We recently interviewed Lisa Turner who runs the natural soap company The Wrinkly Elephant with her husband, Stuart. Our conversation covered everything from the legal ins and outs of the skincare industry to Lisa’s experience with Shopify, our top-rated ecommerce website builder.
The brand prides itself on producing products with natural and sustainable ingredients, promoting and encouraging self-care to its customers. Despite seeing a surge in sales during the pandemic, The Wrinkly Elephant is now having to tackle a new wave of hurdles, namely the cost of living crisis. We find out how The Wrinkly Elephant is facing these challenges head-on.
“Be consistent with your brand message and what you want in your product line.”
“I’m Lisa and I’m the founder and co-owner of The Wrinkly Elephant Company Ltd. I now work alongside my husband Stuart, making handmade soap, bath, and body products. We pride ourselves on making products with natural ingredients that are good for your skin and encourage that self-care that everyone needs.
I started in 2017, perfecting my recipes and having them assessed and registered with the EU portal which has now been replaced by the UK portal. I originally started from my self-contained soap room at home – a converted garage that is linked to the home. I set my website up and started selling in 2018. To begin with, it was mostly at craft fairs, but I quickly started to build up a community on social media, mostly Instagram.
COVID hit and craft fairs stopped but, fortunately, my online presence through Instagram meant we continued to sell. We had incredible growth over COVID and Christmas 2020. It continued into 2021 so we moved into a unit. We were there for two years and, at the end of 2022, we won a Worcestershire Small Business Award for product development.
However, with the cost of the rent, car park charges, and energy rising, plus a fall in sales, we decided to move the business back home where we originally started in the part of our garage that is converted into a soap studio. We still mainly sell online, but craft fairs are beginning to pick up again, so we’re doing a few of the larger ones to grow the brand again.”
Setting Your Own Schedule
“The best part about my daily work is that I’m in control of what I want to do that day. What I love most about it all is that I love being creative with my products and packaging and knowing that it’s something I put together myself. It’s such a strange feeling when I get customer reviews of how they love the products or pictures of my products in their bathrooms. It’s a very proud moment and probably one I need to think about more often.
On a daily basis, I try to start my day by doing something for myself. My products are all about self-care so I need to practice it myself – I love to start the day with an exercise session. It sets me up for the day and then, of course, showering with one of our lovely products. Then it’s generally checking emails and social media first while having breakfast.
Stu, my husband, will then package up any orders that have come in overnight or from the afternoon before and get them taken to the Royal Mail delivery office. Then, depending on what stock I have I will probably spend a couple of days a week making soap. Sometimes this may be every week, sometimes I do a week of just soap making so I then concentrate on the other products the rest of the month. It depends on how orders are coming through, and which products are popular. I would say I generally finish mid-afternoon, but will probably spend time on my laptop researching or updating myself on what’s happening within the industry. Fridays are normally the day that I catch up on admin – this can be anything from planning my social media content for the following week, answering more in-depth emails, updating the website, taking new pictures of products, or experimenting with new scents or new products.
Once a month, Stu and I will sit down and think about what events we want to do the following month or even for the next few months. Christmas ones have to be booked early!
We do have a business plan that we try to update on a yearly basis, but we try to set some quarterly targets so that we have a plan of where we want to be. Within this, we will set meetings that will decide on seasonal offers and products and when we’re to launch any new ones.”
Finding Family Time
“I have three boys who are all adults now so when I started this business it was really something about “doing something for me”. I was fed up with working for someone else and wanted to be able to do what I wanted when I wanted. I had always had good feedback that I was a hard worker, so I knew I could do things for myself.
What I enjoy most about working for myself and maintaining that work/life balance is that I can control it. I work when I want and take time off to be with my family when I want. That’s the beauty of it now, I find it much easier to maintain that work/life balance. Don’t get me wrong – I do put the hours in and I have to be careful that I make sure I switch off as I can be on the computer or doing social media at 10 or 11 at night. But, on the flip side, I can take time off in the day to go out for lunch with friends or a shopping trip with family. So, it does even itself out but I can control it.”
“There is so much waste in the packaging industry, and I didn’t want to be part of that. I’ve tried to keep my packaging as plastic-free as possible. My soap bars just have a cigar band around them as they legally need to have certain details on the packaging, and this was enough to get all those details on. However, this sometimes plays against me as I have contacted retailers about stocking my brand and they want the soap to be covered in a box or fully wrapped.
Generally using ingredients that are not tested on animals is straightforward as we have rules in place in the UK. Palm oil-free is becoming an issue now because of the war in Ukraine. We’re being told by suppliers that there’s a shortage and that, if there is any, it’s being used in the food industry. So, this is obviously having an impact on either not being able to source any or the price being ridiculously high. I am still standing by these principles, but it is having an effect on the cost of items at the moment.”
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“This is where I have tried to work hard at building up, not just a brand, but a community. In the early days, I spent many hours on Instagram and showing behind-the-scenes footage of the ingredients and the products, building up relationships with customers and other accounts. I fiercely believe in my products so I would also send out samples for people to try as I was confident that they would love my products as much as I love making them. Of course, they did, and the recommendations started.
Customer service is at the heart of the business, so I always answer DMs and emails within 24 hours where possible. I encourage customers to contact me with questions and I will happily recommend products. I have tried to build up a trust between us. When packing products, although we want to be eco-friendly and use recyclable packaging, I don’t feel that the packaging has to be compromised. From when a customer places their order to actually unboxing it, I want it to be a pleasurable experience, as if it was Christmas Day every time they receive a parcel.
The products are wrapped nicely, and a personalized note is handwritten, even if it just says “Thank you for your order”. I want the customer to feel part of the Wrinkly family and not just an order number.
When they message me on Instagram, I try to remember what they’re saying – like if they’ve had a bad week and then they’ve just placed an order. I would then write something like “I hope your week has got better”. I’ve had such good comments about how they receive their happy post, and they look forward to it so much – the unboxing as well as using the gorgeous products.”
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A Note on Newsletters
“This is an area that I need to improve. Generally, at the moment, they usually go out saying what our soap of the month is, or what offers we have – occasionally a little update on what we have been up to. I sometimes do offers exclusively for email subscribers to encourage more people to sign up. I need to develop this more as this is an area I want to get better at.
Social media is great but if I lost my account, I would lose my followers. I’m trying to be more proactive in encouraging people to sign up for the newsletter so that I have more control over being able to contact my customers.”
Social Media Success
“I’ve dabbled with all platforms but have found my niche more with Instagram, closely followed by Facebook. My products and videos are very picture and video-friendly, so this suits the sort of style on Instagram. It’s very hard to keep up with the algorithms and posting consistently. I use Instagram to show how the products are being made, the ingredients we use, and behind-the-scenes footage. The customers love to get to know the face behind the brand.
I publicize my offers here too once the email subscribers have been notified first. I also try to collaborate with other businesses and influencers to try and gain more visibility for the brand.”
“I’ve had many photographs from customers with before and after pictures of skin problems, such as eczema or psoriasis. After a couple of weeks of using my natural unscented soap or Natural Oats soap bar, their skin condition improved immensely.
[The business has] enabled me to give up my job working in education and bring the same salary in. We saw incredible growth during COVID and have over 3,000 customers. The business is profitable but like any business at the moment, sales have dropped due to the cost of living crisis – but I still have many regular customers returning. We’re now seeing the signs of it improving once again and ready to take the business to the next level.”
“Well, firstly there are a lot of legal hoops to jump through when you’re bringing a product to market that comes into contact with the skin. When I originally started, we were in the EU so had to comply with EU rules. When Brexit happened, the UK continued their rules but has their own system now that we have to register our products through their new site which – obviously being new – had teething problems, plus we lost some overseas customers.
Also, getting brand visibility is hard but I was fortunate in making some contacts on Instagram so that initially helped a great deal. The problem is now continuing to gain visibility so that we can attract new customers, so marketing is always at the top of our agenda.
We didn’t face many struggles during the pandemic apart from coping with the number of orders – which was a good thing! We did have a couple of moments of there being a shortage of packaging boxes, but we managed to work through it and got our orders out in plenty of time. The war in Ukraine is beginning to affect us now as prices of some ingredients have tripled or even quadrupled. This is hard. We did have a price increase last year to try and offset this, and we have also reduced outgoing costs down to the bare minimum to try and not have to pass any further increases to our customers. This is obviously an area that we’re monitoring closely now.
We’re also struggling to obtain some of the palm-free ingredients. A new product was about to be launched but I’ve had to put it on hold because of this shortage. It’s no good launching a new product until I’m sure I’m still going to be able to get this particular ingredient at a reasonable price.”
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“I wanted to be able to control my own sales. I didn’t want to be controlled by some of those selling platforms where they dictate conditions and when they pay you, as well as taking a huge percentage. I think it’s also a necessity nowadays as most customers expect to be able to find you online and it looks more credible if you have a good website.
I fell upon Shopify and loved their free themes and the ease at which I could set the website up, as well as having an amazing customer helpdesk. There were lots of tutorials and support available to help me alongside different options for themes for the website to be built on, which all seemed fairly straightforward. I had plenty of free choices in how the layout could be set up as well as paid options if I wanted something more advanced.
We chose the Basic Shopify plan as it offered everything we needed it to do. However, on occasion there are more detailed reports that I feel that I need – for example, when approaching Christmas I like to look back at the last Christmas and see what our bestsellers were. I can upgrade my pricing plan to the next level to enable me to do this. I do it for the month that I need it and then revert back to the Basic plan. I love the flexibility of being able to do this.
The variety of apps that integrate seamlessly into the site are great. I have a customer review one, and a subscription service one, and have just recently launched a loyalty program. These were all so easy to install and, if I have queries, these too have had great customer service helpdesks. There’s a huge choice – for someone like me who knows nothing about building websites, these have been great add-on features to a free theme.”
“We want to scale our business and I definitely think there is potential with Shopify.”
“Do your research and look at more than one builder. Look at reviews and also what they offer. Does it meet your needs? Can it do what you want it to do? If your business is successful, can the builder grow with you? If you’re a product-based business, do you know how to add a new product? Can you do it yourself or are you always having to ask for help with this?
The main actions need to be simple. For me, adding products easily was key. I didn’t want to have to pay someone to do this every time I wanted to add a new product or new scent. Take advantage of the free themes and play around with them. Ask lots of questions and use their helpdesks – that’s what they’re there for. Speak to other small businesses about their experiences, but try to remember that every business is different. What worked for them may not work as well for you.”
“There’s always something happening – new offers and new products. We are currently just signing off our Christmas range so look out for new gift sets and some new products.
We’re still committed to growing the business further and growing our customer base and want to be a brand known for its gorgeous soap and products that encourage self-care.”
“Go for it. I wish I’d done it sooner but don’t be afraid of hard work and asking for help. You can’t know the answer to everything and there are always people out there that know more than you do. Also, don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes.
And, research, research, research. It’s a minefield of legal documentation that you have to ensure you follow if you’re bringing a product to market. Be consistent with your brand message and what you want in your product line. Don’t just follow fads, stay true to what you believe in. Join different forum groups that are knowledgeable in the area and make those connections. There are some very supportive communities and groups that help each other out, even if we are all competing in the same market. Finally, always make sure you get your products cosmetically assessed!”