All About Charlene: Meet the HSCG’s New President

Spring is in the air here in Saratoga Springs. Nestled in the Art District, HSCG Headquarters is surrounded by blossoming flowers, lush green trees and the smell of renewal. Driving around town, you can see signs of the season everywhere; from yard sales to eager graduates looking to the future, everyone is experiencing a renaissance on some level. It’s only fitting that the HSCG is experiencing its own renaissance of sorts, with the recent election of Charlene Simon as the President of the HSCG.

Making a President 

To understand what makes a person great, it’s somewhat necessary to take a peek at their origin story-Charlene’s is just as inspiring as you might imagine.

Growing up near the Mississippi River, Charlene learned the importance of fiscal responsibility early on. Only a child herself, she was responsible for the management of her childhood home and faced many challenges in doing so. At just 15, our already independent future President met the love of her life, and they were married in Kentucky by the end of the summer.

Shortly after their first daughter Mackenzie was born, Charlene’s husband Justin joined the Navy, and the family was on the road again. Leaving the familiarity of her childhood behind her, Charlene embarked on a new journey as the matriarch of a submarine family, at times only seeing Justin for 4 months out of the year. From the ages of 17-23, Charlene was a single parent; she says, “That solitude taught me a lot about family, and a lot about myself”.

At 19, Charlene began to make soap. She recounts the moment she first realized that she wanted to make soap. “I walked into the soap shop and fell in love with the fact that somebody made the soap” she says. You can tell this is a favorite memory of hers; she laces her fingertips together and covers her heart with her palms and tells me, “something inside of my soul was like, this is what you’re meant to do.”

Curious about the process, she approached the shop owner and asked her to share how the soap was made to which she was given the curt response of “it’s proprietary”. This didn’t dissuade her though; in the days before the internet made information readily available from the comforts of home, Charlene brought her kids to the library and checked out every book she could find about the process. She says, “I’d soap at night after the kids would sleep and I continued that as a stress reliever throughout the next 10 years.” She used soapmaking as a therapeutic hobby of sorts for a decade before she and her family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas; that’s where her dream of making beautifying products full time turned into a reality. And truly, she revels in the joy of making a product that makes people feel beautiful and happy, not to mention that she has an artist’s streak that is clearly visible in her creations.

In 2008, Charlene opened Bathhouse Soapery with that artist mentality. She loves the creative process behind the products, of how that very first soap shop visit made her feel-“happy, joy, beauty; those are the things it made me feel. I do this for the art form of it.” She continued this philosophy as she opened more locations, and the rest is soap and cosmetic history.

Face Time with Charlene Simon 

Fast forward to present day. Sitting with Charlene, you get what the kids these days are calling a “vibe”. She positively hums with energy, like a shiny bumblebee that has a lot of flowers to visit, but that doesn’t mean she’s distant. She’s present and ready to lay down some soap law.

Relatable to many of our Members, Charlene tells me that she first joined the HSCG for the insurance-but she quickly realized the organization is about much more than that. Her first conference was in Portland and she glows when she talks about it. “It was the people, networking and talking to other soapmakers and cosmetic makers that was like putting puzzle pieces together.” Right there, she hits the most magical part of the conference square on the head. We all love the food, the awards, the classes and the exhibitors, but there is something about the Annual Conference atmosphere that turns Handcrafters into open books.

That personal time is what makes the event truly special, and Charlene tells me, “I came home with a totally different way to do business. It was inspiring.”

Industry Talk 

“This industry is growing so rapidly,” Charlene says as I ask her how her perspective has changed since moving from HSCG Member to HSCG Board Member. “Five years, ten years ago people were just starting to get the concept, but now there’s YouTube and social media, and it’s growing so fast.” The handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry has been growing, with an impressive estimate of over 250,000 Handcrafters living in the United States alone. This growth and expansion is the key reason why Charlene believes that providing more educational opportunities for HSCG Members is more important than ever.

Information is free flowing from a myriad of sources on the internet, but traditional wisdom applies; you can’t believe everything you read. Charlene believes that by offering dependable and trustworthy educational material, culminating in the Certification Program, the HSCG can help fledgling and seasoned Handcrafters grow their business with the right information. And, if Handcrafters are armed with reliable sources, that will boost the integrity of the industry as a whole, which is a win for everyone involved.

The Handcrafter Village 

From left to right: Cyndi Carrasco, Cheryl Mitchell, Tina Roberts and HSCG President Charlene Simon.

One of Charlene’s favorite parts about the HSCG is the feeling of comradery she feels when she attends the Conference or posts in the Member’s Only Discussion Group. She explains that in person, sometimes Handcrafters can be a bit wary of sharing all of their trade secrets, but not so in our discussion group or at the conference; she says, “it’s more like, let me dive in and help you. You’ll get a response from four or five people that are big names in the industry.” This is important in more ways then one.

2017 HSCG Advocacy Day

Legislation is one of the ways that a big Handcrafter family is powerful. The HSCG works with legislative advocate Debra Carnahan to make sure that the collective voice of the industry is heard, but there is strength in numbers. Of being an HSCG Member, Charlene says “you are helping to add to our voice, and in turn, helping the entire industry.” Of course, sometimes legislation can be difficult to understand, or sometimes entrepreneurs can be too busy to keep up. Charlene says, “If you can’t or don’t want to keep an eye on legislation, we are.” She emphasizes that the HSCG will always stay on top of new legal developments to better serve the industry as a whole.

Presidential Hopes and Dreams 

“What is your goal as President of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild?” Charlene pauses for a moment after I ask this question, and I can almost see the gears turning. “My goal is to bring awareness of the HSCG to makers out there looking for help and community, while continuing to be a major resource for our current members.” The plan for a content rich organization with inclusive resources and benefits for all levels is an exciting one. Videos, podcasts, articles and conference changes are all on the slate for the coming years.

But that’s not all. Charlene also wants to bring on a more relatable vibe, and her vision for the content is for it to “be more candid and real, to connect on a personal level with members.” She wants to focus on reviewing the programs and services that the HSCG currently offers and tells me, “in the Strategy Meeting, we said here are the current programs and services that we offer, and we went through each of them one by one and asked, how can we make this better?” While enhanced education through content and discounts for Members is a definite future plan, she won’t reveal everything-she does tell me that there is a very big, very exciting project in the Guild’s future that will serve to highlight members in a big way. What exactly that project is will be revealed in due time, but the future of HSCG content and development looks very exciting!

Charlene switches gears and we start to really talk about the membership. Her vision is to draw attention to HSCG Members and educate the public on the mission of the Guild and why we exist. She envisions Members being viewed “similar to belonging to the Realtor Association-you can be a licensed real estate agent, but you can’t just be a Realtor. It’s a prideful designation showcasing the next level of agent.” She imagines this same differentiation for HSCG Members, and, along with the Board, will be exploring the best ways to educate the public so that they know HSCG Members are educated and reliable.

Final Thoughts 

“Summarized in one word, what is your view on the industry as a whole?” I ask.

In the interest of keeping this article G-rated, we’ll skip to Charlene’s second try; “#sofreshsoclean” she jokes. But, then she smiles. “Competitive, but in a good way.” She explains that the industry is competitive, but that this inspires creativity and diversity-like a soapy fingerprint, no two businesses are alike. This is what truly separates the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry from any other; original, creative products that serve a variety of purposes.

Before we wrap up the interview, I ask Charlene what advice she would give to a soap or cosmetic maker who is getting ready to take the leap from hobby to business. She says, “Don’t look at other people in the industry and think, if I’m not them, I’m not successful. You need to look at your life and how you want your life to be, then model your business around that. Think of creative ways to sell that aren’t the same as everybody else, and don’t compare yourself to someone else.” In essence, she says, measure your success by your own standards. Just because a Handcrafter you respect opens a retail store and is successful does not mean that your success will only come if you follow suit. Innovate and your success will come.

As I finish writing down a few notes, Charlene smiles. “I just have to say, being in this position for me is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Being able to give back to the industry and really, this organization that has helped me get to where I am is unprecedented-I’m still trying to understand the feels of it! I am thankful for the position and that the membership put me here.”

Charlene Simon and the rest of the Board along with HSCG Staff are very much looking forward to the coming years. New content, new benefits and exciting new opportunities for Members to shine are just a few of the incredible things we have in store for you!

Growing Your Business: 6 Things to Look for When Choosing a Trade Association

When you talk to Handcrafters, you hear many positive things. Handcrafters love to help people feel beautiful, love to innovate when it comes to formulation, and especially love to educate others about their products.

One thing that the majority of Handcrafters we’ve spoken to also voice is the loneliness of the industry. Because the art of making handcrafted soap and cosmetics is still a growing industry and Handcrafters are located all over the globe, they sometimes feel disconnected or isolated.

Another common negative is the lack of insurance options, and the desire to protect their business. Handcrafters want peace of mind so that they don’t have to worry about what might happen-they want to focus on growing their business and expanding their line.

These are a few common reasons why Handcrafters seek us out, and the HSCG prides itself on being dependable, trustworthy and full of benefits for ever Handcrafter level. So today, we are going to lay out six ways you can differentiate the great trade associations from the not-so great ones so that you can get the most out of your business.

  1. What benefits does it offer? Let’s be honest; when you seek out an organization to join, you’re probably searching for something that directly benefits your business-that’s just good business sense! Take a serious look at the benefits that offered by the organization you’re considering before you join. Will you use them? Will the benefits help further your business? If one of the benefits is insurance, have you read the coverage to understand if it truly envelops your whole business? If you’ve answered no to any of these questions, keep searching. (Check out the HSCG’s benefits to get an idea of what you should be looking for)
  2. Does the organization have a good reputation? This is important. Put those Facebook stalking skills to good use and do a good ol’ fashioned search for the organization you’re considering. Do they have positive reviews, and are they recent reviews? Take a look at the content they are posting. If they post educational material on social media or on their own site, browse through it and check for obvious errors. Ultimately, you will be aligning your business with this organization, and if they are not reputable your business reputation may also take a hit.
  3. How is their customer service? This one is very important, especially if you are considering purchasing insurance through the organization. In this age of digital communication, most businesses have a Facebook page with the option to message, a listed email address and/or a chat option on their website; make sure that the organization you’re considering does too. If they have a phone listed, give them a call and ask your questions over the phone. Checking for comprehensive customer service first will help you avoid any surprises if they don’t communicate well later.
  4. How does the organization further the industry? This is a big one. Does it exist only to offer insurance, or does it provide advocacy in the changing world of legislation? Check to see if there are educational opportunities like certification programs, listed teachers and classes that you can either take advantage of, or participate in. (The HSCG’s main goal is to further the industry-check out our Legislative Advocacy and Certification Program.)
  5. Why does the organization exist? Learning the reason why the organization started in the first place will give you insight into what their goals are. If they do not exist to further the industry, keep searching.
  6. Most importantly, is the association legitimate? We want to think that when we see a company’s website or talk to a customer service representative in their office, they are honestly representing themselves-but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Are they claiming to be a non-profit? You don’t have to take that at face value! A simple search will usually tell you if the organization is actually a registered non-profit. Take a peek at the way their organization runs, too. Do they have bylaws and policies in place? This may seem like it doesn’t affect you, but it will; official bylaws and policies mean that the organization has plans in place to keep business running fairly and ethically. (The HSCG’s Bylaws are available for public view; Members may log in and access the HSCG Policies through the Member Area.)

Final Thoughts 

Choosing an organization to join when it comes to your business doesn’t have to be the most difficult decision you’ll ever make. Take into consideration what you hope to gain from your experience and membership with them. Also take into consideration their dependability; if they promise to deliver experiences, education and services but fail to do so, look elsewhere! Your organization should be as dependable, trustworthy, and downright awesome as you are…never settle for less!

What’s Up at the HSCG: March 2017

2017 has and will continue to be an exciting year for the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild!

In early 2017, we were very excited to introduce a new, lower cost insurance option through Veracity Insurance Solutions. Even with a price point $100 less than the standard coverage option, this lower cost policy still covers handcrafted soap and cosmetic makers in a wide variety of situations, and has the flexibility to cover everyone from fledgling business to full grown empire.

Let’s not forget our new look! The HSCG has rebranded, with new sleek and modern logos and a fresh website. If you haven’t yet, check out www.soapguild.org; we think you’ll love the updated feel.

We also announced our first HSCG Advocacy Day, taking place in Washington DC in April. This is a great opportunity for approximately 50 handcrafted soap and cosmetic makers to discuss ongoing legislation with lawmakers, and offer their own insight into how it will affect handcrafted businesses.

As you can imagine, things are getting very busy at HSCG Headquarters in beautiful Saratoga Springs, New York; with our largest (and nearly sold out) Annual Conference just around the corner in Las Vegas and the excitement and extensive planning surrounding it, the decision was made to add an additional employee to our staff; please help us welcome Niki Cameron!

Niki grew up in a small town just north of Saratoga Springs. She loves to knit “anything and everything”, and can usually be found reading a Stephen King book (the Dark Tower is her favorite series). She has a passion for small business and customer service, and will be filling the roll of Member Services Representative. Niki will also be attending the Annual Conference in Las Vegas this year to assist Leigh and Sara with all the moving parts! Chances are, if you’ve called the office at any time in the past few weeks, you’ve already chatted with Niki a bit; she will be your go-to source for general membership, benefit, insurance and conference related questions. Welcome!

Speaking of the conference, this year is going to be the largest event that the HSCG has ever hosted! We are nearly sold out at 600 attendees, and they are in for three days of action packed networking and educational opportunities. This year, the Annual Conference will take place at the Tropicana Las Vegas, located right in the heart of the action in Las Vegas. The newly renovated space is absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of room for our incredible Exhibitors and famous Speaker Sessions.

Of course, we can’t talk about the conference without talking about the speakers! This year’s lineup has something for everyone; right out of the starting gate, attendees will be treated to an inspirational and motivation keynote speech from Bramble Berry’s Anne-Marie Faiola! She will teach attendees how to “Have the Best Day Ever, Every Day”. Then, attendees will have the option to attend a number of different sessions covering a variety of topics including formulation, label compliance and marketing. There is truly something for everyone at this event, no matter what stage of your handcrafting journey you are in!

If you haven’t registered for the Annual Conference yet, make sure to sign up as soon as you can; there are very few spots remaining, and we anticipate selling out soon! Visit https://www.soapguild.org/cart/conference.php/ to purchase your registration today.

We can’t wait to share more exciting HSCG news with you; 2017 is going to be a great year!