Saturday, July 02, 2011

day 43
Business Lessons 101, A Continuing Series for New Artisans

#10 --- That was Then. This is Now!
The Original River Girls, Mermaids in 2000 and 2010!
One of the biggest balancing acts to pull off in business is knowing when to cease doing something one way and when to commence doing it another. Those who are loathe to change will find it difficult to succeed as an artisan, for the truth is, nothing stays the same. Failure to examine and alter recipes, techniques and methods of conducting business can weaken any fledging enterprise.
Lauren Bacall Today Still
Getting it Done!

Lauren Bacall Then
A decade ago when I began handcrafting soap, newcomers were flocking  to the hobby and business in droves. The state of the art for those using bases was a product that was reasonably gentle but contained surfactants, and chemicals deemed safe but questionable. Artisans developed their own formulas to plump up the moisturizing capabilities of the soap, selecting fresh additives such as oatmeal, fruits, butters and oils. Several years later, however, base manufacturers became increasingly adept at producing near natural bases stripped of the propylene glycol and parabens they formerly contained. Shea butter and goat milk bases also appeared.

At River Girls, keeping with our reputation for producing gentle, fragrant vegetable-based soaps, I abandoned a supplier of 10 years to adopt an entirely new soap base. This one would contain no detergents while maintaining its core components of coconut  and palm oils. It was not an easy decision, for my customers seemed very happy and few ever asked about ingredients. They loved the way it looked, smelled and performed, and kept coming back for more. Ultimately, however, the decision was based on a long term view to the health and well being of my customers and the environment.

The process of testing such new bases took over a year and also required altering the proprietary blend River Girls uses to nourish its bars. The end result was spectacular, the same gentle sudsy bar but harder and significantly kinder to the body and the planet. In short, change will and must come, but keep the following in mind:

1. Know explicitly why you are making the change. For financial reasons? To improve your competitiveness in the market place?  To promote the health and well-being of your clients and customers? Having a clear cut reason is vital. Introducing new products or shelving others willy-nilly  without thorough examination and foresight can lead to rapid deficit spending. 

2. Are you emotionally ready? Expect applause ....but some boos. No matter what your motivation and how successful you view the change, a small percentage of faithful customers will not be pleased with ANY changes in your product, appearance or presentation. These will often be loyal veterans who have been with you from the beginning. One of River Girls biggest supporters and most lucrative customers immediately detected a change in the soap and declared he did not like it! As a result, he now orders his soap as a custom product with us using the old base for his order.

3. Be prepared to monitor the impact of change. Are customers buying less, the more or the same?  Are you garnering more positive public relations and comments? What did you seek to achieve and is it being achieved? Once River Girls' new soaps had quietly been on the market for a few months, I wrote individually and polled our oldest and most loyal customers. The response was overwhelmingly positive and an indication that indeed the change was the right one.

Good night,

Copyright Wanda Fleming, 2011

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