Thoughts on Shops – A Marketing Tweak with Herban Lifestyle

This week for Thoughts on Shops we will focus on some marketing tweaks for consumable products (products that get used up) – tweaks that will attract the right customers to shopkeepers that create handcrafted consumables and tweaks that will keep them coming back for more.

I have never made soap or any lotions or potions, but can guarantee you that soap making is hard work –

(I guess the good news for soapers is they always have clean hands and fingernails while they clean up with their sales – I may not be able to resist a little clean humor here – I’ll try to stay away from the dirty stuff)

with many, many hours of research and development before things are ready to be offered for sale!

The great thing about selling soap is that the repeat business is yours for the taking if you provide a great product and great service.

Soap is a very hot and crowded marketplace on Etsy with soapers facing stiff competition (this is not a bad thing – think of all those car dealers and furniture stores grouped together along the highways), but it means you really need to be able to stand out to get that customer to find you in the first place and then you need to have a great product to keep them.

Herban Lifestyle

Herban Lifestyle is the wonderful little lovechild of Mary from Washington, D.C. Mary is a wellness consultant and dedicated to sustainability and green living. Her company is certified sustainable by Green America and The Coalition of Consumer Information on Cosmetics (Leaping Bunny). Her shop has the kind of credentials that I’m sure make her competition green with envy.

It is obvious that Mary’s passion is providing her customers with a healthy, eco-friendly, organic product! Mary’s packaging is beautiful, her item names are very catchy and fun, her pictures are clear and bright, her banner reflects her clean, fresh and eco-friendly “best thing she offers” – I would play up the herban/urban thing more with her visuals to better target the urban shopper and make her more memorable. 

I would also change her avatar to a picture of Mary I think people like to see who they are doing business with and it is a huge advantage to small makers like us to keep things “personal”.

Since the bath and body marketplace on Etsy is crowded, soapers (ie soap makers not General Hospital fans) absolutely have to know what other soapers are doing.

One thing to look at is your competition’s price points. There are over 9000 bars of soap on Etsy so I couldn’t do an exact tabulation of average prices, but it looked to me that handcrafted bar soap on Etsy costs about $5.50 a bar. There are a couple major soap sellers on Etsy and this price looks about standard for them also. Herban Lifestyle’s bar soap is $8.00 a bar which is about 45% higher than average. The biggest soapers also have first item shipping prices that are about 50% less than Herban Lifestyle’s shipping charges.

(I spoke to one of Etsy’s biggest soap sellers about their shipping charges because I know how much it costs to ship 4-5 oz by first class mail and thought they must lose money on their shipping .. and they told me they would .. except their average customers buys 3 products and they factor their first item shipping price around that) 

Now, as makers our prices have to reflect our own costs and labor time (the bottom line though is always what the customer will pay), but maybe there are ways for Mary to tweak this. Buying certain materials in larger quantities to get her prices down could be one way; steamlining her offerings is another.

I am not sure what the answer is here, but it is something I think Mary probably needs to think about. If she cannot get her prices more in line with her competition she will need to work even harder to differentiate herself and let people know why her products are worth more.

That first Etsy picture is crucial in such a competitive marketplace. I could only find a couple soapers doing well who focused their first pictures on their product packaging. This makes sense to me because people want to see what they are actually getting  – the real deal that is behind the wrapping. I sell jewelry and if my first Etsy picture was my finished product all wrapped up in a muslin bag, I think it would be pretty hard for me to catch the customer’s eye. I realize soap is not the same as jewelry, but I think this is valid for any handcrafted item.

The top soapers have a couple commonalities that are hard to miss with their first pics – (1) soap that looks good enough to eat (I am not sure why this is so appealing, it is though, maybe it comes from our cellular memories of mothers threatening to wash our mouths out with soap) and (2) natural soap chunks with clean, warm or cool natural backgrounds (this screams get naked, soap up and take a shower under a waterfall – which feels alot more appealing than my own 5 minute rush in the morning) – things to think about if Herban Lifestyle decides to relook at the first picture packaging shots. Model shots are very rarely used by soapers and could be a way for Mary to really stand out – her aftershave bottle in the background of some little guy splashing on some aftershave (ala that Home Alone cutie) would definitely catch the customer’s eye.

Herban Lifestyle Men's Grooming Set

Competition can also require a more refined niche or branding. Mary’s best thing – the sustainable, eco friendly nature of her makings is probably not enough to stand out in a marketplace where this is more or less the norm.

( I have no idea if others’ products are as healthy and eco-friendly as Herban Lifestyle’s products, but the customer probably doesn’t either)

Mary’s men’s line of grooming products including her aftershave are very popular for her and this could be a niche she might want to expand or even focus on exclusively. With a more specific niche, higher price points are not as big a problem. Maybe expanding her men’s line or creating a laser beam focus on this market could be the answer.

Also I think having such a broad array of products – soaps, lotions, lip balms, etc – means that each scent/flavor line – coconut, vanilla, etc would do best if available individually for each product and then also as a gift set, so customers can make multiple item purchases easier. Or focus on one product (bar soap, lotion, etc) and add more scent lines.

So a laser beam focus on a specific target market (preferably an overlooked one), a consistency within her lines so that all scents are offered as all products and then as a set (it looks like she is moving in this direction) or a focus on one specific product category- soap, lotion, etc and add more lines of scent. Any of these things would be alot of work and Mary will need to balance what she decides to do here, if anything, with the time she has to devote to this and again this is all a process.

Our businesses expand in the ways we focus our time, attention and money so we really want to focus on the right things.

The great thing about selling a consumable product is the repeat business. Once someone has taken a shower with Mary’s amazing  “If They Bathed at Woodstock”  patchouli soap (how cool is that!) – they will never want to shower with boring old Dial again!

(offering up some mini soap samples or shavings attached to a business card for another team member, who’s target customers parallel Mary’s customers, to include when shipping out their own orders – Mary would include the other seller’s card with her orders, too – could benefit both shops) 

There are many ways for Mary to focus on repeat business (I guarantee the biggest selling Etsy soapers have tons of repeat customers). People need to be able to find their soap again after purchase- not just Mary’s shop, but the exact soap, so she needs to figure out how to make this happen. Asking customers to sign up for a monthly mailing would be a great way to stay in touch with people – offer them free samples of new scents or a sample of their scent in a new form and giving out coupon codes for reorders.

Mailchimp is a great place to create an amazing newsletter (for free) and keep track of your mailings. Consumable product sellers probably need to be doing something like this.

Of course, this is all a process and none of us gets all of this right and ‘getting it right’ isn’t our goal anyway. But, if Mary stays true to her heart-felt dedication to sustainability and green living and gives her marketing some tweaking she will certainly increase her shop sales over time!

NOTE – Adding sizes to all items, adding information from her profile to each listing so customers can see her passion, experience and what makes her products special, adding more info to product titles for SEO (for example “Beer Here Soap” – could be changed to ” Beer Here Soap -Organic and Handcrafted”), working that title SEO again into the item description, updating profile shipping info and adding item materials into the actual listing (not just in the materials section) will help Mary clean up, too!

2,192 total views, 6 views today


  1. I just recently made my first purchase from Mary and was surprised to discover a pretty wrapped up heart inside the box I received! I wondered what it was so I wrote & asked her if it was a sample of her new lotion bar. She said yes and I started using it right away, carrying it with me in my purse inside a little screw top tub. This thing is going to last for soooo long but I’ll tell you one thing, once its gone I will be shopping for more. I love it (and as a side note so does my husband, he said I smell like a white chocolate raspberry truffle heehee)! So the suggestion of sending out free samples is a good one, especially if you have a fantastic product that you’re proud to market because customers, like me, will definitely be back for more! Thanks :-)

  2. Fantastic critique. I know where I’ll be getting my next soaps! Sending hugs from England to my home town of DC. 😉

  3. Wow! Thank you so much for all of this excellent advice! Several things you have mentioned were already floating around in my head as things I should be doing, and in addition, you have provided me with lots of food for thought!

    The one thing, and I agree with Karen, is that I okay with keeping my price points where they are. I do buy ingredients in bulk, and using the pricing calculator that Myra of Herban|Luxe provided in an earlier post, I found that it is in line with what I need to charge. Outside of Etsy, my customers (many repeat) are very happy to pay the price. I think the solution is, as you pointed out, to better articulate what differentiates my products from others, providing customers with a clear explanation of the value-add of my offerings.

    Again, thank you so much for this clear, thorough and geniunely awesome critique!

  4. WOW….and I thought her shop was perfect! Man. I. am. in. trouble.

    But I am learning so much from this series and Mary, you are a trooper for being a sacrificial lamb.

    I have to say though, $8 organic shampoo bar doesn’t sound that expensive to me when an average bottle of organic shampoo costs $8-$10 a bottle. But Mary’s organic shampoo bar lasts so long and you don’t need a conditioner so that saves money too. And I’m sure her organic soap is the same way in value.

    Here is my review of her shampoo bar if anyone is interested in reading how great her organic shampoo bar is.

    Great job Cat, as usual!!

  5. Thanks for such an informative article. I learned a lot from it. Mailchimp is something I have not heard about and will check it out.

  6. Mary and I are going to a product swap. I think this will be beneficial to both of us. This was a great article and I look forward to more.

  7. Great food for thought…I’m learning a lot from this series, thanks Cat!

  8. Loving these posts! Thank you, Herban Lifestyle, for putting your shop out there to be critiqued. :)

  9. this was such a clear-headed, objective way of looking at sales and marketing! Thanks so much!

  10. So very helpful – thank you bunches of oats to Herban Lifestyle and Polarity! Now, to just take it one day at a time and remain relaxed while learning more.

    Happy tweaking,