents... And yet, each is absolutely fabulous on it's own merit! I do not know how you do it, but you have a very gifted nose, that's for sure!
First off, I was just about to start the hunt for a really good lavender EO that didn't have that medicinal edge to it... Hunt over! The Hungarian Lavender with it's lovely green edge, and no medical smell at all, is a dream come true. I have never been able to find a Lemon Verbena, that I could just fall madly in love with... They were mostly"Okay"... This one, however is to die for... It is multi layered, crisp, with nice soft edges... A fabulous almost classic sort of scent... I am totally in love with this wonderful jewel. The Black Amber and Lavender... Is a very ying and yang blend... Totally amazed how the balance of the rich amber and crisp lavender go so well together... Very exotic... Wonderful, simply wonderful!!!! The one that just has me in awe, is the Sugared Walnut... Smelled it, and nothing at all like it's name... So I went to your site, and looked up the description..Well it just boggles the mind... Definitely a "Foody" scent, but much, much more... This one is in a category of it's very own... It is very complex, and multi layered... Simply Lovely, just LOVELY... Can hardly wait to make it up in CP. Thank you so very much... Like Christmas in March!!!!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
It's great. I'm happy to be honored. I work really hard every day. My staff puts in huge amounts of effort every day as well. It's nice to see our successes recognized.
It's still amazing and strange to me every time someone points to me or Bramble Berry as a role model because some days seem like a serious struggle as I wrestle with random staffing issues, vendor disagreements and customer opportunities. So, it's nice to read my story and the Bramble Berry story through someone else's eyes.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Just when you thought that we couldn't have enough salt (2 types of Dead Sea Salt, Bali Reef Salt and Pacific Sea Salt), we've added yet another salt - Organic Salt from New Zealand. We've watched the organic market grow and it shows no signs of stopping, so we're dipping our feet into the water with our organic essential oils and trying out the organic salt. If sales of these two lines stay strong, we'll consider some organic oils for cooking and soap.
She was the daughter of former slaves (one of 23 children in her family!) and became the first black graduate of her high school. She had bookkeeping experience and took courses in bookkeeping so that she could keep the books at her father's farm.
But, racial discrimination was very prevalent and she was not allowed to take those bookkeeping skills to work in an office setting. So, she started her own cooking and baking catering company (something in common with our beloved Martha Stewart who started on her multi-billion-dollar business from similar humble beginnings). She baked for such greats such as Katharine's Hepburn's father and Jackie Robinson and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he stayed at the old Heublein Hotel in Hartford.
Being a woman entrepreneur comes with its own challenges today. The obstacles must have been tenfold back in Ms. Faust's day. We are so fortunate to have access to SBA small loans (where women get preference points just for being of the female persuasion), strong female leaders to look up to (Oprah, Andrea Jung, Anne Mulcahy, Martha Stewart, Idra Nooyi to name a few) and a culture that is more open to women taking charge of their own destinies. My hat's off to Ms. Faust for leading such a long and storied life, helping to pave the way for other women entrepreneurs.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
But, I have a blog just so I can spout about anything that strikes my fancy. Today, talking about the true costs about running a business from a fanatical customer service standpoint, is something I want to talk back on.
Just the other day, I heard from a customer, "You're pricing is too high!" I held my tongue when the same customer said in the next breath, "I just ordered from XYZ, and then took 6 weeks to ship my order! And they didn't answer my 6 emails asking about the status. Can you believe their nerve?" When I politely inquired why they ordered from the other company, the response was, "Oh, they got my business because they were cheaper than you."
Yes, and they are cheaper because....? Anyone care to venture a guess why there are cheaper soapmaking supplies out there to buy?
Customer Service. Fanatical, be-all, end-all, Herculean customer service.
Did you know that one of our very large, main competitors refuses to take phone orders anymore? I know why they don't take phone orders. It makes perfect sense from a strictly financial perspective. And, most of their customers won't ever know that they don't take phone orders because, if they're like us, 95% of their customers order online. And the 5% that don't order online? I pay for a full time, expert soapmaker to work 8 hours a day answering their phone calls and taking that 5% of phone calls. It's certainly not efficient from a pricing standpoint but it's something that rings true for one of our five values statements "Be kind to our employees and customers." Answering the phone is kind to our customers. Answering the phone raises my overall labor costs though.
That same person that answers the phone does a lot of other things for our customers too. Guess how many orders she's taking? Maybe 5 a day. But that same person who is available to our 5% of phone ordering customers is also available to the other 95% of our customers that have product questions, technical support needs or just general toiletry making questions. We happily answer any and all phone calls, no matter how intense, long-winded or difficult. We even go so far as to make our customer's recipes (usually 1 to 2 a week) when we cannot diagnose a problem over the phone. The 45 technical support phone calls per day plus the time and materials to test customer recipes all adds to my overhead as a business person. But the majority of our customers wouldn't have it any other way. After all, do you want to be able to actually phone your supplier and talk to them or get the draconian "Email us, no phone calls, and by the way, we pick and choose what emails to answer and trust that you'll figure it out on your own and eventually forget that we gave you sub par customer service."?
We employ 3 full time staff members just to answer customer (and non-customer) emails. I'm willing to bet that most of our competitors don't do this level of customer service support. Those 3 full time staff members literally sit in front of a computer all day, looking up orders, tracking Fed Ex packages and answering general soapmaking questions. Answering copious amounts of daily emails raises my overall labor costs. What I really love is when we get an email something like "I ordered XYZ product from your competitor. They won't answer my emails or phone calls and so I don't know how to use it. Can you help me?" And, in keeping with one our five values statements, "Be an industry leader," we always try to help.
More another day on why going with the low cost provider isn't always a great idea when you're trying to build a soapmaking business or if you're just a general shopper of any product on the 'net.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Anne-Marie, I just wanted to say how much I'm enjoying the new scents I bought, and the samples you gave me from your store. Thanks to you I'll be trying some scent combinations I may not have thought of otherwise. I made some gingered peach soap bars w/the peach sample fragrance, a sachet w/Beach Breezes, and am looking forward to creating some tropical blends w/the lime fragrance sample. Thanks again for your great service!
I personally think that the Lime makes a great blending fragrance. Lime, plus a little Ginger, plus a dash of Dark, Rich Chocolate? Hummmmm, so good, so good. Can you imagine that as a body scrub or a whipped souffle creme?
From a business angle of things, making new products with ingredients you already own (no new outlay of capital, no new inventory to store) seems like a win-win situation. If you make up any fun new blends and want to share, be sure to email me and I'll publish your good idea in our newsletter or on this Blog.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
In addition to my talk, I think I'll be delivering a bunch of Bramble Berry orders to the gathering so that should be a bit of an organizational nightmare as well as rewarding. I can't wait to see customer's reactions as they try our latest fun creations.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
I love these cheeky advertising campaigns. They're clever. They're unexpected. And, at the very least, they make me laugh. As advertising gets increasingly ignored, innovative and fun ads such as these will increasingly become the norm as marketers try to slip their branding into our daily lives.
Friday, March 9, 2007
The talk was supposed to be focused on Bramble Berry's international marketing and a discussion about how we ship to international customers. It ended up being more of a general business talk so I worry that I didn't have enough topical information for the students. But, several of them did take business cards and hopefully will take me up on the offer to tour the warehouse and ask any follow up questions that they might have. So far, one very confident sounding student ("Jazz") who has owned a vending machine business has already called. That's the kind of follow-up I like to see with any would-be entrepreneur.
Some of the questions that were asked were general start up questions (How much money did it take? Where did you start out? How much did you work? What was the worst part of starting a business?) to current questions (Who helps run your business? How many people do you employ? How big is your warehouse? How much do you make? How do you market to your customers? Who are your customers?)
It was a fun talk and I hope that I get invited back. Not only was I inspired by the student's enthusiasm and proverbial zest for life but I liked taking a walk down memory lane and remembering the mattress at my 3rd warehouse so I could sleep there, or the pain of our first stolen credit card or the absolute joy after Bramble Berry grossed it's first $million. So, Western, if you're reading this, please consider this an open-ended acceptance for any invitations you've got open to speak. It was a great experience.
Thursday, March 8, 2007
Seven Gypsies carries a great line of embellishments for truly sophisticated, one-of-a-kind soap packaging. Think gifts in a high end department store might be your market? These are the touch you need to put on your soaps to get them into those refined air spaces.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
This week has brought a host of new products from customers - just sending them to us to strut their stuff or as a thank-you for good service.
From Linnie Schofield in California - Linnie sent us a huge box of goodies! Lotions, soaps and foaming bath melts. That's her bath melt in the photo that I'm holding up (beside the orange soap). She makes a fabulous luxuriant bath melt with citric acid, baking soda and fragrance. In this case, she did some sort of fabulous white ginger & amber type blend. Yum! I used one in the tub this week and came out positively moisturized and glowing.
Kelly, one of our own at Bramble Berry, made the fabulous orange glycerin loofah soap. She wet the loofah, shoved it down the pampered chef tube, sealed the tube with play dough and then poured energy fragranced, orange labcolor colored, clear melt and pour soap in the tube. This is the result! Cute, huh?
Finally, Rachael at PilgrimsSoap.com was having some trouble with DOS (Dreaded Orange Spots) in her Lavender essential oil soap so I tossed a bit of our new Hungarian Lavender her way to test out. So far, so good! No DOS and she sent me a bar to prove it.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
This weekend, I had the great privilege and pleasure to introduce the man that I believe will be Mayor of Bellingham in 2008, Dan McShane. The party was at the newly built Farmer's Market permanent home . About 200 people attended which the campaign was thrilled about, given that the primaries are a full 6 months away!
I was honored to be asked to introduce soon-to-be Mayor McShane. I think they asked me because of my activism in the community as well as my ties to downtown through our retail store Otion. Plus (blushing, eyes cast downward with modesty), I'm a pretty good public speaker (not naturally - it's a learned trait from attending a public speaking school - more on that in another blog post later). I also loved meeting people I wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity the interact with. Listening to the energy that was put into talking about how we can make Bellingham a better place was inspiring. I literally left with a buzz, a high of positive energy.
It was a great event and I felt so blessed to be a part of it. I'm also incredibly confident that Dan McShane is the right person to lead Bellingham to an even better place in the future.
Monday, March 5, 2007
Sunday, March 4, 2007
I've been soaping for a blissful fourteen years now. I love it. I crave it. There is very little that makes me happier than seeing a perfect trace in my soap or the smooth texture of a freshly cut batch of soap (big sigh). If I could only make soap all day and never have to actually work for money (you know, answer emails, rally staff, figure out new products, and all the assorted minutae that comes with running a business), I would be exceedingly happy.
Still, there is a minor downside to soapmaking - safety considerations. To make soap from oil requires a bit of complex chemistry. The short story is that you need lye or sodium hydroxide. Lye is mostly commonly found in things like Draino to clean drains. It is also used to react with fats (like olive oil or coconut oil) to make soap. It is highly, highly caustic and will actually burn you So, when I make soap, I wear long sleeves and long pants and goggles (and look, there's the photo off to the left to prove it). I usually skip the gloves because I'm pretty used to lye burns at this point in my soaping career.
I don't like lye burns but as long as I wash them off my hands quickly, I'm none the worse for the wear. And since I've been making soap for so long, I (humble modesty coming up right here) am pretty good at it and tend not to spill too much fresh burning soap on my hands. So, no gloves.
I made the most delicious batch of Fresh Baked Bread soap today. It smells amazing, it acted like a dream and soapmaking was a snap. I was set up, weighed, measured, traced and poured in about 20 minutes. Then clean up time. Cleaning up fresh soap is a bit of a pain. This is because it is essentially thick, sludgy oil. It takes a bit of patience, a good degreasing soap and boiling hot water. While I was cleaning up, I managed to pour some fresh soap right into a cut on my hand.
Yowzers! Talk about sharp, intense pain! Note to self and soapers out there: if you have a cut on your hand, definitely wear gloves. Holy soaping gods, it still hurts a few hours later! And my cut is all pink and puffy. It is very impressive in its obvious nature. The take away lesson for me is the obvious one stated above (gloves, you fool, gloves) and also that even with fourteen plus years of soaping under my belt, I am not above making mistakes and learning what every newbie soaper knows: lye burns can hurt.
Friday, March 2, 2007
Hi Anne-Marie,A supportive spouse and family is a must. Being an entrepreneur often means long hours, weekends and disappointments. I can recall canceling many social dinners and sending my regrets to parties because I needed to work. Or rather, I wanted to work.
I just read your story at http://finance.yahoo.com/smallbiz/article/featuredbiz/26545.
I found it very inspirational. And it just goes to prove that we should be living our passion, and the success will come.
And, having a supportive husband is a must.
Right now, the big discussion in our house is whether I will bring my laptop on our upcoming honeymoon. My loving fiance is currently insisting I bring it. He's worried that I won't be able to relax without being able to check in at the office at least once a day. I fear that he's right. But I worry about what a laptop on my honeymoon says. I suspect it says nothing good. So, right now, for today, I am leaning towards leaving the laptop home. But that could all change tomorrow.
Here's a fun look at someones (even smaller!) soap studio.
This is an impressively designed soap studio in a garage.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
I think this cutter pretty much rocks. It's well loved in the soapmaking industry already because of its sturdy design and straight cuts every time.
It's a bit more pricey than some on the market but for the durability and the precision it gives, I'm hearing that it's worth it!