How Two Moms Started A Business Selling Homemade Body Butter
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Oh My Balm was founded two years ago and we make kitchen-crafted all-natural body products. Our tagline is “Two Mom’s Making it Real.”
Those two moms are us: Meredith Moseley-Bennett and Yolanda Grbic, and this is our side hustle. Meredith has worked for a non-profit in the entertainment business and before that was a costume designer for theatre, film, and television. Yolanda has been a middle school teacher for 19 years and going in Jersey City school system. Between us, we have 3 kids (12, 10 & 7), two dogs, two cats, 3 guppies, 5 goldfish and a parakeet. The kids tag along with us to craft fairs, sort containers and stick on labels; the 12-year-old is great at recon at craft fairs and the 10-year-old is already a pro at merchandise display. The first-grader gets extra math lessons by helping on inventory day and loves to count drops as they go into what we create. For a video about our crew, check out TEAMOMB.
We started in 2017 with three “flavors” of our Wildly Whipped Body Butter and three different Legit Lip Balms. We now have thirteen flavors of body butter and are creating Special Edition body butters inspired by seasons. Our target audience is hard to define. We aren't targeting a specific age-group. The customers we are attracting are women, mostly, who are interested in the same mission we are: replacing the chemical-laden products in our medicine cabinets with all-natural alternatives.
Since 2017, our sales have more than doubled and we anticipate (hope and pray) that we continue this trend. The fact that we never include anything in our products that you can’t pronounce sets us apart and that means no preservatives, no chemicals, and no “fragrance.” We only include therapeutic-grade essential oils, which can be a challenge, as “bubble-gum” scented anything tends to be a big seller. Those kinds of “fun” scents are impossible to achieve with oils that come from the earth. This means that we have to be smart about the way we name and market our products - the competition is fierce out there.
From the beginning, we have felt that giving back was important to us, so we wanted to find a way to implement that in our purchasing. The perfect solution was to source our shea butter (which is the base for most of our products) from a non-profit. We found Global Mamas and it was the perfect fit.
We promote them through our marketing, as they work on several different projects that create a life of prosperity for African women and their families. You can find more about them here. The other charity that is close to our hearts is Behind The Scenes, which provides financial support to entertainment technology industry professionals if they, or their immediate dependent family, are seriously ill or injured. We make a body butter, “Crew,” and we give a portion of the proceeds of every tin sold to BTS. This got us mention in several entertainment industry magazines.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We are neighbors with one house between us, which makes all of this possible.
In 2016, we were brainstorming about Christmas gifts and decided to make body butter and lip balm for friends and family and split the costs.
We looked up a recipe and gave it a try. We used rosemary and peppermint essential oils and people loved the smell. To be honest, looking at it now, our first attempt was pretty horrid.
The shea butter was bright yellow (see picture below); Global Mama’s shea butter is a beautiful oatmeal color, and it was very heavy because we didn’t know how to whip the butter. It did the job, though, and we were hooked on learning about how to make the perfect body butter.
After a couple of trials, we were there. We tested on friends, family, and neighbors. Their feedback validated our idea with rave reviews and we began to see this as a possibility. We perfected the whip on our body butter and were super excited to get it out there!
We had no capital, no experience in body products, no name, but we were hot on the idea of this as additional income. What did we have, though? A credit card, gobs of contacts on Facebook, inspiration, and chutzpah.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Once we had decided that we wanted to do this, it was time to think of a name. You have no idea (or maybe you do) what a formidable task it is to name a body products company. Think of a clever name, Google, find out it is taken, rinse and repeat. We found there were considerations beyond whether or not a name is taken. Target audience; the potential of making your name too “niche;” and coming up with a name that is simple, but catchy and easy to remember guided us in our quest to name our company.
After about three weeks of deliberate research and calling to the stars for a name, it came to us like a light - Oh My Balm. At first, we were thinking we might have to get a friend to create a logo, but then, one night we were playing with fonts and created a very simple logo. We had a friend show us how to turn it into a jpg and we were off and running. We knew branding colors were important as well and we loved green because of its connection to nature.
We wanted a unisex font that would give our labels a little something different. We love how it turned out because it is versatile.
In the meantime, we paid .99 cents for a domain name through GoDaddy, $99 for a website through Squarespace, $9.99 for 250 business cards and we had to get a business license through the state of New Jersey for $125. We soon added Quickbooks online so we could be sure to keep our finances straight from the beginning.
Deciding how to package the body butters was our next step, and we wanted to create an accessible-but-high-end look with an all-natural feel. Silver 4 oz. tins worked well for the Christmas gifts and had the simple feel we were looking for, and kraft paper round labels were a great background for the body butters. The three scents we chose were Rosemary Wild Orange, Ginger Grapefruit and Lemony Lemongrass.
For the first few months, we were ordering our tins 24 at a time, but checked into ordering them in bulk (472 at a time) and cut the cost in half. Making this jump was nerve-wracking, but we then started looking to other bulk resources, and that has made a huge difference in our profit margin.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Immediately after deciding on Oh My Balm, we grabbed the domain name, gmail address, Etsy Store, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts(we had to go with ohmybarebalm, as ohmybalm was taken) and created our pages.
Next, we needed pictures to get an Etsy store opened and our dear neighbor Adam took some with his fancy camera. We were also looking to apply for our first craft fair and needed product photos for that as well, so we killed two birds with one stone.
We launched our Etsy store on February 7 at 9 am and at 10:30, we heard our first “cha-ching.” It didn’t matter that it was one of our mother-in-laws, it was a sale! An actual, real-life sale! Sales were very steady the first three months - lots of Facebook friends were very supportive and on May 24, 2017, Jodie in New Jersey became “our first stranger” to order something from the Etsy store. In December of 2017, we did $2K in sales in December alone.
We did get into that first craft fair and we prepped for a month for this launch. Not knowing how much we should make to sell, we put the mixers in overdrive. We got lucky and got into a craft fair the weekend before, so we had a trial run.
Our trial run turned into an $895 day and we were ecstatic. In addition to our three body butters and lip balms, We created a repellent called Mosquito Minder that comes in a deodorant stick, and $300 of that day's profit was from this new product. We had read that you take the size of the audience, estimate 3%, and take that much product to a craft fair. Do not do this - we made way too much product! We spent several weekends making 120 butters of each scent and 150 of each lip balm scent, of which there are three. The day before Mother’s Day came, we were ready, we were excited and we were pumped however Mother Nature let it pour!
For the first time in 15 years, they canceled the EcoFair because of weather. Here we were with boatloads of body butter. We did a Mother’s Day Special on Facebook and locals came to the house to buy which was kind and generous. We made $200 that weekend and spent several months and many fairs to sell the inventory we had ready for that one single day. The fairs were sometimes exciting and sometimes absolutely depressing, but based on what happened the weekend before, we were jazzed because we thought it would be a $1000. The next year, it didn’t rain, and we had a $1600 day.
Like we mentioned before, we did not have the luxury of startup funds. We put $10K on the credit card that first year, and when we had a good show, we paid it down. We went in head first and truly operated on the “if you build it, they will come” principle. It has worked for us. We are not making a million, but we are not in thousands of dollars in debt and that feels good.
To grow our Facebook audience, which is now almost 700, we would sit at night and personally invite people to our page and ask them to share it with friends. Instagram has been more of an organic growth, and we now have 750 followers there.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We are bold and put in a plug to anyone who will listen. We pitched the Side Hustle School Podcast and were featured in episode 213 in August of 2017.
Guys, that is just six months after we launched - several opportunities have come out of that one email. That is how Starter Story found us, after all. Oh My Balm was also picked up by a company called Sarah Caroline, and some retail interest has been sparked from this exposure. We also got a mention for our Burn Notice Sunburn Soother because a friend mentioned to a friend and we rushed product to the author’s house for her to try.
A must for us has been to get our product out there where ever we can. Since our first craft show in May of 2017, we have done over 75 craft shows and we offer customers a chance to sample the body butters at the shows.
We had a huge bump in sales when we created our Operation Outdoor Line because we felt like we had to diversify. We added Mosquito Minder, in a deodorant tube for easy application; Tickety Split Tick Spray; Burn Notice Sunburn Soother; Itch Fix Rollerball & Suncatcher Legit Lip Balm.
Craft shows are a different kind of animal. It is hard work to organize and it is physically demanding. Like those who craft jewelry, there is a lot of competition in skin care. Even if you have great photos, you might not get in; there are many shows that have included the same vendors year after year, which means if you will not get in until those vendors drop the show. We have learned which shows work for us and make it worthwhile financially, though absolutely, there is no science to this. You can have a great show one year and then the stars don’t align correctly, and that particular show can completely different outcome.
We have a special challenge: because of the potential for melting in our products, we have to carry ice packs to set our samples on and keep the products that melt in large coolers when it is above 80 degrees. The humidity can be a factor as well, so we are very selective about what we do in the summer.
Want to know what has helped us the most? Here is our best advice:
1 - Photos are Key
There is only one way you can tell people more about your product. Show them a picture! Whether you are taking them yourself or have a professional do it, don’t skimp with time and energy on this one.
2 - Invest in your Tent
Buy the very best one you can afford. We bought one for a $100 and it didn’t even last the season. This is the one we have now, but we did find it a little cheaper elsewhere, I believe. It might be tempting to go for a color, we did at first, but there are many shows that will only accept white or cream-colored tents. You don’t want to have to buy two.
3 - The Jury is In
If you are a crafter, we can guarantee that you will make more money at craft fairs that are juried. We are guessing that regions would be the same, but we do substantially better where the selection is choosey and the organizers are careful to put a cap on vendor types. “Streetfairs,” are different than “Arts and Crafts Fairs.” We don’t totally avoid shows where there are direct sale vendors, but we are careful about the ones we choose.
4 - Try it - Once
The only way to see if you might do well at a show is to give it a try. We do shows that range from a $25 booth fee to $250 a day. Expensive shows will not always bring in the most profit. You just have to try it to find out. We keep a “Leads” sheet that serves as a calendar and information for the next year. At the end of the year, we went to the sheet and marked them up. Red was a definite “no,” peach was a “worth another try,” and purple was “for sure.” This gives us a great idea of where we want to go in 2019.
5 - Get Creative with Your Displays
You don’t have to spend a ton on craft displays. In fact, we paid for our banner, tables and tablecloths, but all of our shelving was free. We love big trash day in our town. We have found all of our drawers, turned them vertically, and put shelves in them with scrap wood.
6 - Give them a Reason to Come In
We sample our body butters so people can try it right in the booth. That brings people in and they smell and look at the other products.
7 - Give them a Reason to Come Back
We have special cards that have a 15% off coupon with a code created specifically for craft fairs. This way we can track if they come back to order. We also make samples and often include a free gift with purchase. One promotion that worked really well was offering a free scrub ($22 value) with a $60 purchase.
One reason people keep coming back is our ever-expanding line. We have expanded to a mama and baby line, deodorants, beard care, shaving creams, scents, scrubs, all-natural healers and bug repellants. It is rare that a customer comes out of our booth with only one product (prices range from $6-$24), but it does happen.
Product quality is our highest priority. Our customers come back because each time they purchase they are guaranteed the best possible natural product. Our products are all-natural, with no preservatives, so we are faced with many challenges that others may not be. We cannot sell or ship in heat, which means that we have turned into a Spring and Fall Company. To meet that challenge, we are creating items that can be shipped during those warmer months.
Our customers come back because they believe in our products and we have created a story that interests them.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, folks go to ohmybalm.com and when they hit “buy now” it takes them to our Etsy store. Our hope is that we will have our online store ready to go in the next six months.
We are beginning to pick up some organic Etsy traffic and we don’t want to lose that, but we want to have our own space. Those customers are not ours, they are Etsy’s and if something should happen, we lose them forever. Our online business is growing and in 2017, we sold almost $4500 and in 2018 we almost doubled that number. Really, craft fairs are our bread and butter.
We are learning how to deal with e-mails. We worked really hard trying to get people to subscribe and sign up. After two years, we have a grand list of people, but our ads to reach the people didn’t seem to turn up much. We are currently listening to podcasts, taking online courses, reading stories on YOUR site to see how we can make those lists work for us. To date, we do best when we are face-to-face with people at fairs and events. Everything else is constantly evolving and we are just trying to stay ahead of the curve, which is a challenge.
We are in our first brick and mortar store and are very excited, we got in this store on December 8th and received a check for $150 for the month of December. Not bad for three weeks. We shoot for a 70/30 split, even though retail is usually 50/50. Our immediate goal is trying to get in 5 new stores by May of this year.
Our long term goal is to tackle international shipping. After all, it would be amazing to ship all over the world if it wasn’t cost prohibitive. The way to do that would be to place the product in distribution centers, but then you don’t have that product in hand to sell. There are occasions where we have paid for international shipping, and we might make a couple of dollars on the sale because shipping was so expensive.
Funny enough, out constant passion to add, create, and make something new or improve on a product is so strong, that we really have to check ourselves. The possibilities for products seem endless, but our time is not. So, we have to concentrate on products that we think will sell.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Mistakes. It is key to look at mistakes as a learning opportunity. And so instead of beating yourself up over it, assess it clinically, and make adjustments. As with our example of getting “over-ready” for our first fair that it took a good six months to get through our inventory, we never made 800 body butters for a fair again!
Organization. We both have full-time jobs and families. We are constantly working on ways to stay better organized. It is important to know exactly how much inventory we have and when things were made. We create Google excel sheets to keep monthly accounts. We just added Craftybase to our arsenal to keep track of inventory and materials.
Some of the biggest challenges we have besides the weather is balancing our family life and our business. We did 52 shows in 2018. That means making product, creating labels and names, and being physically at shows to sell. Last year, when we had two really good shows come up on the same day, we decided to split and do two shows in a day. A tent was borrowed, and both were successful days. Once we figured out we could split, it makes sense to do so.
If we have a two-day craft fair weekend, we split up so the other partner can have a day off to do laundry, food shopping, and ordinary things to prepare for the week. One of us takes Saturday, and the other takes Sunday. While we try to make it fun for our kids, and want them to enjoy the fair, the reality is we are working. We are lucky right now that it is still fun for them to help in our business. They are part of the Oh My Balm team and act like our bosses at times telling us when they don’t like one of the scents or products. Sometimes we need to remind them that we make the final decision.
What was our best decision? We never underestimated ourselves, and we are both sighing with relief that we decided to market our products as high end-when we first looked at pricing. It is much easier to lower a price when you start high to test the market. If your products aren’t moving, you can make a change.
We did not follow the model of:
- Supplies + Your Time = Item Cost
- Item Cost x Markup (between 2.0 – 2.5 or more) = Wholesale Price
- Wholesale Price x Markup = Retail Price
It may sound a little woo-woo, but we have too worked hard to create everything that Oh My Balm is, and we are not willing to settle. Owning your own business is hard work and you do yourself a disservice if you don't consider all of the time you put into your business.
Remember, is not just about how much time you spend making the actual product, or in our case, how much materials cost. It is crucial to include all the time you spend designing your branding, labels, business cards, signage and anything else that might come up.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Square (www.squareup.com): all of our credit card payments are processed through Square. We have a chip reader (cost $29) and the swipe and it is very easy to use both in taking payments and running reports. This article says that there are cheaper options out there, so we will be researching when we are done researching this article. https://www.inc.com/erik-sherman/square-still-too-expensive-in-2017-save-money-with.html
Quickbooks for Etsy (https://selfemployed.intuit.com/etsy): This is very useful once you figure out the ins and outs of this one, but it is great to have everything feed into one place. (We are switching to Freshbooks to see if we can achieve more accurate accounting.)
As we said, currently, all of our online sales are funneled from our website to our Etsy Store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/ohmybalm). There is a .20 cent listing fee plus 5% on each sale. Etsy now charges 5% on shipping charges as well, so we are considering free-shipping and adjusting accordingly. The problem there, though, is that you must figure in shipping to the product price and those customers who are buying multiple items, get a raw deal.
We have over 100 listings on Etsy now and each one of those listings needs a description. We only recently discovered Vela, which is a website that lets you edit multiple Etsy listings at once or add an announcement across the board. https://welcome.getvela.com/#bulk-editing
You can make great, professional-looking videos. They have a ton of stock photos, videos, and templates. It is not free but worth it. Here is an example of one of ours - https://animoto.com/business
This graphic-design tool uses a drag-and-drop format and provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. It has templates for flyers, social media posts, and light photo editing.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Side Hustle School- great to listen to in the shower to get inspired first thing in the morning, and Chris Guillebeau is very funny. You groan at his puns, but a ton of useful information.
Don’t Keep Your Day Job- Cathy Heller does a fantastic job of motivating and cheering you on while still giving you useful tips about growing your business.
Create and Thrive- Jess breaks down all of the bits and pieces of the business of being a crafter in easy to understand segments. We love that it is like sitting down with a girlfriend and getting some advice about your biz.
Dear Handmade Life- Nicole Stevenson is now on her own, but all of the episodes have smart guests with lots of helpful tips.
Goal Digger- This one is new to us, but Jenna Kutcher was so amazing on Don’t Keep Your Day Job, that it was a must to check it out.
Being Boss - These ladies have it going on about business and just released a book, Being Boss - it is a must get.
Creative Live has been a huge resource with really insightful classes like Nicole Stevenson’s course: Craft Show Secretsand Turn Your Etsy Shop into A Sales Machinewith Lisa Jacobs.
Skillshare is also a very useful resource with 25, 000 classes that deal with everything from massaging your email list to making the perfect chicken congee. You can get two months free here.
The Law of Attraction Planner is a wonderful weekly planner includes to-do lists, “Feel-Good List & Gratitude Journal “ and plenty of room to keep track of everything in one place. It is reasonably priced at around $35. You can find it here on Amazon.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Value your time, your energy and your products. When we first started we were unsure how to put a price tag on ours.
We knew, of course, the cost of making a product...but how would a potential customer view our pricing? We researched similar companies and decided what our product was worth. Sometimes, we go back and change a price if we feel we have underpriced a product or vice/versa.
For example, we have great deodorants that we priced at $15 and they just were not selling. We adjusted the price a little to $12 and we saw a huge difference. All of a sudden people were willing to try and they sell very well. When we started many people balked at our $18 price for the body butter (even our friends and family).
But we knew it was a quality product and we knew the value of what we were trying to achieve. We did not listen to the naysayers because honestly, they are not in the kitchen spending hours to make a product perfect. So absolutely you need to know what you are worth and what your product is worth. Not everyone will get it, so you need to find your market where your product is valued as you value it.
Besides valuing your time, energy and your products, you must be passionate. If you are not passionate about what you are making, then don’t do it. We are constantly researching, thinking about trying new things because we are intensely devoted to what we do. We wake up thinking about it and we go to sleep thinking about it. There is no way we could have come this far in almost two years (it will be two years at the end of February) if we hadn’t jumped in with both feet.
This should be said again: Photos are key. A good photo says a thousand words. We found a photographer friend who bartered with us for beautiful photography and it really upped our game. Kymbreli Francis (https://www.handsomecupcakes.com) made our products look bright and clean and styled them perfectly.
When we can’t get to Kym, we take the photos ourselves. These have a different feel, but they still work for our purposes. Then, when we have time, we will shop for props and see when she has time to batch them.
If you make something, it is important to take photos during the making stage. If you want to sell on Etsy, they have room for 10 pictures and it is best to fill them. Since it is hard to run to our friend to take new pictures, we had to get a good camera and learn basic photo editing. We just launched Bath Shotz and here are the types of photos we took.
We also take pictures of flowers that we steep in oil:
We even got lucky and caught a bee :)
Lip Balms for Charity Motorcycle Ride
We wish you luck in whatever you try to do! Be sure to network and use your connections to help move you forward. Whenever possible we try to find ways to work with people in a reciprocal way, but sometimes, there are people that will just want to help you out! Our Legit Lip Balms made it to the 2018 Olympics.
We designed special labels to commemorate and 150 lip balms went in all of the stylists’ bags and were used on the Olympians and the talent. They took a great picture of Ryan Johannson and posted to Instagram for us.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Email Coordinator: Run email campaigns and assist OMB in turning email to sales. We currently have around 700 subscribers and want to grow our list. This would be perfect for someone who is trying to build a portfolio and be able to provide a case study. This is an unpaid part-time position.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Yolanda: [email protected]
- Meredith: [email protected]
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