When the pandemic hit, a lot of people started turning to different hobbies that they may not have normally chosen. YouTube, for many, was the teacher. For 15-year-old Emily Diggs, it sparked an interest in a creative soap making hobby that morphed into a growing business.
Emilyâ€™s venture started during the pandemic when she was 12. Trial and error marked her first pursuit at what would become the Blacksburg-based soap business The Blacksburg Rose. â€œI went through lots of trial and error. When I finally got a bath bomb to hold its spherical shape, I was so excited,â€ her Etsy page explains.
The inspiration for the name of the business is her town combined with her middle name, Rose, which is the same as her grandmotherâ€™s middle name, serving as a special connection for them. Emilyâ€™s soaps are sold on her Etsy page and downtown at Blacksburg Books and Fringe Benefit. So far.
When Emily started, she began with four kinds of loaves of soap and soap scrubs. Three years later, she hand crafts and sells scrubs, lip balms, bath salts, bath bombs, and of course, bars of soap. Her varied flavors include iced tea, rainbow sherbet, black raspberry, lavender, pink grapefruit, vanilla and more.
A workroom in the basement is her production and storage facility. â€œEmilyâ€™s dadâ€™s work space was taken over,â€ her mom laughs. The modest-size room is an efficient place that she uses for her whole process â€“ from scratch to shipping. A large stainless steel table provides a clean surface for mixing soap solutions with her recipe posted next to the window. The generous natural daylight is supplemented by a very large, bright, circular fluorescent light. One wall has supply shelves and more workspace with a microwave. More shelves contain soaps drying or curing for 30 days, plus soaps wrapped, labeled and ready for shipping.
The multiple-step process begins when she melts the oils that are the base of her soaps. Then she combines a lye solution with the oil mixture. Using a stick blender to mix thoroughly, she pours the liquid product into bowls, where she adds colors and fragrance. The final step is pouring the soap mixture into molds like plastic loaf pans. Some of the colorful bars of soap have decorative soap icing on them, which Emily pipes on after pouring into the rectangular molds.
Emily makes soap two or three times a week in multiple batches. â€œMy favorite part of the whole process is definitely dreaming up new flavors and designing the bars,â€ Emily relates. She says that one loaf of soap takes about an hour to produce, and she usually makes eight loaves at a time. Each loaf is cut into eight bars after 18 to 24 hours in the mold, then rests for 30 days to solidify. Emily protects each final bar of soap with shrink wrap and labels them by hand.
The most challenging part of her life is balancing the business with school and competitive dance, which takes up a lot of time. Emily is a sophomore at Blacksburg High School and enjoys math, a helpful subject for dealing with sales, pricing and business side of The Blacksburg Rose.
Another difficult aspect is buying enough ingredients to keep her inventory steady while still maintaining a profit. The business conundrum is probably familiar to most entrepreneurs. Emily relates how she took a marketing class at Virginia Tech that transformed her business. â€œAt Steppinâ€™ Out, I sold as many bars as I did in half a year previously.â€ She also had a booth at Sinkland Farmsâ€™ Pumpkin Festival. Otherwise, The Blacksburg Rose sells the most products at Christmas to moms and college students. [Letâ€™s change that!]
While Emilyâ€™s soap making business is successful, itâ€™s no easy task to run it. Balancing school, activities, family life and running the logistical side of the business require a good deal of effort. Any good entrepreneur knows that a business venture does not succeed without hard work.
Emily plans to continue and expand The Blacksburg Rose. â€œI definitely would like to have my soaps sold at more shops in the New River Valley,â€ she says. Her ultimate dream is to own a storefront once sheâ€™s out of college.
What started as a messy trial and error experiment has blossomed into a growing business for one very ambitious teen. Emilyâ€™s persistence in learning, tweaking and refining her methods stands as a testament to the reward of an industrious, entrepreneurial spirit.
Text by Caitlyn Koser
Caitlyn Koser is a young fiction writer who has had many flopped business ideas and can testify to the faultiness of a rushed entrepreneurial decision. She hopes one day to make a living as an author and write Christ-centered historical fiction.