(2023 Update: This was written before the #metoo movement and has nothing to do with that. Sorry for the confusion!)
Here’s a little story about learning to do your own thing:
In my decade (god, is it REALLY a decade?) of soap making there has only been one brand I had ever tried to completely emulate: Biggs and Featherbelle.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the owners, Kelly and Kasey, as friends. We would see each other at shitty craft shows, and would talk about business and customers. They had been around as long as I had, although they had stuck to one brand and aesthetic throughout the entire run (save for a few design tweaks).
They are, in my opinion, the only truly successful soap brand to make it out of the craft show scene unchanged. Their warehouse is ginormous, their client base is full of national corporations, and they’ve got a brand loyalty that borders on “lovingly stalkeresque.”
I got to watch all of this growth from them; I saw when they moved from their parents guest house to a factory space. I saw when they hired a publicist and got their products in the hands of Heidi Klum. I also saw them speeding right by me and outselling me at shows and in wholesale. That’s when I knew two things: 1. What I was doing was wrong 2. If I wanted to be successful like them, then I’d have to be like them. I didn’t intend to run them out of town, nor did I want to take over their world. I just saw that it was working for them, so figured it would work for me, too, and that there was enough stores and space for all of us to be together (and only typing that out now do I realize how naive and cheesy that sounds.)
So I shut down my brand. I changed my packaging to be more like theirs (as best I could, I can’t draw to save my life so I went with light-colored stock, kraft wrapping, and color-coordinated bands). I positioned my brand to work with corporations in natural grocery. I focused my “about us” story to sound more light-hearted and eco-ish. I tried to be the best version of Biggs and Featherbelle that I could. And it didn’t work.
There already was a Biggs and Featherbelle.
And by me trying to be just like them made me look like I couldn’t do my own thing. Or I just wasn’t ready to put the effort into making it work.
“Me, too!” is a style of branding that will never make you as successful as the original brand, and will take up so much time trying to keep on pace with them. It’s an exhaustive effort, especially since all of that time can be spent working on your own style. I couldn’t sell it because I couldn’t stand behind it, I wasn’t earthy/crunchy/whimsical. I was a woman with unnaturally red hair that wore a lot of black, who the hell would believe I was passionate about a brand of natural soap in earthy packaging? I learned that if I wanted to make my brand something I could stand behind, I’d have to move away from what I saw other people doing and go for what I could do instead. It wasn’t guaranteed to work, but at least I had a better chance of being genuinely passionate about it during sales calls.
Biggs and Featherbelle are still going and are still more successful than I can imagine. And Kelly and Kasey, bless them, either never paid attention to my continual efforts to be like them, or didn’t care enough to ask me wtf I was doing. They continued doing their amazing things, and I moved on to focus on my own style of branding.
LOVE this post, Megan! Good on you for learning and accepting that you need to find your own “voice” in this world!
I am continually discouraged to see so many soapers copy others, right down to packaging, names – even photo props!
You learned a valuable lesson that is unfortunately lost on many others.
Wishing you great success!