This month, I’m following the adventures of four American Made finalists in the Beauty category, and getting up close and personal to see what we can learn from their business-building experiences.
What is American Made? American Made is an annual competition hosted by Martha Stewart Living that spotlights the American maker, and celebrates the handmade movement. Each year, thousands of makers attempt to become an American Made finalist to compete for awesome prizes, including $10,000 to boost their biz.
Our second featured American Made finalist is Stacia of Handcrafted Honey Bee, from Tehachapi, California. Handcrafted Honey Bee creates a variety of handcrafted natural skin care DIY kits, using fresh, high quality ingredients and a broad range of essential oils, flavors, and fragrances to delight the senses.
Every kit comes with detailed information about the uses, origins, and/or global impact of each ingredient. Whether a customer wants to take charge of the ingredients they put on their skin, create an unforgettable handcrafted gift, or share a unique & fun experience with a loved one, their kits are the perfect approach to a well-rounded and educational creation with a message of empowerment and sustainability.
MS: How did it all start? What inspired you to start Handcrafted Honey Bee?
Stacia: Handcrafted Honey Bee officially launched in January of 2014, but we had had our other bath & body product business, Tehacha-Bee Farm, slowly growing for almost 4 years prior to that. By 2013, I was teaching soap making and lip balm making classes locally.
I realized how much I enjoyed teaching people how to make skin care, and I began to consider how I could teach about making it on a much larger scale. The kits allow me to do that—but they also allow me to do so much more. The kits give me the opportunity to help awaken imagination and confidence in women. Our customers are able to make the perfect gift, bridal shower favor, or even their family’s everyday skin care with their own hands…something that can be incredibly empowering!
MS: What is the biggest change you’ve made to Handcrafted Honey Bee from the time it started in 2014 to where it stands today?
Stacia: That’s a really interesting question! When I first conceived of these kits, I truly did think of them as simply “skin care lessons in a box.” But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the experience was providing people with experiences that extended far beyond a simple craft project—and since that realization, I have consistently been trying to find ways to best enhance that experience for them. Whether it is a memorable experience with a daughter, a fun girls’ night in, a special gift for a loved one, or an empowering way to take one’s skin care into her own hands, I want the benefit of the experience to be just as powerful as the benefits of the product itself.
MS: What was the most challenging thing you have faced as a small business owner?
Stacia: I’ve had several challenging periods as a business owner, but I think one of the hardest was this past summer. We took on a grueling show schedule, participating in 10 shows in the course of 15 weeks—from Seattle to San Francisco to Los Angeles to New York. My husband has a day job, so he had to take a lot of time off of work. We also have two children, who were 2 & 4 at the time, and had to enlist my parents to help care for them while we traveled. It was an exhausting and challenging schedule—physically, emotionally, and financially.
We learned a lot about our customer base during that time, and we had a lot of internal growth, but it took its toll on us. When we were finally done, I was sick for almost 6 straight weeks. I learned a very important lesson—that burnout can sneak up on you quite quickly. I took some time to re-center and ground myself in my “why” (my family), and after a few weeks of some very intentional time off, I am finally back with a fresh perspective. While the business is important, it isn’t worth sacrificing my health or our family cohesiveness in order to grow.
MS: What is your guiding philosophy in business?
Stacia: I think that one of the most important aspects of a truly successful business is the building of relationships. And by successful, I mean: does it make a difference in this world? Is it impacting the lives of people? Does it matter? Financial success might be a very nice byproduct of this business, by the way—but it’s not my measuring stick. I’d rather measure success by asking the question: would it matter to people if you weren’t here tomorrow? Connecting with others, building community, inspiring conversations…these are the things that I believe make a business truly successful. And those things can’t happen if the foundation isn’t in relationships. This applies to relationships with customers, of course, but also to relationships with suppliers, retailers, fellow businesspeople, mentors, and even competitors. Our relationships—and how we nourish or neglect those relationships—can be the defining factor in whether or not we have support, encouragement, and insight when we need it the most.
MS: If you could offer one piece of advice to a soapmaker struggling with their own business, what would it be?
Stacia: Listen carefully to what your customers are telling you in order to learn about what they want, but don’t jump on every new product they suggest. Many customers love to give advice on things they want you to carry, but when it comes to buying, that advice doesn’t always translate into sales!
In the early years of my first bath & body business, I would jump as soon as someone suggested a new scent, color, or product. The end result? Lots of clearance sales, because a handful of people would love the idea but there wasn’t necessarily a larger market for it.
Know your customer base and do your market research before investing a lot of time and resources into new scents or products. Instead of spending a lot of business time developing new products and playing with new molds, swirl techniques, or scents (which is totally fun, don’t get me wrong), spend that energy connecting with your customers. Learn about them. Learn why they want what they want. Learn about the things that help them make purchasing decisions. Learn about what makes them happy, and what turns them off. Learn about the other things on which they tend to spend money.
Talk to them, ask them questions, get to know them. That will be the best investment you could possibly make—way better than spending hours learning how to make liquid soap because a couple of customers suggested it at a random craft fair (says the girl who learned the hard way by doing that very thing).
MS: What would winning an American Made award mean for you and Handcrafted Honey Bee?
Stacia: One of the most amazing parts about my business is the opportunity to connect with our incredible customers. Part of the benefit of winning the American Made contest would be our ability to expand our reach much more quickly—to connect with more people, and to immediately have a larger presence in the marketplace. (And, of course, $10,000 wouldn’t hurt either! We talk a little bit about what we would do with the money here, but I can honestly say that at this point the money isn’t our main motivation to win).
That being said…I love this contest, because it provides the opportunity to connect with other makers and new customers even before the announcement of a winner. We get new follows to our social media and signups to our newsletter every day when we’re in the middle of the voting period, and that is one of my favorite parts about it! The opportunity to win would simply accelerate our ability to get our message and products out into the world—no small feat for a small business owner!
Voting for American Made finalists ends on ends on October 19, 2015 at 11:59:59 p.m. EST. American Made winners will be announced October 23, 2015. There is also a voting sweepstakes, where you snag entries just by voting in the competition.
If you’d like to sign up for daily voting reminders, you can do so here. Stacia includes some fun hidden offers, secret videos, recipes, and other cool stuff for people on her daily voting list. (I’m so signed up!)