Growth & Customers
Revive Bath & Body: A craft soap business scales up
Caitlin Abshier’s business journey began with a simple Christmas present. “In high school, my parents gifted me a soap making kit,” she remembers. “It was a good way for me to have a creative output and really enjoy the products I was creating.” She loved Lush products at the time, and dove headfirst into trying to recreate her favorites at home, exploring tons of different ingredients and recipes.
Caitlin was also born with entrepreneurial blood in her veins. Her father runs his own residential lending company, and her mother owned her own floral business in the early 2000s—even Caitlin’s grandmother sold painted t-shirts and sweatshirts in the 90s. “My whole life we were always going to craft shows,” she says. So naturally, it wasn’t long before she saw her homemade soaps and thought to herself, “You know what? I think I could sell this stuff.”
With that thought, she launched right in—and Revive Bath & Body was born. “I signed up to do my first craft show at the Marietta Square. I did various craft shows all around Georgia—almost every single weekend. That was really hard. It was a lot of work, but it really paid off.” She started to build a following and get a steady revenue stream going. But keep in mind, Caitlin was still in high school, so in addition to her business aspirations, she still had plenty of personal ones too. “I decided to go to KSU and study business management and entrepreneurship. At the time I knew I wanted to work with startups, but I didn’t know that it would be running my own business!” That turned out to be the perfect complement to her business journey. “I would take a marketing class and then go home and apply those principles into my business,” she remembers.
And those principles served her well. “Through all of college, I did my business on the weekends, and it allowed me to graduate with no student loans. I was selling soap like crazy, and it supported me through college.”
Committing to the journey
After college, Caitlin remembers, her parents sat her down to have a talk. “We believe in you,” she remembers them saying. “We think you could make your business successful. You should try this now.” With their enthusiastic support, Caitlin began to work full time on her business.
She quickly realized she needed to make some changes if her business growth was going to be sustainable. “You can only grow so much by doing a craft show every weekend,” she says. “So how was I going to grow? Wholesale. Selling products to other people who would sell them was the answer.” Luckily, Caitlin’s mom managed two hospital gift shops at the time. “She was my wholesale buyer mentor,” Caitlin says, and she helped her learn the ropes of the buying process. And like any proud mom would be, she became Caitlin’s first wholesale account. Eventually, Caitlin’s product line got picked up by a sales rep group. “So we have people who sell our products throughout different states in the U.S.,” she explains.
The momentum was soon undeniable. “I started working full time for the business in 2014, and by the end of that year I hired my first employee, which was my college roommate. I have eight total employees now, three years later. It is so crazy and so fun.”
The specifics of scaling
Of course, that growth didn’t come without a few growing pains. Some of them were technical, like the challenge of how to make enough soap to fulfill their orders. “When I was first making bath and body products, I would make batches of about 10 bars of soap at a time. Now we’re making batches of 200 bars at a time,” Caitlin says. To accommodate that shift, they also had to shift their buying practices. “We buy a lot of stuff in bulk,” Caitlin explains. “Instead of buying a gallon of olive oil, I’m buying 500 gallons of olive oil at a time.”
Another scale-up issue was space. “In the beginning, I borrowed some space in my mom’s laundry room,” Caitlin remembers. When that didn’t cut it anymore, she took over the basement. Eventually she moved her operation to a 500 square foot studio space. Today, they receive all their ingredients, hand-make their products, and ship their orders from a 1200 square foot space in Atlanta. “We did learn how to scale up,” Caitlin says.
The day they really got to a new level was their first big order from Hobby Lobby—they wanted product for all 750 of their stores. That’s about 20,000 bars of soap, and the biggest order Caitlin had yet received. “I had to sit down and figure out how long it would take us to fill it and how much it was going to cost,” Caitlyn says. Another challenge was the upfront cost of the order. “When you have a big account like that, you have to deliver the product before they pay you,” Caitlin explains, so she suddenly had a cash flow issue on her hands. She had to figure it out. Her dad—a residential lender—offered to be her lender and teach her the process of getting a loan. Caitlin did an official presentation to him about the purchase order, the cost, the time she would take to fulfill it, and how soon she would be able to pay back the loan.
With those funds, she was able to fulfill the Hobby Lobby order. “We’re now on the fourth purchase order, and I’ve only had to borrow money for that first one,” Caitlin says. “Some businesses, especially inventory-based businesses, do operate on a lot of debt. I don’t like to do that, so it’s just really cool that we’re able to cover our own purchase order costs now because of those little pieces of good advice that people have given me along the way.”
Always asking questions
The process of scaling up has taught Caitlin a lot—as have her smart, entrepreneurial parents. But perhaps the most helpful thing she’s learned about business is to keep asking questions, no matter how much she’s learned. “I think asking other people how they do it is really important, because I don’t know everything. I’m okay with that. I think sometimes other business owners are not okay with saying ‘Hey, I have no idea what I’m doing,’” Caitlin says, but it’s a key part of business success. “Be willing to ask people ‘Hey, how did you fill this huge order?’ or ‘How did you hire your first employee?’ Asking questions is really important and has helped me a lot.”
And after hearing Caitlin’s scale-up story, the only question we have is, “What will she achieve next?”
To hear more about Caitlin’s success story listen to her podcast interview with Ed Kless.
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