This guest post is by Penny Pincher and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.
I made 50 lbs of various kinds of soap to sell one year, it being sort of the beginning of my soap “career” the packaging wasn’t the best and it got the Dreaded Orange Spots after a while (too much fat), but I did a cost analysis in the beginning and decided that I was breaking even on $2 a bar (including my labor). I was charging $5 a bar online (nobody bought except a relative) and $3 a bar (they were 5 oz) at festivals where I was also a performer as well.
Sometimes charging more will help you sell more. It depends on perceived value. You can test your market a little at different price points. Another thing to consider is your labor making the soap AND your labor selling the soap, driving to festivals etc. should inform the price. (which is why wholesale is cheaper)
Sometimes less packaging is more. You can get some kind of corrugated looking craft paper that is brown, and wrap a one-inch wide strip around each bar of soap, with a sticker on it – or maybe some jute string and a stiff paper tag. It’ll look “natural” which goes with the theme of homemade soap. My wrappers were photocopies on photocopy paper, and I did take time to make interesting old fashioned looking logos, but they were too thin and got ratty fast. If I were going to do it again, I now know a printer and they can do coated paper. Or I could go the jute string way and put the printing on the paper bags I’d get to put them in when I made a sale. There are also fancy packaging catalogs you can order stuff like clear plastic boxes or fancy cellophane but you’re going to add a ton onto the cost of your wares doing that, if you’re trying to keep the price down. Selling to an upscale boutique market, you might want fancy packaging.
If you’re going to make soap in a box and cut bars off it, there are systems you can buy that are like a mold and cutter all in one, the higher end ones are over $500 but they’ll handle a lot of volume. But in the beginning you won’t have a lot of volume. What I did was made a big shallow wooden box with one side on hinges, lined it with a trash bag, poured soap into it, then I took a box saw the next day and a tape measure, marked the soap at premeasured intervals, and then pressed straight down with the saw. It made a sort of look where the top of the soap was a little lumpy, the bottom looked like crinkled plastic, and the sides had small grooves in them. So I needed a paper sleeve for my soap. I’ve seen all kinds of ways to cut bars – you can build smaller molds with a sort of soap guillotine in them and grooves to guide where it should go, or you can just cut it like I did, with a big knife or saw. You can use PVC gutter pipe, and something to slick up the sides, then push the soap out and it’ll have neat scalloped edges. (just don’t use aluminum molds) Or you can invest in individual molds. I think that is a waste of money though. You’re going to need a ton of them if you use individual molds.
Practice for a couple months making soap, getting fast at it, and then store it and use it a while to make sure your recipe isn’t too superfatted, doesn’t stay slimy when people use it, etc. I was superfatting by almost 10% and that was too much, keep it down around 5% and you’ll be fine vis a vis the orange spots. Keep in mind the fragrance oils will add to the fat (even though they’re technically an alcohol of sorts, if you’re into chemistry. Just don’t tell the post office that, it’ll confuse them.)
Lard is way cheaper than vegetable oils and in my opinion makes a better soap. But some hippies and yuppies, which might be your customer base, don’t want anything to do with soap made from animals. I guess you could make it both ways. I made my soap with about half lard and half vege oils and sold it to country folk who generally wanted an “old fashion lye soap” experience. I ended up getting an old wash tub to use as a display, and I taped a price list to a washboard that I stuck behind the soap.
If your recipe is tried and true, I suggest you make some soap now and it’ll be ready to sell by December 5 or so. You might make some money off the holiday season. At that late date, you might not get a festival, but you might be able to shoehorn the stuff into someone else’s flea market booth or something.
You can use candle pigments for color. Vanillin turns soap brown. So don’t expect a white vanilla soap. Some people use herbs to color soap – there’s a lot of recipes out there. I’ve used cocoa, cinnamon and red palm oil for color before.
Lastly, fragrances are a fad thing and seasonal, so research what is hot.
This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:
- First Place winner will receive a Go Berkey Kit water filter valued at $150 and a copy of my book “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness ” and a copy of “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat“.
- Second Place: $150 gift certificate for Magtech Ammo.
- Third Place: $50 Cash.