I’m meeting up with Emily Davis at her stall in the Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market. It’s a perfect South Sound day at the Des Moines Marina: The water is gleaming blue; warm breezes and bright sunshine fill the sky; and the sights and smells of fresh market food turn everyone’s thoughts to lunch. When I find Emily, she’s chatting with a customer about her business and her passion: handmade soaps.
Davis, 36, of Emily’s Handmade Soaps, is a mom entrepreneur, one of the many home-based business owners who are turning their crafts and hobbies into businesses, finding success bolstered by help and support from family and friends. They’re setting their own flexible schedules, using digital tools, skills from their past professions, and e-commerce
to make it all work.
In the marina, Davis is on her feet welcoming marketgoers, spending time with each person who visits her stall. She listens to customers’ needs and offers suggestions and samples. She talks about ingredients, techniques, bubbles, and her kids. The farmers market is a community experience, and connecting with shoppers helps Davis create loyal soap fans for her growing product line.
Soap and more
“It’s half chemistry and half art,” Davis said. She’s currently creating handmade soaps, lotion bars, bath bombs, cuticle oils, and bath teas. Almost all of her soaps are vegan, except for the beeswax and honey in products like her Honey Oat soap, a customer favorite. Her line is a multisensory experience with a strong Northwest influence on the scents, colors, and textures she uses.
“Bathing should be more than just getting clean,” Davis said. She’s conscious of quality and the source of her ingredients, choosing sustainable and cruelty-free supplies. Her products are available at the Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market, on Etsy, and in retail stores around the Northwest.
She sees her Northwest customers focused on the potential impact of the products they choose. “Local shoppers are likely to be interested in how my soap is made, the ingredients that go into it, and be really driven toward a more natural product,” she said.
Davis creates her products at home in Des Moines. Her friends and her husband Brad, test out every batch. Even her two small kids get in on the business. They help with packaging products, sometimes tagging along with their mom on market and delivery days.
Business and family
“I can make soap all day long, but if I didn’t enjoy the business side, I wouldn’t be here,” Davis said. She worked in marketing before becoming a stay-at-home mom, and her parents were small business owners in the seaside town of Newport, Oregon.
Her background gave her insight into the skills and determination needed
to grow a business.
Still, when she discovered her interest in soap-making she thought she’d make a few bars for friends. Her husband encouraged her to do more, and a strong early effort paid off.
In just more than a year, her business has grown past what she expected.
To help her business grow, Davis uses a number of accessible tools, like the Etsy website for direct sales and its plug-in device for credit-card processing. She has Quicken software for accounting and favors spreadsheets for keeping track of costs and supplies. Like many mom entrepreneurs, a supportive family and being part of the community provide strong motivators for her to succeed.
Being a stay-at-home mom is what she considers her primary job, but she enjoys the opportunities that have come with her business. “If you’re not careful, you kind of lose yourself at home,” she said. As family life changes, she can adapt her business
to suit. “It’s a wonderful situation that my work-life balance tends to be somewhat self-regulating.”
Going for it
There are challenges that every business owner faces. For Davis, competing priorities is one of them. “Being a stay-at-home mom means that my business is limited to how much time I can give it,” she said. Still, she finds time every day to do one thing to get her closer to her goals.
Davis advises other mom entrepreneurs to choose one task at a time, whether that is working on insurance, marketing, accounting, or another item on the business’ to-do list. “There is absolutely no way that you can achieve every task on your agenda in one day. The one thing you can control is the task at hand,” she said.
She also encourages moms wanting to grow a hobby into a business to inform themselves and then jump in. “Some days are all about navigating uncharted territory, but I just keep telling myself that if I’m not terrified then I’m probably not doing it right,” she said.
Find Emily’s Handmade Soaps
- South Sound readers can use coupon code SSM20 for a 20 percent discount through the end of 2015!
- Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market (June to October), Des Moines Marina, 22307 Dock Ave. S.
- Branches Garden Center, 3909 S. 320th St., Auburn and The Commons at Federal Way, 1928 S. Commons
- Jet Java (multiple locations) Whidbey Island
- Moment in Time Coffee N More, 602 First St., La Conner
- Shyne at Freighthouse Square, 2501 East D St., Tacoma