LIMA — Nowadays all you need to start a side hustle could be as simple as a few YouTube videos.
Sisters Jennifer Fickel, of Lima, and Anne Laiho, of Findlay, got the idea to start Merrill Marie Soapworks in 2014.
“I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, so I was just looking for a way to make ends meet and she wanted a creative outlet,” Fickel said. “We were brainstorming and she said, ‘Well, how about soap?’ I said, ‘Of course — but I have no idea how to make soap,’ so we watched some YouTube videos, I went to the library and we got books, we even went to the National Soap Conference.
“We did our research and we did our homework. We were ready to make handmade soap, but we had to sit down and ask, ‘OK, as sisters, can we actually do this?’” she chuckled.
The sisters began selling their soaps at farmers markets and craft shows, working their way into some retailers like Casa Chic and Shop for Good and continue to build an online presence and market at merrillmarie.com. The company is named after combining their respective middle names.
“After many years, it’s still a learning process on how to drive the customers to your website, that’s been an ongoing issue,” Fickel explained. “We’ve seen steady growth — it hasn’t really taken off to where we can, you know, retire to Malibu or something, but it’s been steady growth over the last six years.”
Marketing aside, it’s learning the art of making the products that remains the toughest challenge for Fickel and Laiho.
“We’re always trying to see what’s not necessarily the current trend, but what sells and what doesn’t sell to try to not overextend ourselves with a large variety,” Fickel said. “We buy wholesale smells and then either mix and match and do a nice little blend or just use the scents they sell. … There have been some smells that we thought would be good and they just did not turn out to be, so there have been some mishaps for sure.”
Fickel and Laiho use what is called the cold process to make their natural soaps.
“We use olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, castor oil and then the lye solution — so it’s truly homemade soap,” Fickel said. “What people don’t understand is from there, it takes four to six weeks for the soap to harden. Then, once it’s cured, it’s free to use. With hot, it’s ready to use right away but this way it’s less mushy and firms up more.”
It’s a true science not only mixing the ingredients but also mixing and pouring them at the right time.
“Lots of throwaways,” she shared of the early trial-and-error phase.
Merrill Marie Soapworks now includes sugar scrubs, bath fizzies, lotions, lip balm, beard oil, perfume oil, hand sanitzer and accessories in addition to its soap plethora.
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.