Meet Nicola, owner of The Soap Shack, a Lancashire based business selling handmade soaps and bath bombs. The Soap Shack began as a side hustle for Nicola and quickly turned into a full-time business as demand for her handmade products grew.
Introduce yourself and The Soap Shack, what was your motivation behind starting the business and what do you sell?
Hi, my name is Nicola McLoughlin, and I’m the owner of The Soap Shack, a cosmetics manufacturing business in Lancashire. I never really planned on having my own business, it started as a little side thing but we have grown rapidly that we now ship around 3,000 handmade products per week all over Europe. We make vegan-friendly cosmetics such as bath bombs, shower products and a range of home fragrance products. Basically, anything that smells good!
The Soap Shack’s products are handmade here in Lancashire, using ethically sourced, cruelty-free ingredients, most of which are natural but with some safe synthetics too, to create vegan-friendly and child-friendly bath bombs, shower whips, bubble bars, soap sponges, shampoo bars, shower gels and more. We formulate our products to include moisturising oils and deep cleansing ingredients to leave your skin and hair feeling and smelling amazing.
What motivated you to create such an ethical brand and products?
Whilst I am not Vegan myself, I noticed a growing trend of people buying vegan products, or ethically sourced products, so we felt that we had to create a range of products which anybody can use. I love animals too, so it was important that we sourced ingredients that weren’t tested on animals too.
Did you have any experience in selling online before starting your business?
Prior to this, I had never done anything like it, so the whole business was a complete learning curve for me. Luckily I have had the help of my partner Sean, who has spent pretty much all his working life in sales and in recruitment, so he helped me massively. On the other hand, I had been using social media for years by this point and that’s where we started the business, building it up from there.
How did you earn your first sale?
Our first proper sale other than family and friends came from a stall we held at a small local crafters fair. It was our first experience of selling face to face to the customer. On that day we probably only made £50 or £60, but it was addictive and we could not wait to do more. It was great to have people pick up our products, that we made a day or so before and they love the smells and uniqueness of the products.
The more we sold, and the more positive feedback we got, the more time we dedicated to it and wanted to grow it. After that, we would spend every spare weekend at markets, fairs and events trying to promote our brand and products, and a lot of evenings getting covered in glitter and cosmetics colour.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting your business?
When you think bath bomb, you automatically think of the worlds biggest bath bomb business, who have a very dedicated, very loyal following. It has always been hard to attract those customers because of that. Despite us having nearly identical products in terms of ingredients, their brand name is so influential it can be hard to compete. It is also extremely difficult to get organic traffic to our website with them pretty much owning that market online. However, slowly but surely, we are attracting more and more customers, and have had some reviews stating our products are better than theirs, which is amazing as they are one of our biggest inspirations.
What do you love most about running your own business?
The freedom. I love having the freedom to create new products without someone telling me I can or can’t do that. I have worked on developing some products that have completely bombed, but I had the freedom to try it, and most importantly learn from it. And it goes without saying, the freedom I have personally. During our quieter months, and before we set up our first shop, and if we had finished orders early, we were able to go and do things we wanted to, take the dogs for a long hike in the hills, head down into Manchester for something good to eat and a few cocktails, or even just sit in the garden in the sun and relax.
A big thing is also seeing other people enjoying our products. It is an immense feeling of pride to see all that hard work pay off.
What advice would you give to new shop owners just starting out?
Don’t give up. Ever. I’ve had some nightmare days, events that cost me hundreds to be at and make no more than £20 in a day. We’ve had products that do not sell after spending time formulating and designing them. But we never give up, we just learn from it and carry on. Business is not meant to be easy, if it was, everyone would do it. It takes hard work, dedication, tears, disappointment but it does work if you’re willing to make it.
What’s one thing that you would say helped you succeed?
Without a doubt, support from my friends and family. They have all been instrumental in getting this far. When I’ve been busy, they’ve stepped in and helped and never asked for anything in return. When I’ve been in a low mood, stressed or disappointed, they’ve been there to cheer me up. It is a true family business, even with my retired Nan helping us shrink wrap products.
What are your plans for the future?
Our wholesale side to our business is doing very well and growing every week, but we want to spend more time focusing on our own brand retail side. We are investing in new branding, product packaging and a whole range of new products to put to market soon, and we have been working on our EKM website too, optimising SEO and content. We are also looking at the potential of a second store and a larger manufacturing facility to cope with the demand, which is very exciting as we’re still a young business at 2 years old.
Would you recommend EKM?
100% yes, and we do already. Our business went next level when we opened our EKM website and continues to do so. It made us look more trustworthy and professional, it gave us a platform to shout about our products and helped us reach customers further across the UK and Europe. The website itself, and the back end is brilliant, but I must tell you about the support and the people too. The owner of EKM, Anthony, was the first person from EKM we spoke to, and even at that time, we were only worth £35 a month to him, he made an effort to contact me back directly, late in the evening and give me the most honest info about EKM versus others out there. From that message, I signed up immediately. Since then, the whole team have been brilliant. I cannot recommend EKM as a business, or the people of EKM enough. We love you guys!