Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Remember February 2014? I wrote a blog post about my experience of applying for a federal grant. Flash forward to August 2014: We were awarded the grant.
Now go forward to December 2014: All the paperwork was signed and we received the go-ahead to start spending the money. So, in January of 2015, a year after I submitted the grant, we began our project with Pulp + Wire, the PR and branding firm under the guidance of Taja Dockendorff, to redesign our goat’s milk soap and body care packaging, redesign the website and undergo a complete re-branding for the “bath” line coming from our farm. The goal was to grow up from a farmer’s market product to a product that would stand out and successfully compete on a retail shelf.
Speed forward at an exhilarating pace to September 2015 and here we are! Before you read any further about the last eight months, check out our new website at www.SerenityGoats.com and see the awesome results of the redesign and re-branding – and, more importantly, be the judge of whether we succeeded. Read on for the moral of the story.
From Farm to Farm with a Story: Re-Branding Our Farm
“Before” Serenity Acres Farm goat's milk soap had packaging that was adequate for a farmers market. Mind you, we have a great soap and it sold well, but the packaging was homegrown and looked homey and cheap on a retail shelf — but it had no spark and no story. Nevertheless, it showed potential and we were determined to pursue it as the value-added product which could help our farm achieve financial sustainability. A goal for every farmer is to make ends meet without an outside job.
We are running our farm as sustainably as possible and are trying to reduce our footprint on Mother Earth. In Joel Salatin’s terms, that means “more eyeballs an acre.” It means being Animal Welfare Approved certified, avoiding industrial farming practices, including sub-therapeutic hormones and antibiotics.
In short, we wanted our philosophy of farm family, farm fresh, sustainability and happy animals ("happy goats make happy soaps") to come across in the soap packaging. Not an easy task, but Taja and her team at Pulp + Wire didn’t flinch and proved up to the task to move Serenity Acres Farm from being just a farm to a being a farm with a story and a goat milk soap with a soul.
The product and re-branding launch for Serenity Goat’s Goat Milk Soap was planned for the Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, September 16–19. Which is one of the reasons I am writing the blog post now, after the Natural Products Expo East, and not before, because I was really, really scared of the product launch! What if nobody liked our soap? What if nobody came to our booth? Of course, from the tone of this post, you probably realize that it went really, really well.
Over the last eight months, it started with several iterations of "what do you like?" Packaging, colors, illustrations, photos, materials, font, and size. We went from 16 designs to 8 to 4 to 2 to the one final winner that you can now see on our website.
Along with the packaging, the website had to be updated, the business cards — just about everything that had to do with our soap and our farm. Hours and hours of work and review and design by so many people. Goats auditioned to become the models for our soap packaging and had to answer a few questions about their lifestyle. You see why in the packaging.
The packages are on recycled material, with soy ink, contain no glue or plastic and are folded like a three-dimensional origami so you can follow the story and meet the goats. Unfold your soap and the story! Happy Soaps from Happy Goats.
From May to September, we made 200–300 bars of soap every weekend to get ready for the show. We whittled down our line of scents from 28 to 15, including a seasonal scent. It was not easy to cut scents, because each scent had a member of the farm family who loved it. Some got cut because they just didn’t work in large batches, like the Gardenia. It's not a good scent for large batches unless you like clumps. And goat’s milk has to handle differently in large batches than in small batches. All things we found out through the making of the soap.
Then the packages had to be ordered and manufactured, the labels had to be printed, T-shirts ordered, booth materials assembled, product sell sheets, costs calculated and prices and margins determined. The learning curve was steep, and I have learned a lot about the business and advertising of farming. (And in future posts, I will share more of this knowledge in more detail.)
The Path from Farm to Bath
Fast forward (especially the last two weeks before the Expo). Everyone kept asking me: Aren’t you excited? Yes I was!! We drove to the Expo with the car packed full of Serenity Acres Farm’s Goat’s Milk Soaps.
Setting up and organizing in the convention center had its own challenges. People seasoned in going to EXPOs will know what I am talking about. We were in the NEXT Pavilion with 400 other new products. Then the first day of three started and the visitors to the booth started coming and coming and coming. We received a lot of fabulous comments and compliments on our packaging and our soaps.
People were excited, they loved the goats, the goat milk soap, and they loved the story and the soul. Did I mention that the printer of our packaging has fallen in love with our goats? It was a really big hit and we were even given an award by New Hope Media for being a NEXT product that embodies sustainability, transparency and a story that forges a bond with the customer, and that can compete on any retail space with any other goat’s milk soap. We were even featured in a video, which you can see on our Facebook page.
But this doesn’t end here, and as we are experiencing, the hard work has just started: We still needed to follow up with the visitors to the booth, emails, phone calls, visits, and advertising. Going down this road, from here on out, is not for introverts or shy people. And if I thought I worked many hours before, I am now working twice as many hours. This quote from Ted Turner hits home: Late to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise. So true, so true, so true.
And while we are nowhere near financial sustainability at this point, we can see it coming. And you all know something: If we can do it as a small farm with a great vision, you can do it, too.
So, here is the moral of the story: Small farms rule — you just have to have the vision and courage to pursue the dream.
Yours truly, Goat Mother Julia at Serenity Goats.
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