Business Etiquette: The Holiday Edition

Saying that the “holiday season is upon us” might be music to consumer’s ears (think sales, discounts and BOGO galore), but to small businesses and large businesses alike, it can be a bit ominous. Now more than ever, consumers are driven to merchants who they perceive as sharing the same beliefs and values as they do, which can translate into something of a PR nightmare for businesses. Chief among the questions is usually, “Can I say Merry Christmas?” or “Maybe I should just say Happy Holidays”. While it might be tempting to take the path of least resistance and throw a few snowflakes on your flyers and website in surrender, don’t-put down that “holiday tree” and keep reading!

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Some Statistics 

America is as diverse a place as they come; millions of Americans celebrate Christmas, while millions of Americans do not. In the month of December, there are three major religious holidays that take place:

December

Mawlid al-Nabi (Islamic): Begins on the evening of December 11th, and ends on the evening of December 12th.

Hanukkah (Jewish): December 25th, 2016 through January 1st, 2017 (begins at sundown on December 24th.)

Christmas (Christian): December 25th 

Along with the main Christian, Islamic and Jewish holidays, there is a large population of (but not limited to) Hindus, Buddhists, Agnostics and Atheists who do not necessarily celebrate a major holiday in December.

I know the question you’ve got; how do I keep my advertising diverse enough to cover every single holiday? You can’t. But you can appeal to each group through inclusive advertising that is both sincere and product relevant.

The Common Denominator 

Finding something that many people have in common, especially consumers, is a lifelong pursuit for today’s entrepreneur. Think about what the holiday season is about-no matter which religious holiday you celebrate if you even celebrate one, each holiday revolves around generosity, hope, mercy, and family.

Considerations based on both your target and desired audiences should be made as with any advertising situation. Also, think about the venues you’ll be showing at and compensate accordingly; for example, if you are attending a craft show in a church, you could easily tailor your holiday décor and advertising towards Christmas. Do research on your venue, the history of its attendees and the area in which it is located first to really maximize your holiday audience reach.

Being Inclusive Means Being Creative 

As a Handcrafter and entrepreneur, you are already in possession of a creative and resourceful nature; creating an inclusive holiday vibe for your business is a great way to exercise those skills! Tapping into themes of generosity and hope with a creative, humorous twist will help make your business relatable to your customers, no matter what holiday they celebrate. Because, after all, your business is not just open for the holidays; you are (likely) a year-round business that can greatly benefit from having a loyal, diverse customer base.

For example, consider donating some of the proceeds from your December sales to a local or national charity. Especially during the holiday season, many consumers are conscious of not just the need to give their loved ones gifts, but the needs of those who are less fortunate. Using generosity as a cohesive theme for your holiday sales and advertising instead of necessarily focusing on specific holidays will not only help you relate to a wider customer base, but also do some good for your community.

Final Thoughts 

When it comes to the holiday season, no matter what holiday a consumer celebrates, they are looking for quality products and incredible gifts and will come to you to find them. It can be tempting to be drawn into the debate about political correctness when it comes to the holidays, but you can take the guesswork out of holiday advertising by simply acknowledging the common message of hope and generosity associated with every celebration; these are causes we can all agree on!

Do you know what your consumers really need? Properly labeled soaps and cosmetics, of course! Make sure to take a peek at our How-To Library article, How to Correctly Label Cosmetics (https://www.soapguild.org/how-to/legal-compliance/cosmetic-labeling.php) for more info!

 

 

Legislation: Update on Advocacy Efforts

On April 20th, Senators Diane Feinstein (CA) and Susan Collins (ME) introduced S. 1014, The Personal Care Products Safety Act. The bill was drafted to update The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 and was intending to give the FDA more funding and oversight over the cosmetic industry.

As many of you know, the HSCG has been involved in legislative advocacy at the Federal level since 2008, when it first became known that Congress was interested in updating the current regulations that govern the cosmetic industry. Since 2010, our association has been under contract with a DC Advocate who acts on our behalf and with us to represent the interests of the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry. We frequently attend meetings with members of Congress to raise awareness about the HSCG, the industry and the businesses that make it up. At every meeting we try to share samples of handcrafted soap and cosmetics.

In the fall of 2014, we became aware that Senator Feinstein (D-CA) was interested in introducing a bill aimed at updating current cosmetic regulations. We subsequently had numerous in person and phone meetings with staff from both Senators Feinstein and Collins offices to go over the bill language and to provide information on the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry.

Chairman Vitter sends “Dear Colleague” letter

We have had numerous meetings with the Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. Chairman Vitter felt so strongly about our issues that he wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter which was sent to the HELP Committee Chairmen, Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as to the bill sponsors, Senator Feinstein and Senator Collins. The text of this letter is below (or you can view it here):

 

Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, Sen. Feinstein, and Sen. Collins:

While I applaud efforts to update The Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act of 1938 to protect consumers and streamline industry compliance, I am concerned that the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1014) does not contain adequate small business protections and would redefine the definition of small businesses unfavorably. This would negatively affect a handmade cosmetic industry comprised largely of women-owned microbusinesses with 1-3 employees. As chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have the responsibility to ensure that we do not saddle small businesses with unnecessary regulations and requirements that could make an already-challenging regulatory environment even more burdensome.

My primary concern is that the legislation would require every business with more than $100,000 in gross annual sales to register their facility and report their ingredientsto the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The “facilities” specified in the bill are often in the owner’s personal residence. In addition, businesses with more than $500,000 in gross annual sales would be required to pay the FDA an annual user fee. Both of these requirements are overly burdensome to the approximately 250,000 small business enterprisesthat operate in this market space and employ more than 700,000 people, including 4,081 businesses in Louisiana and 24,593 businesses in California, for example. These small businesses rely on the ability to change and make custom formulationsto stay competitive. Given the great number of small handcrafted cosmetic manufacturers in the United States, this legislation would cause disproportionate harm to the class with less than one percent of the cosmetic market share. Finally, under Section 3 of the Small Business Act, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is tasked with using its expertise and the best available data to establish business size  standards that reflect the differing characteristics of various industries and to consider other factors deemed relevant by the Administrator. Under the most recent SBA size standard guidelines, manufacturers of soap and other detergents are defined as those businesses containing 1,000 or fewer employees. This bill would create ill advised, arbitrary definitions that would cause confusion and harm to small business owners.

For the above-referenced reasons, I oppose this legislation in its current form, and would need to see substantial modifications and improvements to the relevant provisions before agreeing to support it. Thank you for your consideration.

The handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry in the United States is made up of over 300,000 small and emerging businesses in all fifty states. A large portion of these businesses are women-owned and operated and they produce safe soap and cosmetics. The HSCG supports safe cosmetics and helps to educate the membership and the industry n the current regulations governing cosmetics. We feel strongly that any new legislation aimed at updating the current regulations must take into consideration these small and emerging businesses and provide adequate provisions for them to be able to continue to thrive and be assets to their communities and local economies.

Chairman Vitter’s letter and his support of our industry and small businesses is a great stride forward for our legislative advocacy. The HSCG, along with our DC Advocate, Debra Carnahan of Carnahan Global Consulting, will continue to meet with Members of Congress to make them aware of how this legislation, if passed, would adversely affect the small businesses of the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry.

We will continue to keep you updated on any news; in the meantime, you can visit our page, What We Are Doing, to learn more about the HSCG and advocacy efforts.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Vegan Products

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The world is an ever-changing place, with ever-changing needs and constantly evolving beliefs. You may have noticed that vegan practices and products have enjoyed a boost in popularity; but do you know what constitutes a vegan product?

A Vegan Story 

Veganism is defined by the Vegan Society as a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude-as far as possible and practicable-all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals. 

There is a common misconception that being a vegan and being a vegetarian are the same thing, but there are many differences. Vegans, for example, exclude dairy, eggs, and honey/beeswax while vegetarians may not.

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Veganism, Soap and Cosmetics 

Although there are many ingredients that vegans choose not to use, that doesn’t mean that you can’t make an incredible vegan-friendly product that everyone, even those who are not vegan, will love! For example, castile soap is considered vegan because it does not contain any prohibited ingredients, and let’s be honest; who doesn’t love castile soap? If you are making this product an adhering to vegan guidelines in regards to how your essential oils are harvested for example, you can market your product as vegan without making any substantial changes.

There are quiet a few ingredients that are not acceptable for those who are vegans; although we are not going to provide a complete list here, here are some ingredients that you will want to avoid if you would like to promote a vegan-friendly line.

Gelatin

Lactose

Lard

Mono-and di-glycerides

Shellac

Vitamin D3

Whey Powder

Beeswax

Honey

Lanolin

Emu Oil

Keratin

Musk

Pearls

Tallow

Caviar

Silk

Cashmere 

You will also want to avoid any colorants or ingredients made from insects, as well as any products that might have been produced using animal derived GMOs or genes; this can include usage in both the ingredient itself and the manufacturing process.

On the flipside, there are also many ingredients that are vegan friendly. Here are a few that may apply to you and your business:

Aloe Vera

Castor Oil

Citric Acid

Cornstarch

Corn Syrup

Lauric Acid

Paraffin

Pectin

Salicylic Acid

Vegetable Glycerin 

This is a sample list of ingredients; the rule of thumb for recognizing vegan-friendly ingredients is primarily an emphasis on vegetable derived ingredients and ingredients that specify that no animals were harmed or tested on. Keep in mind that although a product may be vegetable derived, that does not automatically mean it was not tested on animals; if you have any questions, be sure to reach out to your manufacturer for detailed information on the manufacturing processes used.

Although most handcrafters do not test their products on animals, it is important to note that any ingredients that you use that may be test on animals will also exclude the finished product from being considered vegan. Be careful; a product or ingredient can be marketed as cruelty-free or animal-friendly but still contain animal derived components.

 

palmoil

Palm Oil and Veganism 

For many reasons, palm oil has come under scrutiny over the past decade; chief of the concerns among vegans and non-vegans alike is the harvesting practices of unethical palm oil production companies. These companies use destructive harvesting techniques that destroy the habitats of many animal species, some of them endangered. Because it is very difficult to know which companies employ these practices and which ones are ethical, it can be a bit difficult to include palm in a vegan line. Although palm in and of itself is vegan because it is derived solely from a plant, the questionable practices behind its production make it a hard sell for a vegan customer. If you are confident that your palm oil is sourced responsibly and free of cruelty, there is no harm in marketing it as vegan; just be prepared to substantiate its vegan friendliness if you do this.

How to Tell if Your Ingredients are Vegan Friendly 

Because veganism has become more commonplace, many companies label their products to reflect that they are vegan-friendly. Sometimes, a simple glance at the label will tell you whether something is vegan; it may have the Certified Vegan Logo or may have another symbol or sign that signifies it as vegan-friendly. When you look into ingredients, also check for allergen information; sometimes, an unwanted ingredient may not be listed, but products produced with or exposed to milk, whey powder, eggs, etc., are not suitable for use in vegan-friendly products.

Marketing Your Vegan Products 

Marketing your products as vegan will attract more vegan and environmentally conscious customers to your table, website, or both. Make sure that you have done everything possible to ensure that your ingredients and finished product truly are vegan. It is true that most likely, a customer will not challenge you based on the ingredients you have listed, but this does not mean that you should substitute lard or animal fats and oils for a more expensive, vegetable based ingredient. Remember that your customers are trusting you to be truthful in your labels, and it would be unwise for you as a small business owner to be discovered as marketing fraudulent items.

There are a few organizations that supply vegan logos for an application fee. Vegan Action, for example, will provide use of the Certified Vegan Logo with fees based on a sliding scale of your annual income. This logo and application are for one product; you would need to apply for the logo and certify each of your product individually. There is also the Vegan Trademark provided by the Vegan Society that uses a similar process. These kinds of designations can help customers searching for a vegan product immediately identify the integrity of your vegan product.

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Final Thoughts 

Expanding your product line in any way is exciting and opens the door for many creative opportunities! Many handcrafters shy away from the production of vegan products because it is perceived as difficult, but that is not always the case! If you would like to make a vegan product, do your research; this can include web searches or this can mean talking to a friend/acquaintance who is a practicing vegan. No matter what research you do, make sure that you are labeling your products truthfully and accurately, and you will enjoy a new customer base while filling a need!