Today, I have a wonderful interview with Stephenie Simmonds of Cypress Scents! She has some great insight into running a soap business. Be sure to check out her classes if you’re in Oklahoma!
Amanda: Tell us about how you got your start in soap making.
Stephenie: I had always been curious about soap making but I’m not one to step in and do something I’ve never done before. I finally found a friend that was as crazy as I was to try it with me. I watched YouTube videos and printed out tons of recipes, never running one through the lye calculators at all. We made them just before Thanksgiving so that we could give them as gifts. The rest is history!
Describe your first batch of soap. What do you remember about it?
I still have a bar from it! It was a FANTASTIC; Oatmeal, Milk and Honey. It was one of the best bars I have made, to this day. I still have the recipe! I might go back and make it again at some point, but will make sure to run it through a lye calculator first. There were 2 trips to the hardware store to buy more lye, and lots of stirring to try to get things cooled back down after we added the lye to the water. There was LOTS of laughing between us but we successfully made soap! Our molds were… get this… bread pans and muffin tins – not lined. Yep, you read this right – and no they weren’t stainless. *Hangs head in shame*
How would you describe your style of soap making?
Wow. This one is hard! It changes with time. Right now, my style is efficient and just trying to keep up. I like to play around with new scents off and on but stick with the best sellers mostly. I don’t particularly like trying new designs for the most part. I do like color and swirls though but they are simple. Most of my swirled varieties are in the pot swirls. They are pretty and easy to do.
Where do you find inspiration for the soap that you make?
Saponification Nation of course! That is primarily the only place I find inspiration these days! We have some seriously talented people in our group!
How has your soap making evolved from when you first started?
At first I was a “try-it”. Try this, try that, try this scent, try this method, try this new product. Try this new mold. Now I’m more about efficiency now. I don’t try new scents very often unless it comes highly recommended from a friend or a customer requests it. My process has moved more into the business aspect of it than the making aspect. I make a fun new technique every now and then.
Have you ever had any big-time soaping fails? What did you learn from it?
I have. Haven’t we all? I learned to run new recipes through a soap calculator. I learned that it’s not the end of the world to chunk a batch into the trash. I’m not very much into rebatching a messed up batch especially since I’m selling. I actually have 2 batches right now on the curing rack where I rushed through the batch and burned the goat milk to the point where it changed the scent. I’m still not quite sure what to do with those bars yet. Everybody says they smell great, but they just don’t smell how they are supposed to smell and what the customer is used to.
Ok, this is an add on. Since I have answered these questions, I had my worst soaping day ever. I bought these buckets to store my oils in them. Well, they are very thin walled. I thought I could be careful enough with them to not have problems. WRONG. I spilled several pounds of palm oil all over my floor. A few minutes later, I spilled lye/goat milk all over my wall, my floor, my product, my oils that were ready. It was a MESS. That’s what I get for trying to soap in a limited amount of time! I got all of that mess cleaned up and started over again. I made 3 beautiful large batches of soap. I was so proud of how they came out…only to look up and see my fragrance for one of them still on the counter.
SCREAM! Since there was no fragrance in it, it was still fluid enough to scoop out and add the fragrance to and recolor. It didn’t turn out near as pretty as it would have but I was able to save it thankfully. My batches came out just fine but it was a hectic day! They say things happen in 3’s. They certainly did with this soaping session!
What is your favorite soap to make for yourself?
I say that they are all my favorite. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite. I enjoy them all because if I didn’t enjoy using them, I suppose I would not make them. I suppose I would have to say my Milk and Honey though. Every time I go back to it, I fall in love all over again. It’s one of my best sellers.
Where do you soap? Do you soap in the kitchen or do you have a dedicated space?
I have a soap room! It used to be a billiard room when we first bought our house. It already had water run to it for a bar and was an easy swap for soaping. . My husband put a sink in for me this past year and it’s amazing! I struggle with neatness though. I’m not the neatest person in the world so it gets messy often and I have to reorganize it. Way more often than I care to admit.
How do you find time to balance your personal and soap life?
Still working on that. I have decided I want to work about 6 hours a day. I planned a schedule that is visible and on my wall of what to do in that 6 hours. I take a nap (I’m a big time napper) then do my household chores and farm chores after that. It doesn’t always work out that way, but I try.
When did you decide to turn soap making into a business? And what was the process?
Pretty much right away. The typical “you are good at this, you should open a business.” So I did. I know it’s not the right way to do things, but I did and never looked back. I started out on Etsy and then moved over to wordpress when I talked with Benjamin a couple of years ago. I’ve been doing big things since! In fact, while I’m writing this, a reporter for a larger local paper contacted me about doing a story about my business. I’m shaking now. Wow! I’m still evolving . Now I’m learning it isn’t so much your website (well it is, but….) or soap… but you MUST be good at marketing and analytics and all things related . It’s tough!
What was your biggest struggle during the process?
Marketing! I can make soap all day long. It’s the selling that’s hard for me… and the bookwork. I’ve learned that it’s in my best interest to farm those things out. I don’t spend as much money on new scents that aren’t tried and true for me or needless tools. Instead, I am throwing it into business support. I felt a change in my business the minute I came to terms with it.
What is your best-selling soap? Please tell us about it.
By far it is my charcoal facial bar. I came up with it with just an idea. I took a look at common essential oils (that I had in stock) and added the ones that had antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. People can’t get enough of it! It also has activated charcoal (which is a buzz word among people these days) and Himalayan Sea Salt.
As a surprise, I’ll include my oils here!
- Lavender 40/20 35%
- Tea Tree (high quality) 25%
- Peppermint 25%
- Rosemary 15%
How did you establish your product line and keep yourself limited to a manageable amount of varieties within that line?
This is SO hard to do and I spent many years bouncing around back and forth. I take it off the market if it’s not a bestseller but it never fails that that was somebody’s favorite. The way I’ve handled it is re-release it every now and then as a Limited Edition, or offer it as a special order if ordered by the loaf. Sometimes something didn’t sell well 2 years ago but people buy the heck out of it now.
Who is your all-time favorite supplier and why?
Mad Mica’s by far! I love their branding, the quotes and goodies that they send with the order. Everything is just spot on, including shipping. Takes me 2 days to get an order and I appreciate that oh so much!
What is your favorite mold and why?
My husband makes my molds for me out of wood. Of course those are my favorites! They come apart for easy removal of the soap. LOVE them!
Who are your favorite soap bloggers or YouTubers to binge on?
I don’t find the time much anymore to watch YouTubers but when I do, I always finding myself gravitating toward Missouri River Soap. I love her scent descriptions and her colors!
I have sooooo many on my list to watch though. SO many! Maybe I’ll catch up someday.
If you could make a batch of soap with anybody, who would it be and what kind of soap would you make?
My Great Grandma, (she was one of my favorite people), Saydee. My mom has an old cookbook of hers and on the inside cover, there is a recipe for soap in her handwriting. It has kerosene as an ingredient. It intrigued me and I wish I could make that with her.
What is the one ingredient for your soap that you can’t live without?
Well…LYE! Of course! Unless anybody knows a recipe for a lye free soap 😉
What advice do you have for those just getting into soap making?
Ask questions. Lots. Don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t sure of something. It’s better to ask than to do something and it not work. Become friends with your local soapers. We aren’t competitors, we are supporters of one another. Most of them will help you any chance they get, but don’t ask for recipes or proprietary information. For seasoned business owners? My advice is this, help out those just getting started. We were all there one time. There is great joy in mentoring somebody just getting started. Answer questions. Guide them. Support those just getting started.
What made you want to teach soapmaking classes?
I’ve been kicking it around for awhile now actually. I knew what I wanted to do but didn’t know where to start. Amanda had her teaching class and my wheels were spinning right away! I also read her book about Teaching your Craft. She has a LOT of good formation in it!! I now have all the confidence I need to face this head on!
Describe your classes. Hands-on? Demo? Tell us about them!
They will be hands on. Always hands on probably. I think the best way to learn is by jumping right in. I only have 1 scheduled right now (Soap Making 101) but have plans to add a swirling and color class, a milk class and a beer/wine class.
Class location: Inola, Oklahoma
Where can we sign up?
Find Stephanie online!