Interview with David from The Bubble Roome
A-M: David, your flair for packaging is fascinating! Tell us about your background and how you got into soaps and toiletries.
David: I’ve been a graphic designer for 10 years, starting with print projects and then moving into web work. Around 2001, I was freelancing and was constantly looking for the next job. After 9/11 everything in the city kind of stopped for awhile and the job market for freelance seemed very inactive. So I began to think of ways to make money on my own terms, without sending out resumes and waiting for work. I had always been interested in Melt and Pour Glycerin soap, but as I began researching in bookstores I became very curious about Cold Process. I started test batches, then came up with recipes for 16 (too many!!) soaps, and began designing the labels not really concerned how or where they would be sold. It was a fun hobby that I had felt had retail appeal.
A-M: Are you working out of your home right now? Or, are you in a warehouse type space? We’d love details about how it’s set up.
David: I am working out of my apartment, and making my products in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen. I am so jealous of other crafters with the luxury of a garage or basement, but these limitations have caused me to be inventive and extremely organized. The kitchen is filled with Container Store shelving attached to the walls, with lots of labeled plastic containers for herbs and ingredients. One table with a blender and Cuisinart, and under the table 5-gallon buckets of oils. In a storage closet I have a 14-tray bakers rack that I bought for the soaps to dry on. Shipping boxes fill every nook and cranny and, the bane of my existence – styrofoam peanuts – litter the floor all over the apartment.
A-M: You’ve gotten some very heavy hitting press lately. Was Lucky a total surprise or did you do a guerilla marketing campaign to get all of your press?
David: I’ve been very lucky with the press I’ve received, but it is one of the benefits to being in NYC that you can have stores exhibit your work with magazine editors as their customers. One of the best blogs on the internet (designsponge.blogspot.com) spotted my soaps in her neighborhood store and when she wrote about them I got a lot of interest from other retailers as well as web orders. From that, the beauty editor of Teen Vogue asked for products for her magazine. Her friend is Christina Mueller, the beauty editor of Lucky, and that spread to People Magazine, and Bust, and so on. The Lucky piece was a surprise because it had been killed each month since November, so I just gave up hoping. Then I closed my site for reformulations and Lucky came out, and everything kind of exploded.
A-M: Do you notice any spike in sales when you get national press?
David: Definitely. Because I don’t really advertise, the press I receive is what generates the spikes. Lots of web orders, but even better, is the attention from other retailers who hadn’t heard of TBR.
A-M: What are your goals for your company?
David: I want to outsource my recipes to a reputable manufacturer because working in the kitchen is getting old (fast!). I also need a fulfillment center to handle shipping. I have a great rep company lined up to represent my work to retailers, but they were worried when I said I made the products in my kitchen. They felt that they wouldn’t be confident taking orders if I couldn’t fill the orders quickly. So if I want my business to grow (and I feel a rep company is the only way for that to happen) I have to produce larger volume with outsourcing.
A-M: Who are your favorite authors or mentors?
David: A key business book for me was “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. It describes the common pitfalls of entrepreneurs and how to overcome them.
Susan Cavitch’s book “Soap Maker’s Companion” was a great start, though I feel it’s a bit too technical. A business model I have is Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter, who also used to make products out of her Brooklyn kitchen, and due to being on Oprah is now a huge success.
A-M: Favorite fragrance?
David: In terms of designer fragrances, it’s Stella McCartney.
A really subtle rose that’s hip and elegant. And Lush’s Karma always makes me happy. My fave EO combination is Ginger, with Peppermint and Sweet Orange. My favorite Bramble Berry FO to the list. It’s Arabian Spice, and was used in one of my Brooklyn Slice Soaps to represent the middle-Eastern “Atlantic Avenue” neighborhood. Intoxicating and very popular.
A-M: Product from your line that you’re absolutely diggin’?
David: I’m working on a new Butter recipe with lots of botanical extracts, proteins and three kinds of butters.
A-M: Any last words of wisdom to cottage industry mavens out there?
David: Mainly it’s not too give up or get overwhelmed. When I walked by a Bath and Body Works I can get discouraged and think “why I am bothering. There are already 1000’s of bath lines out there”. But there is enough of the pie for everyone to have a slice.
david e johnston