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Crafting for Fun and Profit

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Crafting for Fun and Profit

Richard Lloreda, staff writer

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Handcrafting is finding a receptive public these days. Candle and soap magician extraordinaire Shem Gott, creator of Mr. B’s Luminaire’s in Oceanside, California, is right in the center of the buzz. We met up last spring at the big Unique LA product extravaganza for crafters and the owners and managers of specialty retail stores.

San Diego County is a sleeping giant of an agricultural and entrepreneurial center. Handmade products are synonymous with home-grown ingredients. Everyone wins by gaining the benefits of small-scale, carefully crafted products made with all-natural ingredients.

This is good news for makers of natural products.  Sales nationwide for these companies grew 9.3% in 2014.

candleShem Gott also leads classes the process of making soap and candles. The experience is rather Zen in that it produces a calming effect on the creator. A recent class made a charcoal and tea tree soap for the complexion. The soap ingredients, which are a mixture of butter, wax and oils, feel good on the skin, and the natural scents added are equally intriguing.

Candle making is even easier. The classes are fun because the crowd is multi-generational and have a handcrafter’s hipster vibe, and the students are polite. Plus this is a good way, via social media marketing, to generate more income for the savvy handcrafter. When I attended, there were about eight students in the soap crafting class and a dozen in the candle making class. One-hour classes are $50. For more information, visit mrbsnecessities.com.

Raising the Bar

Whether you are dissatisfied with soaps available or just desire the creative experience of making your own soap, the process is fun and easy. Start with the careful application of lye to water, not the other way around, and cook the mixture for 30 minutes in a slow cooker (buy one at a thrift store) to a pudding-like consistency. Then scoop the mixture into a silicone mold. This procedure is known as the “hot process.” One batch of a filled crock pot of soap yields 11 bars costing $1.15 per bar to make.

Shedding Light on Candle Making

Candle making is as simple as this: Pick out three to four complimentary essential oils such as rosemary, pine and lavender. Pour the oils into a small vessel, add to soy wax at the proper level, whisk and pour into a jar with a wick in it. Both the soap and candles need 24 to 48 hours to set up, or cure.

Q&A

I asked Shem about his experiences in entrepreneurship. 

How did you get credibility quickly?

Transparency was a key to getting credibility. I have been very open handed with my business. I don’t hide where I source my ingredients, nor do I keep the process a secret. I like people to know how their products are created and give them assurance that there is nothing underhanded about the product they are receiving.

How did you develop key partners?

Most of my key partnerships came from my church. I am a born again Christian, and the friends I live in the community with have supported me every step of the way. Whether it has been product photography, branding etc., I have been helped along by my friends and family. In addition, I own a shop with two other business partners. We strive to do business in partnership with, not in competition against, our fellow shop owners and local businesses.

How did you fund the launch of your business?

Mostly personal and family loans. We have tried to avoid credit cards and are not thrilled with larger business loans that have unfavorable interest requirements. I understand that there are some businesses, like restaurants, that need large loans to get started. I have been fortunate to start a business that has a minimal startup cost.

As far as how to survive on minimal cash flow, we aspire to do everything ourselves. I cannot afford to pay an employee, so the burden of creating, marketing, bookkeeping and every other aspect of the business falls on my wife’s and my shoulders.

What habits and mindsets helped make you successful?

One: prayer. When I started Mr. B’s, I had absolutely no business training. I can say with complete sincerity that God helped me through everything. Two: integrity. There is never a reason to cheat someone or cut a corner. I don’t claim to have always been perfect, but I do strive to do business with integrity. “Honest to a fault” is a term I really appreciate, because it expresses the truth that being honest does not always pay off in the way we want. Conducting business with integrity is the right thing to do, whether or not it is fiscally profitable.

How did you distinguish yourself from your competitors?

Transparency.

What was your biggest mistake?

There were several times when I got ahead of myself. Tried to develop products before I was ready, or made decisions hastily, before I’d thought it through. Lots of time and money wasted.

How did you learn from this experience?

I learned to get advice from friends and family I trust. There is a Hebrew proverb that says, “With a multitude of counselors, there is safety.” Taking the time to step away from a situation, or stressful decision, and listen to other points of view has been paramount.

What was unexpected?

The amount of work and stress. I have learned how to cope with it.

What would you have done differently?

I would have focused my gaze a bit. In hindsight, it is clear that I tried to go in too many different directions at once. This is still a temptation for me.

How did you test your assumptions?

I would ask for advice and test things out in the shop on a small scale.

How can you minimize the unknowns?

I’m tempted to say you can’t, but I know that’s not true. I do believe there is a strong element of unknowns that are impossible to avoid. When I look back at the entirety of my business venture, I see divine help. To be sure, I have worked hard, but my complete lack of business experience and inability to forecast the pitfalls and struggles leads me to believe that I have been helped along by my god and savior. I know that is not a very helpful answer for those who want advice for their businesses, but it is how I honestly feel.

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Crafting for Fun and Profit