The crowdfunding campaigns were so successful that The Gambler Body Wash was 174% funded and Blazing Saddles Body Wash (the sexiest body wash ever) was 182% funded.
That's fantastic news, and we're really excited, because new product development is an absolute bear. And not a teddy bear, either. It's more like we're Jedediah Smith vs a bear on the trail.
I mean, we're winning, but it's not without a fight.
Manufacturing is very interesting work, and this body wash / shower gel work has been among the more interesting product development we have undertaken, so I wanted to take you along on the journey of how one oft-requested product comes to fruition.
Last year, we released 12 measly bottles of shower gel in our very early phases of product development. It was incredibly well received, and sold out in a couple of hours. One reviewer said, "Well tie me to an anthill and smear my ears with jam if this ain't the best smelling soap around. I love it as much as the bars. Hard to leave the shower when it smells so darn good."
And yet we didn't make any more in 2016.
Why? Well, amigo, let's take a journey through our product development process.
Step 1: Establish market viability
This is pretty easy, actually. People just ask and ask and ask until we are worn down from asking and eventually say, "ok, we'll try it!"
Kind of like how marijuana got legalized.
Step 2: Research ingredients
This is expensive, since we have to order a bunch of tiny amounts of shower gel base, and pay incredible amounts of money to have them shipped to us. Since we are using fragrance oils, the gel base reacts unpredictably to the oils. Some blends come out too thick, some come out too thin.
Step 3: Create test prototypes
We're bar soap people, so it's hard for us to know what we're looking for in a shower gel. How thick is the right thickness? How strongly should it smell?
Without any expertise in this arena, it's hard to know. We do our best.
Step 4: Refine ingredients / manufacturing technique
We're pretty sure that shower gel or body wash isn't supposed to be the consistency of water, though, so we take a few tries to get it gel-like.
Step 5: Sell a limited number of first-batch items
This was that little stint of 12 or so that we sold last year. They went so fast that almost no one got them, but hey, that's the limited number.
Step 6: Panic! It's Christmas!
Nothing happens during Christmas. NOTHING. And our "Christmas" starts sometime between June and August. This means Russ is in 100% full production mode so we don't sell out of our most popular gift items.
Step 7: Wonder if Christmas will ever end / Wish Christmas would never end
Oh wow, thank God for all this money... goodbye credit card debt and every loan we ever took out!
Step 8: Recover from the end of Christmas
"I don't even know what I'm doing with my life."
Step 9: Reconsider entire business, Suffer intense existential crisis
"I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT I'M DOING WITH MY LIFE."
Step 10: Get major distribution deal that doesn't include new product
🎉 Hooray! We are officially distributed by UNFI, the largest natural food distributor in the US! But only for our bar soaps, and only for the bar soaps that are sold through Whole Foods.
Step 11: Hear more "market viability" (i.e. customers repeatedly asking)
Step 12: Revisit original ingredients, find different ones
"Maybe those earlier ingredients weren't right. Maybe we should revisit this so UNFI can sell us to their all natural markets."
Step 13: Evaluate ingredients from a pricing perspective, reconsider different/newer ingredients
"Oof. But if we sell these 'more natural' products, we'll have to charge $22 for a single 8 oz bottle of shower gel."
Decide to go ahead and order more expensive ingredients for now, and only sell them retail (through our website) and through Amazon, avoiding the wholesale markup situation. We know this is not a sustainable solution, since wholesale accounts will want the new products as well, but we decide to cross that bridge when we come to it.
Step 14: Chat with designer, create Pinboard for design direction
One of our biggest and most valuable design tools is Pinterest. Since our packaging is inspired by old western bottles, I started an antique liquor bottles Pinboard to communicate with our designer.
Step 15 : Research packaging
Our original prototypes were made in tall, round "cosmo" bottles that were squeezable. Though these were pleasing on some level, since their profile was sleek and modern, we wanted to find a bottle that looks like an old whiskey bottle.
I specifically wanted something that felt familiar in the hand of people who have fond memories of holding whiskey bottles. You know, people like us.
It was important that the bottle be plastic and very durable, since no one wants glass in the shower.
Since this was our first foray into mass-production of liquid-proof packaging, we also had to research seals. It was important that the gels wouldn't burst forth from their containers in variable altitudes and temperatures (not to mention serious agitation), since most of our products are delivered by mail. In this case, we'll also be shipping our products to Amazon, which means they have to also endure unknown handling care by total strangers who may or may not be aware that liquid is in the packages.
Step 16: Re-evaluate pricing based on new packaging and ingredients
Once we found the right packaging, we had to re-evaluate the pricing. Packaging is often the most expensive part of a product, and volume discounts can change the final price of a product by up to $4. That's a huge difference!
But on the other hand, if we order, say, 1,000 bottles and we only sell 100 products, all that money is gone and we have all these leftover bottles on our shelves.
So when we're creating a new product, we have to weigh the forecasted popularity of the product against the risk that we'll lose a heap of money and end up with a bunch of unusable packaging on our shelves.
Step 17: Get project cost quote from star designer, Alyssa Butler / approve project
We're very lucky to have Alyssa on our team, since it's hard to find a designer that speaks a common language and generally "gets it" the first time around.
Our first project with Alyssa was the revision of our classic soap packaging (pictured right). I wanted to make the packaging bolder and more exciting overall, since I felt our former cursive packaging didn't really express the excitement of our products. Alyssa did things with the type on the packaging (the back of the packaging is also very exciting) that I didn't realize were possible with typography, so I was (and am) very excited to work on these body wash bottles with her.
She loved the whole concept of making it look like a whiskey bottle, and knew it had to be a package that people would be proud to have in their shower.
I mean, sure, not a lot of people get to see the inside of someone else's shower, but those select few are a pretty important audience to impress.
And lemme tell you from experience, Axe doesn't impress.
So, working with Alyssa, we were able to get a great package design quote for what we know is going to be a truly incredible product line.
Step 18: Order prototype of packaging, find limitations, re-evaluate everything
It doesn't squeeze. The lid we wanted is out of stock through late April.
Should we even do this?
Ok, yes, of course we should still do this. The People have spoken.
Step 19: Get label samples from printer
I had somehow misplaced all my label samples (or used them as tape, which I tend to do if I can't find tape), so I had to order a whole new set of label samples.
We print through Lightning Labels and we're very happy with their service and quality. They have roughly a bazillion label options, though, so we had to wade through everything from woven satin labels to a new kind of bio-degradable sticker made from rock. Yes, really. It's called "bio-stone," and it's made from ground rock!
With options like that, how are we supposed to decide what kind of labels to use?
Well, the decisions are always about function. As cool as satin fabric is, bringing satin into the shower with you is not going to work. So we decided on standard plastic (aka BOPP) labels.
Step 20: Revisit pricing based on new label prices
Ok, but now, really what are the prices again?
Step 21: Scrape around for money, decide to pursue "creative product development" funding options (specifically: Crowdfunding)
The price is going to be high, but let me tell you what's more expensive than $14 body wash: product development.
In order to get the best price on everything, we have to order in volume. Which means we're going to spend about $3k in supplies alone, not including the design, photos, ads, postcards, etc that accompany a product launch.
Annnnd we didn't have $3k.
I mean, we could have had $3k if our SBA business loan came through in time, but it didn't, so we don't. (side note: it was approved, though, so this gave us a little bargaining ability with those people who were willing to accept net 30 terms)
We looked in the couch cushions, broke the piggy bank, and checked all our coat pockets, but we just couldn't find $3,000.
So we decided to ask the people who had been asking for us to make this product: "Exactly how much do you want us to do this? Enough to front us the money?"
Step 22: Launch crowdfunding campaign
In an email newsletter, a blog post, a facebook post, and a tweet, we announced the start of the crowdfunding campaign. It would be quick and minimal, since I didn't want to set our sights too high. We just needed to get a thousand dollars and we could manage the rest.
I should also note here that I revised the product description and did some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) by searching whether people search more often for "shower gel" or "body wash." The winner was "body wash."
Step 23: Celebrate success of crowdfunding campaign
The campaigns got off to a strong start, and had fully funded by the deadline! We were in business, both literally and figuratively!
It was time to start production.
Step 24: Enlist star illustrator, Lynette May, to create sketches for our core scents
Lynette has been a friend of ours for four years. She has created several breathtaking and iconic pictures for us (literally iconic - she painted our dogs as Medieval saints). When Alyssa and I had the idea to sketch the portraits of the independent gents who would represent the scents (as they do on our western cologne), I knew exactly who could do it.
Lynette absolutely nailed it. A few days later, she returned some fantastic illustrations and I passed those along to Alyssa, who incorporated them into the design:
Step 25: Get first round of designs from Alyssa
THIS WAS THE BIG MOMENT!
Alyssa sent over the first rounds of designs for us to review. I wasted no time in cutting out the labels and sticking them on my prototype bottle (which you saw at the top of this post).
Step 26: Provide notes
The first set unquestionably were the ones. 😍 But we had a couple notes about color and layout.
Also, I had completely forgotten to include the very important words "BODY WASH" anywhere on the label. Ha!
Step 27: Test prototype of new ingredients, make adjustments
"Can you bring home another bottle of shower gel?"
"Ok, I brought home some with sandalwood in it."
"Can you bring home another bottle of shower gel, this time with Blazing Saddles in it?"
"Can you bring home another bottle of shower gel, this time with more scent?"
"The new formula or the old one?"
"The new old one."
"Can you bring home another bottle of shower gel?"
Step 28: Test new prototype of new new ingredients, make more adjustments
"Sure. This one has more scent and is in the old base, which is new."
Step 29: Receive new designs from Alyssa, celebrate our impending victory over the bear
This time, we only had a couple notes.
Mostly, I was worried that people wouldn't be able to tell that it's body wash from the label, even though now it says "body wash" on the label. The last thing I want is for a potential customer to pass our product by because they didn't realize it was body wash!
"I don't want people to have to take off their glasses to read the label." - Danielle
Step 30: Order press proof of designs
WE ARE GETTING CLOSE TO LAUNCH
A little more than a week away from our promised ship date, we still don't have our final formula or packaging.
Alyssa ordered press proofs so I could see what the different labels look and feel like. These are expensive, but are necessary. It's better to spend $50 on label proofs than to waste $600 on mis-printed labels.
Step 31: Test new new prototype of new new new ingredients, make more adjustments
"Can you bring home another bottle of body wash?"
Later: "This was a pain to get into the bottle. I don't know if it's going to work."
Step 32: Purchase competitive product (Axe "Peace" Shower Gel), regret purchasing competitive product due to malodorous bathroom
WHO THE HECK USES THIS STUFF?
I mean... I know I'm sensitive. I know it. But last night, Russ was wandering around smelling like Peace to high heaven.
Step 33: Order initial set of bottles, sealers, and lids for first full round of shower gel
Step 34: Realize first set of bottles, sealers, and lids isn't going to be enough, order 3x as many
... And that's where we are right this minute. Stay tuned next week when we receive the press proofs of the labels, change the designs again, and go into production with our new new new new ingredients!
By all counts, this product launch is going to be our biggest and most successful to date! But even saying that, I realize I haven't let the press know or contacted any bloggers. I still have to alert our sales reps, take photos, redo the catalog, etc.
But it's good to have gotten this far!