1. Give us a little background about yourself and your business.
The Soap Opera is a well loved store on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin that sells natural and organic bathing products, grooming supplies, essential oils and is always in the top 3 of “best gift shop” in the city due to our wonderful gift options and wrapping. We also do custom scenting in the shop, where you can make your own perfume, cologne, or any “everyday” product like lotion or body wash. That is our biggest draw in the shop. We’ve recently added an Aromatherapy Oxygen Lounge to the store as well. You’ve probably seen something called an “Oxygen Bar”. It’s the same thing just in a more relaxing setting.
I’ll give you the history of The Soap Opera, since it’s pretty unique. So, back in the 1960’s 2 amazing guys (both named Chuck) decided that they wanted to start a business that would help fill a gap in Madison (or all of the United States at the time, for that matter). They had both done some extensive world traveling and realized there were no places to find great grooming products like brushes, lotions, etc or natural remedies like essential oils. So, they started selling these amazing products out of a dresser and would roller blade up and down State street here in Madison selling their goods. If they were mobile it was legal ;). They did this until they could get their first store front in 1972, and grew the business year after year, with their amazing products and wonderful personalities! Fast forward to 2013 when one of the Chucks reached out to my husband Sean who was a business broker. He wanted to sell but did not want to list the business publicly. He didn’t want news articles and such coming out. Sean, knowing I was a frequenter of the shop could not tell me about them wanting to sell, due to a non-disclosure agreement he makes with all his clients. Until 2015 when we were talking about starting our own business. He asked Chuck if he thought he would be willing to sell to us, and he loved the idea. I signed a non-disclosure agreement and jumped for joy when I found out my favorite shop could be mine! I gave birth to my son in July of 2015 and in August signed all the paperwork to take over ownership as of January 1st of 2016. I would be breastfeeding and making business plans at the same time. There was a lot of multi-tasking in those brief 5 months before I took over ownership!
I grew up in central Wisconsin on Dairy farms. I loved being outside and would consider myself a “hippy” in my teenage years and early 20’s. I loved making my own products and growing my own food. It was my love of nature that inspired me to get my first degree in Recreation and Tourism Management. That degree would take me to amazing places like Hawaii where I was a park programmer, as well as working as a professional White Water Guide in the Appalachian Mountains. I loved working and living off the beaten path. Working in some places where the nearest city would be over an hour away, I used the skills I had learned to create my own items, as well as my people skills to get to know people (I’m an extreme extrovert) that would help me find items I needed. For example I got to know my awesome neighbors in Hawaii and they helped me find noni fruit. I used the noni to make cleansing juices and facial serums. I was 19 and they were in their 50’s, but it didn’t matter. We had a mutual respect for each other and enjoyed gathering fruits/plants together to make things. If you don’t know what noni is look it up. It smells AWFUL but has some great benefits. Anyway, I had some fun adventures and when I was roughly 24 I decided I wanted to settle down more and stay in one place. I decided Madison always felt like home so I came back and kept going to school. I started to study business and got promoted in my position in the fitness industry to management. I loved helping people reach their fitness goals and run a successful business at the same time. I would move on to open new fitness clubs for the companies I worked for, and my clubs were typically always in the top of the company for sales. That’s when I knew business was something I could be good at and enjoy! As long as it was something I believed in. Now here I am a mom of two young boys owning a shop I absolutely love. I love making new products for our house line/finding new really cool lines for the shop, helping/getting to know customers, and working with my awesome employees.
2. Is this your first business venture?
Yes and no. It’s my first real big investment and serious business. I had also done a small “side hussel” back in the day. I taught yoga and rented a small studio space out of a co-op before, but that was short lived.
3. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? If not, what was the event that changed your mind about becoming an entrepreneur?
To be honest I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to do something I believed in that made a positive influence in the world some how. I would only work for people and businesses I adored. What made me want to be an entrepreneur was my family. I wanted to have the flexibility to make my own schedule, yet I have the drive and work ethic to work 60/80 hour work weeks. For example, as I type this, my 2 month old is napping on my lap. You can’t do that with a “normal” job. I also have to give credit to my husband. That amazing man has the keen business sense and drive to do anything. Having him by my side makes me less afraid to take chances. He pushes me to be the best version of myself, and will except nothing less. With his motivation and belief in me, I now can’t imagine doing anything else. I love running my own business.
4. What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenges have been the more analytical parts of the business. Like ordering inventory (correctly), accounting, etc. The stuff that you need to stop and really look into. However, once you take the time to really do the right analysis, and use the right programs your business will run 100% better, and you will make a lot more money.
5. What has been a success?
Organizing the shop to be more customer friendly. For example, our custom-scenting counter used to have a lot of other random products on it. So, one day I cleared the whole counter off and only put our tester oils for customers to smell and a display that showed all the items we could custom scent. Since then, our custom scenting sales have gone up dramatically! I’ve also added custom scenting parties, where you can get your friends together to blend up your very own scents while having snacks and wine. I made them free. All you have to do is purchase a minimum of $15 each (which is the cost of a roller ball of your own perfume). I’ve also added classes and other events. It helps people build memories in your shop and get to know your products. Even if you have to spend a little cash on food and wine it’s always been worth it for me in the long run.
6. Did you have a business mentor or was there a woman/women in your life that you could rely on for guidance while navigating entrepreneurship?
My strong women mentorship started when I worked for Anytime Fitness in 2010. I had managed a fitness club in the past, but it was a very relaxed position. I had started a sales position with Anytime Fitness with goals to manage my own club with them eventually. I had 3 strong women training me in their sales and management techniques. What always stands out to me is they never let me give anything but my best. I didn’t want to seem “pushy” when selling memberships and that held me back from success. They helped me realize I’m selling something I believe in, and I’m the only one who can make me successful. People wouldn’t come in looking for a membership if they didn’t want one. So, I learned to not “sell” to the customer, but talk to them, get to know them, and then find what is right for them. Without those women teaching me these skills I would not be where I am today.
7. Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I have 3 all for different reasons... The women mentioned in the previous question, my family, and my customers. My strong female mentors at Anytime Fitness because they made me want to be a strong “badass” business women. My family because I want to give them the world, and the only way to do that is to run an amazing business to support them (my son also loves the toys and bath bombs I can bring home for him). Lastly my customers, because they deserve nothing but the best. I want to provide the best products and services for them, because I was a customer at my store in the past, I’ve had terrible skin issues in the past. I want to be the person that helps cure my customer’s acne by finding them the right soap/lotion. I want you to come into the shop and make a new friend.
8. How do you stay focused and motivated during those times when being a business owner can feel overwhelming.
Failure isn’t an option.. When things get hard, I let myself pout a little bit, but then jump right back in. I honestly think being a mother helped me with this. When all you want to do is sleep, but your colic baby is screaming and needs you (even though you’ve tried everything and have no idea what they need) there is no other option. You have to be their mother. Just like my business needs me to be its owner/manager.
9. How do you choose the people you surround yourself with, within your business?
This may sound like my “hippy side” coming out, but off of the vibe they give out. When hiring I always like to see how they interact with me during the interview. Based on how that goes I’ll know what position they fill best. Are they extrovert, easy to talk to, and seem out going? They’ll be perfect on the floor. Are they kind of shy and introverted? They’ll do great on the website, bottling house items, and shipping. Once I had a girl walk by while I was putting up a Now Hiring sign, who just gave me this awesome feeling. I kept thinking to myself “please come in and get an application!!”. She turned around and pretended to be shopping for a little while, then asked for an application. I almost hired her on the spot. She worked for me for 2 years before she had to move for grad school and was an excellent reliable, friendly employee, and is a great friend now. She still promotes my business all over her social media and with her friends/family and is a customer herself.
10. What is your biggest piece of advice for women starting a business?
Get to know how to do the hard stuff that you don’t want to do. Learn to do that really well. You already have a passion for what you’re doing (I hope), but now to be successful you have to know all the pieces of running a business. For me it was the books and ordering inventory. I had to set up an inventory system manually for 4000 products. It was tedious and not my idea of a good time. However it helped me learn every single one of the products in my shop and what sells. That helped me weed out products that were just taking up shelf space, so I could replace them with new exciting products my customers actually wanted, which in the long run helps your bottom line significantly.
11. As women business owners, we are often tasked with “doing it all” in regards to work life and our personal lives; do you think this is a realistic expectation?
I think you just have to be realistic with your own personal expectations of yourself and not care what anyone else thinks about you. Am I going to drop my son off at school looking gorgeous with a blow out? Probably not, because I have spit up on me from the new born and worked 12 hours the day before. That’s just me though! I have total respect for the beautiful women who drop their kids off looking like a million bucks too! Am I saying you shouldn’t have high expectations for yourself? Absolutely not! I just mean you have to be nice to yourself and pick and choose your battles. You also have to choose whose opinions matter to you. The person that wants the best for you and your business isn’t going to be judging you. So why let someone who doesn’t want the best for you influence any of your decisions or the way you feel about yourself?
12. Favorite quote, song or poem.
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”