Have you ever had a hobby that you thought just might work as a business? Denise Zannu was once a schoolteacher who simply enjoyed making soap for herself. Now she has a full business with multiple product lines including soap and other bath and body products as well. She’s been in business almost two and a half years.
See how she got there in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.
What the Business Does:
Black Mermaid Soaps creates natural bath and body products.
Zannu and her team develop and distribute bath and body products to both consumers and businesses. The company currently offers 15 different soaps, five sugar scrubs, five bath salts, and four types of body whips. The products are meant to look good, too, with vibrant colors. As the company tagline says, “Bathing is Beautiful.”
“All natural” products.
Zannu said of her products:
“We use only natural products. We don’t use any additives or preservatives. We use essential oils for the scents. The only things that are in it are things that are good for you … things that you might find in your kitchen. If it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to put on your body.”
How the Business Got Started:
Making soap for herself.
“People would ask, ‘What do you use on your skin?” ‘Soap and water.’ What else do you use [they would ask]. ‘Water and soap.’ I really thought it was a trick question. I was making soap for my own use for 10 or 12 years. A friend [who also made soap] and I would trade off. Friends would come over and say, ‘Oh you made soap last week!’ and take it all. We were giving it away for free.”
One year she gave her products as holiday gifts. The recipients enjoyed the soap so much that they asked if she had any extra. One even offered to pay for it.
“I thought, ‘Ah ha, we have a business idea here!’ We made a second run, and sold it at a holiday bazaar in our church basement, and made $500 in 3 hours. I said to myself, ‘This is a business. This is better than working a second job, it’s better than freelancing. Let’s try this.’”
“Supply and demand does work.”
Zannu started with just four soap products, but customers would ask her about different types of products, such as scrubs and bath salts. She took note of these requests so that she could learn what products most people were interested in. Now she has several different product lines, including seasonal lines and a men’s line.
She decides which types of products to add to her line based on the frequency of customer requests and what is involved in making each one. For instance, Zannu received a request for liquid dog soap. But such a product would require additives. And that isn’t aligned with the company’s values. So she decided to stick with just offering a hard dog soap.
Where and How the Company Sells:
Ecommerce on the company website, and trade shows.
One and a half (not including Zannu).
Black Mermaid’s products are hand-crafted using simple machines. And the small team is able to produce between 1,000 and 1,200 bars of soap each week, in addition to jarred products. Zannu likes this method because it allows her to have full creative control over the products. She said:
“I do the recipes and do quality control. I have to like it, first. The science of the products and the aromatherapy is my bailiwick.”
Sage One for keeping the books.
“It’s great for someone without a finance background. It’s very simple to use. I input my orders, and it can generate a packing slip, send a memo to my customers. It gives me a snapshot of my business.”
How They’d Use An Extra $100,000:
Upscale branding. And trade shows!
“Trade shows are the backbone of the bath and body industry, and I’d like to be able to do 6 to 10 shows a year. It takes resources to get to the shows.”
Favorite Team Treat:
Creating their own products — and getting some for free.
“Twice a year the team gets to suggest new products. That’s how some of our products get developed. The person who suggests it gets the first run of the new products. They also get some products for gifts.”
“I’d love to be on Shark Tank!”
Information for this Spotlight was obtained in a live interview with owner Denise Zannu at Sage Summit, in July 2014. Photograph of Zannu taken overlooking the Las Vegas skyline at sunset.
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Find out more about the Small Biz Spotlight program.
Soap images: Black Mermaid Soaps