Candace Alarie used to work full-time in management before starting SOAK Batch Co as a side hustle in 2018. Yet, by the end of the next year, Candace quit her management job, which she held for ten years, to focus entirely on her own new venture.
Quitting her job to make it on her own was not easy for Candace Alarie. But she had to do it if she wanted to fulfill her childhood dream.
As far as she could remember, Candace Alarie has always wanted to start a business. Both her parents were entrepreneurs, which inspired her to follow the same path, since she didn’t know any other career path. She said she would “like to think [I] was born to be an entrepreneur.”
Candace Alarie’s business ventures started way back when she was a kid. She used to run a lemonade stand with her brother as her employee. When she went to university, she also started a house cleaning business to help her pay her way through school.
Now, with SOAK Bath Co., Candace Alarie capitalized on her decision to make soap after getting eczema in her early twenties. Her doctor recommended several medications and creams, but none of them worked to alleviate her condition. So, she started doing research, and found natural remedies.
After spending hours on YouTube, Candace Alarie began trying out homemade soap bar recipes in her parents’ kitchen. Years of practice have sharpened her skills in soapmaking, leading to her founding of SOAK Bath.
At SOAK Batch Co., Candace Alarie is building a business out of the passion she had poured into her own product. You’ll get soap products that will work for your skin, wrapped in beautiful and functional packaging.
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Candace Alarie: I’m Candace, the owner and maker of SOAK Bath Co, a Manitoba-based luxury handmade bath and body brand. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, my mom and dad have owned several local businesses throughout my life and continue to this day. Growing up I knew no other way but entrepreneurship and I knew that was the path for me, I just wasn’t sure what my business would be. After high school I hit the books and got my Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) at the Asper School of Business in Manitoba, hoping that would spark my big idea. It didn’t. I decided to test the waters and go the corporate route where I learned what it might be like to run my own business. I had a very successful career with Enterprise Holdings, working my way up from the management trainee level and resigning ten years later as Area Manager in Manitoba, Canada. The great thing about Enterprise is it promotes an entrepreneurial culture, so for a long time it satisfied my entrepreneurial drive and taught me everything I know about customer service, sales, growth, logistics and profitability. In time, I came to realize I wasn’t living my full potential and I hadn’t fulfilled that childhood dream of building my own business. I resigned in March 2019 and decided to pursue my handmade business, SOAK Bath Co, full time. When I resigned I gave myself a year. A year to see if I could make a real living from literal scratch, making soap. Turns out, I can make a living making soap.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Candace Alarie: This will sound silly, but here’s the story. I have been making soap for a long time as a bit of a hobby. I’ve always had a thing for arts and crafts and enjoyed creating in my spare time. Years ago, I started looking into using natural ingredients to manage some of my skin conditions. I formulated some recipes that helped take care of those and got into soap making. For whatever reason, one day my brother and I were at my mom and dad’s and we decided it would be fun if I taught him how to make soap bars. So we did. The side effect of letting the creative side of my brain kick in is once I start, it’s hard to stop. We ended up making a lot of soap bars, like more than we’d all be able to use for a year. At the time, one of my employee’s friends was running a local craft fair so I asked if I’d be able to rent a table. We set up our soap booth at the craft show and to my disbelief, sold almost all those bars in one afternoon. You see up until then, I’d always kept an eye out for business opportunities because I knew I wanted to build my own business but I didn’t know the product or service I’d offer. This truly was the “aha moment.” We ended up attending two other craft shows shortly after to see what the sell through was like, in case that first one was a fluke, and I realized I could genuinely make a business from this.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Candace Alarie: The first few months of a start up are incredibly hard. No one quite tells you that, it’s not advertised on instagram and I don’t believe entrepreneurship is a common enough profession to really convey how hard the first few months are. For anyone tuning into this right now, you will face a tonne of doubt when you make the leap to build a start up! Multiple times a week I would run into proverbial walls. Potential suppliers rolling their eyes at me because I’m a nobody, so many times I was seen as not worth the time to make the small sale. People close to me wonder what in the world I gave up a six figure job for to grind this out, it’s not comprehensible to others in the early days. They don’t see the vision, but they fuelled it. I turned all the “no’s” and “don’t bother me’s” into fuel for why I’d be worth their time one day or why they would wish they’d spent the time to write up that quote a few months back. So far, that’s been just the case. I’ve discovered that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart and it is not a traditional job, a lot of people will not understand what you’re doing and won’t see the opportunity you see. It’s important to believe in yourself and pick yourself back up when you get thrown down. The quicker you get back up the easier it is to bounce back from the doubt and challenges. You eventually flex this muscle so many times that you stop giving any consideration to the doubts being thrown your way and create a space where you really start to build your vision.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Candace Alarie: Well here I am surviving, thriving and profitable through a pandemic. Although I’m tired, that’s no small feat for anyone, we’ve all been kicked around in some way shape or form. In the last few months I’ve been fortunate to land a feature in Canadian House & Home Magazine, had an order go out to the one and only Jasmine Star (with a shout out!) and have recently landed a deal with a national Canadian retail chain, The Hudson’s Bay Company. Besides that, the day-to-day has been very challenging. I don’t know a single business who doesn’t have massive supply chain problems and I’m sure we will continue to have them late into 2021. The pandemic forced me to reach out to potential customers I may not have reached out to in the past. Sales have been strong throughout the last few months with the help of an amazing instagram community. All things considered, I’ve been able to expand my business and grow my revenues month over month this year.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Candace Alarie: Well, when we were allowed to have markets and live event gatherings, I had this thing called the “Bowl of Failure.” This was a bowl of soap bars I brought to markets to sell at a discounted rate because for one reason or another the bar hadn’t turned out aesthetically or the scent didn’t come through how I wanted. So I cut up those pieces, brought the bowl to markets and at first it was called my bowl of soap ends. Until a 10 year old girl came up to my booth and asked me what was in this bowl. I proceeded to inform her it was all the soap bars that didn’t make the cut for the product line. She then replied, “so it’s like your bowl of failure?” It was so innocent and hilarious at the same time I didn’t know what to say. Since then, my instagram community will tell you that’s my bowl of failure.
I wish I had something a bit more business related to answer with on this but I don’t. I was never going to bring those soap samples out but people loved them. A way to reduce waste, test the product even though it wasn’t perfect and they really did look adorable. Moral of the story, just cause it’s not perfect in your eyes, doesn’t mean someone else won’t find value in it.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Candace Alarie: If it’s not clear yet, a website is almost a prerequisite in today’s economy. If you’re looking to build and scale an Ecommerce store then go straight to Shopify. They are built for product entrepreneurs and have the capability to grow with your brand without having to go build yourself something completely custom. If you’re looking to dabble with creating a small handmade brand and a little extra income on the side, something like Etsy is a great start as it already has a built in audience.
Social media is still effective in it’s free forms. Meaning, you don’t have to pay for ads, yet, to build a highly engaged social media audience on most of the platforms. Find out where your customer resides, where do they like to interact and start building your presence there.
Get yourself an email service provider and start collecting customer email addresses. There are great options that are entirely free to start off with and you’re able to switch easily as your list grows. An email service provider gives you a direct line of communication to your customer. You are not at the mercy of algorithm changes, ads being favoured or having to post something at just the right time. It’s one of the most effective, direct modes of communication with your customer.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Candace Alarie: Build trust with your customer from the beginning. When you’re creating your sales funnel, in my case it’s instagram, use this as a space to create likability and trust with your customer. Give them a peak at who you are as a person, a boss and why you’re doing this in the first place. People buy from people, so show them who they’re supporting by purchasing from you. This will take down consumer defences as it relates to price or competitive options because in the end, they’ve already decided they want to support you.
Your website should tell your brand story, it should evoke an emotion through photography and copyrighting. Do the photos on your website portray how the customer will feel to have your item in their home? Does your copy reassure the consumer this is the right choice for them? That it will bring them joy or solve the problem they need a solution to? In today’s age it is worthwhile to invest in great photography as that’s often what is primarily selling your product.
Is your website easy to navigate? Are there obstacles to having consumers hit the buy button and check out? Every obstacle to checking out is an increased chance for an abandoned cart. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and has clear calls to action. Do yourself a big favour and check your website layout on a desktop computer, a tablet and your smartphone to ensure it’s easy to use in all aspects. More and more customers are buying from their phones and it’s often overlooked to ensure that customer experience is great there too.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Candace Alarie: I love this question, it’s definitely been my “secret” to success! Don’t be afraid to let your audience in on the day to day of running your business. Share the great, good and the bad, it builds trust and let’s consumers know you are a human trying to make this work out in the world! People want to be in on your mission, they want to see you succeed. Showing the day to day of running your business is a great way to make that happen!
Second, when stuff hits the fan… do the right thing. Your actions speak louder than words so if you mess up, fess up and make it right. Although it may cost you more money in the moment (that’s usually what it comes down to) you are showing a customer how you value their business and in turn show others how they may be treated if something goes awry.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Show up — Easier said than done. Just because we can run our businesses on the internet in today’s age doesn’t mean you get to hide behind a computer desk all day, or retreat to the shipping department never to be seen again. Consumers want to see who they’re supporting, they want to get to know you and know your story. That means you’ve got to get your face up in front of your audience. If that’s social media, which it should be, turn on that video function. No one cares about your flaws as much as you’re stressing out about them! They just want to meet you and get to know you. Get comfortable in the uncomfortable. As the CEO of your business, you’re the voice, the vision and the brand so you’ve got to show up for your people!
Be your own hype girl — there are a million things fighting for a consumers attention today. Kids running around the house, the dog needs to be fed, endless notifications on our smartphones. It’s difficult to stand out from all the noise. It is your job as a business owner to show up for your business because nobody is going to do that for you. If you have a marketing team, they should be able to promote the brand consistently but the vision for what that messaging is needs to come from you, the owner. When someone asks you what you do in the grocery store line or at a cocktail party, present yourself positively and show off your accomplishments. You never know who will be connected to whom!
Social Media — If it’s not evident from the interview already, I highly recommend using the power of social media to create an audience for your brand. It can be any of the platforms but make sure you understand who your customer is, where they hang out and what kind of content they may like to interact with and choose the most appropriate platform. You should also understand how to monetize the efforts you’re putting into the social platform. For example, if your target audience is an 18–25 year old female that’s interested in a beautiful, sustainable brand and is trying to figure out how to keep her plant babies alive, don’t pick Twitter. Something like that does well on Instagram where you can create a beautiful photo, informational videos with IGTV or insta stories and show her what your brand has to offer. Understand the customer then find them where they’re at.
Email Marketing — Email marketing is a great way to cut through the noise and distractions that come with social media. It’s a direct line of communication to your customer and a way for you to get your point across in a quick, succinct manner. If you’re not already building an email marketing list, what are you waiting for?! As social media platforms gain more and more followers you’ll only be competing with more and more product businesses and ads. Being able to communicate with your customer via email is a great way to communicate with your core audience.
Website ease of use — it’s important for your website to be easy to navigate and user friendly. Can the customer find everything quickly, is it well laid out to understand how to purchase? Every obstacle you put in front of a customer while visiting your website is going to be a reason for an abandoned cart. People are busy today so if they need to spend time figuring out how to buy from you, I guarantee it will be easier for them not to hit the pay now button. When your website is up and running, test its usability on a desktop, tablet and mobile device. More customers are buying on their smartphones than ever so make sure it’s as user friendly on that little screen as it is on the wide screen.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Candace Alarie: You will find me on instagram @cksoakbathco on a daily basis, just check my stories, I’ll be there! Or you can visit my website at www.cksoakbathco.com to learn more about the brand!
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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