I know this may come as a shock, but (whispering), we have competitors. I know, I know, you never dreamt of looking elsewhere for your soapmaking supplies but if you had, you may find one or (eh hem) 50 fellow soapmaking supply companies. Recently on our FB page, someone asked how to deal with competitors and what my philosphy was. I promised to write a blog post on her question because if she had that question, others will.
My philosophy on competitors is this:
Having quality competitors elevates the industry and my commitment to excellence in all actions.
The nuts and bolts of this is the following:
(1) Terms matter. Competitors are referred to in our office as “Fellow Vendors”. The reason for this is simple: um, because they are fellow vendors. The term “competitors” implies unfriendly, grrrrrr!, gladiators in the sport of business to the death. The phrase “fellow vendors” says that we’re all in this together, that we’re a team, that we all serve at the pleasure of our customers. And, that term also says that we’re all in it for the right reasons – because we believe that what we do makes a difference in families and their opportunity to make a great living selling soap.
(2) Be attentive but don’t base your business off of other peoples’ business moves. I monitor my fellow vendors sites. I look at what their FB pages say. I read their Twitter feeds. I’ll glance at their blogs. But in a month, I spend 1-3 hours maximum doing this. I want to be up on what industry trends are and want to be sure that I’m not falling behind any trends but ultimately, my goal is to LEAD and stay ahead. I want Bramble Berry to be creating trends, to be leading the pack and to be the one to chase – not the other way around. So, while I don’t ignore my fellow vendors, rarely do their business decisions impact mine.
(3) Do not criticize in public. You may very well know that one of your fellow soapmakers is LYING about claims they are making for their lotion ingredients. It is hard to stay silent when you hear other people saying, “Well, so and so doesn’t use ANY preservatives in their lotion! I’m going to buy from them!” but you must hold your tongue. People remember the bearer of bad news; they do not remember the bad news. They only remember that you were critical. Stay silent, take the high road and just come up with positive, forward-sounding answers for this. “Well, I use safe preservatives at less than 1% in my lotions because there is a chance that unpreserved lotions could mold or have bacteria contamination so that’s a choice that we’ve made to keep ourselves and our customers safe.”
(4) Continuous, small innovation is the key to outpacing and outlasting your competition. Be so focused on your own business and taking baby steps to your bigger goal that you continue to offer different products and drive a bigger wedge between you and your fellow soapmaker with branding, lines of products and sales strategy. Figure out your X factor and pursue it with dogged, single minded focus. Let your fellow soapmakers inspire you to do better and excel on your own individual path, every single day.
(5) There is enough to go around. Just because your fellow soapmaker sells a bar of soap to someone at a Farmer’s Market doesn’t mean that you can’t also sell a bar of soap to that same person. The market is big. You have to believe that you can all co-exist in a friendly, easy going, manner. Because …. you CAN! The world is a big place. Everyone uses soap. There is a market for your product and it’s HUGE. Even if you have to share it with others, it’s big enough for you all.
That’s my philosophy on co-existing with with others in the same marketplace. I’d love to hear your philosophy or thoughts about mine.
Note: I edited this post a few hours after posting it to clarify some of the points and make my intent for the post clearer.
But What do you do when your competer copy’s EVERYTHING you do right down to the “T”
Becky with Bramble Berry says
That is really frustrating, especially when you have worked so hard on your business. I would suggest making sure that your products and business has been registered and trademarked, and see if you can talk with someone about copyright issues. We are here to help you out and and hope that you can work through this small bump in the road to your success!
-Becky with Bramble Berry
Maggie Ghanem says
I think this is well said!!!
At the end of the day – All that matters is how we treat one another! Good Luck.
Becky with Bramble Berry says
I know Anne-Marie will second those sentiments and so do I! Thanks Maggie!
-Becky with Bramble Berry
I am wondering how you deal with other vendors who outright steal your product’s names and ideas? I am told flattery is the best reward, but it is a trademarked personal name..without going the legal route is there a simple way to have them cease and desist? Thanks!
I’m having the same problem. It seams as though she is vishously out to distroy everything I built.
Amanda Birth Announcements says
I had a competitor recently accuse me of copying what she does (I have been doing this for 2 1/2 years now) and she has been around for less time. I just ignored the email and though thank goodness I am getting enough business not to have time to send out emails like this. I have two other friends that do the same sort of thing and they got that email too. A bit sad for her, but it didn’t frighten any of us off.
Michelle G says
I love the section in regards to dealing with other vendors that are making false claims in regards to their products. This has been a struggle for me with one vendor in particular and I loved the response you gave with what to say to customers. Thank you Anne-Marie for helping me take the high road in business like fashion!
Great article Anne Marie. I agree with you 100%. People tend to worry so much what others are doing they lose track of what they should be doing. I feel that there are so many fabulous soap makers out there with different talents. And yes, there are plenty of people for all of us to have a successful business.
Kelly Ann Taylor says
Also, I don’t think I conveyed this in the above comment. I have always thought of Brambleberry as a partner in my success and am grateful that you also consider that in your business philisophy. Fellow vendors = a partnership as far as we are concerned.
Kelly Ann Taylor says
First of all, so sorry that I have not commented in awhile. This year has been very stretching for me, but my wings are definitely bigger as a result of the stretching! 😉 I am encouraged, and pressing on and through for greater, higher things.
I have had “my head down and my eye on the ball”, to borrow my golfer father’s favorite adage.
I simply do not have time for the pitfall of comparison. I can choose to stay faithful to my own personal vision, or I can copycat others to try to steal a piece of the pie, which I have seen time and again which can make one heartsick and falter. I choose to not do that. Authenticity is key I believe.
I continue to be so thankful for your leadership in this arena. I am not privy to the trends at the level that you are; specifically in the fragrance industry, so I rely heavily upon your introductions of new products into our marketplace. I trust you implicitly for many many reasons. I can enumerate on that if asked. But I do. And I am thankful!
Please do not change anything you do! I will continue to purchase your high quality oils and colors and other items such as molds! Thank you!
Merry Christmas to you and your lovely family, Anne-Marie! Thank you for being YOU!
Oh, and…..I LOVE Plum Tea!!!!! Love love! Also, you know what a junkie I am…I would have purchased Relaxing much sooner had you assigned a more exotic name to this awesome fragrance….wink wink! So much is in a name…isn’t it!
This was quite the refreshing take on competition and I admire you for putting this together. Bottom line, there really is enough business out there for everyone. 🙂 That’s something I’ll keep in mind as I do find (to be totally honest) that some soapmakers cross professional lines (on social media in particular) on a regular basis. I keep it professional but admittedly it does grate my nerves at times. Anyways….thanks as always for your positive spin and attitude; it’s contagious. 🙂
A&M Creations says
I am so thankful for this post. It points to the need for all of us, soap crafters, moms, or otherwise the need for uplifting others in truth. I to have been at craft showings and been the only M&P crafter and dealt with customers that didn’t want lye in their soap and considered it unnatural. Sometimes you can have the opportunity to educate and explain and sometimes you can’t. The customers that think you have the coolest soaps make up for it. I recently had a problem with some products from one of my vendors, turned out it wasn’t what I was doing, but they in fact replaced my merchandise at their cost. The Brambleberry team does a fantastic job helping in all aspects of our business.
Hector Ortiz says
Thank You for the tips…
No matter what they said….Im still buying from Brambleberry… Love my choices…
Thanks for the business and support Hector. I appreciate it =)
I don’t like to think of it as competition, I like to think of it as offering customers more choices. 🙂
You are truly an inspiration Anne-Marie.
Love it! That’s a good one, Monica =) Thanks for reading and commenting.
Wow ! I LOVE your philosophy & healthy kind attitude towards your ‘fellow vendors’ Its a great philosophy & you are not only the Soap Queen but you are also the Queen of diplomacy.
I have read comments in your YT vids where viewers are quite rude & demanding in their remarks & questions. Sometimes even insulting your personality or your lessons. You always come back with a very kind & diplomatic response to them. You are remarkable ! Truly !
All that you say is true in terms of there being lots of room for everyone to make & sell their wares. I do wish others had your healthy attitude towards any and all competition.
I also wish that there was a Canadian based source for Brambleberry. We do have some suppliers here in Canada but they often have limited choices and availability of ingredients, colorants, fragrances, etc. No comparison with Brambleberry. If only you could set up a Canadian base as well. Something to consider for the future?
All the best !
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Thanks for the compliment about the YouTube comments. I’d love to just please everyone the first time but sometimes, that’s just not possible =)
You can get some of our fragrances at SoapCraft: http://soapcraft.ca/fragranceoils.html Karen drives down over the border to pick the fragrances up and she has a decent amount of them.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I appreciate it.
Linda M. says
Thank your for the great post! I’ve been in the business world for over 30 years and have always made a point to never say anything against my employers/co-workers, or previous employers once I left their employment. Now that I am only working part-time, I’m starting my own soap business and will be selling at our local farmers market next spring. They had a soapmaker there for several years and she recently moved away so it’s a wonderful opportunity for me. I’m sure there will be some people comparing our soaps, but that’s ok. I always welcome feedback on my soap. I use 2 basic CP recipes, but am more than willing to make changes or additions if there is a need.
Thanks again for all you do!
That is a great opportunity to you – to move into an existing market. You’ll have a fantastic chance to really grow your business with that opening. Here’s to an awesome upcoming year for you!
Thank you Anne Marie for your blog post.
I adore other soap makers, love buying bars of soap at markets/fairs/shows and shops. My biggest situation is that right now I am the only soapmaker at our 15 or so person farmers market and someone else has come out of the wood work and wants to sell at the same market as me. It is a small local market, we have 5 farmers, 1 baker, 1 cheese maker, 1 pretzel baker, 1 knitter, 1 alpaca farmer, 1 fish vendor, 1 candle maker, 1 hummus maker, 1 meat vendor and me, soap. This market simply can not support 2 candle makers or 2 pretzel vendors, the customer would simply be splitting their dollar between the two. Directly selling the same exact thing? It is all that I sell, I can not make up sales in other areas…I am not a farmer selling eggs, veggies, apples, corn, flowers, farm shares. I just sell soap, that is it. I understand that I may lose some business in the beginning and customers may come back to me, but in the meantime I am losing money. This is my lively hood. In a town that we sell, there are about 90% tourist coming to our market and they do not know the difference between our soaps, they buy from the first table they come across. I don’t have the advantage of my 5 + year reputation to grab their attention. I have met the other soap maker and she is very nice, and I’m sure she has a great product, but she is taking money from me. She even said that she doesn’t want to cause any problems…but she wants to sell. I am gritting my teeth and smiling, hoping for the best…..thanks, S.
I do compete with other soap makers at Holiday and special fairs, but that is a venue that has 100+ vendors, I don’t expect to be the only one there. But at our small market, what is a girl to do?
I don’t like having competition move in when I’ve been the only soapmaker at a market, either, but it happens. While you may lose money initially, eventually, your customers (plus some) will come back to you. Think about this other soapmaker who’s moving into a market where there is already an established, reputable, experienced soapmaker present. How daunting for her! But think about it… You ARE established, you ARE reputable and you ARE experienced. If you keep on doing what you’ve been doing to bring in customers, then this other soapmaker will not be a significant threat to your livelihood. Take this from the “been there, done that” file.
We have had businesses that we make items for ask us not to sell to anyone else. I am constantly making the point, that in any given town there is a Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, grocery store etc. They all sell soap and yet they are all doing quite well. The abundance of product out there is of no concern. If people like yours they will buy it. So, I just concern myself with making mine the best I can. Thanks for sharing this post. It was so on the mark.
That’s exactly the right attitude to have – just keep making the best products you can, day in and day out. =)
This is the first time i’m writing to you Anne-Marie. I’ve been following your post for a while an you are truly an inspiration.
I come from a VERY small island called Malta (very is probably an underestimation as the island rarely shows on maps!… just 400 thousand people in total!) yet we are Independent, have our own language and a great life in general… we lack opportunities mainly because of the size so we have to create these opportunities.
I’ve been soapmaking for the past five years (been into natural product for 10 years)… i had no competitors back then (on the island of course)! A couple of years ago I opened a small soap shop and up till now we are doing great. Infact it’s catching on so much that i have to deal with copy cats and false reports from even ‘Franchise’ brands situated here… you might be right saying that the market is huge, BUT it depends from which perspective of the world you see it! Export is not much of an option here, because postage expenses is SKY HIGH.. a bar of CP soap can end up costing 12$, which obviously limits your market.
One thing i totally agree with you is that competitors do actually make you better at what you do.
Sending you Love from sunny Malta. A joyous festive season to your team and family.TAKE CARE
Wow – that is a small island but it sounds like you are definitely finding your niche. And if you are getting copy cats? That means that you are doing something right.
Whenever anyone copies you that just means that it’s time to innovate and create something new, different and better. =)
Thank you for writing. It is so wonderful to know we have friends in little islands that most people haven’t heard of.
Anne-Marie, Wonderful post which really reflects what you have already shown – CLASS. You are full of it. I like the way you run your business, share things on your blog (without it being about pushy sales), help, guide, comment…. Thank you so much!! xo Jen
Aw, thanks for the love. I am so happy to have a place to share my joy of soap and I’m delighted that you like the recipes. =) Happy soaping!
What a great post, this is something I’ve been struggling with for the past 9 years. It’s difficult but I just try and be consistent with what I do. There is a supplier I used to order from for years and thought their EO’s were pure (I didn’t get them tested) but when I switched to a new supplier I realized the EO’s from the new supplier were much more potent smelling and never went back the old supplier.
I’m glad that you were able to find a new vendor that you could trust =)
I agree, consistency is key to surviving in business and of course, making your business better day by day. =)
This is a great post! Being that I’m only at the small time craft shows, my competition has never been too fierce, but I’ve always gone to any fellow soap maker and bought a bar and said a good word or two about their product or display. I want them to know I’m not there to be mean spirited and I’d hope they treat me the same way. I also like to know what my fellow soap vendors’ products are like.Healthy competition keeps up on our toes 😀 Thanks again Anne Marie!
What a nice thing to do, I’ve tried a lot of soaps as well that weren’t mine just because I’m curious what’s out there.
I read this after you removed “it.” But, I have to agree with the way you say you handled it. If a company started publicly “bashing” another company, I would be suspicious. I would initially want to know what the intentions or motivation are. My first instinct would not be to believe the accuser; I would want to see evidence of the claims. What’s in it for you (the accuser)? There are proper ways to handle false claims or dishonesty and those uphold a business’s (or person’s) integrity.
Thanks for sharing and all you do!
I am going to print this out ans post it to my wall! I am one soap vendor in a Farmer’s Market/Craft Market of at least seven soap vendors. There are three of use that bounce business back and forth within the market. Why? Because we all make something different! That is what I love about this business. If I do not do something then maybe another vendor might, and vice versa.
Thanks for the post. You have given me a few great ideas to spread around to some of my fellow soapmakers.
What I am confused about is you say to not criticize your competitor. But you mention a specific instance in which a competitor was not truthful (although you did not mention names). I know the point of your article was not to market Brambleberry, but it makes me wonder which competitor was not honest and it makes your company look good – a company with integrity. So something positive for Brambleberry comes out in mentioning this scenario as (for me) a curious mistrust of the mystery competitor, whomever that may be.
So I am wondering what you and others think here… as I start selling my soaps and a customer asks why my products aren’t “all natural” when another company markets themselves as “all natural” all the while selling soaps that surely aren’t… I don’t see a problem with giving an informative response. One that wouldn’t directly attack a specific company but may educate the consumer in terms of what the term “all natural” means and the many interpretations of it. I think it would benefit both my company, the consumer and the field to give this information.
You make a great point about my post not really making its point very well so I’ve edited that part out! Thank you for the helpful constructive feedback. I appreciate it!! =)
An informative response is great! “It’s interesting that you asked that. The term ‘natural’ isn’t actually regulated by the FDA so that term isn’t very meaningful. What I always recommend doing is to reading ingredient labels – so for example, if you see the word ‘fragrance’ or ‘FD&C color’, those products probably don’t fall under what you’d consider natural. Our products use very carefully sourced safe ingredients with only skin safe ingredients. I’d love to have you try them or talk to you more about ingredients. It’s such a fascinating subject!’
So maybe something like that? I’d love to hear other peoples’ opinions though!
I was at a craft fair a couple weekends ago and there was one other soap vendor there other than me. I put every single ingredient on my labels and they only said put “saponified oils of coconut olive and soy” And a woman read my label and said “Oh I don’t like that you use lye in your soaps and the other people use honey in theirs.” I had actually talked to them earlier and they made CP just like I did, and only put honey in their OMandHoney Soap. But because they didn’t put everything on their labels I was put in that tough place. I just explained what lye did and the process of how I made my soap. It irked me that I couldn’t say what I wanted to, but I’m happy that I stayed true to myself and she ended up buying from me anyways!
Amanda I recently went through a similar situation. I blogged about it as a way to educate others about soap and saponification. I was criticised for informing a store owner about what is soap. Everyone will have their own opinion on every matter. My opinion- information is available to most for free, so I see no harm in politely giving the facts even if they cannot accept it. Saying something is better than saying nothing.
Thanks for this post. I remember my father supporting other local businesses in our neighborhood growing up. They would even share supplies when one was running low on something. There is enough to go around.
And to paraphrase Steve Jobs: It’s OK to keep an eye on your competition but you really need to focus on your customers first.
YES! That is a fantastic Steve Jobs lesson and I very much want to follow his lesson. Focus on your customers and the rest follows – simple and true.
Great post! Some of the nicest people I’ve met are competitors (Cheryl at Toadstool Soaps to name one), we sell the same items, but love sharing stories and complaining about eBay, etc. She’s a sweetie and I’m glad to know her. I know that my “competitors” are hard working people just like me that want to provide a quality product to their customers. There’s plenty of room for all of us.
That is a good way to look at it – recognizing that your fellow soapers are literally people just like YOU! and people that you’d like to be friends with.
I feel lucky to be on a first name basis with most of the fellow vendors in this industry and talk to them routinely. The Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild has helped with that since I get to see so many of the vendors year after year there.
Amy B says
Great post! This is something that I’ve been faced with lately. After initially wringing my hands, I’ve realized that it’s caused me to step it up and be more conscious of my customers’ wants/needs, to be much more creative, and to make sure that my products and service are all top notch to set myself apart. In the end, it’s been good for me (and my customers)!
That is a fantastic way to go about it. Be more creative, find a way to meet your customer’s needs and be extremely attentive. I think that your desire to keep your products and your service top notch is definitely the way to go.
Linda White says
I cannot tell you how I appreciate your comments here. It is my belief that everyone, every home, and every business could easily buy natural, buy local, and promote green. however, I teach soap making and lotions making etc and when my students take their business to manufacturers outside our general area, I find myself gritting my teeth. BUT, I know you are absolutely correct about respecting your venders. In fact I spent almost a year being sickening sweet to a fellow vender of mine who later becuase a great asset to my business as they relocated and referred me to many of their accounts. Never burn a bridge – you will get further by constructing them, befriending and supporting. Thanks Ann Marie!
What a great story – I love that the story ended up so well. That is an impressive testament to you and your products as well =)
Every vendor brings something unique to the marketplace and I appreciate that. In my very small hobby business I cherish the camaraderie and network of others for assistance, inspiration and friends who understand the obsession. Those who wish to be adversarial are losing out.
I love that philosophy! You sound extremely healthy with the way you think =)
Dawn B says
I like this post…except for one thing.
As someone that deals with chemical sensitivities and someone that buys from different vendors, I have a problem with your knowledge of a fellow vendor selling blends or impure essential oils as pure and your lack of action. That saddens me and makes me wonder about your values.
What if a baby food manufacturer food was tested by a fellow baby food manufacturer and found to contain strawberries in with the apple sauce. Let’s also assume that while your son isn’t highly allergic to strawberries, but he does get an uncomfortable itchy rash and just feels rotten. Now, how would you feel about the second manufacturer knowing that fact and not taking any action? Please be honest with yourself about this. Would you really think the 2nd manufacturer took the high road about his fellow manufacturer by not saying anything.
I know I’m probably not explaining myself very well. I just can’t convey to you how disappointing this is to learn about you and your company. I used to think VERY highly of you and Brambleberry.
Sometimes, the problem is a lack of a messenger.
I totally understand where you are coming from. It sickens me too. I want to be clear that behind the scenes, I did contact the appropriate authorities. This blog post is all about how we deal with competitors publicly. I’m sorry I didn’t clarify that in the blog post to lead to your discomfort.
When we considered all the possible options and did confront the company, all the options led to lawsuits, accusations of tampering with samples, our experts against their experts – all outcomes that would take away from our core mission at Bramble Berry: to help provide thousands of women and families and opportunity to make a living selling soap to support their families and their communities.
Ultimately, while we can notify appropriate authorities (and did), I am uncomfortable playing the public negative game. I have not, along with my team, built Bramble Berry to tear down others. We just focus on being the better company and ultimately, I trust our consumers to be smart – if a price is too good to be true, it usually is for a reason. And, 99.99% of the vendors out there are fantastic, honest, truthful and are a credit to our industry. =)
Dawn B says
Thank you, A-M!
It’s reassuring to know you did, in fact, report the issue to the appropriate authorities.
I very much appreciate that fact, and your response!
Ironically, I just edited the post to take that part out because I was worried that the message of “Take the high road” would get lost with people going, “Hm, wonder who that vendor was!” =)
I befriended my “competition” to pick her brain and learn from her. I’ve even made soap w/ her! She’s wonderful and I know that we have different goals and visions of our products so being assets to one another helps us reach our individual goals.
That is such a key – different goals and visions is huge for being able to work collaboratively.
i have a small business with soap mp
i have lots of fellow vendors
and with some of them i have great contact between each other
we learn from each other we have fun together and they become real nice online friends
we share tips and nice places were to get our mold.
we import molds together from overseas and much more
i love that we share the same passion
with no jealous between us all
one person i have the closest bond with
if we get the same mold we keep our prices the same
if a customer is looking for something that i dont have i send them to her and visa versa
but on the down side there are also a lot of vendors who are jealous and try to copy everything we do but hey i think thats a compliment they like out ideas
miranda (the netherlands)
i hope this all makes sence its hard to translate in englisch
That is great that you can do bulk buys together and work together to make your companies stronger.
I agree, sometimes people try to copy but ultimately, people who copy never win – it’s always the market leaders (in my opinion) who are able to stay fresh and relevant for years.
Banding together with other market leaders helps to make the entire experience about being self employed a less lonely place =)
Thanks, A-M! I really enjoyed this lost! I was orginally introduced to Soap and lotion making by my good friend, Juli who is the owner of Inspiri body line. She makes great products and I believe that she is my – sort of competitor but I do not think of that way. I think I learn from her and from fellow soap makers and we all share ideas from each others. I believe this is important to have attitude so we can all collaborate to be in the industry! Great Job!
I love to hear that you are working closely with a fellow soapmaker to share ideas and make both of your companies better by your collaboration.