Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, y’all, I am Sandy Engels and I am the owner and artisan of The Purple Sage, a company created to encourage modern midlife women to live and love boldly.
When my youngest child started kindergarten, I started my first business doing medical billing from home. Which I sold a few years later...and went back to being a stay at home Mom.
I’ve been making soap and bath products since 2002. I got serious about business in 2011. In addition to selling online, I do festivals and events in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia. My average revenue is $2800 a month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
As far back as I can remember, I have had a love of anything purple. So it was only natural that purple is my signature color and part of the name of my business. I started making “soap” as a little girl. I would take the little soap scraps and put them in a jar and fill with hot water. I was super excited that I had made soap. Actually it made more of slime than soap, but I was content with my creation. Who knew I was recycling, and repurposing?
Fast forward and I find myself making soap, once again. Only this time, I “know” what I’m doing and I’m loving the creative part. After going to an aromatherapy workshop where they made a form of soap, I remembered how I used to make soap as a child and it sparked my interest to learn how to make real soap. So I started looking online and joined a few Yahoo groups that were about soapmaking. I also bought a few books on soapmaking. I learned how to use lye in a safe manner and to add it to the oils and butter to create the saponification process...I was hooked.
Initially, I made so much soap, that I was just giving it away, and so that became the beginning of The Purple Sage. After all, you can only take so many baths.
As my children grew up and left home (empty nest) I realized there are women just like me that have been caring for others for 2 or 3 decades. Women who are realizing that their nest is becoming empty, but continues to be full. And it’s at this time, that aha moment of…It’s time for me…and so the ritual of bathing and creating a self-care routine begins.
For the modern midlife woman, we need unlearn years of behavior, of putting others first all the time. Starting a bathing ritual is just the beginning...the tip of the iceberg. I encourage women to create a self-care routine, starting with taking a Bubbleaux (bubble O) Bubble Bath. I listened to what women were saying, they wanted to be able to sit and soak with lots of bubbles and oils that would make their skin feel silky soft. They wanted to feel special and to feel pampered in the comfort of their tub. So Bubbleaux was created.
I started experimenting with different formulas until I found one that I liked. Adjusting the amount of bubbles, and oils to soften skin. I also added a product that is safe and helps keep the tub from getting slippery due to the oils. Then I enlisted the help of my friends and clients and we began the fun part of testing. Testing consisted of taking a bubble bath, and giving me feedback, whew, that was hard work!
I always thought, if you build it, they will come. However, that was not the case. It was over a month after my site was up, that I got my first online sale.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I enlisted the help of my friends and clients to create our signature product, Bubbleaux. I started experimenting with different formulas. Adding just the right amount of baking soda to citric acid for the initial product, to create the fizz. Then I added cocoa butter and mango butter along with some jojoba oil, now we are getting somewhere.
After testing this basic formula, I added buttermilk to round out the skin-softening elements. Then came increasing the bubbles to create a really nice bubble bath. Adjusting the number of bubbles was a bit more tricky because that can differ with different types of water, hard or soft as well as the water pressure into the tub. This is where having multiple testers came in handy. The key was to create a product that was enjoyable to use, without creating additional work after using it.
Most fizzy and bubble products that contain oil, leave a residue on the tub, that can be slippery. I wanted to eliminate that problem. I searched until I found the missing ingredient...tapioca starch! From there, it’s deciding which color and scent combo to create. These sample batches were then sent to my testers...who worked hard testing each batch. Testing consisted of taking a bubble bath, and giving me feedback, whew, that was hard work, but somebody had to do it.
Once the formula was finalized, production began. All products are manufactured in house. All the dry ingredients are measured out and then put into a stand mixer to blend, while the oils are being heated. I add the alcohol and water to the scent blend, then add that to the heated oils. This mixture is quickly added to the dry mixture while the mixer is still mixing.
Once the product has been mixed it is poured out onto drying trays and then put in the drying closet for 2 days. After that, it is bottled and labeled and ready for enjoyment.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I connected with Indie Business Network where I have learned so much about how to run a business. I also hired an attorney Andrea Evans to trademark my name. I highly recommend doing this early on so that you don’t run into issues further down the road.
I am fortunate that I have had to take out any loans, I have been able to create and run my business using a business credit card.
My first website design was roughly $1500, which spread over a few months was affordable. I am a great soap and bubbleaux maker. I am not a techno guru, so I have had to hire this part out. I hired a graphic designer to create a website and my labels.
I always thought, if you build it, they will come, ya know like the movie. However, that was not the case. It was over a month after my site was up, that I got my first online sale. I remember that first online sale, I was standing in the line at Home Depot and my phone made a funny noise/ding. I pulled it out and saw that I had a sale! I was trying so hard not to make a scene, and also tell my hubby that I had a sale. It was such an awesome feeling...and one that never goes away, even after thousands of sales...it’s still that exciting.
Back then I offered 44 different scents of soap. I made a few lotions in those scents as well. Keeping all of that stock was more than a full-time job. I was also offering just about any product that I could make, skincare cream, pain relief cream, lotion bars, liquid hand soap, and a foaming milk bath. As a business model, this was not a scalable way to do things. I had to find a better way.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
When I first launched my business, I was just out there selling soaps, lotions, and bubbleaux to anyone that would come to my booth. I didn’t have a clue who I was selling to or who I even wanted to sell to. It took being in business a few years for me to finally figure that out so in 2017 I decided to rebrand my company. I took a course called Brick House Branding with a fantastic company, Lucky Break Consulting. This gave me the tools I needed to rebrand. With the rebrand, I stripped The Purple Sage down to just the bare walls...the only thing that stayed the same was the name.
I dropped most of the scents and products that were not moving and kept the top 20%. This resulted in creating a collection of scents and products. I now have 5 scent collections, and each collection has soap, a large lotion, a purse size lotion and our signature product bubbleaux bubble bath. I also have a few additional soap scents and a few seasonal scents. A free-standing product called Tickle Your Feet is a peppermint foot butter that is to die for.
By narrowing the options for my clients, it has attracted a very loyal client base and it makes it easier for them to choose without being overwhelmed.
Yes, I have had some clients with me since the beginning, because they love the products. I am so grateful for them and they are my best source of referrals. Actually, I am grateful for all my clients, I love getting to know them...they become friends.
I am working to be more consistent with my blogging and newsletter. However, I do post at least 3 times a week to my Facebook and Instagram accounts. I have also created a private Facebook group for my VIPs, called the Sage Sisters. In this group, they get first-hand info about what’s going on.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
If you looked at my business today, it is most definitely not the same business I started 9 years ago. My email list has grown from 10 people to over 500. It has been a slow and steady growth. I honestly don’t get upset anymore when someone unsubscribes. I realize they are not my target. I would prefer to have clients subscribe because they want to hear what I have going on.
I am excited about the changes that I am making. The future is more videos, using Facebook live and Zoom to connect with my clients. By doing this I am positioning myself to be more visible. It’s scary, but that’s ok.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I am an introvert, so selling has never been my strongest point. But I started early on, after I am set up for an event, I would calm my mind and tell myself it is “showtime”. That helps to put me in the right frame of mind to conduct business, and to share my passion. This business has allowed me to become more confident in myself and my abilities. I have been a storyteller for a mastermind event, something I would never have done before.
I have also begun to look for other like-minded individuals and businesses that I can collaborate with to create a win-win for both parties. Last year I collaborated with Laura Luther of Olive My Skin a candle maker, to make candles for my company. She was able to recreate the scents for the 5 scent collections I make. That brings so much joy, to a solo entrepreneur...it helps to ease the feeling of being isolated.
I am learning every day to trust my own instincts and to do what feels right for me. And to stay in my own lane and not pay attention to glossy images of others in my field...ya know the ones that make life and business look so perfect.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
On Shopify, I use Yotpo for product reviews. Once set up this app sends out an email requesting product reviews, and I have had great success with it.
For social media I primarily use Facebook and Instagram, posting daily. I also write a biweekly Blog where I talk about self-care, things like who cares what other people think, what’s on your bucket list, sex begins in the kitchen, as well as behind the scenes of making products. I also send out a biweekly newsletter in which I keep clients up to date with our festivals and events, I talk about ingredients and their benefits
I am very old fashioned, I still use a paper planner for planning out my day/week/month. I use the Passion Planner
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I love listening to the Indie Businesspodcast by Donna Maria Coles Johnson. She provides practical business advice while interviewing other small business owners.
My favorite book has been Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller When you know what your brand is about and who you are talking to, you can build anything.
The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robins Using a simple, but effective tool, you can push yourself forward to accomplish almost anything.
Anything by Rachel Hollis Stop believing all the lies that we as women have been told. Stand up for yourself, you got this!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Plan your life first, then plan your business around your life
- You will never be completely ready to start, so just start NOW
- Find you a mentor that will guide you and be frank with you, that will gently push you along. Even though sometimes you might need a swift kick in the pants
- Make sure you are passionate about what you create...cause you will be creating it for a long time to come
- Start your email list as soon as you have a viable product or service, stay in contact with your clients
- Trust your instincts
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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