Soap-making has been around for thousands of years. The first recipes consisted of animal fat, ashes and water. Since then, the ingredients have changed somewhat, but the basic manufacturing method has remained the same. One of the big differences is that soap is now available in a multitude of colors, scents, shapes and sizes.
In addition, many soap-makers today have taken to adding special ingredients such as herbs, dried flowers, oatmeal, exfoliants, fruit extracts, floral water, and so on. Instead of animal fat, pure vegetable oil, olive oil, and coconut oil can be used as a fatty base. Goat’s milk, conditioners, and citrus have also become popular additives in the soap making business. Some are certified organic, while others are used for aroma therapy. The combinations are endless.
For a person considering starting their own soap enterprise, things have never looked brighter. The demand for handmade, specialty soap has surged in the past few years, and people are willing to pay a premium price for a unique product.
In your soap-making endeavours, you will discover that there are two ways in which to manufacture your wares:
The melt-and-pour method
This is the simplest way to get things started. It consists of buying bulk, pre-manufactured soap in large blocks. This is a plain base soap and is not scented. Once the soap is melted, you add fragrance and any other additives that will give your creation a personal touch. The soap is then poured into molds and is ready once it cools and hardens.
One of the biggest drawbacks to this method is that you have no control over the ingredients that make up the bulk soap. There is a good chance that it will contain numerous additives.
On the other hand, if you are short on time, you can’t beat this method. Yes, you can’t say that you made it from scratch, but it still allows you the freedom to create a very unique product.
The cold process method involves making your soap from scratch. Using an oil base, lye, and water, this ancient soap making technique is perfect for those who want total control over their product. Although this process takes a lot longer (3-4 weeks before the soap can be used), you will find that there is a healthy demand. People will pay top dollar for pure, handmade soap using this method.
The recipe starts with an amount of lye that is added to heated oil in a pot. These are the two active ingredients; with the third being water. Next, color, fragrance, and additives are added and the mixture is pored into a mold. The soap is removed from the mold after 24 hours and then stored for 3-4 weeks. During this time, a process known as saponification occurs as the lye reacts with the fatty acids. At the end of the curing time, the lye is totally neutralized. The remaining product is glycerine and soap.
Equipment and supplies
Melt and pour method. If you decide to use the melt and pour method, you can get by with a minimal amount of equipment and supplies. A double boiler, measuring cup/spoons, molds, pre-made bulk soap, fragrance, and specialty additives will provide you with everything you will need. You should also have a designated work area with lots of counter space and good ventilation.
Cold process method. If you decide to go with the cold process, you will need a large pot, thermometer, measuring cups/spoons, wooden spoon, molds, fragrance, specialty additives, lye, fatty base, water. Also, safety equipment such as an apron, long sleeved shirt, chemical safety goggles, rubber gloves.
Lye is extremely corrosive. You will know if any gets splashed on your skin. Always take extreme caution and make sure your workspace has lots of room, is well ventilated, and is out of the reach of children and pets. Never leave your work unattended.
The last thing you will need is a storage area for your soap while it is curing.
Once your soap is ready to be sold, you will need to package it in an attractive manner for display. Keep in mind that your soap will likely be quite attractive on its own. Thus, packaging should be minimal and should enhance your product rather than conceal it. Some home soap businesses simply display their soap with a decorative paper band around each bar. In this way, the color and texture of the soap can still be seen by the customer, and you cut down on excessive packaging. In fact, your soap might be so attractive that you will want to display it as is – stacked in an attractive display.
Of course, once the product is purchased, you should have a more practical packaging method in order to wrap the soap securely for your customer. Purchase sheets of plain paper or cellophane for this task. If you are in a retail location, you will also need a supply of small paper or plastic shopping bags.
Selling your product
Once you manage to get your initial inventory together, it’s time to think about how you are going to market your product. This is the fun part!
Consignment. One of the best ways to break into the business and get your name out there is by networking with local gift shops and asking if they will sell your product on consignment. If you are outgoing, friendly, don’t mind cold calling, and can take no for an answer, then this could be exactly what you are looking for. Don’t expect the shop owner to be jumping all over your offer, and be prepared to do a little negotiating. However, do not give your stuff away. If the answer is still no after a fair offer, then try again at the next shop.
The good news is that many shop owners will welcome a chance to add a quality product to their inventory and make some extra money in exchange for a little shelf space. Since the display will be setup by you, there is little effort required on their part.
If you are on a tight budget and have spent all your money on producing the product, selling by consignment is ideal. The most important thing is to keep a very tight control over your inventory and sales. You need to be able to account for every bar of soap.
If you find that this method is not working out, and that you are being told no a little too often, then take a good look at your product. Is it attractive? Is it professional looking? You may have to backtrack a little and work on your product’s appearance. Some shops tend to be quite picky about what they will display.
Flea markets. Renting a booth at a flea market will create much more exposure, and thus more revenue, for your fledgling soap making empire than any other method. The reason for this is that they are famous for creating lots of foot traffic. The more exposure you get, the more sales you will make. Flea markets are also attractive because, with a little time and effort, you can start selling your product face-to-face with the public instantly. Soap is an ideal item for this type of venue because people tend to buy it on impulse and it is relatively inexpensive.
Online sales. The two most popular methods of online sales are:
Ebay. The advantage of selling on Ebay is that it costs very little to start, and you have an instant flow of traffic (potential customers) looking at your product. Your business can be conducted between your home and the post office – there is no other overhead.
The biggest disadvantage is competition. This tends to drive the price down – in some cases, well below an acceptable ROI level.
In order to succeed here, you need to stand out from the crowd and offer something unique.
Your own website. If you are running your own website, you get to call the shots. This means you can fine-tune every aspect and give your visitors a more pleasant shopping experience. The good news is that you will not have to sell your items at cut-throat prices if you create the proper ambiance and offer outstanding service to your customers.
The disadvantage of creating your own online store is that it can be expensive to get started. Furthermore, once you have your site up and running, you need to advertise to get customers – this can also be expensive.
One of the best things you can do to start getting the word out about your e-store is to include your web address on all your packaging. Then, when you sell an item on consignment, at the flea market or on Ebay, you have a chance to get a trickle of traffic to your website. Over time, this can really add up (and it’s free).
One last thing about marketing: Make sure that you have enough inventory for the busy seasons like Christmas. Chances are that you will make a good portion of your yearly income at this time. Once you’ve been in business for a few years, you’ll know how much product to have on hand.
Soap making can be fun (and very lucrative). It is one of the few businesses where your creativity, alone, can determine your financial success. However, it must also be run like any other business. You must run things efficiently and have the ability to wear all the hats when you are starting out – all this, while constantly monitoring the bottom line.
With a little effort, you could be very surprised at the results.
1. If you are new to soap-making, you will want to learn as much as possible about the process before you go out and buy materials. There are several well written books on the subject.
2. Order your supplies online for the best selection and prices. Start with the essentials.
3. Take your time and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Once you get a feel for it, experiment with scents, additives, colors, and textures. Build a decent inventory.
4. Look into renting space at a flea-market or craft show. Get a feel for what sells and what doesn’t.
Here are some of the best books for Making Your Own Soap
And once you make it, you have to sell it:
Start with a few supplies HERE
And safety supplies: