Welcome! Today we have a special treat, in the form of an interview with our master soap fairy and a discussion on the new vegan reformulation. Let’s not waste anymore time and get straight into it.
Blog Fairy (BF): well hello, and welcome!
Master Soap Fairy (MSF): hey! Long time no speak. How are things?
BF: well, well. Still circumnavigating the moon.
MSF: we are!
BF: so we wanted to touch base with you and check in to see how things are going. Homestead Soapery has been open almost a year and you’ve had a lot of fun launches and changes along the way.
MSF: yeh look, it’s been really fun and really amazing. We’ve had some great opportunities along the way for growth and to just try new things. It’s all been a learning curve and when you’re the MSF of a small business you realise how much more you have to do. I just wish I had more time to do it!
BF: and you’re still working an IRL job?
MSF: yeh still doing that, but mostly from home. Some plans Mr Soap and I had didn’t go to our timeline plan, so I am working an IRL job and hustling to get Homested Soapery into a good flow. My intent was that once those plans kicked in, I would remove myself from the rat race to do this full time, so have a few more months of that to go yet.
BF: and what were the plans? Can you share?
MSF: yes! So we’ve been wanting to move out to a larger property for about 5 years now and there seems to be always something else that comes up and makes us change direction. We decided this year that we were going to do that with the intent of both of us doing other work and developing our businesses instead. But in order for all of our plans to kick off, we need that property. And we just haven’t found anything that ticks the boxes. With the ‘rona, as you know property markets have fluctuated and done all sorts of weird things so we don’t want to jump into a hot iron, so to speak.
BF: yep, I get that.
MSF: so yeh, part of that plan would be I could either work from home full time if my workplace permitted, which would significantly reduce travel time and I could drop down to a 4 day week, giving me more time to focus on Homestead Soapery and some other businesses I want to start, or if they weren’t willing to accomodate that I’d sayonara myself out of there and focus entirely on the Soapery. Either way, I want to be focusing on Soapery more.
BF: so tell us, what went well, what didn’t, what changed?
MSF: let’s start with the changes. A few things changed as we developed into shrewd business owners and when we finally settled into a bit of a routine. Firstly, we changed the vegan formula we were using originally. The original was an 85% Castile blend, a very traditional way of making soap using predominantly olive oil. We’ve used olive oil soaps before and love them, but they didn’t work for us. Humidity in Queensland really took a lot of water out of the bars through natural evaporation. So soaps started shrinking. We also found that olive oil bars took longer to cure, and were too soft for our liking when they were due to launch.
BF: that’s a shame because I loved the Castile!
MSF: we did too but it really came own to a number of things. If you were making a custom batch for a client then yes, you could factor in the cost, but we wanted soaps from Homestead Soapery to be high quality and an affordable price. Purely or mostly Castile would’ve pushed the bar price up due to the flow on cost of raw materials.
BF: so what was the alternative?
MSF: well, we spent a good few months researching and testing different combinations. When we were comfortable with the base idea and the specific parameters we wanted to meet, we started making small batches to make sure the raw ingredients worked well together. Then we made a loaf. Then when we tested the loaf and were happy with it, we made test loaves and sought some members of the public to do our testing. All testers were sent a survey where they could provide details on lather, bar hardness, scent strength, etc. The testers really helped shape what the new vegan formulation is and we’re really happy we were able to get such great collaboration and feedback in return.
BF: yes I must admit I’ve lost count on what number I’m on. They really are fantastic.
MSF: they are and I’m not just saying that because it’s my product. I’ve tried other soap makers cold process soaps and some were fantastic, and some were not. Some dried my skin out so much it was like a sun burn feeling and some had too much olive or coconut oil I was slipping in the shower. All of that makes a difference. For me, when I wrote the Homestead values for what I wanted the Homestead brand to be, I was really specific and really quite committed to ensuring that what I said is what I did. It’s easy to learn the basics of making soap, slapping a loaf together, and then whacking a super cheap number on there in hopes you’ll undercut your competitors. But I don’t believe in that. Your worth, your time, and your value in your creative content will be reflected in that bar of soap. And if you say a nice thick bar of soap that you’ve spent time designing and putting together is only $4 or whatever you price your soap at, then you’re doing it all for nothing. There’s many soap makers who charge way more for their soaps, but they also use absolutely luxurious imported raw ingredients or make soap so extravagant you feel bad using it! I’ve seen some charge in excess of $12 per bar. But here’s the thing, it’s not offensive to pay that for somebody’s work, whether it’s a bar of soap, a custom cake, or whatever else you might commission someone to do. It is offensive though if you expect them to reduce their value to the equivalent of what they can buy at the reject shop. Thanks but no thanks. If you want to buy from the reject shop imported grey soap section with questionable materials for $2 then go right ahead.
BF: yes, totally agree. So with the vegan reformulation now done, what’s the plan?
MSF: we plan on releasing 4 types of soap per month, still in small batch quantities. Two traditional and two vegan. It gives customers who like either of the formulations an option. We also plan on filming the creation of those soaps and then do a video prior to launch showing the final look, where we use the test ends which are ours, to show the lather and how the soap performs. We’re mindful of the fact that soap is really something people love to pick up and smell and traditionally has been sold at market places, shop fronts and even little displays in chemists. With coronavirus, and a little bit of our own introversion, we would prefer to stay in the format we’re doing now, which is entirely possible (online). But in order to do so we need to consider and be mindful of what is missing (Which is the use of our senses to make a purchasing decision) and provide an alternative instead.
BF: and now that we know what’s changed, what went well, and what didn’t go as well?
MSF: I’d have to say the Castile still. We had high expectations for its performance but it didn’t follow through. The other thing that’s been challenging is scenting, as many fragrance oils are coming from overseas suppliers so sourcing those has been difficult. Local fragrance oil makers seem to have shut up shop in some instances, so I can only assume there might be some flow on effect if they’re perhaps buying bulk fragrance oil and making them into smaller bottles for retail sale. For essential oils, those are still available but with the number of lockdowns and restrictions we’ve had it’s taken longer to get them. The flow on effect is of course no scent, no soap making. Which is ok if your intent was to make an unscented soap, but in most cases that’s a deliberate decision. There’s lots of soap ideas I want to launch and develop, but am having trouble doing so because of difficulty in scenting. For example I’m keen to get a men’s soap and shave bundle going, but the scents I want are not available due to supply issues.
BF: understandable, especially when it comes to planning for other products.
MSF: it is a challenge, but as long as you’ve prepared for it in some way, then you can keep working and keep developing. And in terms of what didn’t go well, I’d have to say marketing and socials. We basically do everything in house. So when we get smashed with other commitments like the day job, we cannot focus on developing additional content, doing our marketing and engaging as much on socials. And that makes a huge difference. Back in the uni days, I did a communications degree with an international relations and communications double major, so when it comes to social media strategy I can do my own, but it’s finding the time to do it and effectively that isn’t going so well. Growing the engagement and increasing the client base is something I’d like to focus more on.
BF: and you had a broken thumb!
MSF: yes, I almost forgot but didn’t! I broke my thumb at the end of 2020, as one last ‘stuff you’ from the year that changed it all! Haha! It’s moving, but I wouldn’t say it has recovered completely. I can’t press anything with the thumb of my pad, even something weightless like the button on the microwave is very painful. So, that sidelined me for a good few months where I couldn’t do anything, let alone make soaps.
BF: well it’s been great catching up with you, we might leave it there because we know you have a few things going. What’s coming up next for Homestead Soapery?
MSF: what’s coming up next? Well, getting used to the new launch format and planning soap launches. I’d like to do it monthly but may even do it every second month to start with. Dedicating a day to doing all my content development to Homestead Soapery, and planning second quarter special launches, including for Christmas. Other than that, it’s another long weekend, so some training with the horse, getting some house errands done, and making an early afternoon dinner with friends of ours (pork roast, jalapeño poppers, roast vegies). I also wanted to try and plan out a trailer video for the YouTube channel and had an idea for a funny video, but don’t know how I’ll execute it yet. I’m also hoping to colour scheme and start making the June launch soaps.
BF: busy busy, as usual! Well, thank you for taking the time to sit down to chat. We know you have a lot on.
MSF: thanks, we’ll talk again soon.