Kelley: Lezlee, good morning! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Soapies Blog. Tell me what got you started.
Lezlee: Ever since I was a little girl I loved to take baths. I especially liked the colors and scents. I was always in awe when I would go into "Bath and Body Works" but found that I didn't like how it made my skin feel.
Kelley: Amazing! I love that! That must have been so thrilling to have people WANT your handmade products...What a great feeling for sure.
Lezlee: It was very thrilling! When I started the focus was never to start a business. I was already working from home for another company. The best feeling is when you know you've made someone else happy. When you have helped them elevate their mood or the way their skin feels.
Kelley: I, truly, agree. I liken it to giving gifts at Christmas versus receiving them. I would much rather give and see the smiling faces than to receive them.
What drives you in business?
Lezlee: The aspect of my business I enjoy most is formulating. I love to see how certain ingredients .. while maybe wonderful alone ... can become superior when blended together. I believe that many of the products we make are more beneficial to a person's skin than anything you can buy at a store. Not to mention, I love the personal one on one relationships I make with my customers. The icing on the cake, if you will.
Kelley: So you are a bit of a Kitchen Chemist?
Lezlee: I absolutely started out that way. I was very much behind the curve when I started. With a lot of researching, blended with the help of others ... I made my way. The late Maurice Hevey, who was a celebrated cosmetic chemist, was highly influential and helpful to me. In fact, I didn't take Chemistry in school as I "knew" I'd never use it. I'm sure my school counselor would be laughing about this now. Heck, my college major was in Social Work/Psychology.
Kelley: I am sure your school counselor, and Maurice Hevey, would be very proud, Lezlee!
Lezlee: Thanks, Kelley.
Kelley: You started doing FastBuys on Fragrance Oils quite some time ago and have the best FO FastBuy reputation in the industry. When did you start that and how did that venture come to be?
Lezlee: Thanks for the compliment! That means an awful lot to me, coming from you, Kelley.
Initially when I started I took over an existing catalog of fragrance oils that were developed by Gwen Oglesby. From there I started to develop our own blends. We still, to this day, sell many of Gwen's originals combined with our own original blends.
One of my personal fragrance favorites is "Lavender Apples and Oak". As you know, that particular fragrance became so popular that we allowed Soapies Supplies exclusive rights to sell this for us.
Kelley: Yes...and people still LOVE that Fragrance Oil! Men even love that fragrance!
Lezlee: I'm really glad to hear it!
Kelley: Thank you so much for honoring us with being able to distribute it to not only your existing customers but to our new ones as well.
Lezlee: It truly is my pleasure.
Kelley: Lezlee, what would be your 5 favorite ingredients to work with?
Lezlee: This is a very difficult question. There are so many fantastic ingredients ... and so many provide different properties. If I had to narrow it down to only 5 they would be as follows, in no particular order: Meadowfoam Oil, Avocado Oil, Shea Butter, Camellia Oil, Sandalwood Essential Oil.
Kelley: Meadowfoam is one that I have not worked with yet. Why is it one of your top 5?
Lezlee: It's a light oil .. fantastic in soaps and lotions ... heck even straight up on your skin you just can't beat it. Light in color, odorless, resistant to oxidation and primarily grown in the United States. Do I need to state more to convince you, Kelley?
Kelley: Not at all. I have heard many great things over the years about MeadowFoam Oil and really need to try it now. What are your favorite products to make?
Lezlee: I most enjoy making lotions, creams and serums. In my opinion they are the most satisfying to formulate.
Kelley: I should have guessed that one would be lotions. You make the best lotions ever! Between you and my friend, Sue Harris, I don't need to make lotion! What serums do you make and sell at Simple Soothings?
Lezlee: I feel fortunate that we have been very successful in wholesaling our lotions by the gallon to other crafters. It's been a win-win for all! At this point in time we don't sell any serums. I find I'm frequently working on something, however. A serum for a mosquito bite or for cuticle care.
Kelley: In your part of the country, Nebraska, I am sure a Mosquito Bite Serum would be greatly appreciated by your customers.
Lezlee: Anything to help alleviate the itching is always a good thing.
Kelley: Being that my nails grow very long naturally, I would be very interested in your Cuticle Care Serum when you market it.
Lezlee: I'll be sure to let you know if ever we decide to put it up for sale. We always make sure we do adequate testing first. It's a long road between inspiration, development and final market. Many ideas don't make it to the end. The process is very fun though!
Kelley: I agree. I am always willing to be a tester guinea pig for soap and toiletry artisans.
Brown Sugar Polish. When I asked you to make a batch for me for my son and daughter's bridal party gifts 4 years ago (can you believe that?), I was thrilled! The girls LOVED it and it was a great compliment for the other products I made for them. If you remember, one of the bridal party girls actually took a huge bite of it!! I about passed out!
Lezlee: I do remember that! It's been 4 years .. wow! I love the Brown Sugar Polish too. It's always in my shower. We make each batch of Brown Sugar Polish when it's ordered so it's as fresh as can be. Plus, since we do this, we can custom formulate the fragrance if the customer wishes us to. I make a bit extra on each batch so that I personally never run out.
Kelley: Well...I can tell you, the original formulation with Simple Soothings' FABULOUS, Oatmeal Milk and Honey is fantastic! I was also so pleased that you were willing to use Soapies Supplies' Oatmeal, Milk and Honey Fragrance Oil for my event project. Like I said...The Brown Sugar Polish was a great hit...Good enough to eat, although I don't recommend it!
Lezlee: I don't recommend it either. Yuck!
Kelley: What would you say your best and top-selling products, soap and toiletries, are and why do you think they sell so well?
Lezlee: For the retail side of our business, our top selling products are always the Brown Sugar Polish and lotions. The soaps sell well, too .. but they would be third in line. I find once customers try our Brown Sugar Polish and lotions they see a difference in how they feel .. and therefore the value in them. Our products are reasonably priced but certainly higher than a mass produced similar type product. Many customers have told us that there is no comparison between mass produced and Simple Soothings. It's like comparing Apples and Oranges.
Kelley: Very nice! Always good to have customer feedback...especially such great customer feedback.
In percentages, what percent of your business makes up research and development and what percent makes up the making of product on a daily or weekly basis?
Lezlee: These days we do very little new research and development. Most of our days are spent making existing products. In a perfect world I would hire someone to come in and make our products while I put on my lab coat to "play". At least 2 times a year I do spend a week or two only formulating products and no production. It's what gets my creative juices flowing. A part of our business is also custom formulating for other customers. I jump up and down when I get those requests. I love, love, love that!
Kelley: Awesome! Where do most of your ideas come from? Customer requests, online research, following industry trends?
Lezlee: All of the above! Sometimes I'll notice a trend and be intrigued. I very rarely duplicate but often try to make it even better.
Kelley: Can you tell me what you are working on now for a new product or what is next on your creative list?
Lezlee: My 10 year old Braden came up with a new fragrance oil blend. We will be making a new soap to be added to the Simple Soothings line in the near future. We need to get this made and up for sale soon. He's very creative and fun to be around. Braden will also be sharing a bit of the profits on the sale of this product. He's very excited!
Kelley: Really?? So you have a little formulator in your midst? That is GREAT!! Braden is a great kid for sure.
Lezlee: It's a great lesson for him on business. What it takes to come up with an idea and see it through. Also, how much a product costs, how you come up with the retail price and how much your actual profit is. He always used to think if I sold an item for $8.00 that I made $8.00. It doesn't quite work that way, does it. I don't see him going into business for himself at this point but these lessons will be helpful no matter what his profession in the future.
Kelley: By the way, I just had a customer pick up an order this morning who is pregnant with her first baby....A little boy she is naming...BRADEN!!!
Kelley: Regarding your Fragrance Oil FastBuys, where can they be found and purchased by our readers as I know they are not available on your http://www.simplesoothings.com/ site?
Lezlee: Our fragrance oils are only available during our FO Fast Buys. We run these Fast Buys every 6 weeks and rotate our fragrance oil selections as needed. The best way to be involved is to join our YahooGroups list so you can be kept up to date as to what we're offering and when. Also all members receive special discounts too. Your readers can go to www.YahooGroups.com and do a search under FOFastBuys or email me privately and I'll get them set up.
Kelley: Great! I am sure our readers will be seeking you out for that! What is something you have always wanted to include in your product line but haven’t had the chance to do yet?
Lezlee: I have made candles and potpourris as a custom order for customers and given them as gifts to friends. I think this would be a great addition to our product line. So many ideas, so little time.
Kelley: How big of a role does advertising play in your business and what mediums do you utilize?
Lezlee: Honestly, most of our business comes to us via word of mouth. In the beginning we did quite a few large holiday markets but stopped 3+ years ago. I miss doing them but not all the set up and tear down. I think doing the markets really got our name out in the local market. We also are very generous with our local non-profit organizations. For instance, we donate soaps to the local women's shelter and very rarely turn down an offer to donate a gift basket or gift certificate for a raffle or give away. We have never paid for advertising.
Kelley: Word of mouth and generosity for groups and organizations in need are probably the best advertising money cannot buy.
Your husband, Brian, makes the best Wood Molds and Soap Cutter on the market. Soapies is thrilled to be your exclusive distributor. What started Brian on that quest?
Lezlee: Necessity. I needed some molds and he built them for me. Many years ago we held Nebraska Soap Gatherings and folks would come to the house and hang out over the weekend. My soapmaking friends then wanted Brian to build molds for them too. The cutter followed soon after. We are thrilled that you distribute these for us. Soapies has been able to expand our customer base on these items much wider than we could have. It's his hobby and allows him to buy more woodworking equipment. He is a computer engineer in "real life". I can see him building furniture or something similar in retirement.
Kelley: Ohhhh...I bet he could. I have seen pictures of the hutch he made for you...BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!
I know you do a lot of work for the school your son attends. What rewards do you gain from that work?
Lezlee: My son is now going into 5th Grade next week. He is our only child and when he started Kindergarten I was a volunteer in his room. I then started helping out in other areas of his school and eventually took on a RTI group on a volunteer basis (Reading Intervention). I loved it! Reading is a passion of mine and to see these kids struggle and then finally become more proficient was hugely rewarding! I then started as a substitute working with Special Education kids.
I really found that I adored "my" kids. When a permanent full time position came up in the Fall of 2009 I didn't take it. There was no way that I could work full time and successfully run Simple Soothings (plus being a Wife and Mother) so I turned it down. They didn't fill the position for several weeks. Then I thought to ask if this could be a job share position. There was another ParaEduator at the school who also wanted to work part time. I work the schedule M-T-W and she works the other two days. It's perfect.
Kelley: That is so awesome!
Lezlee: It's so highly rewarding! The kids give me as much .. if not more .. than I give to them. I go back next week. Can't wait to hear what all they did over the summer. It brings me great joy! Thanks for asking about this, Kelley.
Kelley: I know from our talks how much it means to you...My pleasure!
Lezlee: I agree! I'm a big believer in giving back to others.
Kelley: Where do you see yourself, professionally, in 5 years?
Lezlee: This is a great but difficult question. I honestly don't know. Whatever it is I know it'll be fun! Life is too short to not have fun. Not the kind of answer you're looking for, I know. It's the best I can give you at this point.
Kelley: Any true answer is the answer I am looking for and I think that is a great answer! What is something that you really want our readers to know about you, personally, or about your product line?
Lezlee: I think that your readers really got an inside peek into my life during this interview. I enjoy meeting new people .. customers, crafters and competitors alike. I'm always open to helping others if I can. When we help each other we all benefit in some way.
Kelley: That is good to know. So many of us would not be the soap makers or formulators that we are without the help, guidance and expertise we have richly gained from mentors.
Lezlee, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. It was a great pleasure on my part to be able to interview a great friend, fellow supplier and mentor. I appreciate you more than you will ever know! Great success and good fortune in your endeavors…I will always be here anytime and anywhere…Please thank Braden for me for being such a patient guy while I stole his mom away for this interview. Tell him to watch the mail for a little surprise from his Auntie Princess Kelley!
Lezlee: Ohhh .. he'll be excited to receive a surprise from you! This interview was fun .. thanks for asking me! You have been not only a mentor to me but a trusted friend, as well. Take GOOD Care, my friend...
~ This concludes the Soapies Blog Interview with Lezlee Williams ~
Simple Soothings is located in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lezlee has been in business over 10 years and has a target market for Retail - Primarily 30-50 year old women. Wholesale finished product - Spas and Gift Stores across the U.S. Wholesale bulk - Handmade lotions and spa products for repackaging and resale. Also high quality fragrance oils for other soapmakers and chandlers.
Click to visit Simple Soothings for both retail and Wholesale sales.
Lezlee Williams, Owner