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Special Feature: Emily Caswell of GCDSpa.com

In my spare time I love surfing the websites of various soapmakers and crafters to see all the cool things that people make. My home computer has LOTS of bookmarked websites that I find inspirational.

Baby Shower Lip Balm Favors.

Several weeks ago, I helped put a little gift package together for Emily Caswell since she had caught a mistake we made and told us about it. As a thank you for catching that mistake, I scoured her website and our catalog for items that we thought she might like to try. I couldn’t help myself, I kept going back to her website and drooling over her fun products. Finally, I decided that I have to share the wonderful items that she makes!

So, I sent an e-mail off to Emily and I’m so excited that she consented to an interview with me! I hope you enjoy this great interview!

Andee: What’s your background and what led you to start GCDSpa.com?
Emily: My degree is in biology and psychology and I was also pre-med, so I have a strong science background. My first “real” job was in a biotech lab, but I wanted to be able to work from home when I had kids. So I left that job, pursuing an interest in art and design and starting my own business. I did graphic and web design for small local businesses for about 8 years. Late in 2004 I made some holiday gifts with a friend, creating my own labels and packaging as I had done for my clients’ products. Our sugar scrubs and bath salts were a big hit with our families, who ended up ordering their own gifts. I realized this was a great way to combine my lab experience with my design work. Within a year I had launched GCDSpa.com and was working on wedding favors.

Andee: How did you get started making customized wedding favors and gifts?
Emily: Several of my design clients were in the wedding industry, so I had spent some time designing for weddings. Through that experience I knew how much customers liked having favors and gifts personalized just for them. I had grown accustomed to emailing drafts of designs to my clients, so I provided that same service to my new customers. I started by offering wedding and bridal shower gifts and favors, with an assortment of flavors, designs, and colors. Over time I added more product options and eventually added birthday party and baby shower designs, too.

Cherry Blossom Wedding Favor

Andee: What do you enjoy most in your day-to-day work?
Emily: What I enjoy most is that I love everything! Apart from doing my taxes, I love it all! In any day I might design some tags, pour lip balm, take photos of new products, and decorate party favors. Other days I’m blogging or chatting with customers and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook. I feel so fortunate to have a job that I really love.

Andee: What separates you and your company from the competition?
Emily: There are lots of other companies providing custom party favors and gifts, but we’re different in several ways. We have very low minimums for personalization, we offer a wider selection of flavors and designs than most, we provide an emailed draft of all personalized artwork for customer approval before production, and we assemble and decorate our favors before shipping so customers don’t need to put anything together. I’m also pretty sure that we offer the fastest rush order service available!

Andee: What advice would you give someone just starting their own business?
Emily: Add new products or services a little at a time; it’s easy to get overwhelmed and end up with a product line that’s too big (and unprofitable). Also, find out about trade organizations that might benefit your business. For those of us in the personal care products industry, the Indie Beauty Network and The Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild provide reasonably-priced insurance, industry news, and ways to connect with colleagues. The support and continuing education I’ve personally received through IBN have been invaluable to my business.

Favors for a Divorce or Break Up Party

Andee: What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?
Emily: I’ve been working on a new idea for personalized products and haven’t had enough time to work out all of the details and “officially” add it to my product line. That is happening too often now, so I think if I knew it would do well, I would hire someone to help me finish these ideas. Having even one extra set of hands would make a big difference, but as a small (micro-mini) business, I have always hesitated to hire. (Maybe that means it’s time to put the kids to work?!)

Andee: What do you see as the coming trends in the personal care industry and particularly the favors that you do?
Emily: When it comes to favors, I see parties getting very detailed and customized, but because of the economy (or maybe just a new interest in handmade), I feel like the trend is toward do-it-yourself. So there are opportunities for custom and personalized work, but those of us offering ready-made favors have to keep trying harder to offer really special, unique items with one-of-a-kind designs that can’t be duplicated! In the personal care industry, the buzz words seem to be natural, “green”, cruelty-free, and organic. I expect that customer demand will continue in this direction. Since some of the most exciting trends in personal care have been led by small businesses, it will be interesting to see if new cosmetics legislation is introduced and what impact this has on the role of small business in the personal care industry.

Butterfly & Ladybugs Label Collection.

Andee: What was one of your most memorable experiences while testing products?
Emily: I used to premix my lip-safe micas in dropper bottles with sweet almond oil, shaking them before use to make a “slurry” and then adding by the drop to my melted batches of balm. One time I was making a test batch of a new lip balm flavor and didn’t realize that the mica had settled in the dropper cap. When I squeezed the bottle, nothing came out. So I squeezed a bit harder and still nothing happened. Another squeeze and the entire cap popped off into the lip balm, splashing molten wax and butter all over the lab bench, chair, floor, my jeans, t-shirt, and lab book. Not long after that I acquired my lab coat and came up with a different way to add the mica!

Andee: What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?
Emily: I have always depended on search engines to get the word out about my products, through both organic search and, more recently, a bit of PPC advertising. I’m also finding Facebook and Twitter really helpful in maintaining relationships with my customers as well as promoting to new customers.

Andee: What was the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
Emily: The most challenging thing was finding affordable insurance, a problem solved by joining the Indie Beauty Network. My biggest ongoing challenge is time; my business is a full-time job, and I’m a full-time parent, too. There just aren’t ever enough hours in a day.

Easter Lip Balms

Andee: When you aren’t working on your products, what do you do in your spare time?
Emily: My first thought is, “What spare time?!” But I do enjoy reading, photography, Pilates, and sewing when I get the chance. My other love is my garden; from May through late September, I spend as much time as possible with the plants. I have always enjoyed growing flowers, but in recent years I have expanded my garden to include vegetables and herbs, too. I still work from home (now from a renovated office and lab space over my garage) so I also spend a lot of time with my two kids and (of course) my husband!

Andee: How can people get in touch with you to book your services?
Emily: You can see all of my work at http://www.gcdspa.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GCDSpa
Twitter: http://twitter.com/GCDSpa
all of my contact details are at: http://www.gcdspa.com/contact.htm

Thank you for this great interview! I had so much fun writing back and forth with you. I hope others will find your products just as inspiring as I do!

Do you know someone who you think should be featured on Adventures with The Sage? Use our Contact Us Page and send a note to the Blog Team. Tell us the name of the person, their company, and why they should be featured. It doesn’t have to be soapmaking or cosmetics related! Any feature recommendations will be accepted!

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