Artisan soap business wins Towne Centre’s Shop Small Showdown
• By CATHY JETT THE FREE LANCE–STAR
February 4, 2020
A homegrown venture crafting bath and body products with a whimsical flair, creative packaging and a positive message beat out more than two dozen local entrepreneurs to win the Shop Small Showdown at Spotsylvania Towne Centre.
Spotsylvania County resident Margo Frazier said she and her two children are “still floating on cloud nine” after learning that their business, Lilly Bloom Artisan Soap, Body & Bath, was picked. They’ll receive six months free rent in a vacant space inside the mall, as well as marketing assistance to help get their shop off the ground. The target date for opening is April 1.
“Retail is where we wanted to be,” said Frazier, who started selling Lilly Bloom products with her son and daughter two years ago at craft fairs and online. “It was hard to make the leap; the cost is so high. This gives us a running start. This is a way for us to ramp up for six months so, hopefully, we can continue on.”
Mall owner Cafaro Co., which is headquartered in Niles, Ohio, has been holding Shop Small Showdowns as a way to encourage small, local businesses to open in its mall properties as large chains such as Sears are closing. It kicked off its first contest at the Spotsylvania Towne Center in December, and announced Lilly Bloom as the winner during a ceremony at the mall Monday.
“Small Shop Showdown is for people who have great ideas, but just need to take that last step in actually opening the door for business,” said Cafaro spokesman Joe Bell. “I’ve heard this referred to as a subdued version of ‘Shark Tank.’ ”
Frazier said the store will be run by her daughter, Sierra Frazier, 22, with help after school from her 16-year-old son Dakota. It will have the look of an old industrial warehouse, the better to contrast with their bright, cheery products. These include such fanciful creations as soaps that look like cupcakes topped with swirls of icing dotted with candy, colorful bath bombs with a surprise tucked inside, and bath washes made with essential oils and fragrances such as frankincense.
“We take just as much time focusing on the packaging as the product,” said Frazier, who handles much of the production end of the business. “That’s really important. You’re buying yourself a treat when you buy our products.”
It was a fizzy bath-time treat that launched the Atlantic Union Bank senior vice president on the path for what would become Lilly Bloom.
She said that she loved bath bombs, but didn’t want to pay retail for them. So she researched how to make her own out of natural, high-quality ingredients including shea butter, cocoa butter and vitamin E oil; and began making them in a kitchen in her basement.
“Twenty-thousand dollars later in materials, I finally learned how to make bath bombs,” she said with a laugh.
Frazier also watched a YouTube video on how to make artisan soaps, and “got the bug,” as she put it. That led to more tutorials, lots of research and a Facebook page where she could chat with 60 other soap makers in the United States, Egypt and Australia.
“We mentor each other and are really good friends and share information,” she said. “All that research kind of propelled us further along in our learning curve. That’s a really important group for me.”
Many of her creations look like frosted cupcakes that would make a cute accessory in a guest bathroom or scented cakes that can be cut at the end of a party and served as favors. She said her sister asked her once why so many of her things look so yummy, and she replied that it’s because she’s always on a diet and hungry.
“It just looks so good, and I can never eat the stuff,” Frazier said.
She also likes to include surprise elements in her products, like the skull-shaped bath bombs she made for Halloween that foam, spin and then light up once they hit water. She has others that have a bracelet inside with such positive messages as “You are beautiful just the way you are.”
“That’s what makes my products special, the surprise element,” Frazier said. “It’s like the prize in Cracker Jack. That’s what I like to do.”
She began giving away some of her creations as gifts, then decided to try craft fairs and such platforms as etsy.com to help recoup her costs and keep making things. For the name, she decided to combine her first name, which she’d never used, with Bloom because she’s “blooming my creativity.”
“I thought it was catchy,” she said. “There is a Lily Bloom Luggage, but it’s spelled differently and I’m not competing with luggage.”
Frazier said she and her children decided to enter the Shop Small Showdown because lugging boxes and boxes of soaps, lotions and candles, another item she now makes, to craft fairs; spending two hours to get everything set up and then all day selling their wares was hard work. Mail order also turned out to be a hassle.
They submitted a business plan along with photos of their products, and were among a handful selected to come in for an hourlong interview.
“We just talked about our vision and our product,” Frazier said. “We wanted to do a very good job staging the store so people have a magical experience. For our product, you have to smell it, feel it, touch it. That doesn’t translate well online.”
They were up against people pitching a variety of concepts, from massage to clothing manufacturing to personal products and several food concepts, including a café, said Bell. He said the judges were impressed, and will be working with the finalists who didn’t win to see if they can offer a space in the mall that those contestants can afford.
Gary Geramita, mall owner Cafaro’s assistant vice president for leasing, already has shown the Fraziers several spaces where they can set up shop. One is across from Starbucks and another is around the mall’s center court. Frazier said that they plan to have the slogan “Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful” stenciled on the front window, and will offer demonstrations of bath bomb making.
“This has given us a huge leg up,” Frazier said. “It’s putting us on a different level.”