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Old Town Suds

The First Time I Met @SimplyLeap

It was about five years ago now. I had just returned from work after my surgery and I was meeting someone I didn't know at a coffee shop near the Verizon Center in DC. (This was one of those this I didn't tell my mom about, but she's probably reading this....) Outside of some strange connections online, we didn't have a ton in common at the time, except for one glaringly obvious similarity.

We both survived brain surgeries.

I remember meeting Lauree like it was yesterday. She had just started her hug tour and we were meeting up because I'd never met someone who had survived something similar to what I'd been going through.

I don't remember everything we spoke about, but earlier today, I had a flash back to something she said.

See, at this point, Lauree was at the 5 year post surgery mark and had stopped celebrating different milestones because they weren't as important anymore.

I realized, I'm nearly to that same milestone. I'm about to hit my five year mark and I nearly forgot. Lauree was right.

Even though we suffer through MRIs, never ending doctors appointments, and, for me, a sizable amount of medication to counteract the spinal cord damage, it's ok. I'm ok. I finally feel calm.

For that, I say thank you Lauree. I don't think I could have gotten to this point without you.

Top 3 Ways to find the BEST Craft Shows

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When I first started Old Town Suds, I knew practically nothing about craft shows. Markets were a ballgame that I wasn't sure how to enter. In fact, I remember my good friend, Cate, holding my hand as I submitted my first farmers' market application. Now, I am constantly asked where I find my markets. Several people seem to think that I am the google of the area craft shows. After many years of trial and tribulation, here are my top resources for finding craft shows for your handmade business

1 - Ask

Wether you attend craft shows as a shopper or as an artist, always ask the other vendors where their best shows are. By making friends with other vendors and sharing some of my best experiences with they, they return the favor. That is how I've heard about some of my record breaking events. I wouldn't have known about them otherwise.

2 - To the Googles!

Search for key terms in your favorite search engine. I'm always on the lookout for blog posts about "indie craft shows in [city of choice]". Some of the other terms I'll search for are: Craft Mafia [plus a city], Renegade market, best holiday craft fairs [city], and Review of craft market.

3 - Manage My Market

For those of you, like me, who participate in weekly markets, Manage My Market is a great online resource for farmers' markets - especially in the DC area. My best week-to-week farmers' market sales are from a market I found on Manage My Market. I wouldn't have known about it had I not been on the hunt for markets on their site. It is important to note that most farmers' market applications go live in the months of December and January.

 

WineYards

wineyards2015-eblast2 I am super excited to announce that Old Town Suds is participating in the City Paper's WineYards at Nats Park. Over 20 wineries will be providing wines for festival attendees to sample (and purchase) plus your favorite wine soap store will be there too!

Ticket includes: unlimited wine samplings and souvenir glass. Best part? If you use our coupon code: OTSWY10 you'll get $10 off of your already super affordable ticket.

Wineries & vineyards include: Opici Wines, Red Ink Imports, Senator Wines, Folio Fine Wine Partners, Vina Bujanda, Joao Portugal Ramos, Franco Espanoles, Vini Inc, Tradewinds Specialty, and more to be announced soon!

Hope to see you at WineYards!

Top 3 Tips For Having The Best Trade Show Experience For Your Creative Business

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I've been attending and working at trade shows for years. Between my parents dragging me along to expos to shop for their businesses to my nearly 10 years in the association industry, I'm constantly working on or attending something. All of this experience helped, and at times, hindered my trade show prep. This was my first time representing my own brand and products. That makes this first Suds trade show unique for me. It was also my first time working on a micro budget. I've designed booths that were triple the size of the my Suds booth that had 1,000 times the budget. Working with a few hundred dollars versus tens of thousands was challenging - to say the least.

Here are my top 3 tips for having the best trade show experience for your creative business.

Invest in good flooring.

When we put in our soap kitchen, our contractor saved the carpet and padding he pulled up. It was a lifesaver for the budget because I didn't have to pay for flooring (it's mandatory to put down some sort of flooring). Standing for days on concrete floors kills your back, knees, feet and well, your entire body. I thought the padding and carpet would help alleviate some of that pain and it did to a certain extent. When I looked at everyone else's flooring choices I saw this foam tile flooring. I didn't know this existed until I saw it in the expo hall. All of the trade show booths I've built have always used carpet because it is more professional in that setting. But for the craft/handmade businesses this foam tile is the best invention ever. I'm upgrading our flooring for our next show. I'll be getting a ton of tiles to use. Plus, I can use them during our craft shows to make standing for hours, days, and weeks easier on my body.

Take this Creative Live Class

I love Megan Auman. Her classes on Creative Live are thoughtful and super helpful. I can't recommend her wholesale class enough. She covers every aspect of the wholesale trade show. I felt super prepared for our event because I had watched her class and was able to implement several of her strategies. I was able to present a level of confidence at the trade show because I knew what the buyers were expecting. I even saved several of the sessions to my MacBook so I could watch them in the evenings after the show had closed. This way I was constantly in the selling mindset and learning how to improve.

Get a Lead Scanner

I was dumbfounded at the sheer lack of people scanning badges. I found out from the show organizers that I was one of TWO people to use the scanner. Yes, it costs money. Yes, it isn't cheap. Yes it gave me nearly 100 stores to EASILY add to my marketing campaigns. I didn't have to try to look up people, remember details or anything of that nature. When I had 10 buyers in my booth all I had to do saw scan their badge, add a few notes in the app if I wanted to, and move to the next buyer. The lead scanner is ALWAYS worth the money. Always. I have a spreadsheet of names, email addresses, physical locations and store names all because I spent a few more dollars and go the scanner. If you are of the mindset that buyers will have business cards and you can just collect them, think again. Buyers never bring enough cards. What are you going to do then? What you do is scan their badge and you have everything you need.

Old Town Suds at The National Archives!

As I write this, it's my 4 year brain surgery anniversary. We decided to celebrate with a trip to see my soaps at The National Archives! This was my first trip to this particular museum. I've been to all the other Smithsonians but Archives has eluded me during my nearly 10 years in the DC area.

Old Town Suds' soap is being displayed as part of the Spirited Republic exhibition - a special exhibit all about prohibition. It's the perfect way for soap made with beer and wine to make its debut at Archives.

Since it is a special day, I was trying to find something fun and exciting to celebrate being alive - I decided we had to see my soap in DC. Around lunch time we ventured into the city on this super spectacular Spring day. It was sunny and we couldn't have asked for a better day to drive in.

We went straight to the gift shop after parking. It took a bit of looking to find our soaps because they only had FOUR bars in stock. Talk about selling quickly. Technically....photos aren't allowed in Archives but somehow, our iPhones had a flaw and took some photos all on their own! Apple really needs to work on this glitch.

After the excitement, we decided to tour the Prohibition exhibit. We were wondering if there would be anything on moonshine since Joel is from the county in Virginia that is known for its grain alcohol. There was a lot on various political movements, you see copied of the amendments that outlaw, and then reinstate, liquor. It was interesting and very much worth the trip. As we were getting ready to leave the exhibit we see this:

IMG_0002THAT'S OUR MERLOT WINE SOAP! IN THE EXHIBIT! I couldn't believe it! There we are! I think I screamed.

There you have it. That's how we spent Big Brain Anniversary 2015.

Philly Bound

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April & May are the months of Philadelphia! Old Town Suds will be heading to two awesome events in the city. On April 26th, we'll be at Crafty Balboa. Outside of the 40 awesome venders:

Crafty Balboa runs in conjunction with Flavors of the Avenue. East Passyunk's award-winning chefs will offer tastes of their signature dishes and drinks under the cover of a big top tent, making the event rain or shine!

Google Maps also tells me there are two well-known cheesesteak places a few blocks up the road too. What can I say, I lead with my stomach.

If you didn't get enough of Suds on the 26th, we'll be back for two days in May! On the 9th and 10th you'll find us at Art Star Craft Bazaar which has been rated a Best of Philly event for YEARS.

Over 150 local and national artists have been chosen to set up shop and sell their wares at Penn’s Landing Great Plaza, right along the Delaware River.

Save the dates on your calendar now! Suds can't wait to see you in Philly in April and May.

Designing a New Soap Booth

The past few years of attending weekly markets has fought us a few things about our booth space. I know to always plan for more traffic than I expect at 6am on a Saturday morning (why are so many people in DC up at this time?) and that I need pieces that I am able to carry (strict 20 pound limit on what I can carry). That means most mornings I'm waiting on the husband to unload the car while I wait looking rather pathetic. So, I've decided to redesign our booth space before the market season starts and allow for more items that I can carry. We'll still have the same wine tasting feel but it's going to be more jazzed up. For our longer events, we'll take it up another notch with a bar counter like feel, but that is for another post. If my father in law thought I was a pain in the ass with our trade show booth...wait until he sees this plan. I'm sure you will all hear him scream.

A majority of spaces we occupy are 10'x10' which is also the size of our canopy. That means everything has to fit in nice and cozy in to 100 square feet. Thankfully, very tiny apartment living has taught me well. Last year, we used the front of the tent as a walkup bar and the rest was storage for us. This year, will be different.

(keep in mind, this is our draft stage right now)

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What we are going to create is a U shaped table setup. A 6' table will be at the base of the U with two 4' tables flanking the sides. The tables will be used for displaying items, signage and whatnot. The 4 feet of space behind the tables will give us a place to stand, additional storage and give us room to maneuver.

I also plan on building shelving between two wooden creates to add height to the display. (That's one thing we are currently lacking with our setup from last year.) Additionally, our tables are going to grow a few inches in height. They have been eating their veggies during the winter and have gotten a bit taller with the use of PVC pipes on their legs. These extensions will help bring everything up to a more comfortable shopping height. Plus, it also means the stray toddler will have a bit more difficultly eat the new "fudge" they just found at the farmers' market. (yeah, that has happened)

Our first outdoor market of the season starts in 3 weeks so we must have everything done by then! I see some late nights of painting in our future.

Our New Retailers

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If you've been reading about out trade show booth progress, it's now time for the results of all of that work. The list of our new retailers! From up and down the East Coast to the West Coast, we have some awesome stores that welcomed Old Town Suds into their family.

California

Independent Mercantile, Inc. 728 Main Street Murphys, CA Phone: 209.728.8416

Washington, DC

Lettie Gooch 1517 U Street Northwest Washington, DC 20009 Phone: 202.332.4242

National Archives Store 700 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest Washington, DC Phone: 202.357.5271

National Building Museum Shop 401 F Street Northwest Washington, DC 20001 Phone: 202.272.2448

Georgia

The Uniqueness Of It All 6786 Broad Street Douglasville, GA Phone: 678.427.8088

Maryland

The Annapolis Pottery 40 State Circle Annapolis, MD 21401 Phone: 410.268.6153

The Fine Arts Company 18031 Garland Groh Boulevard Hagerstown, MD 21740 Phone: 301.971.2781

The Muse 19 North Market Street Frederick, MD 21701 Phone: 301.663.3632

Massachusetts

Quinstance Opening Spring 2015 in Burlington, MA

North Carolina

Cedar Creek Gallery & Pottery 1150 Fleming Road Creedmoor, NC 27522 Phone: 919.528.1041

Pennsylvania

Pearl S. Buck Gift Shop 520 Dublin Rd Perkasie, PA 18944

Urban Post 323 Market Street Lewisburg, PA 17837 Phone: 570.374.0606

Virginia

Artful Gift Shop 145 Church St NW Vienna, VA 22180 Phone Number: 703.242-1220

Chateau O'Brien 3238 Railstop Road Markham, VA 22643 Phone Number: 540.364.6441

Michie Tavern General Store 683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway Charlottesville, VA 22902 Phone: 434.977.1234

The Picket Fence Burke Village Center 6025 Burke Centre Parkway Burke, VA 22015 Phone: 703.250.2671

Stifel & Capra 260 W Broad Street Falls Church, VA 22046 Phone Number: 703.533-3557

Tin Top Art & Handmade 130 N. Loudoun Street Winchester, VA 22601 Phone: 703.999.2997

Wanda's Hair Salon 3784 Old Franklin Tpke Rocky Mount, VA 24092 Phone Number: 540.489.1068

The Making Of Our First Trade Show Booth

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The past few years, I've been slowly expanding Old Town Suds' wholesale clients and made the decision that we needed to go to a wholesale show to make it happen. As luck would have it, a show was planning on coming to DC so it was a no brainer to attend. After deciding on our booth space size (6'x10'), I had to figure out our theme. Suds is kinda brewery, kinda posh, and kinda chocolate factory - which is rather difficult to transpose into a 3 dimensional space. I started on pinterest by searching for booth images. I found a lot that were beyond my skill level, the image of Suds and, well, the hubby would have killed me.

After the hubby calmed down when I told him I wanted to build hard walls, we got to work.

It was a pretty simple design. Basically, we took plywood, cut it in half, framed it with 2x4's (that were cut in half), added hinges, and added tons and tons of paint.

Cutting the frames for the plywood

A video posted by OldTownSuds (@steffaniehousman) on

Framing the plywood

A photo posted by OldTownSuds (@steffaniehousman) on

Post painting testing

A photo posted by OldTownSuds (@steffaniehousman) on

Stay tuned for more posts on our first trade show and all of our new retailers!

Getting your Soap Business Organized

Getting my office under control has been something I've seriously struggled with. It slows down my shipping, all over productivity and my motivation. In December (or was it November) I decided to try to get puppy to a better state. I mean look at this mess! It's only half of my desk too!

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I got a filing cabinet from Poppin to help keep all of those pesky records filed and a bunch of the paperwork that piles up off of my desk. (Now I just have to actually use the filing system I created. Details...)

To make shipping easier, quicker and less painful I asked santa for the Demo 4XL printer. My in-laws beat santa to the gift and they got my super easy and quick printer! It will be so nice when I ship out all of out new orders today! It will be a 1 click print instead of finding my shipping labels, making sure they are right side up in the printer, printing those first; then printing the invoices and then remembering to use the other half of the shipping label (2 are on a sheet) when the next order comes in.

I feel like she (he?) needs a name. Right now I am just calling her my precious.

 

What are you doing differently in 2015 to get your business organized?

Behind the Scenes - Soap Kitchen Tour

soap kitchen This is it! This is the main area of our soap kitchen. It was designed with the help of our contractor who did an excellent job building everything for me. (if you need a recommendation in Northern VA, I'll send you his info!)

I still need a few more shelves to help control all of the oils I use. You see those brown bottles on the shelves and the far right counter? Those are our fragrances and essential oils. Once you start collecting them....it is very hard to stop!

We've almost had this new kitchen a year now. I'm learning what works and what needs a bit more improving. You can never have enough lights and I'm in desperate need of a paper towel dispenser. Details, right? I'd also like some of those shock absorbing mats they use in professional kitchens. A few hours of standing on tile and you feel it in your back!

Next time I'll show you our soon-to-be-built shelves in the drying room. My husband is supposed to be making them for me as my birthday present. My birthday was in September...Maybe I'll get them by December? I hope. I really don't want to learn how to build shelves.

How Soap is Made Part 2

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Just starting out on our How Soap is Made series? Check out part 1 here.
 

Rebatching

This method involves using pre-made soap (cold or hot processed). The biggest draw for soap makers to use this method is that they can buy pre-made soap for rebatching and do not have to come into contact with lye if that’s a concern for them. The lye has already been chemically transformed during saponification. It also means they can add additional ingredients such as essential oils or herbs and not have to worry about them reacting with lye.

To rebatch soap, the pre-made soap is grated like cheese and to this a small amount of liquid is added. The mixture is gently heated until melted and then pressed into molds. It must then cool and harden before it is suitable for use.

Melt and Pour Soap Making

This process involves purchasing a premade glycerin soap base (or making a glycerin soap base on your own, which is much less common, but possible), and melting it down, often in a microwave or on a stovetop. At that point, colorants, fragrance and possibly some additional oils (no water or milk can be added) are added to the melted soap base. The mixture is then poured into molds and left to harden – usually just a few hours. At that point, the hardened soaps can be removed from the mold and are ready for immediate use.

Some soap makers prefer using this method because the chemical process has already been done, so they don’t have to worry about using lye. Melt and pour soaps are also fluid enough to be poured into a variety of molds which results in more intricate designs and shapes compared to the other types of soap making.

That's it! You can't get true soap any other way. Next time you are shopping for soap, be sure to ask with method the shop uses.

How Soap is Made Part 1

How to make Soap part 1There are many ways to make handmade soap, and each soap maker tends to have a preferred method. We have our preferences on what we believe makes a better bar of soap. Technically, no one method is better than another, simply different, but that doesn't stop us from our opinions!

Cold Process Soap Making

In this method, oils are melted and combined with a lye and liquid (water, milk, etc) mixture. Mixing these ingredients creates a chemical reaction called saponification. The mixture is then stirred either by hand with a spoon, or by using a stick blender until the soap mixture has thickened (called ‘trace’). There is no cooking (using heat to speed up the saponification process) with cold process soap. The mixture is poured into a mold, covered and left to cool for 24 hours. At that point the soap can be removed from the mold and cut into bars. The bars are then left alone to cure for 4-6 weeks. This ensures a harder and milder bar of soap. This is the process that Old Town Suds uses.

Hot Process Soap Making

In this method, melted oils are combined with a lye/liquid mixture and are ‘cooked’ by using heat. Many modern soapers make hot process soap in a slow cooker/crock pot. The mixture is brought to trace and then cooked. The cooking time varies depending upon the ingredients used, the size of the batch and the heat setting on the slow cooker. The end result is a thickened, gel-like looking soap mixture that must be spooned into the soap mold. It is covered and left to cool for 24 hours, at which time it is removed from the mold and cut into individual bars of soap.

This method is often used to reduce the 4-6 week cure time required by cold process soap making. By the time the soap cools and is removed from the mold (usually within 24 hours), the soap is safe for use. Leaving it to sit for a couple of weeks may allow additional water to evaporate and become harder, but it is not necessary. Hot processed soap may have a more rustic, handmade appearance to it, compared to the smooth texture of cold process soap.

Stay tuned for two more soap making methods!

Traveling and Dealing with TSA

My travel schedule has skyrocketed the last few months. I've been to Florida, Indiana, and shortly Nevada, Minnesota, Arizona, North Carolina and New York. I try to just pack a carry on whenever possible. My suitcase fits all dimensions of my preferred airlines requirements. But what doesn't always are my carry on products.

This is where being all-natural in your beauty products can stink.

A scrub loaded with chemicals is fine to carry on as long as it is 4oz or under. My baggie full of baking soda, a nice white powered, not so much. I try to avoid being detained by TSA and spend as little time there as possible.  I already opt out due to the images taken and radiation exposure and any extra time spent there makes my blood curdle. But being gone for a week without my facial scrub stinks. Plus, I don't want to buy a whole box of baking soda when I get to each destination. That is just a waste.

The next few days I am going to experiment with how I can make my facial scrub TSA-safe, meaning it's not a baggie or plastic container full of white powered. Join me on the journey as I figure out what this is going to look like and my experiments. I am sure this is going to be a mix of Stubborn Steffanie, a little chemistry and a pinch of good luck. I already have an idea in mind and I am really hoping it works! Only time will tell.

525,600 Minutes (Times Three)

I can't believe it's been three years already. It also kinda feels like it was a lifetime ago. (If you aren't sure what I am talking about start here, here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here and here.) Today, I am celebrating my Brainiversary. That's at least what I've decided to call it. Joel gives me weird looks when I say it and, quite frankly, I don't care. So what am I doing today?

I'm filming my video interview/Q&A for Career Camp! It's kinda funny that I am talking to Michelle today. If we want to go back to the very beginning. The very moment I started to get concerned that something wasn't right, I was actually on a conference call with Michelle. I was participating in a continuation of one of her programs. Then, my legs started to tingle.

So I paced.

I didn't want to end the call, it was just my legs were annoying me and I didn't really know what to do. So I walked back and forth across our apartment while participating. I remember leaning on things. Pressing my forehead against the cold glass window while trying to stay apart of the conversation happening around me.

Three years and a titanium skull later, I'm finally letting my hair grow out and am mostly not fearful of something else happening. If you want to scare yourself you can read story after story of unsuccessful operations. But why?

Negativity breeds like rabbits. It is easy to go down that hole and never resurface. That can't be me. That won't be me. In my third year my goal is pretty simple: get back to running.

Running the half marathon less than a year after surgery was a tremendous feat. But I need to keep going. I need continue the tradition. I'm attempting to get back to running so I can really attempt to set a half marathon PR in late 2014 or early 2015. I've been looking at a few races, many of them just happen to be around my birthday!

Here is to a year filled with soap, spas and running shoes!