Hello readers!! I am so excited to share with you the very first Author and Artisan Interview on Soapies Blog. I interviewed Amy Kalinchuk ~ Old Crone's on August 7, 2009. I hope you all enjoy it...
Of course, I don't sell snake oil, but I do sell under a tent, out in the open. At that time, I didn't know I would be selling at farmer's markets, but that's how it worked out.
Kelley: I like that. Amy, what drives you in business?
Amy Kalinchuk: Making money! I think that is what should drive anyone in a business. I do enjoy making high-quality products; that is what helps a customer to come back, in the end. When I began selling, I needed to do so because my husband was staying home to raise our daughter. I had to make more money than a public school teacher's salary allows, so selling soap was the way to go. It is profitable, and allows us to live without going into debt each month by using credit cards.
I have observed discussions online about this question. I think if a person in business doesn't focus on keeping costs down and pricing things appropriately, it's going to be bad for that business. It's important to remember that business is, ultimately, about making money.
Kelley: So you are completely supporting your family on your own with your business?
Amy Kalinchuk: No, I am not supporting my family with the soap. I am a public school teacher. The soap is a supplement.
Kelley: I know you are a published eBook author (your eBooks are also sold by Soapies). What inspired your to write both, “Making Soap In Your Own Kitchen” and “Best Soap Recipes: The Companion to Making Soap In Your Own Kitchen”
Amy Kalinchuk: One small, teeny weeny thing inspired me to write my first book. When I was teaching myself to make soap, I could NOT for the life of me find a proper photo of trace. None of the books described exactly what trace looks like. So, I decided to write a book and include photographs of every step in soap making, including trace. I essentially wrote the book that I wished I could have read when I was learning. I knew I wanted to publish it as an ebook, so I included as many photos as I thought could possibly be needed.
The second book came by request. I started getting emails from the folks who bought my first book, asking for recipes and Internet suppliers. Listening to customers is always a good idea in business. The book has charts with oil properties, information about formulating recipes, and many time-tested soap recipes.
Kelley: I really have to agree with you there on the lack of info out there that, truly, explains trace. I remember being scared to death of Cold Process because most writings were either terrifying or lacking necessary info to make you feel confident to try it.
Amy Kalinchuk: At the time when I was learning, there weren't a lot of current books available. I had to do my own research online to supplement the book info.
Kelley: It is always a good thing to have customer requests...Your eBooks are fabulous and I am so glad they asked you to write more!
Amy Kalinchuk: Some things in those old books are now obsolete, as well. I recommend that folks read books published after 1997 (after the Internet was established), because those books should have at least the information about using a stick blender.
Kelley: That is a very good point.
Amy Kalinchuk: Yes, I love when my customers email me! My new book needs to come out soon or they are going to riot.
Kelley: I might be leading that RIOT!
Kelley: Awesome!! So, where do you see yourself, professionally, in 5 years?
Amy Kalinchuk: In five years, I hope to have several more books written. I am also working on a publishing project for craft ebooks. Stay tuned for that! It's hard to say where a business will be in five years, but I have made the conscious decision to remain small with the soap right now. I don't actively seek out wholesale opportunities, but if an easy one falls into my lap, I'll probably take it. I think it is important to be reflective about my business and how it affects my life, and make decisions based on what is best for my life overall. For now, it means selling mostly retail, and I predict that will continue for a while.
Within the next year, I should have published the second editions of “Making Soap In Your Own Kitchen” and “Best Soap Recipes”. The first book needs reformatting, and the second book needs to have the supplier list updated. I should update that book every year or two, I think.
Kelley: What can you tell us about the new books you are working on or are thinking about for release?
Amy Kalinchuk: The books in my mind right now, to be published within the next five years, include: Making Balms and Butters; Making Liquid Soap; and Starting and Running a Profitable Soap Business. All of these titles are works in progress.
Kelley: WOW! Those titles are very intriguing! I cannot wait to see them!
Amy Kalinchuk: We'll see how they turn out. I am working on the Balms and Butters book right now.
Kelley: If your first two eBooks are any indication, they will be great! What would be your 5 favorite ingredients to work with?
Amy Kalinchuk: Jojoba Oil, Avocado Oil, Goat Milk, Lavender Essential Oil and Olive Oil. That's a hard question to answer, so I had a look at my recipes to see what I use the most.
Kelley: Aaahhh...that is a great way to find the answer to that question! That leads me to my next question: What are your favorite products to make?
Amy Kalinchuk: I most enjoy making soap, but recently I have begun to enjoy bath fizzies a lot. That's partly because my daughter enjoys them so much, and she loves to clean up afterward--she pulls a chair up to the sink, and fills the tub with water to watch it all fizz. She's a great helper during clean-up!
Kelley: That is adorable. How old is she?
Amy Kalinchuk: She's 6. She will be in first grade this school year.
Kelley: WOW...and a budding soaper already. What would you say your best and top-selling products are and why do you think they sell so well?
Amy Kalinchuk: My best-selling soap overall is Lavender Lemon Goat Milk Soap. The scent is amazing, which is what sells it initially. Folks come back because they enjoy using it--that's what they tell me, anyway.
My goat milk soaps sell well, overall. My liquid soap is starting to catch on, too. I just started selling liquid soap last year.
Kelley: That sounds like a gorgeous bar. I have not tried working with goat milk yet. What special technique do you find works best for you to avoid scorching?
Amy Kalinchuk: I usually add frozen, slushy goat milk at light trace. Recently, I have been adding the slush to the liquid oils, and blending that in well, before adding it to the whole mix. For some reason, that technique works just as well.
I think the oils sort of "buffer" the milk particles, so they don't scorch. This is just speculation on my part. If something works, I do it. If it doesn't work, I don't. Real scientific, right?
Kelley: As they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" I really want to try my hand at goat milk soap.
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?
Amy Kalinchuk: In the beginning, it was about 80% research and development, and 20% production. I would say it's now 90% production, and 10% R & D. This seems natural to me, since I've been doing this for a while, and my line is relatively established. I add a couple new products each year, and sometimes delete a product.
Kelley: That makes total sense. When do you find the time to write?
Amy Kalinchuk: Um....I don't know? I really don't know. I have to make time to write. This summer I haven't written as much as I thought I should, but I spent a lot of time with my daughter. I write when I have a free moment. Sometimes I write on my lunch hour at school, other times I'll write for a bit if my daughter goes to bed early. I just get it done when I can.
Kelley: In this hectic age, I think we all tend to "steal moments" like that.
Amy Kalinchuk: I love selling at the farmer's market! I love how ancient it is: someone sets up a booth, and folks stroll by, and buy your stuff or they don't. It's the oldest form of commerce, and it's all dependent on personal interaction. I suppose that's getting a bit philosophical about it, but talking with people at the market, and being part of that community is one reason I enjoy that sort of selling so much.
Kelley: I never thought of it that way but I totally agree!
Amy Kalinchuk: I recommend it to everyone who thinks they want to be in business, really. So many people are afraid to talk to others. If you can train yourself to talk easily with strangers, I think it benefits your business overall. And I'm talking about any kind of business, not just selling soap. If you aren't selling, go to a farmer's market and talk to the vendors, and observe them. Observe their spiel, and how they do it. It may help you to get over your fear.
Looky me, I'm a "face your fears" guru.
Kelley: You know, you brought up a very good point. One of my pet peeves is that when I go garage saling (I am an avid garage saler) or I go to a Farmer's Market and I am ignored by the person selling. Unless I REALLY want something they have, I refuse to buy from them. Greeting with a simple "hello" speaks volumes to me and I cannot believe I am alone in that.
Amy Kalinchuk: Talking with people is key to sales. And it doesn't have to be about the products necessarily. A friendly, "good morning" is a great start.
Kelley: Absolutely! Do you feel that between your site sales and your market sales that one is more profitable than the other or do they go hand-in-hand nicely and compliment each other?
Amy Kalinchuk: They are both profitable.
My farmer's market sales are definitely higher than the web sales, during the market season. When the markets are over, and through December, my online sales increase. They do complement each other in this way. The slow time for the whole year is from January through April, I find. I usually run a sale for my newsletter list sometime in February, to try and alleviate that problem.
Kelley: That sounds like a great marketing strategy. We always have to be thinking ahead in business in order to be ahead in business...Right? That is my new slogan!
Amy Kalinchuk: Trying to think ahead is a problem for me. I take notes all the time, and then implement the strategies the next year. Live and learn. Roll with it - it's a good one.
Kelley: That sounds like a solid plan as you will always have those notes to refer back to. Where do most of your ideas for products come from?
Amy Kalinchuk: Most new ideas come from my customers. The Lavender Lemon soap mentioned earlier was a suggestion from a customer. I had asked my newsletter list to let me know what scents they thought would be good. That one was a particularly fortuitous suggestion. Another suggestion from a customer was a Chai goat milk soap. That one also sells well. I am formulating a Lavender Vanilla Oatmeal soap, because I've heard enough requests for it over the past few months
Kelley: Listening to what the customer wants and/or needs is key. Can you tell me what you are working on now for a new product or eBook?
Amy Kalinchuk: The Lavender Vanilla Oatmeal soap is shaping up to include Peru Balsam. I am figuring out percentages for that scent to come through. I don't think it will be a goat milk soap--I like to create products that will appeal to both vegans and vegetarians, as that's my selling niche.
My new ebook, “Making Balms and Butters”, is shaping up. I took the photos for the "Whipped Shea Butter" section just the other day. I would like it to be finished before October, but we'll see. Sometimes it's hard to predict when I will be able to finish a book.
Kelley: I cannot wait to read it. My son and daughter, Garret and Jackie, just told us that they are 5.5 weeks pregnant (as of this posting 17 weeks) so I could really use your eBook on balms!
Amy Kalinchuk: Congratulations! That is exciting.
Kelley: Thanks so much! It will be our first grandbabie that is not a Chihuahua!
Amy Kalinchuk: I guess I'd better get moving on that book, then.
Kelley: Yes...they are soooo precious to us...truly.
What is something you have always wanted to include in your product line but haven’t had the chance to do yet?
Amy Kalinchuk: It's not that I don't have the chance, but my selling niche prevents me from selling certain things. The other day, I saw little cubes of sugar scrub that were made with melt-and-pour soap, and I thought they were too cute! But my products are all handmade by me, from scratch, so that sort of thing won't fit into my niche. I can always make those sorts of things for myself, of course, which is what I do when I'm really inspired.
I have thought of expanding my line to include milk bath, but haven't had the time to do the research.
Kelley: How big of a role does advertising play in your business and what mediums do you utilize?
Amy Kalinchuk: My email newsletter list is the best form of advertising I've found. I don't send too many newsletters, but I always get sales when I do. I have a Google Adwords campaign for my ebooks, and that does work. Participation in soaping groups online also helps. Most of my advertising is in the form of social networking: Facebook (Amy Kalinchuk), Twitter (soapcrone), and online groups and forums.
Kelley: Facebook and Twitter are fabulous forms of marketing as well as newsletters or blogs...interviews are good, too!
Amy Kalinchuk: Yes, they are!
Kelley: What do you do in your “off-time” for FUN?
Amy Kalinchuk: "Off time?" What is this concept? I'm a public school teacher. My daughter is in grade school, and I run a soap business and a publishing business. If I have extra time, I usually sit and stare in a daze, or I sleep. During the summers I have more time free, during which I garden, teach my daughter to swim, and watch bad TV. I don't watch any TV during the school year, so I catch up during the summer.
Kelley: Spending time with our children is simply the best for sure! Amy, what would you like our readers to know about you personally or professionally?
Amy Kalinchuk: Professionally, there are two things I'd like folks to know. One, I will be presenting at the Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild national conference in Denver, Colorado, on April 30-May 2, 2010. Hooray! I'm very excited to meet people who I only know online or through my book sales. That is going to be a lot of fun, and I encourage folks to attend.
Second, writing and publishing have become a fun aspect of my professional life. I am working on a website in which I will publish photographed craft tutorials in ebook format. I think it will be very popular, and I'd love to hear about ideas for books that readers would like to see there. Also, if there are folks who would like to write an ebook and have it published through the site, I would encourage contact about that.
Personally, I'd like folks to know that I appreciate their support, always. I have received such good feedback during my years as a soap maker and an author. It's very heartening, and I'd like folks to know that I appreciate it all - it's a great feeling.
Kelley: Awesome! I am on the edge of my seat for the craft tutorial site!
Amy Kalinchuk: Me, too! My web guy is creating it right now.
Click to visit Olde Crone's Bewitching Bath Soap for Retail Sales.
Amy Kalinchuk, Owner