Producing Art: Maintaining Creativity in a Wholesale-Centered Business
I will admit that one of the greatest challenges I face in my business is maintaining my creativity.
I have plenty of days where I wake up, full of new product ideas, bursting with prolific, creative energy that I want to channel into making unique products, fresh scents, new swirl techniques, different ingredients, special formulations, and more. I have an ongoing list of products in my head that I want to create. New moisturizers. Scrubs. Facial products. Baby products. Yet another soap design. A new packaging idea. I could go on.
And by the time I get to the workshop, staring down my list of to-dos, wholesale orders to pack, shops to follow up with, ordering sheets to update, social media posts to plan, supplies to re-order, products to re-stock, and labels to print, that creative energy has to hit the back burner, where it slowly fizzles out, neglected.
I think many people wrongly assume that when you work in a creative business, that you are mostly just creating. I know when I first started business, I dreamed that I’d be able to create whatever I wanted, whatever I liked, whenever I wanted, and however much of it I wanted. Daydreams of making my own schedule, taking time off whenever I needed it, attending fun outdoor festivals…
Now, that honestly isn’t terribly far from the truth. I get to make my own schedule, for the most part. I get to work really fun festivals and markets. I get to make the major decisions for my business – I choose things that are fun, that fit the vibe of my other offerings, and are in line with my own ethical viewpoints.
But sometimes, when I really, really want to practice that new swirl and that tester bottle of fragrance that I got with my last big order, I am staring at a huge list of soap scents that must be restocked by a certain date so that I can continue to send out wholesale orders to my waiting customers, who will then sell these products to their customers.
‘Wholesale’ adds several new dimensions to a creative business; it is not a small undertaking. Aside from the more obvious aspects like finding business that wish to carry your product, there are several steps you must take to make your business and your product successful – and some of these steps I have admittedly struggled with, because I felt they ran nearly perfectly counter to my creative energies. These steps mostly include creating a consistent branding and product, and being able to produce and replicate that product over and over again, in the same way, always having those supplies on hand, and not making any major changes to a tried-and-true design unless they greatly improve either its ease of production, or its marketability (as long as they can also be replicated).
So that can mean making the same type of soap over, and over, and over again. It can be pretty boring, especially when you’re thinking of something new you’d love to do, but all the supplies you have on hand are really for items you need to restock.
Making a hundred sand bars when I’d rather be whipping up new sugar scrubs!
It goes even further than that. Whenever I come up with a new idea, especially seasonal items that are going to be shorter-runs (I’ll probably just make 50-100 of each item total instead of 50-100 each month), there are so many factors to take into consideration. In the end, I often make less off of these products and they require even more work, like new online listings, new photography, new label designs, not to mention that the supplies cost more overall because I will be ordering special ingredients or new packaging in smaller quantities instead of my usual bulk. Not to mention, as soon as I produce seasonal offerings (and often before) I get interested retailers that are eager to stock seasonal products for their customers (this isn’t a problem or a complaint at all, just another factor to consider – can I offer this product at my usual wholesale price?) Sometimes I dream up new products, but I can’t come up with any way to package them that is consistent with my line, so the idea gets dropped entirely. So as I sit there, dreaming up new ideas, I often get stuck on these reasons to just stick to my usual lineup. Can I absorb the extra costs and still make a profit? Can the prices be reasonably raised for special items? Is the extra work worth the additional interest I may be able to create?
A loaf of Autumn Woods Soap, a fall seasonal special using a unique, time-intensive technique
In light of all of these issues, I often get stuck for months at a time, just quietly replicating the time-tested formulas, processes, and designs that I know my customers already love. All of these items are things that I created, that I dreamed up, and even after making hundreds of batches of Sea Island Cotton soap, unmolding and cutting each loaf is like unwrapping a Christmas present. The feeling of pride that I have managed to take this recipe and technique, master it, and repeat it over and over again without fail is, to me, pretty amazing and almost unbelievable. No matter if it is something I have made one hundred times, at the end, this is still my original artwork, an item I created, with form and function, and made by hand.
In spite of all of these things, I will continue to create new items, specialty scents, and just stuff that I love. I’ll make stuff that maybe doesn’t always fit, or that has a different kind of packaging, or maybe something that will sell out and I’ll never make it again. This business wouldn’t be what it is today if I didn’t, and I would burn out from the repetition. I think the real secret to maintaining creativity in a wholesale business environment is to find the balance and fulfillment in both replication and new creation.