Archive for the ‘Business Related Questions’ Category

handcrafted goat milk soap www.anniesgoathill.com

As a small business we are very conscious of our budget.  Every penny counts.  Every minute counts.

I love soap, however, I am a business owner who makes soap and skin care products when production time is blocked off on the Google Calendar (far from daily).  My day is systematic.  Automatic.  8 hours a day.

From time to time we stop and look at our base soaps.  Our base soaps are those that sell well, favorites, speciality soaps from Annie’s Goat Hill.  We evaluate how well they sell, how many people purchase the soaps, and then we decide which soaps will remain on the base list, and we decide which soaps will be bumped off.

Hypothetically, instead of purchasing 15 gallons of fragrance or essential oils in a given period of time, if the soap line is not kept in-check, the business-owner stretches themselves out with 100’s of smaller bottles (that are much more expensive per ounce) that they may only use once, or never again.  Tracking all of the soap-making supplies becomes a nightmare.  I need not say more.

There’s the inside scoop to our decision-making process.

By the way, if you do want a particular type of soap that we no longer carry, just drop me an email.  I’ll quote you a price for a custom loaf of soap.

Email:  anniesgoathill@gmail.com

Annie’s Goat Hill Handcrafted Soaps – Smell and Feel the Goodness

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A thin white film on soap can occur for many different reasons.  Complete a Google search, you will a bucket-load of (legitimate) causes:  goat milk, ash (lye), air, fragrance PH not geared towards the soap type.

What you do not want to see in a bar of soap:  large white blotches, white crumbly patches, large seeping holes, or a dry and delicate soap that crumbles easily.  All of these things usually indicate a problem with sodium hydroxide (lye) either not mixed properly in a formula of soap, or included at too high of a percentage.  Throw the soap away! Do not use it!

A thin white film on the outer surface of soap is not harmful.   Covering a freshly poured batch of soap with plastic wrap for 24-48 hours normally prevents the white film.  There are fragrances, essential oils, and soap formulas that are more reactive to air, and despite the soap maker’s best handling procedures, a thin white film can develop on the hardened soap (even after it hits the consumer’s soap dish).

When working with natural base ingredients, soap can be tricky, especially when goat milk is a part of the formula.  Milk that is produced from a herd of goats fed on grass, hay, and grain differs in both fat and sugar content from season to season.  For this reason, many of us treasure the subtle differences in our soaps.  It simply reflects handmade-from-scratch!

Annie’s Goat Hill Handcrafted Soaps – Smell and Feel the Goodness!

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Our soapy journey in life has lead us through a myriad of paths, all good, all fun! Some of the paths have been challenging, with much learning and wisdom absorbed along the way (with more to come, no doubt).  Some of the paths have more closely resembled a roller coaster track with ups, downs, and even loops that have tried to throw us off.  The passion for handcrafting soap has stuck like good glue, never leaving our side.

My personal interest in soap is a life-long one, shared via a September 2009 blog post, how my interest in soap began.

8 years ago we began our hands-on handcrafted soap experience.

We started with an idea for a soap mold, and a simple soap recipe, that included 3 main ingredients, palm, coconut and olive oils, evenly fractioned into thirds.  Distilled water was our liquid (no goat milk at that point).

There we stood, in our newly created soap-making space in our formerly empty basement, concocting our first batch of soap.  I was nervous, he admittedly was not.

The next day we had soap! Our glorious soap stuck to the mold badly and it was “ashy” around the corners.  Onwards we went, experimenting and seeking results.

We went through many soap mold designs, my husband created each one on his own, and we dived into several changes to our basic soap recipe, to eventually include shea butter, before we presented our soap to customers for resale.

Through the 8 year journey we began raising goats, and eventually dairy goats, with the reality finally hitting us that we should include our own milk in our soap.  It was a major turning point! By the way, farming is not easy.  It can be a dirty job, one that is completed 7 days a week, on a set schedule, 365 days a year.  Our love for animals has kept us stead-fast in that arena.

What have we learned through our soapy journey?

  • Nothing is constant, expect change.
  • A good idea can be a great one, but there is always room for change.  Always know when to let go, and always know when (and what) to pick up.
  • Good soap does not occur without challenges.  I remember the day I called several suppliers to “ask the expert” about sloppy soaping results that we were experiencing.  The answer ended up being a simple one.  But, guess what? We were 7 years into our journey and still needed to ask! We always will, at some point or another!
  • I am careful with the soap advise that I dispense.  Why? the learning curve makes your own product unique.  When you dig for ideas when creating your own special product for 8 months (or a year…), and then experience the end result, it is yours, and yours alone! You’ve paid well for it, with your own time, while learning as you go.  It is worth the effort!
  • Select mentors, more than one.  Follow.  Watch.  Listen.  Listen well!
  • Do not make numerous business or product changes that will lead to an inventory that you may be stuck with.  Creative is one thing – but it needs to be kept under a seat belt.  Baby steps, one product at a time, leads to success.
  • Never say never.  If a well-versed business leader in your industry says, “This is what works…this is what does not work,” do not write their advice off.  What they say may not exactly fit into your business scheme, but I will guarantee you it will eventually fit in, even at a small level.
  • Follow your own path.  Write your own words.  If you are not creative today, it will come later when you are feeling passionate about your work.  I remember thinking our soaps were ugly, plain, and not so colorful.  So! There is our brand, farm-fresh, simple, yet one luxurious item in the bath!

We like it.

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The question, “Do you offer free samples?,” is a frequent inquiry.

In the past, we did send free samples with each order, until we realized how expensive it was for our company.

In this economy, with supply prices increasing frequently, our best bet is to only offer free samples when a purchase is made.

This is the reply we gave to our most recent inquiry (today):

Due to the cost of packaging, shipping, and product manufacturing – to keep prices as low as possible for our customers, we do not offer free samples.  Upon request, we do offer samples with purchases.

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Occasionally someone asks us if we prefer refined shea butter over “raw” shea butter in our soaps and lotions.   Hands down, we feel it is a personal choice. 

Refined shea butter generally is white in color with no odor.  When desiring a product that has no hint of shea butter odor at all, refined shea butter is a good choice.  With our formulas, however, refined shea butter has a tendency to leave “grains” in the products.  Shea butter grains are not a bad thing, they do melt upon contact with skin.   To prevent shea butter grains in a product, when the shea butter is heated or melted, we suggest holding the shea butter at a temperature of 160-170 degrees before it is added to a product formula. 

Some raw shea butters have a stronger natural aroma than others.  Shea butter that has a very strong odor can indicate a lack of freshness.  A good shea butter, when packaged in an air tight container, in a cool environment, can remain fresh for nearly 2 years.  Shea butter exposed to extreme heat, and stored improperly, can develop a very strong odor and can discolor.

Poor quality ingredients, especially shea butter, can make a significant difference in the outcome of a product.   My advice:  shop around, find the shea butter that works for your products (refined or raw), and then stick with it!

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Troubleshooting Handcrafted Soap

You might be asking yourself what a soap doctor is.

Can you visualize a soap doctor? She/he would be wearing a white lab coat while checking the soap for thickness, hardness, lastability (is that a word?), or mildness.

Humor aside, soapmakers do become soap doctors.

What happens when a batch of soap doesn’t turn out as expected? The soap doctor steps in to diagnose the cause. 

In this case, a soap bar with a circular pattern (or “ring”)  inside, tells me that the room temperature when the newly made soap was poured into the mold was very cool and that the soap was not well insulated.

Sometimes the soap inside the ring is less solid, it can be crumbly.  The appearance of a ringed pattern in soap does not mean it cannot be used for bathing.  Rings can be a cosmetic type of thing, not affecting the stability or use of the soap at all.  As I prefer to do, usable (slightly flawed) soap can even be sold at a discount – with explanation, as it isn’t grade A+ soap.   Botched soap can also be donated to the Clean The World foundation, www.cleantheworld.org

P.S. Additional blog posts on troubleshooting to follow! Imperfect soap happens.

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I received an outstanding question from a new customer, “Are your lotions unscented or fragrance free?”

I have always considered unscented and fragrance free to be one in the same.

This is the reason I love questions.  Questions are informative to myself and my business, and the person that asks the questions always learns.

The customer explained that many products on the market are listed as fragrance free but actually have a fragrance or chemical added to eliminate the naturally occurring odor of the ingredients themselves.

My fragrance free goat milk lotions are unscented.

I do not attempt to mask the naturally occurring scent of the ingredients in my fragrance free (no fragrance added) goat milk lotions.  For example, shea butter (unrefined and as organic as possible) has a particular natural odor that can make its way through a product.  Shea butter is so very beneficial.  I do not try to cover it up.  The statement, “It is what it is,” applies very well here.

As always, I appreciate your outstanding questions!

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I feel a sense of satisfaction when I can assist a customer one-on-one with their product needs and wants.

Recently, a customer sent a random email asking if I could make a soap for her complexion.  She named off the essential oils and clay that she felt would be good in the soap.  I tested her suggested essential oil blend on a strip later that day.  It worked perfectly. 

I sent a response to the customer, telling her that I agreed with her facial soap suggestion, and that the combination of the essential oils was a “go.” 

The customer responded to the email, “Oh my gosh, you are actually going to do this? I didn’t really think you would!” Of course I would, and I do, and I will. 

I delight in operating a small enough business to make lotions and whipped shea butter fresh to order.  Those particular products are not limited to the fragrances listed in the online store.  If a customer asks me for a particular fragrance in her products, and if I have it on hand, I will scent their products as they wish.

One small reminder, safety first.  If only 4 drops of an essential oil can safely be added to 1 ounce of product, that is what is added.  If a fragrance is listed at a safety level of 10% by the supplier/manufacturer, that is the maximum I add to a product.

I appreciate questions and comments.  Shoot them at me!

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I receive this great question now and then, does goat milk soap expire?

Comments that have been received:

  • The soap has milk in it so it has to deteriorate over a period of time.
  • Goat milk soap has a shelf life between 1-6 months.
  • Goat milk soap softens as it ages.

In actuality, goat milk soaps age beautifully.   

A preservative is not needed in goat milk soap.  If the soap has been made properly, cured and then stored properly, it will not “go bad.” 

Moisture in soap does continue to evaporate after the initial curing period of 4-6 weeks, however, this does not mean it is no longer good for your skin.  In general, the soap will hold the same properties, except it will weigh less, regardless of how long it is in stock.  The soap will continue to harden over a period of time, which actually makes for a longer lasting bar.  I prefer to sell soap that has some age behind it, but demand takes first choice.

Regarding my discounted soaps:  Any soap that I sell that is not acceptable because it is too small, or the color or fragrance is not right, or if anything is wrong with the soap other than it not being safe (if it is not mild or mixed properly), is discounted and the description of the soap in my online store will say why it is discounted.  Age is not a factor in discounting soap, unless it simply does not sell.  For example:  Lily Of The Valley goat milk soap does not smell (to me) similar to Lily Of The Valley.  There is nothing wrong with the soap otherwise.  I found it difficult to accurately describe the floral scent, so I discounted the perfectly good goat milk soap.

Your questions are appreciated, and please keep them coming!

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I recently received a question from a fellow soap maker that asked about graininess in products that contain shea butter. From time to time I have experienced shea butter grains in a lotion, cream, or whipped shea butter product myself.

Research the shea butter grains issue on the internet and you will find a plethora of explanations:
-used unrefined shea butter in product
-used refined shea butter in product
-heated the shea butter to an excessive temperature and then cooled it too quickly
-used shea butter that was too old in product
-used shea butter that had gone through a temperature change (too hot or too cold in shipment)

I get best results from unrefined shea butter (not bleached or deodorized). I also never overheat the shea (not to exceed 150 degrees). Heat it only enough to allow it to begin to melt, then remove it from the heat source.

When I produce products that contain shea butter I always watch for the tell-tale signs of shea butter grains. Watch the sides of the mixing container, for example. Grains definitely like to cling there. What do I do when a product turns out grainy? I use it myself, or a friend gets to use it. The thing is, an occasional shea butter grain is going to happen. It may look and feel strange, but it does indeed melt on contact. Normally, though, where there is one grain, there are a lot more, and the product doesn’t fit into the creamy or smooth category when it feels like it has small particles in it.

I hope this helped with your question. I am sure there are a lot of explanations, and there definitely is a lot of conflicting information on the internet to sift through. This post outlines what works for me.

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