Candace Alarie: “Be your own hype girl ”

Be your own hype girl — there are a million things fighting for a consumers attention today. Kids running around the house, the dog needs to be fed, endless notifications on our smartphones. It’s difficult to stand out from all the noise. It is your job as a business owner to show up for your business because […]

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Be your own hype girl — there are a million things fighting for a consumers attention today. Kids running around the house, the dog needs to be fed, endless notifications on our smartphones. It’s difficult to stand out from all the noise. It is your job as a business owner to show up for your business because nobody is going to do that for you. If you have a marketing team, they should be able to promote the brand consistently but the vision for what that messaging is needs to come from you, the owner. When someone asks you what you do in the grocery store line or at a cocktail party, present yourself positively and show off your accomplishments. You never know who will be connected to whom!

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Candace Alarie.

Candace is the owner and founder of SOAK Bath Co, an up and coming Canadian, handmade brand. Candace resigned from her ten year corporate position in March 2019 to start her handmade business and hit six figure revenues in her first six months. Candace has built her brand using the power of instagram and email marketing to connect with her audience and create a profitable business. You can find Candace’s gorgeous, luxury product line at

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’m Candace, the owner and maker of SOAK Bath Co, a Manitoba-based luxury handmade bath and body brand. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, my mom and dad have owned several local businesses throughout my life and continue to this day. Growing up I knew no other way but entrepreneurship and I knew that was the path for me, I just wasn’t sure what my business would be. After high school I hit the books and got my Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) at the Asper School of Business in Manitoba, hoping that would spark my big idea. It didn’t. I decided to test the waters and go the corporate route where I learned what it might be like to run my own business. I had a very successful career with Enterprise Holdings, working my way up from the management trainee level and resigning ten years later as Area Manager in Manitoba, Canada. The great thing about Enterprise is it promotes an entrepreneurial culture, so for a long time it satisfied my entrepreneurial drive and taught me everything I know about customer service, sales, growth, logistics and profitability. In time, I came to realize I wasn’t living my full potential and I hadn’t fulfilled that childhood dream of building my own business. I resigned in March 2019 and decided to pursue my handmade business, SOAK Bath Co, full time. When I resigned I gave myself a year. A year to see if I could make a real living from literal scratch, making soap. Turns out, I can make a living making soap.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

This will sound silly, but here’s the story. I have been making soap for a long time as a bit of a hobby. I’ve always had a thing for arts and crafts and enjoyed creating in my spare time. Years ago, I started looking into using natural ingredients to manage some of my skin conditions. I formulated some recipes that helped take care of those and got into soap making. For whatever reason, one day my brother and I were at my mom and dad’s and we decided it would be fun if I taught him how to make soap bars. So we did. The side effect of letting the creative side of my brain kick in is once I start, it’s hard to stop. We ended up making a lot of soap bars, like more than we’d all be able to use for a year. At the time, one of my employee’s friends was running a local craft fair so I asked if I’d be able to rent a table. We set up our soap booth at the craft show and to my disbelief, sold almost all those bars in one afternoon. You see up until then, I’d always kept an eye out for business opportunities because I knew I wanted to build my own business but I didn’t know the product or service I’d offer. This truly was the “aha moment.” We ended up attending two other craft shows shortly after to see what the sell through was like, in case that first one was a fluke, and I realized I could genuinely make a business from this.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The first few months of a start up are incredibly hard. No one quite tells you that, it’s not advertised on instagram and I don’t believe entrepreneurship is a common enough profession to really convey how hard the first few months are. For anyone tuning into this right now, you will face a tonne of doubt when you make the leap to build a start up! Multiple times a week I would run into proverbial walls. Potential suppliers rolling their eyes at me because I’m a nobody, so many times I was seen as not worth the time to make the small sale. People close to me wonder what in the world I gave up a six figure job for to grind this out, it’s not comprehensible to others in the early days. They don’t see the vision, but they fuelled it. I turned all the “no’s” and “don’t bother me’s” into fuel for why I’d be worth their time one day or why they would wish they’d spent the time to write up that quote a few months back. So far, that’s been just the case. I’ve discovered that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart and it is not a traditional job, a lot of people will not understand what you’re doing and won’t see the opportunity you see. It’s important to believe in yourself and pick yourself back up when you get thrown down. The quicker you get back up the easier it is to bounce back from the doubt and challenges. You eventually flex this muscle so many times that you stop giving any consideration to the doubts being thrown your way and create a space where you really start to build your vision.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Well here I am surviving, thriving and profitable through a pandemic. Although I’m tired, that’s no small feat for anyone, we’ve all been kicked around in some way shape or form. In the last few months I’ve been fortunate to land a feature in Canadian House & Home Magazine, had an order go out to the one and only Jasmine Star (with a shout out!) and have recently landed a deal with a national Canadian retail chain, The Hudson’s Bay Company. Besides that, the day-to-day has been very challenging. I don’t know a single business who doesn’t have massive supply chain problems and I’m sure we will continue to have them late into 2021. The pandemic forced me to reach out to potential customers I may not have reached out to in the past. Sales have been strong throughout the last few months with the help of an amazing instagram community. All things considered, I’ve been able to expand my business and grow my revenues month over month this year.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Well, when we were allowed to have markets and live event gatherings, I had this thing called the “Bowl of Failure.” This was a bowl of soap bars I brought to markets to sell at a discounted rate because for one reason or another the bar hadn’t turned out aesthetically or the scent didn’t come through how I wanted. So I cut up those pieces, brought the bowl to markets and at first it was called my bowl of soap ends. Until a 10 year old girl came up to my booth and asked me what was in this bowl. I proceeded to inform her it was all the soap bars that didn’t make the cut for the product line. She then replied, “so it’s like your bowl of failure?” It was so innocent and hilarious at the same time I didn’t know what to say. Since then, my instagram community will tell you that’s my bowl of failure.

I wish I had something a bit more business related to answer with on this but I don’t. I was never going to bring those soap samples out but people loved them. A way to reduce waste, test the product even though it wasn’t perfect and they really did look adorable. Moral of the story, just cause it’s not perfect in your eyes, doesn’t mean someone else won’t find value in it.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My business stands out because of two things. My branding is exceptional, everything from colours to photos, copyright, social media and the final product. It tells a beautiful, cohesive story. When a customer lands on my page or finds my product on a shelf, they know who’s product it is. I’ve built a highly engaged social media following on Instagram. My audience can expect to see the highs and lows of running a business on any given day. I show up on video on Instagram every day and I think that in itself sets me apart from my competitors. Owners are still afraid to put themselves on video which I think comes down to confidence issues and not knowing what to say. I had the same issues early on but as I practiced more and more I got more comfortable in the uncomfortable. Now hoping onto an insta story to show my process is second nature and I truly love engaging with my Instagram community. Second, my product is exceptional. Enough said.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

It’s really important to take the time to train your team members so they understand what to do and what is expected of them. Then delegate that task and empower your employees to make it their own. It’s important to have feedback systems in place to ensure tasks are getting done and done well but micromanaging every task in your business is going to burn you out (and make your employees unhappy)! Many times we think things need to be done “our way” and that’s the best way but often times a different perspective brings about more efficient ways of completing a task. Empower your employees, listen to their feedback and be willing to give guidance along the way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Can I pick two people? I am so grateful for the help and support of my mom and dad. They’ve set an example for me to follow since I was young, that it’s important to work hard and strive for the things you want. Both have been immensely helpful throughout my start up. Mom has been working full time for me from the start of the business. She makes our luxurious bath bombs and makes them way better than I do! I truly wouldn’t have half my product line without her help and she crafts some of our best sellers. Dad helps with order deliveries to local shops and in the midst of busy season, every second counts. Having someone to help with that is incredible! He’s also typically on the lookout for ways I may be able to increase my capacity with minimal overhead costs, having the extra set of eyes and ears out there is incredibly helpful.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

There are more businesses leaning heavily into social media to engage with and find new audiences. I see more business owners finding the courage to go live on their Facebook or Instagram accounts to help create more authentic experiences with their audiences. The live aspect creates a greater form of connection than simply a static post. More businesses are creating engaging content on their social media, like doing video stories versus static posts.

I think more of us are willing to look at new platforms to find new customers as well. Where some may have been resistant to get onto TikTok for example, we’re more willing to try something new in the hopes that it’s where our customers are at.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Remain authentic to yourself, your brand, your mission. We live in a world where it’s tough to come up with something genuinely authentic and new. I can think of ten different soap brands at the moment and when it comes down to the nitty gritty function, each soap bar does the same thing but the brand experience with each business is entirely different. How we’re able to differentiate is with our branding, messaging and how the customer experiences our brand at every touch point. My advice would be to get clear on your mission and stay true to your voice. People buy from people, and if that wasn’t the case pre-covid it’s certainly the case now. Use your voice and stay true to your voice, because nobody will be able to take that away from you.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Many make the assumption that, “if you build it, they will come.” When you’re just starting and you don’t know what to expect from the online world you may be inclined to think, well I’ll just build a website and people from all over the world will start buying from me! Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If it were, everyone would truly be doing this. When your website goes live, people don’t just discover you, in fact if you don’t tell anyone, it’s perfectly normal for no one to discover it. You have to create the traffic sources, find the audiences and direct them to your website.

Another common mistake I see is business owners think a single post on instagram or facebook means the whole world knows about their sale or promotion. The reality is social media platforms are managing so many users, that the algorithms are choosing which posts get seen by whom. This ends up being a very small percentage of your audience. If you make a static post to your feed, it’s likely only 2% of your audience is seeing it. If you created a insta story about this same promotion, a few more people might see it but not everyone sees or understands it. It’s important to promote yourself over and over again to ensure you’re getting your message to as many people as possible. It’s important to diversify your marketing strategy to include social media, email marketing, collaborations and even dive into ads to maximize the exposure of your brand to as many people as possible.

The other common misconception I see from business owners is they think consumers will instantly understand what they sell. Owners assume that consumers will understand every aspect of the product or every aspect of the sale or promotion that’s running. It’s simply not the case. As owners, we eat, sleep and breathe our business so it’s easy to fall into that trap. However, your consumer does not lie awake at night obsessing about your business. It’s important to be consistent at repeating your promotion or your product benefits because you can never be sure what part of the customer journey your audience is finding you. Maybe they’ve just discovered you, maybe they’ve followed you for years. It’s important to reiterate your selling points consistently to ensure the customer really understands what you have to offer.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

It takes a lot of time and energy to build a loyal audience. Many will think you just woke up one day running a successful business.I spend upwards of 50 hours a week simply creating content for my Instagram account, responding to DMs, creating Instagram videos for stories, reels and IGTV. I choose to invest this time in the platform because it creates a high level of trust and engagement with my core audience and allows me to drive traffic to my email list and eventually to my website to drive higher than average conversions. A customer that lands on my website from Instagram is ready to purchase because we’ve spent so much time building trust on Instagram that the website simply acts as a checkout. My website doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting in terms of sales when a customer has landed there through instagram. It takes time however to build this level of trust and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

If it’s not clear yet, a website is almost a prerequisite in today’s economy. If you’re looking to build and scale an Ecommerce store then go straight to Shopify. They are built for product entrepreneurs and have the capability to grow with your brand without having to go build yourself something completely custom. If you’re looking to dabble with creating a small handmade brand and a little extra income on the side, something like Etsy is a great start as it already has a built in audience.

Social media is still effective in it’s free forms. Meaning, you don’t have to pay for ads, yet, to build a highly engaged social media audience on most of the platforms. Find out where your customer resides, where do they like to interact and start building your presence there.

Get yourself an email service provider and start collecting customer email addresses. There are great options that are entirely free to start off with and you’re able to switch easily as your list grows. An email service provider gives you a direct line of communication to your customer. You are not at the mercy of algorithm changes, ads being favoured or having to post something at just the right time. It’s one of the most effective, direct modes of communication with your customer.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

Build trust with your customer from the beginning. When you’re creating your sales funnel, in my case it’s instagram, use this as a space to create likability and trust with your customer. Give them a peak at who you are as a person, a boss and why you’re doing this in the first place. People buy from people, so show them who they’re supporting by purchasing from you. This will take down consumer defences as it relates to price or competitive options because in the end, they’ve already decided they want to support you.

Your website should tell your brand story, it should evoke an emotion through photography and copyrighting. Do the photos on your website portray how the customer will feel to have your item in their home? Does your copy reassure the consumer this is the right choice for them? That it will bring them joy or solve the problem they need a solution to? In today’s age it is worthwhile to invest in great photography as that’s often what is primarily selling your product.

Is your website easy to navigate? Are there obstacles to having consumers hit the buy button and check out? Every obstacle to checking out is an increased chance for an abandoned cart. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and has clear calls to action. Do yourself a big favour and check your website layout on a desktop computer, a tablet and your smartphone to ensure it’s easy to use in all aspects. More and more customers are buying from their phones and it’s often overlooked to ensure that customer experience is great there too.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

I love this question, it’s definitely been my “secret” to success! Don’t be afraid to let your audience in on the day to day of running your business. Share the great, good and the bad, it builds trust and let’s consumers know you are a human trying to make this work out in the world! People want to be in on your mission, they want to see you succeed. Showing the day to day of running your business is a great way to make that happen!

Second, when stuff hits the fan… do the right thing. Your actions speak louder than words so if you mess up, fess up and make it right. Although it may cost you more money in the moment (that’s usually what it comes down to) you are showing a customer how you value their business and in turn show others how they may be treated if something goes awry.

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

I’ll be honest, a positive review is just about the most incredible thing a customer could do for my business. Sometimes almost better than an actual sale. So when the reverse happens, it’s normal to take it personally and get defensive right away. I think it’s important to take a breath and not respond with the first thing that comes to mind as generally that’s charged with a lot of negativity. It’s important to respond in a timely manner. However negative or unfair the review portrays your brand you have to approach it with the idea that there may be some validity to the comment. Are we as humans 100% perfect all the time? No. Neither are brands, in fact there is a lot of room for miscommunication in a business and something will inevitably fall through the cracks at times. It may give you an opportunity to look at your systems and communication channels to help eliminate the negative experience for others in the long run. Remember that people come to us with all types of experiences in life that we don’t know about. Something that may seem entirely acceptable to you may not be for the next person and you may be on the receiving end of someone’s really bad day.

It’s important to publicly acknowledge the comment and concern to show that as a brand you care about the customer’s experience. Then follow it up with a direct email or phone call to the customer who’s left the negative review.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

Show up — Easier said than done. Just because we can run our businesses on the internet in today’s age doesn’t mean you get to hide behind a computer desk all day, or retreat to the shipping department never to be seen again. Consumers want to see who they’re supporting, they want to get to know you and know your story. That means you’ve got to get your face up in front of your audience. If that’s social media, which it should be, turn on that video function. No one cares about your flaws as much as you’re stressing out about them! They just want to meet you and get to know you. Get comfortable in the uncomfortable. As the CEO of your business, you’re the voice, the vision and the brand so you’ve got to show up for your people!

Be your own hype girl — there are a million things fighting for a consumers attention today. Kids running around the house, the dog needs to be fed, endless notifications on our smartphones. It’s difficult to stand out from all the noise. It is your job as a business owner to show up for your business because nobody is going to do that for you. If you have a marketing team, they should be able to promote the brand consistently but the vision for what that messaging is needs to come from you, the owner. When someone asks you what you do in the grocery store line or at a cocktail party, present yourself positively and show off your accomplishments. You never know who will be connected to whom!

Social Media — If it’s not evident from the interview already, I highly recommend using the power of social media to create an audience for your brand. It can be any of the platforms but make sure you understand who your customer is, where they hang out and what kind of content they may like to interact with and choose the most appropriate platform. You should also understand how to monetize the efforts you’re putting into the social platform. For example, if your target audience is an 18–25 year old female that’s interested in a beautiful, sustainable brand and is trying to figure out how to keep her plant babies alive, don’t pick Twitter. Something like that does well on Instagram where you can create a beautiful photo, informational videos with IGTV or insta stories and show her what your brand has to offer. Understand the customer then find them where they’re at.

Email Marketing — Email marketing is a great way to cut through the noise and distractions that come with social media. It’s a direct line of communication to your customer and a way for you to get your point across in a quick, succinct manner. If you’re not already building an email marketing list, what are you waiting for?! As social media platforms gain more and more followers you’ll only be competing with more and more product businesses and ads. Being able to communicate with your customer via email is a great way to communicate with your core audience.

Website ease of use — it’s important for your website to be easy to navigate and user friendly. Can the customer find everything quickly, is it well laid out to understand how to purchase? Every obstacle you put in front of a customer while visiting your website is going to be a reason for an abandoned cart. People are busy today so if they need to spend time figuring out how to buy from you, I guarantee it will be easier for them not to hit the pay now button. When your website is up and running, test its usability on a desktop, tablet and mobile device. More customers are buying on their smartphones than ever so make sure it’s as user friendly on that little screen as it is on the wide screen.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Just be kind. Give each other some grace. The world has been put through a lot of stress this year and its evident in the amount of proverbial baggage that is brought to social media platforms. People are hurting, different people have gone through varying experiences. Social media is such a fantastic tool from a marketing stand point but it can ignite negativity in an instant. Everyone has an opinion and everyone now has a space to share it (on social). I’d love it if it were more common to comment on the positive things about a person than the negative. It starts with each person choosing to focus on the positive.

How can our readers further follow you online?

You will find me on instagram @cksoakbathco on a daily basis, just check my stories, I’ll be there! Or you can visit my website at www.cksoakbathco.comto learn more about the brand!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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