Bootstrapping A Bath Products Brand and Growing to $18k/month

The Story of Soak Society

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

I’m Natalie, I founded my bath products brand Soak Society four years ago when I lived in Brisbane and was a student with not much money. At the time, I had just returned from six months living in Guadalajara, Mexico, and was full of business ideas.

Soak Society was the one that stuck, so I ran with it. I launched with a basic website with one product (the Originale Wellness Soak) and started an Instagram account. I really had not much idea about what I was doing, but was determined to create something for myself.

I gradually increased the range of Wellness Soaks as I had the money to, and late last year we introduced an all natural Bubble Bath, BathDew, to the product collection.

Our customers are primarily our stockists. They are generally small business owners of independent gift stores, spas and salons, florists, and online stores. In mid 2017, we partnered with a distributor in Japan, and we are now stocked in around 100 luxury department stores in Tokyo!

This financial year we are on track to turn over $200,000 and have tripled our profit from last financial year.

soak-society-bathdew-19

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

At the time, I was working in a cafe in Brisbane while I finished off my communications degree, and the apartment I was in had a shower/bath type tub. It wasn’t the nicest tub.

I tried to make Sunday evenings my time to relax and unwind after a big weekend working on my feet. I would light candles and read a magazine in the bath, and I was making epsom salt and clay mixes with essential oils. At that point I had been toying with a few other business ideas, but then I realised the answer for a business was right in front of me - I had been creating this product that I enjoyed using, and I couldn’t find any other product in Australia like it at that time. I especially couldn’t find a brand that was a niche bath products brand.

Some good decisions have been to focus on my own physical, mental and emotional health by making sure I am eating well, sleeping and exercising. If I’m not in good shape then my business definitely isn’t. This includes lots of baths, of course!

I had the products for a month or two before the name Soak Society came to me one day when I was driving from the Sunshine Coast back to Brisbane. I remember I had to go straight to uni, and I skipped the first part of whatever class I had to sit in the cafe and register the domain and business name - it seemed so urgent!

I didn’t have any background or expertise in manufacturing these kind of products, it was all research I did after I had the idea for the business.

I can’t say that I really validated the idea by doing focus groups or anything like that, I just knew in my gut that this was the product I wanted to make, and the vision was so clear - so I just followed my intuition.

I was so broke - I remember buying my first round of labels and it being like $60 or something and then I didn’t have that much money left over for food or petrol that week. I bought all the raw materials in very small quantities in the beginning, as I was only working 2-3 days per week in the cafe so I definitely didn’t have much spare cash. The thing I did have a lot of was spare time. And I think I did well to use that to my advantage.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

Deciding on the actual formula was not a huge issue in the beginning because, as I said, I was already using the product and the essential oils we use are quite common in beauty products.

I had a few issues in the beginning with trying to choose the right packaging for the Wellness Soaks. I knew I didn’t want it to be glass so that it is safe in the bathroom, and I knew I wanted it to be black.

I decided on the ‘coffee bag’ type packaging as it’s lightweight and easy to post. I had a friend who was studying graphic design to create the labels for me for the packaging and I just started printing small runs of I think 100 at a time.

Soak Society BathDew F 5x7 72dpi

Because I took my time to launch each new soak, I already had in mind scent and type I wanted and it was like it was already obvious what the next one would be, if that makes sense! After Originale I launched Rose, then Sleep, then Noosa. They are all based on Epsom salt and Celtic Salt - so that made it easy to order raw materials in bulk. And each one has a different clay and petals and essential oils.

I made sure to trademark Soak Society within the first year, and since then have also trademarked BathDew.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

I literally had no idea how to create a website! I somehow figured it out, although I can barely remember how. I first used Shopify, then switched to Wordpress, then to Squarespace (which we currently use) and we are about to change back to Shopify!

It has definitely been an ongoing challenge, but I have always taught myself how to design them using themes (to save money), it is only now that we are using an agency to create a custom site for us!

95% of our revenue is from wholesale, because a few years ago (after I quit my job to work full time on the business) that was my strategy to build the brand. We did two trade fairs and a whole lot of cold emailing. It is only in the last few weeks that I am working on the online retail strategy to create a more rounded business strategy, i.e. not just relying on wholesale.

Soak Society BathDew A SQR 300dpi

I think a lot of our customers and stockists find us through Instagram and Facebook. Our Instagram has been slowly ticking organically along over the last four years and we are now at 12k followers.

In the beginning, I didn’t use any loans or credit cards, just my own money. It was only at the point when I quit my job (two years ago) that I got a business loan to finance a PR agency contract to boost our brand awareness, and the bond and months rent on a warehouse space (as it was getting too big for my spare room at home!). I have borrowed money from my very supportive partner at times, and we still have the business loan going, but now that our profit is increasing I’m looking to pay that back sooner and get the debt out of the way.

We have also had lots of growing pains costs over the last year or so as we’ve started to export (international trademarks, overseas trips etc), so this year was going to be a sort of ‘catch up’ year… although there are always things to spend money on! I guess my focus is increasing my profit margins in order to actually pay myself a proper wage!

Since launch, what has worked to attract new customers?

We have been fairly consistent with posting on Instagram and Facebook and something that has worked really well to build our following and awareness has been collaborating with other brands and some influencers. Mainly brands though. Choosing another like minded brand with a similar audience and following and doing a small giveaway or Loop competition. It was definitely a slow build, but I feel like it has now paid off in getting the brand to where it is.

We’ve only just started doing Facebook ads so I’m yet to see how they go! Because we’ve been focussed on wholesale only, so just doing trade fairs and emailing stores we think would be the right fit.

The PR firm we hired was also a great move in terms of credibility. They got us featured in Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, and about 20 other publications, plus loads of influencers photographed our products on social media. We are able to use that credibility now in our brand messaging and I think it helps when approaching stockists.

I like living close to the beach and working on my own schedule. I’m not looking for investment, I’m keen to keep bootstrapping and to own my business 100%.

I also believe that great customers service has been instrumental in the survival of my business. I always receive compliments from stockists on our service and I think that’s why we get repeat orders, along with having a great product at a great price point!

I would say that if you’re going to get into wholesaling, make sure you’ve included enough margin in your products from the very beginning, and keep a track of your profit. Plus, listening to the feedback from stockists can help with designing new products!

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

Things are looking good! I feel confident for the future of Soak Society as our profit has tripled from last financial year, which means I can pay myself a bit more often. Our cost of goods is good, but I am working every day to try to reduce it, by buying more of our materials and packaging in larger quantities.

It’s a constant struggle between spending money on marketing activities and spending money on a large bulk order of a particular item that will save us money by doing so.

We have a warehouse in Coolum Beach just five minutes from where I live, and I employ two women part time. Zita does manufacturing, shipping out orders and some graphic design, and Jill works on blog content, some social content and admin assistance.

I don’t feel like I want to have a big team and spend all my time on HR tasks! I’d rather keep it fairly small and try to be efficient in improving our processes and ultimately profit. I like having a business in the lifestyle and natural beauty category. And I like living close to the beach and working on my own schedule.

I’m not looking for investment, I’m keen to keep bootstrapping and to own my business 100%. For now, we won’t expand to any other countries, we’ll work on strengthening the relationship with Japan and Hong Kong, and we are also developing some new products just for the Asian market.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Hard things to learn have been to be frugal in the business - every dollar counts!

I’m pretty good at spending money. A couple of years ago I spent a big chunk of money on some toiletries cases that just didn’t sell quickly, so they were just sitting on the shelf. Also on a gift set that I think was just priced too high. I think I had to go through that though, to know it was the wrong thing to do when I had less cash available than I do now.

Some good decisions have been to focus on my own physical, mental and emotional health by making sure I am eating well, sleeping and exercising. If I’m not in good shape then my business definitely isn’t. This includes lots of baths, of course!

I don’t really believe in ‘luck’, I do believe that some things just happen as they’re meant to and we can’t control them. But it’s mainly just hard work, tenacity, stubbornness and a vision. I’m a Capricorn so I’m hard working and stubborn so that helps!

There is a solution to every problem. Don’t give up until you find it. There’s nothing that annoys me more than when people say it’s too hard. I think there is something to be said for brands that are successful after many years. It’s just because they’ve stuck around, evolved, grown, and learnt about their customers. The overnight successes are rare - I don’t know how they get their customers and products right, from the very beginning!

When you’re building a brand, especially if you’re bootstrapping, you need patience. It was never my goal to build my brand really quickly and sell loads of product by any means necessary, I am fairly happy with slow consistent growth and being able to keep up with demand.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

That’s about it! I keep it pretty simple.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I truly believe that personal development is crucial to business success, so I spend as much time reading and learning about self discovery and spirituality as I do about business. Everything is intertwined.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can shop at www.soaksociety.com and also follow us on Instagram @soaksociety and on facebook.com/soaksociety.

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