Candace Alarie has found success with her soapmaking business, SOAK Bath Co, which sells deluxe handmade bath and body products. You can feel the personal touch every time you use these products, too, since these are all made using Candace’s personal all-natural recipes for homemade soap and shampoo products. As a way of protecting the environment, SOAK also packages its products inside biodegradable paper packaging.
Through this environmentally-friendly initiative, Candace Alarie and SOAK Bath Co have enjoyed features in lifestyle publications, especially in Canada’s House & Home magazine. So, what’s so special with SOAK’s products?
According to an interview, Candace Alarie says that not only are SOAK products sold in biodegradable packaging, but their labels can also be planted to grow wildflowers. SOAK’s many products, including soap, shampoo bars, bath melts, and salt soaks, come in these plantable seed labels. Aside from that, all of these homemade products, save one, are vegan. If you want a luxurious and pampering bath experience, you can also try SOAK’s collection of “natural oils, butters, salts, powders, and clays.”
Currently, Candace Alarie creates SOAK products inside her home studio in Niverville, Manitoba, Canada. She says that her favorite task is making the soap bars, since she could exercise her creativity in the use of color and botanical ingredients.
Before starting SOAK Bath Co, Candace Alarie worked in management. However, one day, she realized that her management job was not her calling, and decided to focus full-time on SOAK Bath, which was her side hustle at the time. In March 2019, Candace quit her ten-year job and plunged into the soapmaking business, fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming an entrepreneur like her parents.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Candace Alarie: My business stands out because of two things. My branding is exceptional, everything from colours to photos, copyright, social media and the final product. It tells a beautiful, cohesive story. When a customer lands on my page or finds my product on a shelf, they know who’s product it is. I’ve built a highly engaged social media following on Instagram. My audience can expect to see the highs and lows of running a business on any given day. I show up on video on Instagram every day and I think that in itself sets me apart from my competitors. Owners are still afraid to put themselves on video which I think comes down to confidence issues and not knowing what to say. I had the same issues early on but as I practiced more and more I got more comfortable in the uncomfortable. Now hoping onto an insta story to show my process is second nature and I truly love engaging with my Instagram community. Second, my product is exceptional. Enough said.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Candace Alarie: It’s really important to take the time to train your team members so they understand what to do and what is expected of them. Then delegate that task and empower your employees to make it their own. It’s important to have feedback systems in place to ensure tasks are getting done and done well but micromanaging every task in your business is going to burn you out (and make your employees unhappy)! Many times we think things need to be done “our way” and that’s the best way but often times a different perspective brings about more efficient ways of completing a task. Empower your employees, listen to their feedback and be willing to give guidance along the way.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Candace Alarie: Can I pick two people? I am so grateful for the help and support of my mom and dad. They’ve set an example for me to follow since I was young, that it’s important to work hard and strive for the things you want. Both have been immensely helpful throughout my start up. Mom has been working full time for me from the start of the business. She makes our luxurious bath bombs and makes them way better than I do! I truly wouldn’t have half my product line without her help and she crafts some of our best sellers. Dad helps with order deliveries to local shops and in the midst of busy season, every second counts. Having someone to help with that is incredible! He’s also typically on the lookout for ways I may be able to increase my capacity with minimal overhead costs, having the extra set of eyes and ears out there is incredibly helpful.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Candace Alarie: There are more businesses leaning heavily into social media to engage with and find new audiences. I see more business owners finding the courage to go live on their Facebook or Instagram accounts to help create more authentic experiences with their audiences. The live aspect creates a greater form of connection than simply a static post. More businesses are creating engaging content on their social media, like doing video stories versus static posts.
I think more of us are willing to look at new platforms to find new customers as well. Where some may have been resistant to get onto TikTok for example, we’re more willing to try something new in the hopes that it’s where our customers are at.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Candace Alarie: Remain authentic to yourself, your brand, your mission. We live in a world where it’s tough to come up with something genuinely authentic and new. I can think of ten different soap brands at the moment and when it comes down to the nitty gritty function, each soap bar does the same thing but the brand experience with each business is entirely different. How we’re able to differentiate is with our branding, messaging and how the customer experiences our brand at every touch point. My advice would be to get clear on your mission and stay true to your voice. People buy from people, and if that wasn’t the case pre-covid it’s certainly the case now. Use your voice and stay true to your voice, because nobody will be able to take that away from you.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Candace Alarie: Many make the assumption that, “if you build it, they will come.” When you’re just starting and you don’t know what to expect from the online world you may be inclined to think, well I’ll just build a website and people from all over the world will start buying from me! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If it were, everyone would truly be doing this. When your website goes live, people don’t just discover you, in fact if you don’t tell anyone, it’s perfectly normal for no one to discover it. You have to create the traffic sources, find the audiences and direct them to your website.
Another common mistake I see is business owners think a single post on instagram or facebook means the whole world knows about their sale or promotion. The reality is social media platforms are managing so many users, that the algorithms are choosing which posts get seen by whom. This ends up being a very small percentage of your audience. If you make a static post to your feed, it’s likely only 2% of your audience is seeing it. If you created a insta story about this same promotion, a few more people might see it but not everyone sees or understands it. It’s important to promote yourself over and over again to ensure you’re getting your message to as many people as possible. It’s important to diversify your marketing strategy to include social media, email marketing, collaborations and even dive into ads to maximize the exposure of your brand to as many people as possible.
The other common misconception I see from business owners is they think consumers will instantly understand what they sell. Owners assume that consumers will understand every aspect of the product or every aspect of the sale or promotion that’s running. It’s simply not the case. As owners, we eat, sleep and breathe our business so it’s easy to fall into that trap. However, your consumer does not lie awake at night obsessing about your business. It’s important to be consistent at repeating your promotion or your product benefits because you can never be sure what part of the customer journey your audience is finding you. Maybe they’ve just discovered you, maybe they’ve followed you for years. It’s important to reiterate your selling points consistently to ensure the customer really understands what you have to offer.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Candace Alarie: It takes a lot of time and energy to build a loyal audience. Many will think you just woke up one day running a successful business. I spend upwards of 50 hours a week simply creating content for my Instagram account, responding to DMs, creating Instagram videos for stories, reels and IGTV. I choose to invest this time in the platform because it creates a high level of trust and engagement with my core audience and allows me to drive traffic to my email list and eventually to my website to drive higher than average conversions. A customer that lands on my website from Instagram is ready to purchase because we’ve spent so much time building trust on Instagram that the website simply acts as a checkout. My website doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting in terms of sales when a customer has landed there through instagram. It takes time however to build this level of trust and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Candace Alarie: I’ll be honest, a positive review is just about the most incredible thing a customer could do for my business. Sometimes almost better than an actual sale. So when the reverse happens, it’s normal to take it personally and get defensive right away. I think it’s important to take a breath and not respond with the first thing that comes to mind as generally that’s charged with a lot of negativity. It’s important to respond in a timely manner. However negative or unfair the review portrays your brand you have to approach it with the idea that there may be some validity to the comment. Are we as humans 100% perfect all the time? No. Neither are brands, in fact there is a lot of room for miscommunication in a business and something will inevitably fall through the cracks at times. It may give you an opportunity to look at your systems and communication channels to help eliminate the negative experience for others in the long run. Remember that people come to us with all types of experiences in life that we don’t know about. Something that may seem entirely acceptable to you may not be for the next person and you may be on the receiving end of someone’s really bad day.
It’s important to publicly acknowledge the comment and concern to show that as a brand you care about the customer’s experience. Then follow it up with a direct email or phone call to the customer who’s left the negative review.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Candace Alarie: Just be kind. Give each other some grace. The world has been put through a lot of stress this year and its evident in the amount of proverbial baggage that is brought to social media platforms. People are hurting, different people have gone through varying experiences. Social media is such a fantastic tool from a marketing stand point but it can ignite negativity in an instant. Everyone has an opinion and everyone now has a space to share it (on social). I’d love it if it were more common to comment on the positive things about a person than the negative. It starts with each person choosing to focus on the positive.
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!