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Cottage Industry Issue: Christmas 2003









Letter from the Editor

If I had to summarize the majority of my e-mails it would be questions regarding what product should a person start with first when trying to make toiletry or craft products for a craft sale.  The other half of my e-mail basically consists of customer's telling me what does work for them in their small business.  This is a big world and very few are next door to each other, so I do not worry about creating competition when I write this article.  In fact I think this is one of the most important articles I will have written for Mabel White.

Kitchen Table Businesses

What sells?  This is not where people usually start with a "cottage industry" but I think they should, and that would dip mixes.  Why?  Everyone likes to eat.  That is a very basic principle.  Not too many husbands I know want to sleep with rose laden fragrance sprays on their sheets, but they do all like to eat.  Another aspect of dip mixes is that samples are very inexpensive and are usually always welcome.  Best time to sell?  10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.  You have to watch FDA labeling rules as I discuss in another article herein, but I understand dip mixes are great sellers.  They can even be purchased wholesale from approved facilities.  Mabel hopes to have a full line of dip mixes offered at wholesale to our small country stores and craft sales individuals by fall of 2004. 

So, why dip mixes?  I was in Fort Worth, Texas, about this time last year and I had a blast.  The first thing I noticed upon walking down the main drag was that everyone had little green dip mixes in their hands and just about every store in downtown Ft. Worth sold them.  It was a mild green Chile pepper dip and it was gooooood.  I mean gooood.  I joined the husbands at the sample trays who seemed determined not to spend a penny, but before long were buying a few bags to look constructive.  Dip mixes are also considered not very expensive.  Dip mixes also give that feeling of "creating a miracle in a minute" with your own bare hands!  For most dip mixes are 1 ounce total and the user need only add 1 cup of sour cream and 1 cup of mayonnaise to the mixture.  Some mixes purport to also be good as a salad dressing, skipping the sour cream part for buttermilk.  Some even purport to be also good as a meat rub.  In our fast paced society, people like to have things easy and multi-user friendly.

A Word on Selling

When I used to do allot of public speaking in sales, many people would tell me they just do not know how to sell.  If your married, you do sure know how to sell.  If you were ever a Girl Scout or had a lemonade stand, you did know how to sell. I have many 12 year old customers who are sponsored by their mothers.  Their mothers' are astounded by their child's success and self initiated entrepreneurship in making bath salts, lip balms and the like.  Mother's even ask me for direction in their pursuits, and this is one main reason for this article, short of just writing out my entire book on "How to Sell Your Crafts.

Back to What Sells

Sometimes what sells is not as important as breaking in to a kitchen table business on a low budget along with sticking to what sells.  I find bath salts to be the absolute highest profit item and I discussed at length in my last newsletter about how to get a 50 pound bag for $5. Click here to see that articleRegardless of your base product, everything is in the packaging.  You do not want to sell bath salts in a zip lock bag and get what I call "pity sales."  There are many clever ways to package a product in a nice manner and inexpensively.  These methods are discussed in many of my newsletters, see archives.

After dip mixes, and bath salts, I would seriously consider selling "Vacuum Salts."  No one has ever heard of them, because I created them and I never go anywhere.   They work great!  Click here to see an article I wrote about vacuum salts. If you can obtain 50 pounds of salt for $5, I think you can make a profit selling vacuum salts.  In that instance, I do not even break the large chunks up and find it keeps my vacuum microbe free!    If I were to sell vacuum salts I would do it either in a quart paint can from Home Depot or a quart mason jar.  I would then seriously consider my favorite dishwasher shiner/cleaner  I wrote about below, in this newsletter as a second item to sell.  I would offer that in a smaller size with a plastic scoop, such as a pint jar.  Know your preservatives ahead of time, if any is needed.  Someone recently asked me what preservative to use for her bath salts she was about to sell at a craft show.  I was not sure I read the e-mail right, because salt is the oldest preservative known to mankind.  I told her Vitamin e if she wanted to get fancy, but that salt was its own preservative.

Gel air fresheners seem to be the next non-intimidating and simple  item to make and sell.  If you do sell table top products, most everything will revolve around oil based fragrances that are safe for the bath as well as good for candle use.  Most everything I do is melt and pour in the microwave, soap, soy candles, and so on.  I will never get into any "double broiler" or complicated messes.  But regarding gel air fresheners, I just heard you can make them with plain Jell-O and Fragrance, pour them into a pretty jar and they will evaporate just like our gel.  I am working right now to find out if that is true, but it does sound logical.  Gel air fresheners are great for anywhere, including places that do not allow candles or any kind of flames such as college dorms.  I say "if you can get it local, do that first."  Room sprays are easy, just a few drops of fragrance oil in water in a pretty sprayer and shake!  Just do not use too much fragrance oil because it will warp plastic over time.

After I had my dip mixes, a few home cleaning products and room fresheners going, would I then get into making lip balm and balms in general which is the most simple entry into making and selling soaps, bath bombs, and candles.  But over all, I would want to see I could sell the very basic items I mentioned above first, before I got too committed to a variety of products.  Lip balm, Lip Balm Stick, and lip gloss are also very affordable ways to break into a kitchen table sales business and also high in profit.  Once again strategize your theme, then containers and labeling first and worry about what goes in them later.  You can always make what goes in them great, but you need to have an accessible container system set up first.  Everything is in the packaging.  If you notice just about every thing Martha Stewart does has a mint green satin ribbon around it.  That is kind of like her trademark.  So, plan your line around a theme.  As far as labels go, Avery Label Maker is the best and a visit to the office supply store should tell you what labels will fit on what containers.  I just bring my containers with me to the office supply store and do my math there.  No sense in getting stuck with labels that don't work for you.  

Lip balm, Lip Balm Stick, and lip gloss are other items that can all be made for under $1 in total, (including your time at $15 and hour) and can be sold for 3 to 4 to 5 times more than what you have in it.  So, $40 could make you potentially $200 and it only takes minutes to make those items.  $15 of that $40 is your time.  I say $15 an hour because people often forget to pay themselves, and if they did, then they may find they are making no profit when everything is said and done.  So, when I price an item I count the container, label, ingredients, and my time.  After that I at least double the figure to get make a profit, if not more.  Products can be seasonal.  In the winter these would be my focus areas, and bath salts in the summer.  The biggest selling advantage is that hand made products are better quality products than can ever be bought in commercial stores and perhaps cheaper--depending on how you structure your pricing.  Just remember over all, people want to buy something for a "purpose."  Whenever we buy anything we think "what will it do for me, or my loved ones?"   You customer thinks the same way.    Will it make their room smell great when they vacuum?  Their skin softer when they bathe?  Candles, bath bombs, and soaps are all very doable, and high profit, but if you are just breaking into the business it may be wiser to focus on the more simple items I discussed at the start of this article first.  The learning curve on candles, bath bombs and soaps are just a tad more intensive and the start up cost can be double what the sort up costs are for the first products I mentioned.  Good luck! 

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Tang the Dang Dishwasher

I did not invent that slogan, someone else did on the net.  I thought it was so funny.  I love Electrosol tablets to make my glass shine, but often cannot afford it.  One caller told me citric acid will clean a dishwasher, because it also gets soap build up, so I got on the net right away to see the validity. I have allot of citric acid on hand because I sell it in our supply store.  I found it does work, as well as baking soda and a little Borax.  So, I experimented one weekend and did many loads, giving it my worst cloudy glasses and vases I had to offer.  After all that, I found the glass was crystal clear, and the dishwasher smelled like heaven every time I opened it.  This is because commercial carriers do not give you enough of the good stuff!  The same reason I make my own soaps and candles.  Where does Tang come into all this?  I guess it has citric acid and there are people who use Tang once in awhile to clean their dishwasher on an empty load.  I like my mixture, 1/3 citric acid, 1/3 baking soda and 1/3 Borax the best.  I mix it all up with a few drops of lemon or lemon grass oil and throw it in a mason jar that is CLEARLY marked and kept under my sink.  I use just a tablespoon a load.    

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Coffee, Salt, and Sugar Scrubs

I just never got into this area much, but I understand ground coffee, salt and sugar scrubs to be really great sellers, as well as easy and affordable to make, and all the rage.  The ground coffee scrub I was sent an 8 ounce sample of, in particular, alludes that it will soak into the skin and stimulate the user--"really waking them up" although it does not go so far as to say that much on the container.   My friends love to walk by and open that one sample 8 ounce container of coffee body scrub and just cannot get over the scent.  It was basically Jojoba meal, ground Columbian coffee, and jojoba oil along with fragrance oil I can be certain was vanilla.  I am already hyper enough so I do not need any help--but I can see where a tired nurse, working 24-7 would really feel rejuvenated by use of the coffee body scrubs if not just the "placebo" effect and idea.  The mind is a very powerful thing.  

The scrub that would appeal to me most would be like a salt and lemon scrub to go in the kitchen.  I would put that in one of those hinged back type mason jars.  Most of the recipes, whether it is coffee, salt, or sugar seem to be 1 part coffee, salt or sugar to 1 part oil.  Knowing that, the possibilities are truly endless.  If I were to make a salt and lemon scrub, I would simply use enough lemon oil and maybe a little crème I had already made, in my salt to make a paste.  1 part solid to 1 part oil, sounds like too much oil for me, but I guess the solids such as coffee grounds absorb allot of the oil.    Most of the scrubs purport to remove dead skin cells and rejuvenate the body.  One alternative recipe I saw for "brown sugar scrub" used 1 part brown sugar to 1/2 part jojoba oil and 1/2 part liquid soap.   Still the liquid is 1 part to 1 part solid.  Just for kitchen use I could further the lemon idea with other pure citrus oils such as lime or tangerine.    We prefer salt over all because it does not have clean up or preservative issues.  For example, we will make a coffee scrub with salt and our espresso flavor oil.  We know it is made from natural extracts, so we get the both of best worlds.

Some recipes call for vitamin e oil, fruit peels, a myriad of salts to include Epsom, dead sea, or spa salt, and a slew of different essential oils targeted at various effects such as "relaxation" or "rejuvenating."

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Jell-O Air Fresheners

As I mentioned above we have not tried using plain Jell-O as an air freshener base yet, but it makes sense andAir Freshener Gel Base 5 Gal. appears it will work out.  It also seems to be a very welcome alternative to messing with potentially poisonous and flammable man made gel, that is so serious, we used to melt it out side when we were heavy into gel items.  When I heard about using Jell-O, which is easy to obtain in any store, I wondered about fragrance throw.  I would think if the product failed to really "throw the scent," then I would prepare these creations in glass tempered for heat, and recommend they be placed on a coffee cup or mug warmer.  Again, just a thought.  We are going to be doing this project here over the holiday to see how far we can take it, if anywhere. 

What You Need:
 (Makes 2 cups or 16 ounces or four 4 once jars)
  • 2 cup water
  • 10-20 drops of fragrance or essential oil
  • 4 packages unflavored gelatin
  • Pretty empty glass, mason jars or mug, (heat tempered if using with a coffee mug warmer)
  • mold inhibitor such as salt or a little vodka
  • food coloring (optional)


  • Heat 1 cup of distilled water to boiling.
  • Stir in 4 packages of unflavored gelatin (e.g., Knox) until dissolved.
  • Remove the mixture from heat and stir in the other 1 cup water.
  • Add 10-20 drops of essential oil or other concentrated fragrance. If desired, add food coloring to tint your gel. 
  • You may also wish to add a mold inhibitor, such as a few teaspoons of salt or a splash of vodka.
  • Pour the gel into clean and small decorative containers.
  • The gel will set at room temperature, although you can place the air fresheners in the refrigerator for a quick set (and scented fridge).
  • Decorate your jars as desired and enjoy!

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Jell-O Green Tea Face Mask

Apparently this Jell-o face mask recipe holds no hostages and takes black heads right out along with it.  It is purported to have the Biore' effect, the strips you place on your nose.  Every skin is different, and I promise nothing here other then to encourage the use of common sense.  I find it works great for me.  I do this once a month and start by cleaning and steaming my face first.  This recipe works better with pores that are opened up.  

1 package unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup green tea chamomile tea

Make green tea using 1/2 cup boiling water and 1 tea bag. Let tea steep for a few minutes. Add gelatin to tea and stir until completely dissolved. 

Gently stir the gelatin with your tea until the gelatin is dissolved completely. Let cool until it is almost set. Smooth the mixture on your face and let dry completely. Peel off!

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Revamp Your Old Christmas Decorations!  (Rewritten from 2002)

Last Christmas I was not so sure I was going to drag six or seven big boxes of Christmas decorations out and get into the hoopla--or even bother with a tree.  Yeah, me!  My house is not full of youngster or teenagers anymore and no one will surly be around after the first of the year to help pack it all back up.   I actually enjoyed the thought of watching my neighbors take down their stuff after the first of the year when I was already done, because I never started!  This year, I am still thinking along the same lines, but the idea of making my old decorations better each time does help make taking them all out more  fun.   Last year, after helping some ladies out at a local wreath making all night event, I decided tackling my own Christmas treasure trove was not only good for the spirit,  I could really enhance much of my old stuff with a glue gun in hand and some imagination and just a few bucks. This would also maintain a very nice Christmas assortment for a future time when there may be grand children running around.  Click the Christmas tree to see how my decorations came out!

Our favorite Christmas Tree is the Frazier Furr for needle retention, fragrance, and firmness of branches, but we are partial to the Balsam Pine that has big lofty soft needles. We also recommend to whack the base of a new tree just a  little with a hammer and soak it in a hot bucket of water over night.  The five gallon bucket of hot water should contain 1/4 cup of  bleach and a cup of corn syrup before setting the tree up in the home. 

The main thing I noticed in my Christmas Decoration Collection was droopy old bows on wreaths,Copy of MabelWreathOrnate.jpg (84074 bytes) garlands, and candle holders that also may not have matched other bows or decor in the first place.  Some taper candles were simply broken and also not matching, so replacing the candles helped also.   Many items are as old as ten years.  A few wreaths were simply missing greens or sprigs.   Second to my glue gun (or body wax if you are in a pinch) was to commit to one color of ribbon as they were all different over the years.  The new ribbon brought it all of my old decorations together. Beyond a glue gun, some new taper candles, I found gold or silver metallic paint spray would also be a prudent investment for make-overs.  During the all night wreath making event, bows were secured to the bare greens first.  I thought they went on last, actually, but everything was designed around the bow.  The bow was only secured by a pipe cleaner or floral wire to the object.  

After the bows were all replaced on my decorations, I looked at adding items back in that may have fallen off or never been present.  Objects to consider for adornment are:  Ribbon, Pine Cones, (you can get them free and spray paint them gold if you like!) Ornaments old or new, (I am going to make an entire wreath this year just out of some old ornaments and a few new ones!)  Angels, Silk Flowers such as Poinsettias, plastic berry sprays, pearls and strings of pearls, plastic fruit such as apples or pears, mini presents, candy canes, candles, horns, and/or icicles. You have to really think what you like as your main focus and work it through all of your decor.  I like pine cones spray painted gold or left natural as a less commercial and traditional approach along with lots of ribbon and a few adornments.   My work partner in the wreath making event was very bold and stuck big Teddy Bears in the middle of her wreaths and simply secured the bear with a glue gun.  When she pulled out the first bear I looked at her and said "You are not going to hurt that bear are ya?" Well, she did stick him in there, he looked great and that wreath alone will sell for $75 or so.  I may be pulling out my kids old bears and trying that too.  Note, it does take about three yards of ribbon to make a nice bow.  You may consider buying already made bows of they are under $5.

Beyond wreaths, garlands and candle holders, there are the actual tree decorations and stockings.  You may want to inspect these, let them kids help paint and refresh older ones with glue, glitter, hand paint, decoupage', or simply spray paint.   For the stocking maybe attach names more clear.  (We just hand write names with glue and sprinkle with glitter.)  For serious tree decor and theme you may want to bring in twenty huge pine cones, spray paint them gold, and attach hangers and maybe ten smaller pine cones  to incorporate into the revamp of your wreaths and such.  This would be a great and economical addition to your collection.  After the lights go on, I garland my tree with fat ribbon that matches my other bows and decor.  Then I place the pine cones and then the glass bulbs and such.  If you had to pay for such gilded pine cone ornaments I bet they would be $5 each at least and that would be $100 if you just bought the twenty. This does not include the added savings of placing smaller cones into your old wreath designs!  Also consider getting a gold or silver metallic pen and hand writing beautiful messages in glass bulbs.  I also like to top some of these bulbs off with tiny bows that match the larger decor.  I did my tree first actually, so I could what product was left over to glue into wreaths and such.   The pine cone above was dipped in paraffin to act as a fire starter.  See our fire starter series from last year.  A basket of these with a big bow to go by a fireplace also make an very impressive but economical gifts.

Regarding Christmas lights, ugh, the main thing that goes first into the tree, I hear some department stores just throw theirs out at the end of every year and repurchase new ones.  Lucky them.  Yes, lights are not much fun, and do need to be inspected first.  This will also make it easier to know if you have to pick up replacement bulbs or light sets anyway before you even get into the fun stuff.  My shopping list was very small for this revamp, and a few items I had anyway:  Glue gun, lots of ribbon, metallic paint, pine cones, and new candle tapers.  Also get your ornament and/or wreath hangers before everyone runs out of them.

I hope you have a ball with this idea and let me know if you found another twist that worked for you along these lines. 


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Cooking with Pure Citrus Oils

I always associate the use of citrus essential oils such as tangerine, lime, and lemon with lip balm flavoring, lotion, bath salt making, and perhaps to clean the kitchen, but never did I consider using them in my food.   Recently at a gourmet food store I saw Boyajian pure citrus oils in lemon, lime and tangerine.  Curious about what the citrus essential oils would be doing in a food store I read the back of the boxes and it discussed using the citrus oils to make flavored vinegars, lemon pound cake, orange walnut muffins and so on.  There web site is so neat and inspirational  I will just let readers see for themselves, all the things that can be done with food using those oils.  Click here to go to the Boyajian site:  www.boyajianinc.com  

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FDA Labeling Rules 101

Recently a "private label" company called me and asked me for a quote to fill their containers with lip balm and bath salts and send the finished product off direct to their customer, usually a country store.  The idea was, they would send the containers with the labels already on them, and my company would do what we love the most, fill them up!  I was thrilled and really wanted the bid.  They sent me several samples of balms they make for several companies and some salt scrubs and told me the person doing them previous just disappeared.  Well, that was red flag number one.  Who would leave a $4,000 a month sit on your derriere contract?  Like, no one.

When I received samples of their product line, their cute containers the customers names was clearly on the products, (not smart to give a sub-contractor until you have a signed contract) but no ingredients or manufacturer was listed anywhere, nor were they ever intended to.  Now I know lip balm is usually two or three simple ingredients, but something told me more than one ingredient that is obvious, better have a list of ingredients.  I did not want to appear stupid to the person offering the contract, so I asked one of my staff members to pull up the FDA label regulations and spent one long boring weekend reading them.  Boring or not, it was about time I knew what to expect if I ever introduce a retail line as some of my customers are already well into.  Some know the rules, some do not know there are rules.  I am not allowed to give legal advice, but I can say what I concluded from what I read on FDA regulations.  I encourage anyone who is serious about making their own home made products to study the FDA regulations aside from my following limited perspective. 

First of all, soap, if made for the purposes of cleansing only, is one of the few exceptions to labeling and listing of ingredients and manufacturer.  If the intent of the soap is to moisturize the skin or do anything other than cleanse the skin, it must adhere to the FDA labeling rules.  Soap, meaning the old fashioned way with fats and lye.  The stuff in the stores are usually called "bars."  Rarely do we see true soap anymore.  Second, (and this was the only funny part) all ingredients must be in the English language.  Then all ingredients must be listed in order of predominance.   The manufacturer must list their name and address and telephone number on the product, in fonts large enough to read.  The manual was more specific, but I got the idea.  The only exception is if the manufacturer is listed in the business directory of that city, and that is often why we see Company ABC, Des Monies, Iowa on most products with no address.  It is assumed they can be contacted being in a public directory.  If there is a secondary distributor, such as in my case with this proposed contract, my company would also need to be noted on the label. Weight of product was also very important and is based on the United States system and not the metric system.  The weight must be listed in an obvious area on the packaging in ounces, pounds, or whatever the true weight of the product is, not counting the container it is packaged in.   

Much of the remainder of the document seriously focused on hair dyes, food dyes, mascaras, and areas I do not think I will ever go near, pointing out approved and not approved substances in great detail.  I think we know most of them, such as mercury and lead are poisonous, along with many comments on the use of formaldehyde. The garbage that was allowed not to be listed on a label if it did not exceed 1% of the product was so outrageous, it sure made a serious case for making your own products. After reading this document, I finally understand what all the "naturalists" are talking about.  People that have to work 9 to 5 often do not get to have the luxury of such knowledge, nor did I until I really read what is allowed in our commercial products "if only in small quantities.:

The area I was next concerned with, was did our facility have to be approved?  And all I read was products stored in "good conscience" and many references made to "filth."  There is no "filth" allowed near any products being made for the public and ingredients must be stored carefully to avoid spoilage and the like.  There was no definition of "filth" and I know some people who do have a very different definition that I do.  I did also wonder why the contractor did not want to see my facility.  Basic good business at least commands that much. I concluded after all of my reading, the contractor was so caught up in making money and did not care to follow the rules.  Because of all the "red flags" I did not bother to pursue the contract, but I sure learned allot.  

Beyond the very basic rules outlined above, that make sense to a reasonable person, and the fact that there is some awful stuff that is allowed in our products by nature of our fast paced society, I noticed the main punch of the entire code.  It was "misbranding."  Beyond making the consumer aware of what is in the product and who made it, and what chemicals are simply not allowed in any products, the punch was in "misbranding."  That word or expression covers a broad spectrum of instances and it became clear to me it is very easy to be accused of "misbranding" a product.  I think the main intent comes from the historical abuses of "miracle cures" and "promises to heal."  In the code, they do consider just about everything applied to the human body a drug, even if over the counter, except soap.  Every day there are people out there selling something that it is not, and by the time they are tracked down, they are gone.  The innocent ones are the ones who get into trouble and pay dearly for it.   So just make sure if you are selling something, you are VERY accurate as to what it is, everything is clear, there are no "promises" and "cures" unless it is a proven fact and even that needs to be researched well.  Also be sure that the materials are approved, they do meet the FDA and various other governmental agency rules and standards, and that you are sure who you bought it from is also honest if you are reselling.  If it is too good to be true, it probably is, such as with the contract I was very interested in at first.  

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Quick Gifts in a Snap

Don't think your the only one strapped for last minute gift giving ideas.  I found mason jars can get some people out of allot of hot water for kids as wells as adults when it comes to making a gift in a pinch that appears to be well thought out and not commercial.  They are also very inexpensive to obtain.  Dollar General usually carries the mason jars wit handles for 50 cents each and Wal-Mart seems to carry a wide variety of jars also.  I know I want decaf flavored coffee for Christmas and as much if it as possible. I would love to get such a common item in a mason jar with a bow on top.  Below is simple gum balls in a mason jar (a gold foil bow looks great on top) and the whole gift cost under $1 to make.  Another photo below is Chai spices in a jar, popcorn in a jar, and hot balls in a jar.  Recipes to make gifts in jars can be found in our e-books store, but some ideas are so basic the photo says it all!

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