Blast from the past

Seeing a lot of bloggers doing history posts, and yesterday’s boutique shopping got me thinking about our shop. One of my many career paths was a retail store owner. After quitting a music career and then a failed attempt at being a vet tech (cried too much), I turned what was a hobby into a little business.

I make soap and started playing around doing that in the early 1990s. I did goat milk soap and started a small website. I began to get an internet following and then my first wholesale account. I realized that making soap in the townhouse we lived in just wasn’t practical. I needed more space to store ingredients and the drying areas for all the soap.
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So we started looking around at store fronts. This was a huge decision and really exciting. We found a small 750 sf shop in quaint downtown Geneva, IL and signed a lease.
storeemptyWe basically bootstrapped it and it turned out pretty cute.  Wallpaper stripping and painting and shelf building.
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I made soap on the premises, plus we had all kinds of other natural bath and beauty products.

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We were there for about a year, and then John began selling supplies for people to make their own products.  That meant we were buying in bulk and ran out of room quickly in this small shop.  So we moved to another location that was twice as big.  (Ironically it was an old coffee shop.)  The good part of that was that there was a kitchen and counter area all ready to go, so making soap there was really easy.

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The downfall of this place was horrible landlords, higher rent, and we were away from the cute downtown.  We were there for 3 years and really outgrew that space again. The supply business was the main focus at that point, and so much of our business was based on the internet that it didn’t make sense to pay retail price per square foot to store stuff and it was kind of a drag financially to be there.  Then next move was a warehouse.  We had a ton of space here, and it was less per month than the shop.  That meant the online business could really expand, but the retail end was over.   In some ways it was more relaxing to come in and work at the warehouse:

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Making soap and doing supplies is a very dirty and physically demanding business.  You would think it would be clean, but oil spills and colorant stained so much of my clothing.  Not to mention moving around heavy pails, boxes, and buckets.  We always smelled nice, though!  We were in this spot for a couple years and I really started to get the itch to be near family in upstate NY.  Illinois was halfway between NY and Colorado, where our respective families were, but we didn’t see either very often.  We made the decision to move and put it into place.  Since the economy was starting to turn at this point, we were really trying to find a place to live and house the business.  We looked at a bunch of places separately.  John found our current house and there is a nice shop on the back of the house for the business.   I did not even see our house in person before we moved, can you believe that?  Good thing John knows me well enough to know what I would like.  Our house sold before we closed on our new place, so we lived in temporary housing for a month and had our whole house packed into the back of the warehouse.  I started to gain back some weight during that period.

You know what stinks?  Moving a house and a business cross country.  We each drove an 18 foot truck with a car trailer on back!  That’s a lot of stuff.

Anyway, we have been here for about 3 years now.  I don’t sell or make soap anymore, other than for testing purposes and our own use.  John runs the supply business now pretty much without me now.  I am working my transcriptionist job for insurance purposes (self-employed health insurance is pretty much nonexistent or exhorbitantly expensive).  In hindsight, we were pretty lucky to move when we did and downsize as the economy would have hit our business too hard to survive where it was.  It’s amazing that it has been going for this long!  The move forced it to become leaner and meaner.  We do have thoughts of moving it back into a warehouse and really trying to grow it big, but working from home has so many advantages – the main thing being the lower cost of overhead.   And you never know how long what you do can compete, as well.  Also, it would be nice to do something different.  Retail is a scary prospect, even on the best of days.

I think John and I just have an entreprenureal spirit which just won’t go away.

So, that’s the shop story in a nutshell.  It’s interesting trying to abbreviate 10 years into one post.  The music career, vet tech, and real estate investor…. well, that would be another show  😀

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11 thoughts on “Blast from the past

  1. Shelley B

    How very cool! Thanks for sharing your story – and too bad you don’t sell the soap anymore, because I am a sucker for handmade soaps! Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know what to do with the ingredients, but it’s great that the business is successful!

    Loved your “vet tech (cried too much)” – that would be me, too. In fact, a while back I wanted to volunteer at our local animal shelter, but my husband and several friends talked me out of it – said I would be bringing too many animals home and also crying too much. And they were right.

    You’ve led an interesting life – I’d love to hear more stories!
    .-= Shelley B´s last blog ..Vanity Sizing and Losing Weight Without Really Trying – For Men =-.

  2. debby

    Wow, Lori, that is really interesting. Only now I really want to hear about the musical career and the vet-tech stuff! My friend and I always say we have the entrepreneurial gene. But I know how hard it is, and I am really impressed that you have made a real go of this!
    .-= debby´s last blog ..Busy, busy =-.

  3. Dawn

    Wow, what a great story. I use to make soap a few years back, still have a bunch of supplies in the laundry room lol. I keep thinking I need to get it out and make some. If I need something I’ll be sure to look you guys up *smile*.
    .-= Dawn´s last blog ..Got some sunshine today =-.

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