Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Michelle Smith and I am the founder and CEO of MamaSuds. MamaSuds creates naturally-focused, synthetic-free products that are truly safe for label-reading people who focus on health + wellness. The MamaSuds product line includes eco-friendly household cleaners and non-toxic liquid soaps. All ingredients are natural, cruelty-free, free of dyes and synthetics, and handcrafted by mamas. Today MamaSuds has been sold to customers in all 50 states, over 9 countries, and has an average revenue of $18k a month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Researching and learning are at the core of my soul and after learning about the ingredients in products I used on my family and home, I taught myself how to make liquid soap. This new addiction turned into formulating a laundry soap that would clean my daughter's cloth diapers. Friends, family, and co-workers enjoyed my soaps so much that my husband built me a website and kept encouraging me to make it a business. For the record, I was a middle school teacher who scoffed at the idea of becoming a business owner. I never ever thought people would buy soap from a middle school teacher! Shortly after my husband set up my website I received my first order from an 82-year-old woman named Dorothy Nelson from Colorado. I cried! I couldn’t believe it. I made it official in January 2012 when I applied for my business license.
I am my biggest adversary. I’ve learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable if I am not growing as an entrepreneur then my business isn’t growing either.
I spent the next year and a half working full time as a teacher and making/selling my products in her spare time.
After a life-altering health scare with my husband, who had a large brain tumor removed in August 2013, I decided to stay home with my family and concentrate on MamaSuds; something that made me happy and fulfilled. This is when MamaSuds really started gaining traction. I created lines of products that had simple ingredients that were safe and made from scratch in small batches.
In 2017 MamaSuds underwent a rebrand with the help of Lucky Break Consulting and Rowan Made Brand Design. Since our re-launch, we have experienced incredible growth and a clear message to our ingredient-savvy customers.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My first two products that I sold were MamaSuds Castile Soap and Laundry Soap. I started to make castile soap a couple of years before I started selling it. I had looked up what the ingredients were in a name brand baby shampoo while I was pregnant with my second daughter. I was surprised to find out it wasn’t soap at all. I figured out what real soap was and bought a small bottle to use to bathe my family. I realized how much I could use the castile soap while giving my daughter a bath... she was about 3 at the time and I cleaned the whole bathroom while she splashed around. So I bought a gallon. After a few gallon purchases, I looked up how to make it myself. I tried it and LOVED it. It felt very rewarding to make something for my family!
After I had my second daughter, I was trying to cloth diaper her but I was getting frustrated about cleaning them. I loved cloth diapering. It was so much cheaper, safer, and environmentally responsible. I felt really good about being able to provide that for my daughter. But they started to smell funny when she was wet. Then, she started to get a rash. Other cloth diapering mamas told me to switch detergents and strip my diapers. Yeah, that is not fun. I had to do this every month. I finally found a cloth diaper safe detergent that worked, but it was expensive enough to make me not want to use it on all the laundry. I was happy I did not have to strip diapers, but it only lasted a few months before my poor baby had an awful rash/diaper burn. I just about threw the towel in on cloth diapering..... What do you think happened next? Yep. In a last-ditch effort, I decided to make my own.
I found a bunch of recipes online but they were all dry products mixed together. I really wanted a liquid version because I already had the liquid castile soap. I first tried castile soap alone. I have very hard water and it didn't cut it. So I researched other sodium minerals that are safe and biodegradable. I ended up with a formula that worked great. I didn't want to hold my breath until a good month went by. In the meantime, I used it for all our laundry. It worked great on our clothes, so hoped it would work on the diapers.
After a month, I started to get excited! Months went by and I had my aunts, Grandma and parents try it. They loved it. They couldn't believe how little you had to use! Then friends and extended family wanted to try it and so I would sell them my laundry soap.
After about 6 months my husband started telling me I should sell it. I would roll my eyes at him and say, "Yeah right, who is going to want to buy laundry soap from ME?" As it turns out, lots of people!
Describe the process of launching the business.
When I launched in January 2012 I used Facebook as my primary source for driving business. I really had zero clues about what I was doing, but I knew social media was a great place to start. I also tried Mom-to-Mom Sales and those were really hit or miss. I had trouble “finding my people”. I found influencers (called bloggers then) and sent them my products to review on their blogs. I found an amazing person who ran a blog that reviewed eco-friendly products that were made in the USA, Jessica Brandt. She had a loyal following and she loved my soap. She later started a “Buying Club” where people can purchase great non-toxic products from the USA through her and she packages it all up and sends it to you (much like a co-op works). This got my products in the homes of lots of moms who were like me: people who wanted the very safest products for their families.
To this day we have been fully self-funded. I’ve never taken a loan out to pay for anything. I invested under $500 to start MamaSuds and I just keep reinvesting money back into the business to scale it. For many years, I didn’t pay myself anything. I slowly would take money out to help pay for extracurricular activities for my daughters. Then I read a book, Profit First, and put that method into place. I have been paying myself regularly for over 2 years.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In early 2017, I took a branding class. I had decided that the aesthetics of my brand weren’t exactly right and I needed to hone in on my ideal customer. I enlisted the help of Lucky Break Consulting and took the Brick House Branding Class. That class was SO hard but so worth the work. I gained the knowledge I needed to rebrand and grow. The before and after of my rebrand is still one of my greatest accomplishments.
Getting a package and opening it should be exciting and uplifting. Writing a little thank you goes a long way.
Here is a comparison of our traffic before the rebrand:
March 2017 and then after our rebrand, March 2020
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today MamaSuds is growing and thriving. The silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic is that people are learning the importance of soap and how soap works. This has driven a lot of traffic and revenue to our business and we are happy to provide safe soap to our customers. 65% of our sales come through our website and 35% of our sales are wholesale. We just started doing private and white labeling and hope to grow that side of our business a lot this year.
Our short term goal is to grow our wholesale business to be in all 50 states and every major city. Our long term goal is to be a $1 million revenue company that hires local people as we grow!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Through starting MamaSuds, I have found that I am my biggest adversary. I wish I would have started doing videos sooner, or rebranded earlier… but I have also learned you have to go through things to grow from things. I’ve learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. If I am not growing as an entrepreneur then my business isn’t growing either.
I have learned to hire people to perform the jobs I know someone else can do better than me. The first hire I made was a bookkeeper and a production manager, then a social media manager. I hated doing the books and marketing. I knew I wasn’t very good at it, and it would take hours of my time away from what I knew I needed to be doing in my business.
I have also learned that customers who buy products online want an experience. Getting a package and opening it should be exciting and uplifting. Writing a little thank you goes a long way.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I have used Shopify as my web platform since 2016. Before I switched over to Shopify I used Zencart, which is an open-source platform and was free. Shopify is very user-friendly and has many add-on apps that have made my life so much easier: Chatra (where customers can live chat with me while on the website), Rewards, and Review apps by Yotpo, and Product Upsell by Bold are a few of my favorites. Shopify also enables me to save a LOT of money when it comes to shipping. Their customer service is top-notch too!
I use Mailchimp for email marketing- having an email list is very important but sending your list emails on a regular basis is crucial!
Most of my wholesale accounts come from the Faire platform which connects product companies and stores.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I invest a lot of time into bettering myself and I do that by reading business and self-help books. Actually, I listen to them while I am packaging orders or labeling products. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Hollis! I consume all things Rachel Hollis: books, podcasts, blogs, coaching classes, etc. She really motivates me to be my best self.
I also read and loved the book Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. Anytime I am doubting myself or feel stuck I turn to Gary Vaynerchuk or Rachel Hollis and I get motivated and moving!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Get out of your own way. You’re going to fail a thousand times. Get up, learn from it, and then find a way to succeed.
Find a great Intellectual Property lawyer and trademark your brand name.
Take a branding class. You will learn so much. Brick House Branding was the class that helped me catapult my business.
Join groups that support your type of business. Early on I joined The Indie Business Network. It’s a group of hundreds of makers that help one another grow. I learned a lot from women who had been in business longer and been through things I had not. It’s the most supportive and inspiring group of people and I feel so lucky to have found them. Finding a group that helps you grow and supports you is essential.
Learn how to do Facebook Ads. Driving traffic to your website is vital and learning how to get the right traffic is so important. I learned how to drive traffic by taking classes from The Social Sales Girls.
Listen to what your customers want but stay on brand.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We hope to hire a production assistant in the near future. We need more hands making products!
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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