Making Your Work Process Scalable for Wholesale

Our most common question by makers here is: How Do I Get Ready for Wholesale? There are a lot of pieces to it and it looks a little (and sometimes a lot) different for every business, but if you're a maker thinking about scale is HUGE. It will help you make sure that you are maximizing your margins and don't find yourself in a "oopsie" pricing situation. Thanks to Dawn from our Austin Chapter for sharing her insights! 

Q: Please, introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do.
I am Dawn Marie Ambuehl-Sadek, owner and maker of Maman Sucre all natural, organic, aromatherapy bath & body products. I opened my Etsy shop in December of 2013 when I was 8 months pregnant because I knew if I didn't do it then, I never would.

I made a few sales, had my baby in January, and closed my shop for 9 months. In those 9 months, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly, which made me realize that I truly had no way of knowing how long I have on this planet (or how long I have to achieve my dream). As a result, when I reopened my shop in September of 2014, I hit the ground running ready to conquer the world!

Q: What would you say has been the biggest lesson you've learned as a business
owner? Why?
The biggest lesson I've learned is how and when to say, "No." Having said that, I've also learned how and when to say, "Yes!" Some of my best-selling products were originally custom orders.

Q: You mentioned in our conversation earlier that your first large order helped you learn a lot. Can you share that story with us?
I received my first bulk order out of nowhere, said yes, then panicked because I didn't know if I could complete the order by the deadline.

In the spring of 2016, a subscription box company approached me to provide 90 essential oil perfumes for their upcoming box. They offered to pay me my wholesale price, so, naturally, I said, "Yes!"

At the time, I was decoupaging labels on all of my products! This meant, I designed, printed, hand cut, and Mod Podged each label onto its respective product. Each perfume scent had a different label design so it would be easily recognizable. You can imagine how time consuming this would be. At the time, I was also blending and filling each bottle individually with a 3mL dropper. I quickly realized how long that would take and started mixing in bigger batches and filling the bottles with a funnel instead.

Because of the quick turnaround, I asked my babysitter at the time if she would help me cut and apply all the labels. She agreed. In working together, I verbalized the process to her, and she commented, "Geez, that's a lot of work!"

Q: What changes did this experience force you to make in the short term and long term of your business?
It forced me to streamline my perfume making process so that it was scalable, and it forced me to ask for help, which meant I had to verbalize my process so another person could replicate it.

After the order was shipped, I considered my process and realized that if I could streamline the whole thing, I could spend more time coming up with new perfume blends. I started making all my perfumes in bigger batches like I had for the order and filling with a funnel instead of a dropper. Before, my hand would start cramping after filling 10 bottles. With the new system, I could easily fill 30 or more in the same amount of time with no hand cramps!

I was in the process of rebranding anyway, so this was the impetus behind finding perfume bottles in a custom color that better fit my style and purchasing a labeling system that meant I didn't have to cut and Mod Podge every label individually.

I also started writing down all my essential oil blends, first in terms of drops, then scaling up to mL and ounces. I realized if I had all the blends premixed, the whole perfume making process took much less time! Plus, by writing it down, I could consistently deliver the same scent each and every time. This gave me more time to experiment with new blends. I would follow the same process of mixing by drops. If I liked the resulting blend, I scaled it up and bottled it. If I didn't like it, I tossed it without too much of a pinch on my pocketbook. If I forgot to label one of the tiny jars I made a new blend in, at least I had it written down so I could replicate it.

Because labeling takes sooooooo much less time now, I can experiment more. Once I find a blend I really like, I bottle it, label it, and start testing it out with potential customers. Once I get a lot of feedback on a specific blend, I can then make it into other coordinating products like bath bombs, body butters, and more.

Q: How difficult was it for you to ask and accept the outside help? What was the most
challenging part of that? What was the most rewarding?
Asking for help from my babysitter was not that difficult. I wasn't worried about her stealing any ideas because she's a jewelry maker on the side and has no interest in making bath & body products. She was just happy to help me, and she really liked getting paid in bath bombs! The most rewarding part of getting help was seeing an outside perspective of how I was running my business.

Since then, I have asked others for help, as well. I usually choose the aspect of my business that I have the least concern in letting go, and I ask for help from trusted sources. In a rare case when I asked for help from a stranger, I did have her sign an NDA to protect my intellectual property.

Q: How has that experience help shape the business you run today? What have been
the lasting effects?
 The experience in learning to say, "No" that has really shaped my business today was a custom online order that went awry. A woman approached me on Etsy about making products that "she knew she could make herself but didn't have time to".

When she originally approached me, she said she worked in real estate and wanted to have these products in the new homes of her clients, and that, if everything worked out, she'd order a much larger quantity. So, she sent me recipes. I took one look at the recipes and knew they were flawed. They were probably taken from a magazine or blog. I tweaked them and made the products, sent them to her, and waited to hear back. Most of them she liked, but there was one she didn't. She said we should scrap that one product and move on.

Upon further communication, her story changed, and she wanted me to package all the products differently from how I normally would and without my business information. She wanted to "sell them to local boutiques." When I said I wasn't comfortable with that, she demanded a full refund on everything. Thankfully, I was covered in my policies, and, even when she opened a case against me, Etsy favored me because I had everything in writing.

The lasting effect has been that if someone asks me to make something for them using my own expertise and creativity, I am happy to do so because that's how some of my bestsellers began. When customers ask for a solution, I listen! However, if someone approaches me saying they could just make it themselves but don't have time and they provide me a recipe, I just say, "No, thanks."

Q: What advice would you share with a fellow maker who can't seem to be ok with
letting go/accepting their limits?
You can't be everything to everyone, nor should you try to be. It's not humanly possible. If you're trying to do everything at once, some aspect, or aspects, of your business is bound to fall between the cracks, and you might lose a big sale or burn yourself out. Get really clear on what it is you do best, what you enjoy the most about your business, as well as what products make you the most profit that you can reinvest in your company.

Expand your product line when it makes sense to do so. One little trick is to wait to see if more than one person asks for a similar product. This helps gauge interest in that product and decide whether or not it is worth the time, money, and energy in developing it. I'll take a scalable product over a one-off sale any day!

Consider the timing of customer requests. If it's mid-holiday season and you're slammed with orders, and someone asks you to make a custom product that requires you to either purchase materials outside the scope of your usual business or spend a lot of time in development, that may be the perfect opportunity to exercise your right to say, "No," or just, "Not right now." The beauty of being your own boss is that you make all the rules! You have the power to decide what you will and will not do at any given time. Run the business; don't let the business run you!

Q: Where can we find you?
Instagram @MamanSucre
Twitter @MamanSucre
Austin stores: ATown, in.gredients Neighborhood Grocery, Sanctuary Boutique,
In-person shows: Varies. My calendar is updated via my social media networks.