Lots of you are wondering why DigitalSoaps closed in what seemed an unexpected move.
Instead of going for carefully crafted words, I am writing my thoughts on the closure of my long-time business directly into this blog. The reason is because this is sad for me, too, and was overwhelming, and is still overwhelming with all my business supplies stored in a garage space.
The short answer for the closure is that the market is saturated with geeky goods. We could no longer compete.
When I started DigitalSoaps, the geeky soap genre didn't exist. Now there's an abundance of geek products, and not just soap. The geek consumer culture has exploded. So I am competing with copycats, other licensed products, and stores full of geeky merchandise.
My soaps no longer stood out.
So, when I got licensed and sold my soaps wholesale to larger retailers, the sales were poor. So poor that I could not get reorders. Larger-still retailers wouldn't even reply to our inquiries, no matter how hard we tried. I can't live off single sales.
We had a large retailer who was getting good sales, but they stopped being able to pay our wholesale prices and we lost money on our two subsequent sales with them. It was devastating to the business.
When it came to retail sales, licensing made my business take an initial dive as I rebuilt my catalog. It was indescribably expensive, something I may not recover financially from. I lost my Google rankings. The catalog was more limited. And when I decided to bring back the parody products rather than close shop, the market was saturated with copycats and the excitement was no longer there. It could be the economy, too, I am not sure.
I miss the old exciting days when my soaps were a novelty that no one had heard of, and word was just getting around, and magazines like PlayStation UK and GamePro wanted interviews. I don't miss the stress about caring about copycats. I don't miss the trial and error. But I enjoyed paving the way for the market to be what it is today.
DigitalSoaps lasted from 2009-2018. I'd say that is a pretty amazing run. I poured all my time into it, sacrificed relationships, thrived off the excitement from customers and friends, and enjoyed the inventing process and the marketing and the learning of new skills.
Now, I need to find a way to utilize these same skills.
It's tacky to ask for money from you, in exchange for no product, but my personal email address is ContraBubbles@gmail.com in case you want to contribute to me getting back on my feet/filing bankruptcy/etc. See, when I closed my business, I was already losing money for months. I got behind on rent, borrowed money from nearly everyone I know. I wanted desperately for the business to work. It was hard to face the facts that the business just isn't viable. I am moving from this rented house into a tiny bedroom in an apartment. I am working part time at the post office.
If anyone has a marketing job open in Western Washington near Bellingham, or a remote position open, I've got a lot of skills that can be transferred over to help other businesses.
Enough about that, though. I didn't write this to ask for charity.
I want you all to know that you kept me going. All of our interactions are meaningful. The likes, the loves, the comments, the purchases, the ideas. The help from friends! Thank you for being with me so long.
I still remember the first thing I sold. A blue cocoa butter soap shaped like a remote controller. It didn't look so great, and it was wrapped in plastic wrap instead of shrink wrap, but someone was excited and trusted me as a new seller on Etsy.
Then you all helped spread the word, and my business took off, and I left my reporting job and pursued the unknown.
I want to thank my friends, too, for all of their charitable time helping me pack orders during the unexpected busy times, fill wholesale orders, maintain the warehouse, and helping me move out of that very warehouse I'd been in for 5 years to put my life into a garage.
Well, that's about it.
I love you all.
Keeping Ahead of Copycats Drives Creativity at DigitalSoaps
When I logged into my Etsy account in 2009, shortly after I began selling my newly invented NES controller soaps, I never expected to see competition.
But there it was. A bright green speckled NES controller soap. Made by someone other than me.
In the product description, the seller gave me a shout-out by saying that they thought of the idea, but another person got to making it first. They concluded with a congratulatory, "Kudos to the actual first!"
I should have been flattered. Instead, I became defensive.
It made sense that I felt like protecting the niche I'd created. I had found a passion for soap artistry, I was getting media attention for it, and how dare others take my ideas and sell them.
What I've learned from competitors is that I don't like my soaps to look exactly like anyone else's. When I introduced my dice soaps, I was using an ice-cube mold like all the other geeky soap sellers. Even though I had dice rattling around inside, which as far as I could tell no one else did, I still felt uncomfortable with the lack of ingenuity.
The solution was to make my own molds, same as I'd been doing for years.
It wasn't enough to make a new d20 soap, though. I wanted to bring customers d8s and d10s, each large enough to hold a capsule and dice inside.
Our 3D designer, Mark Whitney, created the designs. I printed them up. And here we are today, offering dice soaps that are exclusive to DigitalSoaps.
To be clear, my drive today is about more than competition. It's really about challenging myself, and about impressing customers.
At conventions, customers mistake our cartridges for real games. We make accidental sales on our website based on the product photos.
As you may have gathered, though, it's never perfect enough.
Our products are continually evolving. I am lucky to have encouraging fans along for the ride.
Spend a few seconds browsing our Wall of Shame, and you'll notice a common theme - Cancellations and returns on orders of our beautiful game cartridge soaps.
The reason is almost always the same. Despite our detailed product titles and descriptions, buyers often do not realize they are buying soap until they've completed the checkout process.
The soaps do look admittedly realistic. I designed them that way.
But because the soaps look like functional controllers and cartridges, it's extra important that my product descriptions are clear. On some listings, I even have a check box for customers to indicate their understanding that they are purchasing soap. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't have a way to add these types of boxes, and so I have started putting up a warning image. The image was created by a customer who wanted to help us reduce the number of returns.
Customers often find these unintentional sales entertaining. In some ways I do, too. It means that I've achieved a goal of ultimate realism with my products.
Along with the flattery, though, comes frustration. Every time a customer requests a return on Amazon, I am obligated under Amazon policies to accept the return no matter what.
The worst part is that the product is usually opened when it comes back to me. The soap can't be reused. Even more, though, I spent time on realism and detailing in anticipation of giving customers the greatest experiences possible.
Instead, I'll get "This is not what I wanted." Or, in what amounts to belittling the work that I do, "I wasted money on this thing you made."
Look, I only want sales from people who want my soaps. But I can't always control where the eye is drawn and how fast customers click through the checkout process.
Ultimately, I've decided that the realism is worth the hassle.
I'll be over here updating the Wall of Shame proudly.