Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everybody, I’m excited to have Elaine on the podcast today. We’re gonna be talking about a really cool business, a very unique business, if I may say so myself. And so I’m excited for her to share about it. But before we do that, Elaine, tell us where you live, what you like to do for fun, just a little bit about you.
Elaine: My name’s Elaine Kinney. I currently live in the Portland, Maine area. I typically spend a lot of my free time brewery hopping with friends. The state is really known for tons of different breweries. Microbreweries have just popped up everywhere. So we like to explore that with friends. I do a lot of tabletop board games, I like to go to the gym and strength train, I listen to a lot of music.
Julia: I just feel like we’re gonna be best friends, because I like all of those things too. Before we go into your business, what’s your favorite game right now?
Elaine: I just got really addicted to Hive.
Julia: I’ve not played that one.
Elaine: Oh, you’ve gotta play it! It’s one of those games that’s very simple to learn, but there’s a ton of strategy. Like very easy to learn, very difficult to master, but exciting in a good way.
Julia: My brother has a collection of probably like 50 to 60 of them. Half of them, he’s never played. So let’s just put that out there, everybody! But I’ll have to ask him if he has that one.
Elaine: See, that’s the problem with board game people, is we just collect them, and then we don’t get around to playing any of them more than once.
Julia: Well, and the other problem is you have to find the right people to play with too.
Elaine: Yeah, absolutely.
Julia: There are people who love them, and then there are people who do not love them, and that’s okay. But you have to find your people.
All right. So you already kind of talked about it, soap. You also talked about breweries. So tell everybody about your business. What do you do?
Elaine: So because I live in Maine, I jumped into this entrepreneurship adventure where I am the sole owner and founder of White Pine Bath and Brew. And with that, I design luxury vegan skincare, and the specialization and focus is really on palm free soap made from craft beer. So I use the local beer from the breweries in our area, which there’s just no end to, and I actually turn that into soap instead of using water, which is the typical liquid that you would use in the process chemically.
Julia: That’s crazy! I have so many questions. Where did this idea come from?
Elaine: I can’t take credit. I’m not the first person to do this. But there’s not a lot of people that do it. Years back, I had a friend teach me how to make soap, and that’s how she had learned to do it with beer. She had sort of done it as a hobby job, but she was kinda like, I’m ready to move on to the next hobby. This is shortly before COVID, so I had a little bit of the tool set under my belt, and I was just looking for that career change, and then COVID shut down the world. And I was like, okay, maybe this is now or never. You’re working from home, this is the time to be working for yourself because you’re at home already. So I was like, all right, I’m just gonna do it. I’m gonna pull the plug. And so I started the business.
The beer thing is cool just because it’s such a part of the culture here. So it gives me a way to connect with the community and support the other local businesses, which is really fun. And again, such an important part about having a small business is knowing how to niche down and set yourself apart. And there’s a ton of people that make really great soap around here, but you gotta find something that sets yourself apart. So this was a great way for me to not only connect with Mainers in particular, but find something that made my soap special.
Julia: For sure! I had never heard of it before, which I imagine I can’t be the only one who has never heard of it.
Elaine: No. Most people don’t know about it.
Julia: So my other question is, so when you go to these microbreweries, are you known as the soap lady?
Elaine: A couple! I’m not super well known yet, but that’s the goal, is to kind of work with as many as I can and make those connections, because it helps both of our businesses if I can throw them some publicity by saying, “Hey, we’re using this company’s beer.” And maybe it’s a customer’s favorite brewery, so that’s kind of exciting. And then they get some credit, and obviously it helps me. And then I also do a lot of work with breweries to help them. I’m trying to do more of helping them reduce waste. Like I buy the beer from them when I can, but also, if they have short fills or beer that’s just like a little past, it’s fresh point that they don’t really wanna sell, but there’s nothing really wrong with it as far as using it in the soap goes, I can use that, and then it’s a little bit more of reducing the waste there and helping everybody.
Julia: That’s awesome! It sounds like you’ve kind of educated yourself, one, on how to make soap with it, but then also even on beer itself and how it works, and when it’s past its prime, things like that. Are those things that you had always kind of known, and then you’ve been able to implement? Or have you been learning on the go?
Elaine: I’ve been very much learning on the go. Everything about entrepreneurship has been like, “Oh, okay, I guess I better figure this out”, on the fly. And it’s amazing how much you just have to throw yourself into it, you know?
Julia: Yeah! I was just talking to somebody yesterday who was feeling a lot of imposter syndrome, and I was like, “You’ve just joined the club of a bunch of people who feel that.”
Elaine: Oh, my word. Yes!
Julia: Even people I know who are multimillion dollar makers still feel it too, so it’s not like it’s something that goes away totally. So I’m curious, you jumped in around the COVID time, what were some of the biggest challenges that you faced?
Elaine: Honestly, the biggest thing, and probably you’d think it would be COVID, I think if anything, it was more the imposter syndrome though. It’s really battling yourself with being an entrepreneur and going into it with honestly very little confidence that I could pull it off. But just knowing that I needed an out, and being willing to throw myself into it and figure it out was the thing that got me through it, because I feel like so much of the time, you’re just like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” I learned how to do this a few years beforehand, and there’s certainly been a lot of times where I’ve had batch after batch fail as I’m figuring it out and honing the craft, and you’re just like, “Am I just lying to myself and all these people that are like, you can do it.” I’m like, “Am I just wasting that, or the money you invest in equipment?” And then you’re like, “Oh no, I suck.” But I think honestly, building that confidence and learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and learning to fail, and not let that be the end of the world in your head, has been the biggest difficulty, especially early on.
Julia: I feel you. I’m five years in, and last night, I was laying in bed and I told my husband, I was like, “Can you just tell me that I do great work and I’m a great person?” He was like, “You do great work and you’re a great person.” And I was like, “I just need a confidence booster.” You’re right, sometimes we get to where we are and we’re like, am I kidding myself that I can do this? That’s a hard place to be in.
What have been some of the best things of your business?
Elaine: I think connecting with the people, in addition to just working on yourself. I feel like you change so much, and your world changes so much whenever you dive into small business. And it’s such a big part of the community here where there’s so many small businesses in Maine that, I don’t know, it just gives you a way to connect with them. So for me it was like, not only am I building this confidence, it’s giving me these relationships. I’ve met the most incredible people that are in the same boat and willing to collaborate and work together, which I think has been really cool, because I think when I went into the business, I didn’t have any business major or background. I didn’t really have that preset of skills. I went into it thinking everything was gonna be competitive and cutthroat, and people were gonna try to mess you up to get ahead. I don’t know if I just watched too much Succession.
I think I just didn’t realize how much space there was for community, and that’s been so eye-opening to realize, people want to work together, people don’t necessarily wanna see you fail. And it’s been amazing just like the friendships and relationships and community of small business owners that are willing to work together in this area. It’s been really, really special to be a part of that.
Julia: Well, I would imagine that you sell to people anywhere, or is it only local people?
Elaine: No, it’s within the states, anywhere within the states. But definitely primarily Mainers because they get the beer aspect of it on a more personal level.
Julia: Well, what you need to do is you need to go to Wisconsin. I used to live in Wisconsin and Wisconsin loves their beer also. So I think that that would be a really interesting market. But anyway, how cool is it that while you can sell anywhere in the states, you have just created these deep roots into the community, because even this collaboration with other breweries, what a cool way to cross promote each other? I love that!
So I’m curious, when you tell people what you do, how do they react?
Elaine: I usually get double takes. A lot of double takes, because I think people are so used to being sold to. I do a lot of work at markets in person, like shows and stuff like that. So people are used to seeing ads and being sold to, so they’re kind of glazed over initially and then you’re like, “Oh, I make vegan soap out of local craft beer.” And they go, “What?” And it’s funny, because it’s almost like a little inside joke every time. The customer gives me this look, and I know it’s coming, and it’s really funny. But it definitely catches people off guard. I would say most people have never heard of it before.
Julia: That’s awesome! So you do shows, what are some other things that you have done to help market yourself?
Elaine: I tried everything. When you’re so new, I think one of the hard things as a small business owner, is without deep pockets, without really big connections, you have to get super resourceful. So I started out on Etsy. I have my own website. I’m not really on Etsy anymore, but I’ve done a lot of work with markets just to try to be top of mind and get in front of the people that are really my target audience.
Julia: What are some of the things that you have enjoyed or have worked well? You just said you don’t do Etsy anymore. Is that because it wasn’t working? Tell me more about that. What’s your decision-making process?
Elaine: When I started on Etsy, it was just kind of the place where everyone starts with the maker community. But I think the culture on Etsy changed a lot, and by the time I got into it, it just felt really oversaturated, especially with skincare and homemade makers. And it was kind of not really necessarily any easier to get found on Etsy than it was just on your own website on the worldwide web. So it wasn’t really giving an advantage. They take commissions, which is something you don’t have to do if it’s just your own website necessarily. And I just felt like they weren’t as supportive of the community as they originally had been, maybe not as niched down into the handmade stuff because there was a lot more stuff that’s getting manufactured that’s getting sold through Etsy. So I just think it wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t quite the right fit for me anymore, and I wanted something more customizable.
Julia: That makes sense. What have been some other things that have worked well? So the markets have worked well?
Elaine: Yeah, the markets have worked really well. That’s been the biggest thing. And then a lot of word of mouth, just customers, referrals and stuff like that has been really good. And then the other thing is even through markets, you meet people, like I’ve had small business owners, local shops. There’s a lot of tourist shops in this area, so people will come to markets and scout for things to stock in their shops. So I’ve met some wholesale accounts that way.
Julia: It’s productive, both in terms of retail and wholesale then. It sounds like a really good option for you.
Elaine: Right! The biggest thing has just been networking and me finding ways to meet those people, and kind of getting creative with it.
Julia: That makes total sense. In the end, I think we’ve already talked about that a little bit, is that being an entrepreneur, at first you think you’re on your own, but once you realize that you have this community and especially if you meet them through networking, that, I think is one of the biggest ways to leverage or one of the biggest things to leverage visibility and other things. So I’m curious, did you ever see yourself running a business?
Elaine: No. It’s funny to me how opposite that was. I literally used to call myself the worker bee type all the time, and I used to swear I would never run my own business because I didn’t think I would be motivated, I didn’t think I’d have that internal drive to provide for myself and sustain it. I like structure and being told what to do sometimes, and there’s the security in that. But I think what I didn’t realize is I just hadn’t found something that I got really excited about. That was not the plan originally, but I love it, and I can’t imagine ever going back now.
Julia: For sure! I think it’s kind of addicting. Once you have embarked on the entrepreneurial journey, there’s something that’s really freeing about it and that freedom, I find addicting a little bit. So I get it. So I’m curious, what does your week look like as a maker? You are making soap, you’re going to markets, how often do you have to make more soap or how often do you make more soap?
Elaine: That is super, super varied depending on the time of year. This is kind of the slower season right after Christmas, first quarter. People tend to just not be spending as much. I’m more of a gift-oriented, or it’s more of a specialty thing, so I do better around Christmas. So this is the slow season, and then I ramp up over the summer with markets and events and corporate accounts and stuff like that, and it peaks over Christmas and then restarts. So it really depends. I will have some weeks where I am just pumping out soap every single day, and I’m trying to keep up. And then other days where I’ll go weeks without making soap and I’ll be doing all sorts of admin stuff and rebuilding out the website or signing up for events or organizing events and stuff like that.
So honestly, there’s not a very consistent schedule for me. I don’t have a production calendar yet or anything like that because I’m still pretty small, but I think that’s kind of one of the things I like about it, is whatever mood strikes you, there’s always gonna be something to do on that day. So I pick what sounds exciting on that day and I work on that. And so I’ve spent a lot of time lately just because there haven’t been as many orders because it’s the slow season, this is whenever I reevaluate my software, or programs, or website, or I invest in reaching out to press or something like that. So you kind of do the backend stuff more.
Julia: That’s awesome! That’s really cool. So if somebody was just starting, or if you were speaking to yourself two years ago when you started, I guess three years now, but what would you tell them in terms of a piece of advice? How would you advise them if they were just starting?
Elaine: I really wish I could talk to myself a few years ago. I think I would just tell myself to get out of my head. I don’t remember who said it, but I remember one of the podcasts I was listening to, someone said entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, but everyone can do it, and I always really liked that. I think you get so locked up, especially when you’re starting out, about doing it right or knowing the exact right next steps. Like, is it registering your business or starting your bank account or signing up for QuickBooks? Like really early on stuff. And you’re like, I don’t know what to do. And I think I would just tell myself like, do anything, do something, because it matters so much less if you mess up, or if you do things out of order, than if you just get stuck in analysis paralysis. You will improve drastically as long as you are doing something all the time. So I think I would spend less time just sitting in that doubt and more time just doing anything, but being able to do it scared.
Julia: For sure. I love that! I think that the bottom line is that you can’t talk to an entrepreneur who hasn’t messed up. None of us exist! Because I’m the same way where I’ve been like – or even hindsight is 2020, and I’m like, “Oh, maybe I should have hired this position before this position. Maybe I did myself a disservice.” But all of those “mistakes” are what has brought us here. So those are like stepping stones to improve, and I really honestly believe that. But I also get paralyzed in the analysis.
One of the things that I love is I’ve never read the book, but Marie Forleo has a book, the title is Everything is Figureoutable, and I say that to myself a lot because even what you were saying, like, do you set up your bank account first? Like registry? Like what does all of this do? Like yes, there are some things that have to be done in order, but almost everything is figureoutable. And if you did it out of order, there’s no problem.
Elaine: There’s no real problem. And there’s nothing I’m like, oh, I really, really regret how I did that. There are things where I’m like, I probably could have not done that at all, or I put too much importance on this project and spent too much time on it. But it’s also like, well, it did help me hash out things later on. So there’s nothing that I feel like you’re gonna massively regret. It’s just a matter of learning from it as you go.
Julia: For sure! I think it was last year or the year before, I made a $7,500 investment into a program that I was like, this is gonna be awesome, I’m gonna make my money back. I did not, everybody! I did not make my money back. It was a hard pill to swallow, where I was really bummed, really upset with the organization that I had given the money to. But I look back on that and I’m like, yes, does it still sting? Of course. I would love to have that $7,500 back to do something else with it. But it’s made me a better decision-maker now to really be like, okay, these were the blind spots that I had when I made that decision. So as I’m making this new investment, am I considering those blind spots?
Elaine: You’ve essentially paid yourself to become more discerning. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not quite ideal.
Julia: I would still rather go on a vacation with that 7,500, but it is what it is. And I think also, one of our beliefs, especially because that one’s financial, you can always make more money. It’s just a drop in the bucket. Sweet. I love it! So Elaine, if people want to connect with you, find you, buy your soap, where should they go?
Elaine: My website is the most direct way to get to me. It’s whitepinebathbrew.com (White Pine Bath & Brew). And if you wanna follow me, I’m on Instagram at @WhitePineBathBrew ( https://www.instagram.com/whitepinebathbrew) as well. I also have a newsletter they can sign up for where I do sales and updates on new scents, follow along, some of that small business journey, a little bit of my story, all that kind of thing is great.
Julia: I love it! I’ll have to sign up. Portland, Maine is on my places to go list because I’ve heard Maine is beautiful.
Elaine: It’s wonderful!
Julia: We also wanna go to Acadia. I did not know it was a microbrewery hotspot, so now my husband will be sold.
Elaine: This is, I think, according to 2022 data, but there’s 100 separate brewery brands across 165 locations in just the state.
Julia: Wow. That’s wild!
Elaine: You’re gonna have beer. You’ve got your selection.
Julia: Well, good thing. So that’ll be next on our list, and we’ll have to look you up. Perfect. Well, Elaine, thank you so much for sharing your time, your story with us. I really, really appreciate it.
Elaine: Thank you so much for having me
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos Team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.