The handcrafted Bath + Body market has grown increasingly more popular, in part thanks to those consumers demanding more from today’s manufacturers. But, also because buying handcrafted usually means that we know the story behind a brand + their products, the hands that touched them, and the love that went into getting them to us. This doesn’t mean that all handcrafted items meet the needs/desires of all people. It just means that we, the consumers, have an opportunity to get the most value out of our hard-earned money by supporting small business + asking just the right questions.
Whether you buy a lotion from a festival vendor. Or purchase a bar of soap at the local Market. Or a bath bomb at the Country Store by a supplier nearby. We often have an opportunity to “meet the makers” of these amazing goods. At a time where you have many to choose from, there are good, bad, and straight up ugly-ass questions that can help you find something that is a perfect match for you. Below is a list of 10 questions that, as a handcrafted vendor, local wholesaler, and online marketplace operator…I have been asked (in many cases, often). I’ll tell you which are the GOOD, which are the BAD, and the downright UGLY.
1. Do you make all of this?
Of course, the answer is going to vary by company. For Monocacy Soap Co. the answer is simple…yes. We do sell a few body care accessories (soap savers, soap nets, shave brushes, etc.) that are purchased in bulk to enhance the products that we make. However, our products are made by hand, by us. Not all handcrafted brands are. Some choose to private label or resell. This is a GOOD question to ask. Especially if you are looking for a truly local product.
2. Can you share your recipe(s)?
Here’s the 411…chances are, if a maker’s brand is based off of education into the general process of “product making”. For example, if the brand owner offers “make-it-yourself” classes, they may offer a certain recipe to share. Otherwise, chances are, it is proprietary information. I mean…did Pepsi make billions by sharing recipes? Lord no. I can only speak for my company, but ALL of our products go through 4-6 rigorous months of testing before they make it onto the manufacturing stage. I don’t “copy” recipes. I choose certain ingredients based on how I want the final product to perform and the purpose it will serve the user. I make small batches. I tweak them. I offer family the chance to try them in exchange for their feedback. ONLY when I believe the product is absolutely perfect, do I add it to our manufacturing calendar. This is a whole lot of time, energy and money devoted to one single recipe just to give it away. This one is just UGLY. And so is my face…usually…when I hear it.
3. What is the lowest price you will take for this?
Not EVEN gonna lie. I can respect the person that tries to spend less. I feel ya! I do offer sales on occasion. Sometimes just for my email subscribers. However, as small business handcrafters, we are generally not making a huge margin off of each product. In many cases, (after packaging, time, marketing costs, shipping, etc.) we only stand to pocket 10-15% of the price. So major sales? Probably not going to happen. I say this is a GOOD/BAD question. Depends on how you approach it. Maybe follow it up with a little quirky line about making a deal both of you can feel good about.
4. Can I leave my purchase here and stop back for it?
I haven’t gotten this one a lot (mostly because I sell smallish items). This mostly pertains to those buying larger items at an event or market. In most cases, a vendor would be happy to hold your purchase for you to pick back up on your way out of the event. Sometimes, the vendor will give you a business card to hold onto so you know where to stop back. This is a GOOD and a GREAT question. Vendor nabs the sale and YOU get to enjoy the event baggage-free. Win-Win.
5. Can I take a picture of your setup/products?
Please understand, this question (not always, but often) comes from other “like vendors” or the poor, unsuspecting spy that they sent to snoop. My opinion about this question has evolved slightly. There once was a time when I was flattered to have people take pictures of my work. However, I've been burned. (I have actually found an exact replica of one of my products on a local maker’s website.) I know that product designs and/or packaging are not proprietary. But, I don’t need to go making it easy for people to copy my work. And sadly, makers do not know the different between someone that just thinks they’re pretty, and the spy. Sorry to say, this is UGLY.
6. Where do you buy your ingredients?
Here is my actual answer to this, “I have over 30 different suppliers that I use for everything from oils/butters to certified essential oils, from packaging to labels, from shipping to marketing materials. In my case, many people, rightfully so, want to make sure I am manufacturing responsibly with “the good stuff”. I really wish there was a more informative answer here. Moreover, I wish I could get all of my essential oils from one supplier. However, the reality is, essential oils that are 100% pure and truly certified vary in price as often as weekly. The price of each has so many variables…weather, crop availability, demand, location, etc. In short, the answer is “it’s complicated”. This is a GOOD question. Although you might not get a specific answer, this will open up the door for the handcrafter to inform you of if/how they value quality. However, if they answer “none of your business” you may want to keep walking.
7. I have...(enter your health condition/ailment here). What do you recommend?
Now THIS is a question. As a truly all-natural, 100% pure brand, we pride ourselves on using the best in natural clays, herbs, essential oils, unrefined butters and other organic ingredients. We all know that these ingredients have healing properties. However, as soon as I make a connection between one the health benefits and a product I sell, this product changes from a cosmetic to a drug (in the eyes of the FDA). And I don’t sell drugs. Sooo…sadly, it is not legal for me to tell you. I have discovered a few quirky wording tricks that can creatively dance around officially making a health claim. However, I truly don’t enjoy using them. So here’s my advice…take a few minutes and do an online search. If you are not sure who to trust…feel free to ask me to recommend a resource for finding the information. Also, feel free to ask, “is this safe to use for…” children, pregnant women, those with allergies to nuts or acne-prone skin, etc. I will be happy to tell you. Exception: anything not associated with a health condition (ie. mood boosting, energizing, etc.) These are GOOD questions. Just expect to do a little research on your own.
8. I'm not sure if it is going to work for me. Can I have a sample to try?
You’re probably not going to be shocked, but people generally don’t want to pay for something that they can get for free. Having said that, I provide samples quite often. I usually try to keep the purpose of a sample in mind when giving them away. a) to launch a new product/line b) to get products into customers hands that will come back wanting more c) to thank customers for choosing our company over the many others. All of which are my customers. If you are unsure if that bar of soap will help moisturize your Winter-dried skin…just try it. It may not work and you spent $7 to find out. OR it might be the most skin-loving, moisturizing bar of soap you have EVER used. And now you can get rid of all of those other products that you used to have to buy that didn’t really work anyway. I’d say this one is BAD.
9. How long will this product last me?
Too many variables to confidently say. For soaps: do you allow water to drain off between uses? Do you use it daily? Will others? Do you use a wash rag, shower poof, soap net? How large is the bar of soap? Truly handcrafted “cold-processed” bars of soap should cure for at least 4 weeks. If so, they are harder and will last much longer. The question might evoke a few more questions. But this is a GOOD question for you to ask.
10. Can I just buy this as a decoration?
The short answer is “yes, you can.” But, why would you want to? All of those skin-loving ingredients. Natural and pure. And your countertop gets it? Use that bad boy. Use it real hard! Keep your next one out on the sink until you finish using the first one. But for the love of all that is healthy on this planet, use it. Don’t ask this question. It’s so BAD.