Ask anyone for the reason why they buy a bar of natural soap and you will get a surprising range of answers. One would expect the fact that you buy soap to get clean to be right up at the top but because of the PR surrounding the benefits our wonderful products can bring, ‘getting clean’ is pretty near the bottom of the list.
The most common reasons people buy a bar of hand made soap are as follows:
If creams, lotions and potions are your passion there are many other reasons you can add to that list, some originating with skin condition, ethnicity, fear, age and, of course, our desire to look good.
I list these reasons above because if you are running a soap or skincare business it is critical that you understand who your product is aimed at and how to tempt people to buy it. If you pin point your target market on the above list you then have immediate guidelines for the ingredients you should use, price point you should aim for and/or the style, message, design that your branding and packaging should put across in order to appeal to them.
The biggest issue the artisan producer has is that we cannot, by the nature of our manufacturing processes aspire to compete with the big boys by producing huge volumes of product that we can sell at a low price. There is very little room for price reduction when volumes increase except in the economies we can make through the time saved on super batching and buying our ingredients and packaging in bulk. Whilst we have the ability to keep our overheads low (limited major investments required for plant and machinery) this fact alone means that more and more players are coming into the market and the competition is fierce.
When I started soaping 25 years ago it was enough to have a USP around being ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ but in today’s market those statements alone wouldn’t begin to give you a sufficient marketing edge. What we lose in our lack of capacity to produce volume we can gain in our ability to be flexible because as small producers we can react to new market opportunities much faster than the big guys can.
So how do we capitalize on our strengths and diminish our weaknesses? Well in my view we do this by specializing in small markets that offer high returns. Whilst I have given you a broad list of possible target markets above the opportunities for defining a niche market worth going for are multi-layered.
When honing down our options the first choice we can consider is whether we want to make products for women or for men. The male grooming market includes numerous possibilities for specialization eg. shaving products, sports products, products designed to remove grime, the list is endless In addition, men are becoming far more conscious of the need for personal grooming products so this really is a booming market that is well worth investigating.
When looking at the differences between people and the opportunities those differences throw up we can also look at various ethnicities and their specific requirements in terms of skin and hair care, and we can look at age groups including babies and teenagers and target their skincare requirements.
Since time began, (like it or not), ‘fear’ has always provided us with a great marketing tool, nobody wants to be stinky or wrinkly and the art of marketing is establishing a message through our packaging and promotional material that will convince our customers that this is the best product for a particular job or aspiration and then identifying the people we need to reach and establishing how best to reach them.
In addition to the human condition ‘buying local’ and ‘helping the community’ are two powerful messages we could chose to adopt as our USP. They are both quite low down on the buying pattern list but very useful tools for the small skin care entrepreneur.
Our choice of ingredients gives us yet more opportunities particularly if you grow specific herbs or happen to keep bees or goats or, as they do here in France, donkeys who produce lashings of nutrient rich ass’s milk that can be added to soap and skin care products. The point I am making here is that by keeping your range tight and focused you become a specialist and specialized products can demand a much higher price than those with a more general theme.
Clever packaging ideas offer even more opportunities as does the size of your product. I am thinking here of the big cubes of soap closely identified with the French and also of small miniature products that can be sold as travel kits.
The shape of your product can also be distinctively associated with your brand ….think of ‘Lifesaver’ sweets in the US and ‘Polo mints’ in Europe both brands probably remembered best for the simple reason that they are round with a hole in the middle! The secret here is to keep your distinctive packaging /shape idea consistent throughout your range so that your customer will immediately know that a product , be it hand cream or soap, comes from a range and a maker that they respect.
If you are anything like me, the temptation to introduce endless new products and ideas will be very hard to resist but as an artisan planning to sell into stores it is important that in the early stages of your business you define your range, and keep it small, Identify your market and work out how to get to it. Price your products high but give people a really sound reason for spending their money on them. Time spent focusing on building your brand is twenty times more valuable than time spent focusing on building your range.
Adapted from a feature first published in ‘The Saponifier’ Magazine