Atlanta 2018: Meet Your Keynote Power Trio

Sara WagnerHSCG Annual ConferenceLeave a Comment

Like it or not, 2017 is almost over; and time certainly does fly! It seems like we were in Vegas just yesterday getting ready to host the Annual Conference.

As the page turns on 2017, we are looking ahead to the awesomeness that 2018 has in store-and that means the 2018 Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

The 2018 Annual Conference in Atlanta will take place at the Westin Peachtree, a beautiful hotel right in downtown Atlanta. Spacious, well-appointed meeting spaces, common areas and rooms set the stage for our biggest event yet.

For the very first time, there will be not one, but three keynote speakers in Atlanta. That’s right; get ready for the triple thrill of Charlene Simon, Lela Barker and Gates Councilor! Each speaker brings something different to the table, but bring them together and you’ve got a recipe handcrafted for success.

The 2018 Atlanta Keynote theme is Charisma + Drive + Focus=POWER. And this trio certainly combines to make one powerhouse of a keynote that you won’t want to miss! Are you ready to learn more about what drives your 2018 Atlanta Keynotes? We recently asked them a few questions so we could find out what makes them tick.

What is your business, and where is it located? 

Gates: I’m the founder of Burly Stone, based in Mystic, CT. We are an apothecary brand that focuses on men.

Lela: I actually have two businesses! Bella Lucce is my first baby. I launched the company in 2003 and it’s still going strong today. My team creates globally-inspired spa products in a 7,500 square foot workshop in Columbia, SC. Not one to let the grass grow beneath my feet, I parlayed all of the hard lessons I learned about entrepreneurship into the consulting company that I launched in 2012. Lucky Break Consulting is my second business baby and it’s headquartered in the third-story sunroom of my Atlanta home. The Luck Break team works virtually (and often in our PJ’s) from home offices in Massachusetts, Alabama, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

Charlene: My business is Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Tennessee, and

What is your business philosophy? 

Gates: If I had to sum up Burly Stone’s “philosophy” I’d put it this way: We’ll never make anything we don’t use ourselves. It helps us keep focused, and makes every single thing we make feel more personal. We think that translates across to our customers, and that they feel that personal touch.

Lela: Take the risk, do the work, stay the course. I think entrepreneurship has been dangerously romanticized in many ways over the last few years. Work four hours a week and make a bundle! Live your dreams! Passive income! Look: I’m a realist. Running a business isn’t easy. It takes passion and focus and persistence. It means late nights and early mornings and making financial investments in your future. It means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and challenging yourself to grow.

On the flip side, entrepreneurship has empowered me in ways I could never have imagined when I started out as a single mom in 2003. It’s provided me witha wealth of opportunities. It’s taught me more than anything else in my life (save for motherhood). And, it’s provided me with a really nice lifestyle that I still wake up grateful for each and every morning.

So I’m a big “hell yea!” to running your own business. Let me rephrase that: “HELL YEA!” in all caps. But businesses don’t magically materialize and masses of people won’t gobble up your products simply because you launch a website. Put in the work. Take smart risks. Blend that passion with some patience. And get up every morning ready to kill it…shaking off the doubt, the setbacks, the criticisms, and the less- than-stellar days. Laser-focus and dogged persistence are your two business BFF’s.

Charlene: We eat, sleep, breath, and sh*% crafting our customer experience to be bigger, badder, and more beautiful than ever. It’s not about the best soap recipe or how smart you are at the chemistry or the running of the business…but it is ALWAYS about the customer. Everything else is just a tool to deliver happiness to them. You can be a super smarty pants on spreadsheet but the bottom line always shows you how the customer feels about you. The money doesn’t lie.  

How did you find the HSCG? 

Gates: After about 6 months of soaping as a hobby, I had a ton of requests from friends (isn’t this how most of us get our start?) for soap. So, I started to do some serious, deep dives on the web. I had already been buying from Bramble Berry and watching Anne Marie’s incredible Soap Queen tutorials, so it was a natural place for me to really start exploring. One afternoon while scouring through the comments on her blog, I saw the Guild mentioned. I followed the link & knew I was home.

Lela: I regret to say that I don’t even remember the first time I heard of the HSCG. Does that mean that I’m tragically old or does that mean that the HSCG is so integral to the fabric of our industry that it’s sort of ever-present? Probably a bit of both.

But, I do remember hearing wild tales from my business peers about all the fun they had at the Annual Conference. And I knew that I wanted to get there and see what it was all about. I brought my mama along to my first conference (Palm Springs, California in 2009) so I wouldn’t have to sit alone at lunches. I left with a host of new friends and the 2018 event in Atlanta will be my eighth conference! My sweet mama secretly hopes that people stop sitting next to me at lunches so she can score another invite and a free vacation.

Charlene: I knew of the Guild because I had been a soaper since the end of the 90s, but I REALLY wanted to be part of it when I opened my shop in 2009. At the time, I was next level broke from using my last dollars to open the shop, but I did what I normally do and broke the rules of business to go after what I wanted. So I bought that membership and it has served me ever since. 

What do you hope attendees will take away from Atlanta’s keynote presentation? 

Gates: The energy is always so high at the keynote – folks are amped up and ready to learn, to interact, and to socialize. So, I hope that folks leave the keynote presentation energized and excited for the next few days. This year’s conference has such an amazing array of speakers, seminars and special events that our job is easy – getting folks revved up and ready to dive in. Without giving anything away, I really think that people are going to walk out of the presentation feeling like a million bucks.

Lela: An energy boost and some fresh inspiration. How many times have you looked at your business “to do” list and thought, “I can’t. I just can’t.” Can’t find the time. Can’t find the money. Can’t find the knowledge. Can’t figure out how all of those other brands seem to be killing it while you are over here cruising along at a tortoise’s pace.

I’m honored to share the stage with Gates and Charlene- two entrepreneurs who I have a tremendous amount of respect for – and I’m excited about this opportunity to share real stories from deep in the entrepreneurial trenches. To talk about the hard stuff. And the amazing stuff. And all the “stuff” in between. We each have different experiences and different areas of expertise and I’m really looking forward to bringing those together to provide a 360 degree view of what owning a business really looks like in this day and age.

We have some fun surprises planned, and if you thought that the word “keynote” was a synonym for “snoozefest” or code for sleeping in and catching a late breakfast, then – well – I hope you’ll join us in ATL and let me change your mind about that!


  • That no matter what their handcrafted goals are that they design them way THEY want them.
  • That they do the work to make sh*% happen and not back down even when a road block comes up.
  • And that as a membership, community, and industry we all have a ridiculously fun time supporting, empowering, and inspiring each other.
    • I want all this to happen in a 90 minute session. BOOM! 

What’s your favorite part of the conference? 

Gates: It’s easy to say the parties because they’re so much fun. But in all honesty? I think my favorite part is the “in between times”. It’s those times when folks have a chance to really (re)connect, share ideas and swap stories, and energize each other. The presentations, the lectures, the raffles, the vendor malls – all of this is great, but it isn’t what I truly love about the Guild. The people. It’s the people who make it special, and I love getting a chance to hang with them.

Oh, and the parties.

Lela: The energy. There’s something magical that happens when a few hundred soapmakers gather together in one place. The passion is palpable. The energy is incredibly high. The connections click with ease. The ideas flow like honey. There’s a buzz that descends on the conference from the minute it opens until the moment we raise the last toast at the Awards Dinner on the final night. That energy has the potential to feed your soul, build your business toolbox, and fuel your entrepreneurial engine for months to come. Related: it’s in Atlanta in 2018, which just-so-happens to be in my backyard. Have you been to Atlanta lately? This city is hopping and there’s so much to do downtown right around the conference hotel!

Charlene: Um…THE conference is my favorite part of the conference. Especially the seven days leading up to it when Leigh becomes violent and demands nothing less than the best…at least she feeds us pizza. 

What drives you? 

Gates: There are days when I’m firing on all cylinders – I’ve got my day all planned out and my to-do list is being checked off left and right. On those days the energy is driving me, and it’s glorious.

But then there are the days where everything is off. I have literally stood frozen for minutes at a time because I just. Can’t. Decide. On those days, the only thing driving me is the knowledge that I have deadlines to meet, and some things just HAVE to get done. So I do what I can.

But what drives me overall? My customers. I didn’t think about it when I started Burly Stone, but soap is oddly intimate. Every single day my customers are smelling and holding my work. Every single day they are using my products in their home, in their bath. Every single day they are trusting me to provide them with something that will make them look and feel better. The longer I do this, the more seriously I take that bond. That’s what really drives me.

And when I get a great review on my site, or customer shouts with delight when they see me at a show? Man, those moments put me over the moon.

Lela: Two things: my kiddos and naysayers.

Registration at the 2017 Annual Conference in Vegas.

I started my first business as a single mom in the midst of a divorce while I was on food stamps. It was the lowest point in my life and I felt pretty helpless. But I suck at being poor and I wanted to show my girls that they could be and do anything if they wanted it badly enough, and were willing to work hard enough. And they have been with me every step of the way. Their teachers have wheeled audio/visual carts into their classrooms so they can watch me when I’m on TV. They’ve had photographers take their pictures for spreads about my business in national magazines. They’ve kissed me on my cheeks and helped load my bags into the car as I left for dozens of business trips in the Middle East and Europe. They’ve kissed my cheeks at 1am when I’m still at my desk and they’re heading to bed. They’ve sat in the back of conference rooms and listed to me coach hundreds of people at a time. My daughters are certifiably dangerous at this point because they know the power they hold. The ceiling has been blown off for them and they realize that their future lies in their hands. They can shape it any way they choose and that’s crazy-empowering. Every new product, every financial risk, every late night is an opportunity for me to illustrate for them that their imagination is their only limitation.

Real talk:  It’s also an opportunity to rub it in the noses of naysayers. In the early years of my business, I spent a few years being kicked around a popular soap forum. I was a little too vocal, a little too opinionated, and a little too successful for some of the leaders there. But ragging on Lela became an unofficial sport around those parts, and man…it was painful. Crying-jags-broken-heart-make-me-doubt-myself painful. I eventually had to surrender the battle of convincing them that I was a good person. That my accomplishments were real. That I was worthy of being a part of their community. Even though I haven’t even peeked at the forum in over a decade, I can still hear their doubting voices in quiet moments. But, I learned not to let those voices take me off track. The doubting voices and the criticism fuel me these days because I have learned that the greatest revenge is success. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always welcomed the moments when people said, “You can’t do that.” Oh really? If you ever want to compel Lela Barker to do something, tell me that I’m not capable. Because whatever you said I couldn’t do, is my new mission. It’s a rebellious streak that’s served me quite well over the years! And, if you are a naysayer, then come say “hi” in Atlanta and I’ll buy you a drink!

Charlene: I know that I was damn straight born for more than a 9-5 job where I wait for the weekends or a once a year vacation. My energy is bigger than being a stepford-preneuer. I was gifted with a work-ethic that runs circles around EVERYONE. ELSE. I’VE. EVER. MET. And, I use that to succeed in life and business. My main drive is to not let my gifts and desires go to waste. I find it’s my duty and responsibility to make things happen, and I honor it daily. 

Lastly, on a scale of 1-10, how excited are you for 2018? 

Gates: Hah. On a scale of 1-10? Easily a 17. I have SO many things I’m looking forward to next year, both personally and professionally.

Lela: Can I pick 12? I have a hard time with limits. TWELVE. Atlanta is going to be epic!

Charlene: 2018 is going to be the YEAR OF THE HANDCRAFTED SOAP AND COSMETIC MAKER. The HSCG has the tools, resources, and community to empower each of us to make our own unique marks on the industry. So with that kind of obligation, I’ll be kicking off 1/1/2018 on 10!

Final Thoughts 

There are many exciting things in store for 2018, and we can’t wait to share them with you! Make sure to register for the 2018 Annual Conference in Atlanta so that you don’t miss this amazing keynote presentation, along with other expert speakers, industry-leading exhibitors and networking opportunities galore. Pick up your registration in the HSCG Shopping Cart today!





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