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How To Get The Best Currency Exchange Rates When Transacting With PayPal

Okay, this isn’t related to soap at all–but I hope it will be useful for those of you out there who purchase things online and have to pay using foreign currency.

I learned something new today: when paying for a bill in a foreign currency using Paypal, you can choose between using

  1. Paypal’s currency conversion rate, or
  2. your credit card issuer’s rate.

I called up my bank, and they told me that their credit card follows Visa’s International Exchange Rates, plus a 1% transaction fee. After a quick run on Visa’s site, I found that it was better to select my credit card’s currency conversion rate over Paypal’s. Bear in mind though, that the final rate may differ slightly, because the actual transaction date may be later than the day you got the indicative rate for.

I also discovered that I saved paying an extra 9% of the invoice by opting to transact in my supplier’s home country currency, instead of their USD-based invoice. This was also after comparing rates. (I don’t know if there are instances where the reverse happens, but I would imagine that it could.)

This took me a couple of hours to do (because I was working at home, and my kids are on a short school break), but it saved me several hundred ringgit.

Lesson learned: it’s worthwhile spending time making comparisons – at least for big ticket purchases.

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Of Surfing And Getting Out Of One’s Comfort Zone

michelle's diary entries for Jan 2017

I was just about to write “Happy New Year” to start this blogpost… and then realised that it’s already February 5th. I’m late, as usual…! :p

Last year, I very briefly met Tony Meloto, who is the founder of Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in the Philippines. You really should take the time to read about what they do and why they do it–it’s pretty inspiring stuff. They were going to run their 4th Social Business Summit from January 20th till 22nd. It sounded interesting (because I had no idea what social entrepreneurships were all about, or how they are run), so I decided to go.

Here’s the rub: I’ve never been to the Philippines. I don’t know anyone there. I’ve never travelled solo.

I also have a weird fear of getting into airplanes.

I could either a) be afraid of all the unknowns present in this situation, and stay ‘safe’ or b) do all the necessary planning, and trust that everything will eventually turn out fine.

No prizes for guessing which route I took. :p

I did my budgeting, browsed through Airbnb, wrote some emails and booked my flights. Thinking of making the most of the trip to a new country, I was going to spend 8 days learning how to surf on a tiny island off Mindanao called Siargao, then fly over to Luzon to attend the Social Business Summit at GK Enchanted Farm. All on my own.

It was the most life-changing 13 days I’ve had to date.

disembarking our twin turbo prop airplane at Siargao

There were many situations where it was a lot better that I did not know what to expect. For instance, the fact that I would be arriving in typhoon season for the Philippines (a deadly one had just passed through Manila over Christmas), or that the only way for our plane to land in Siargao was by sight–if it was too foggy (as it often was, over that island), the plane would have to turn back for Cebu.

I was also presented with several occasions where I literally had to suspend what I thought to be my better judgement. One of them was when I got stuck in Cebu’s horrible lunch hour traffic snarl, with just 45 minutes left to my gate closing for the one and only flight to Siargao–and all the taxis passing by my pickup point were occupied. Just as I was about to give up on public transport and entertain the scenario of waiting for the next flight the following day, a toothy old man walked up to me with an oustretched arm holding a spare helmet, gestured to his beat up motorcycle and said that he could get me to the airport in time for 120 pesos, “No problem!”.

I had a suitcase, a backpack and my handbag on me. I looked at the motorbike, and the ratty helmet.

I needed to catch that plane.

So I popped on the funky smelling helmet and off we went, my luggage squeezed between us, one hand balancing my handbag on top of said luggage, the other clutching the seat tightly. We were getting damp from the rain. Zigzagging for 20 minutes in between lorries, cars and vans, which were just inches away from us at times.

As I tumbled off the motorbike at the airport with the silliest grin on my face (I imagined), I thanked the man profusely, and vowed never again to give only 2 hours’s traveling time to any airport from then on.

This was also the first time I became that crazy passenger you may have spotted at the airport, running full pelt past the check-in counters and desperately searching for her boarding gate.

view of the sea from Pesangan beach

It rained almost every day I was there. It wasn’t torrential, but enough to get you soaking wet if you stayed out for more than 5 minutes. But it did make the one or two days (and the hours in between showers) where the sun burst through the clouds – absolutely glorious.

cockfighting entrant, Magpupungko rock pool, Pesangan, an outrigger

For 8 days I was surfing, exploring some parts of the island on foot, others by motorbike or habal habal, catching up with some reading, and just relaxing, taking in the sights and observing people.

I got caught underwater, at times almost breathless, when the whitewash kept crashing into me and my surfboard, making me bump and scrape my legs on the reef; ate an entire breakfast from fresh coconuts that my instructor and his brothers tossed out from the trees they had climbed, just after we paddled exhausted to the shore; sped down roads on the back of motorbikes while being stung by the rain; and saw vibrant rainbows against the backdrop of a heavy, blue-gray sky.

Every one of these experiences made simple things like having a warm plate of rice in front of me (and the realisation that I was still breathing!) feel like something to be so grateful for.

When I finally had to say goodbye to the island and the lovely new friends I made there, I thought I would miss my new routine too much to fully appreciate the conference I was going to in Bulacan, two hours out from Manila. Thankfully however, I was wrong.

At Gawad Kalinga, I met yet more wonderful people, heard inspiring stories from young Filipinos who were determined to lead their families and communities out of poverty by learning how to be effective entrepreneurs, and had the chance to roam around a fully working farm.

By the time I got on my 5th and final flight that would take me home, I felt like some old parts of me had been slowly, lovingly taken away–to be replaced with new perspectives, ideas and beliefs. All thanks to the myriad of mini adventures, as well as some very interesting people I had the good fortune of connecting with in my brief jaunt in the Philippines.

I was charmed by how happy most of the locals were, despite clearly being financially poor. Both in Siargao and Gawad Kalinga, the community was tight, and practically everyone knew each other by name. They made genuine connections amongst each other. They were contented, and had everything they needed. The land and sea provided for them, as long as they continued to nurture and protect it.

It was clear, however, that modern consumerism was catching on, as evidenced by what the little sundry shops were stocking up on (junk food, mass made clothing and toiletries, english TV dramas etc). There were many new concrete buildings being erected along the single main road that ran along the eastern coastline, and I fear that if ever I came back to Siargao, the island would have lost some of its backwater charm to loud, touristy establishments. I hope I will be wrong about this too.

It also gave me some fresh ideas for Kinder Soaps, in terms of what we should be focusing on, new products and the like. As much as I relished the quiet downtime while abroad, I was quite glad to touch down in KL so I could get back into the swing of things at work again. And I was beginning to really miss my family too!

All in all, January has been surprisingly enriching. It makes me feel like it’s just the beginning of a very eventful year to come, and I will need to somehow muster the discipline daily to keep my shoulder to the wheel… especially when times get tough (which they will).

May you be blessed with the mental and emotional fortitude to make 2017 your year. Hugs from me. 🙂

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Ramping Up Production

I wish I could say it was for our own products, but lately we’ve found ourselves spending much more time making soaps and body care products for other companies. Take this for instance:

161F1242-05DD-43F4-B3B2-3561D3072166

That’s just over a thousand bars of soap for one client. We have another order for 1,350 bars of soap to get through in the next few days.

breastmilk soap

These were made for a client who sent in her leftover frozen breastmilk (thank you goget.my for your terrific, careful service to collect them from her!), to be turned into soap. Scented with patchouli and french lavender essential oils–I hope she loves them. 🙂

deodorant

This was the most amusing repeat order–deodorant! We’ve had one client send in 3 orders for 100 tubes each time, all in the span of 4 weeks. I never realised how hot the demand is for such a product. I guess her formulation is really effective.

amenities kit

Then there was the two crazy weeks that I spent trying to whip up a line of products for an amenities kit to pitch for a big client. Still no word from the actual person in charge after I handed over the samples, but the experience that I gained over that period, working with the middle man to continually refine the products, was priceless in itself.

Just so you know – there was NO WAY I could do this all on my own! Thankfully our Sunshines have all been working together to push these orders out the door, and we also have another new production staff coming in several days a week to help me make all these things. Learning to trust other people to pick up a task and run with it (and do it well) is still something I have to struggle with on a daily basis, but I have been blessed with extremely capable people working with me, which makes it so much easier. 🙂

Oh and one more thing:

NASAM Food and Fun Fair 2015. Image credit: Because.my

 

(image credit: Because.my)

This is why we have so little stock left on the shelves! On June 13th we participated in the NASAM’s (National Stroke Association of Malaysia) Annual Food and Fun Fair at Taman Jaya, and raked in a whopping RM4,900 in sales. We committed 30% of all takings that day to be channeled directly to NASAM to support their continuous efforts to educated the public about stroke, and doing all they can to give strokees and their families a better shot at leading a normal life. Thank you for your fantastic support!

Right… so now it’s back to pouring our own soaps to restock our shelves! We’re really sorry if we’ve run out of your favourites. Hang in there, and we’ll be putting up notices about Curing Completion Dates soon.

In the meantime, have yourselves a pleasant week. 😀

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WAY Outside My Comfort Zone

soap column

Do you remember the feeling you get when you say “Yes” to something that you’ve never done before?

That initial wave of euphoria, followed by a weird, cold sensation at the pit of your stomach that comes from knowing that you’re about to embark on something unknown and unfamiliar.

I’ve been feeling that quite often lately. Mostly because I’ve been taking on OEM / private label orders, and having to get used to working with formulations that are from other parties.

I had one corporate customer whose 720-bar order I repeated twice at my own expense, because I wasn’t familiar the customised soap molds that were required for the job, and the resulting soap bars were either too small, got stuck in the molds, or ashed over so badly that they had to be rejected. Not only that, the card boxes meant for the soap bars refused to work with the double sided tape we were using, and only later were we advised to use a hot glue gun by the client. Four of our staff worked over 3 days to get the job done–and all that hard work was for nought.

It’s easy to get sidelined by the proverbial wrenches that get thrown into the works… But I count myself extremely lucky to have a great team of people working with me at the studio and the shop, and I believe that we are all trying to deliver professional results to everyone we come into contact with. Plus there is also the fun side to bootstrapping, doing all that you can with everything you’ve got.

Case in point:

soap column

We’ve been so busy churning out batch after batch of soap, that we ran out of curing racks–so we made do by stacking these 4 batches of Tangy Lavender we made for a wedding in a circular column on the floor instead. I’ve always wanted to make one of these! Now we had the perfect reason to. 🙂 The air circulation for a column like this is much better compared to the narrow spaces on a curing rack, so hopefully this means that the soap bars will dry out a little faster than expected. It is by no means an original idea (look up for soapmakers from the Aleppo region–they have been making soap for the past 600 years, and stacking their soaps this way), and the folks from the GMP division may raise an eyebrow at the sight, but it does the job.

Now I have another 1,300 bars to make by the end of this week to meet a looming deadline, a shipment of balm tubes that have mysteriously gone missing to track down, and various administrative issues to grapple with (inventory management systems are elusive, yet scary!).

I feel my limits being tested with all this busy-ness, yet I am grateful for these opportunities to learn, and to be stronger. Mistakes trip you up, and you can fall spectacularly for all and sundry to see–but what counts more than the embarrassment of failure is the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (listen to the video below – Diana Krall says this best!) 😉

Have a terrific week ahead everyone!

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Kicking Back A Bit…

It’s been almost 3 weeks since our family helper went home for a well deserved break, and to spend time with her family. The change of pace and routine wasn’t entirely unexpected (we’ve done this for several years now) – but I must admit that it’s nice to have a bit of a forced break from work myself and focus more on the kids’ daily needs.

Gearing up for a frenetic week starting Monday. In the meantime I’m slowing down (a lot!) so I don’t inadvertently rush the family through their days just so I can get work done. Some days I feel so frazzled, grumpy and worn out. On others, indescribably psyched and happy. I look forward to a bit more balance once I can get some decent nights’ sleep again.

There will always be work – but children will only be young once.

Lionel and me

(My younger brother and me, when he was 3 or 4, I think…)

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Raising Prices on February 15th 2015

Hey everyone,

We held out for as long as we could–but now we really must move with the rising costs of pretty much everything (ingredients, transport, wages) that have already come to pass in the last 6 months. The events that have a major bearing on our finances are firstly the USD-MYR exchange rate, and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by the Malaysian government starting April 1st 2015.

We import most of our ingredients, which are produced in the US, Europe and Australia, so we aren’t new to the effects of exchange rate movements. However the latest trend in the USD-MYR exchange rate, which is expected to hit RM3.78 to a dollar for most of this year, has pretty much broken out of our comfort zone in terms of the amount of extra costs we can absorb without hurting our bottom line.

As for the GST, we will be bearing the costs of GST just as an end consumer would. I personally feel that our company is not ready, or big enough, to charge for GST and claim tax credits at the moment. This may change in time, of course.

So from February 15th onwards, the prices of most of our items will increase by about 10%. Most notably, our soap bars will retail for RM22 per bar instead of RM20 (but there will be a way for you to still enjoy our old soap prices–more on that soon!).

We’re really sorry that we have to do this, but it is necessary–because we want to maintain the high level of quality that you have come to expect of our products and service. Thank you for sticking with us all these years, and we hope that we’ll be well equipped to continue delighting you in the future.

As always, you can get in touch with us at ask@kindersoaps.com if you have any questions or constructive feedback.

Take care and have a terrific week ahead!

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Of Missing Equipment and Christmas

Day 74 of studio renovation – I’m making soap again! However it took me a bit of a while to really get back into the saddle with production, because I discovered that some of my tools were missing. My laser thermometer gun, some paint buckets, screwdrivers, a really nice hand truck and my favourite blender motor were all gone.

At first I put it down to me just being absent-minded and not being able to locate them in all the chaos–but now that I have unpacked everything and put all the furniture in place, it’s clear that they were purposefully taken. It’s hard to imagine how a thermometer gun could have singularly fallen out of a drawer that was carefully stowed away, nor a hand truck removed by accident.

I actually sat at my desk and shed tears. I really, really liked that stick blender (it was easier to make smooth soap without air bubbles), and I thought I worked hard for it.

It wasn’t the actual loss of items that was bothering me, but more of the sense of having your trust betrayed. It never occurred to me that someone would actually rifle through my things. Throughout the renovation period, I would pop by upstairs, say hello to the workers and ask if everything was ok, and if they needed anything extra that I could help with. I wanted them to know that I was grateful for their efforts.

Logically, I should ask for  compensation from our contractor for the lost items. When I told him about it, he promptly offered to pay for the replacements, I just needed to send him the bills.

But this doesn’t strike me as the right thing to do.

Let’s be honest–a big part of the reason how I can afford to undertake this massive renovation is because it was affordable. Kinder Soaps doesn’t make a huge amount of money. It’s enough for us to get by, and to grow gradually. So for us to be able to afford this project is a huge blessing.

Unfortunately, it also brings to light that most of the workers, especially the ones who were foreigners, are probably underpaid. Which could be why they even considered pilfering in the first place (I’m convinced that NOBODY would automatically want to do bad things to anyone, given the right circumstances).

I had the option of leaving the studio space when the smell of turpentine was overwhelming. They did not. I covered my nose and eyes while they sawed, drilled and hammered at walls, breathing in fine dust. I stayed for a few minutes–they stayed for days.

All I had to do was cough up enough cash, and through their physical efforts and expertise, they gave me this:

curing area(This is the curing area)

hallway in Kinder Soaps studio(the hallway, looking out from the back of the studio)

Mixing Room at Kinder Soaps studio(the mixing room)

It’s a really wonderful space to work in. I couldn’t be happier with it. And it’s because of their sheer hard work that I have the privilege to call this workshop our home.

So I have decided not to take up my contractor’s offer to reimburse me for the lost items. I can afford to pay for it on my own, even if it’s at a later date.

Instead, I have gone ahead to prepare a box of soap to be distributed to all of his workers (and for himself) as a Christmas gift. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation for all of their hard work and diligence. I wonder if any of them have ever received Christmas gifts before.

soap in box

Boxed soap for contractor

I hope that whoever has my equipment will put them to good use, and maybe in some way, help them along in getting to a better place in life.

Now this – this makes sense as my personal response to this situation, and I feel happier for it. 🙂

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Merry Christmas everyone, and have a fantastic new year!

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Studio Renovation Day 13

studio sans partitions
Goodness, do I really have ALL that space?

 

We’re almost 2 weeks into the studio renovation now. The carpeting and vinyl tiles were stripped within a day, then my contractor and I spent an afternoon marking the intended positions of all the room partitions using a pretty nifty little tool that looks quite similar to this:

Taut line ink marker

It works by pulling a string that’s wound in a spool, through the round chamber that is filled with ink, holding it taught on the ground over the straight line that you want to mark, and then snapping the taut line against the floor, thereby leaving a nice straight line in ink on the surface. To prep it for the next use, the string is simply wound back onto the spool using a little crank on the side of the box. This was completely new to me, so I was quite happy to keep playing with it by helping to mark the rooms!

A few days later the carpenter came and took all the necessary measurements for the partitions and doors, and very confidently told me he would be back in 2 days (i.e. that very Saturday) to begin installing the partitions. And he really did begin work on time:

141019 partition frames

By Sunday morning most of the frames for the rooms were installed. Notice that quite a lot of my stuff is still in the studio–I feel a bit bad for making the workers have to manoeuvre around them and also shift the really heavy stuff all over the floor as they complete different jobs in stages, but I didn’t really have any other reasonable alternative for storage.

I also discovered some (hopefully) unintentional ‘line art’:

photo 4

I made sure that the contractor was alerted to this, and that all wiring must be done in lines that are either parallel or perpendicular to the floor. Still – seeing this crazy thing made me laugh. :p

Now the rooms look more or less like this:

141023 rooms

That’s the washing up room on the left, the weighing and dispensing room to the right, and the mixing and moulding room closest to you on the right. Plastering is being done to smooth out the surfaces of the gypsum boards, and sockets are being added to the walls.

And what did we do about the packaging room, to which I wanted to allow as easy an access as possible? Instead of sliding partitions / doors which would have cost a bomb, my contractor suggested installing double doors instead:

141023 packaging room

They can swing open flat against the partitions, which affords a nice open feel to a room that would have otherwise been really cramped (half the space will be occupied by our shrink wrapping machine). Same function for one fifth of the original price. Sweet!

I’ve bought 18 pendant light fixtures for the electrician to install. Looking forward to my next visit this coming week. 🙂

 

 

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We’ve raised USD3,490 from our Indiegogo Campaign

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 8.52.55 AM…or about 11% of our target USD30,000. All things considered (including the minimal amount of publicity we worked towards), I think we did okay. 🙂 Now it’s back to ironing out details of our renovation work, which we intend to begin on October 1st.

Finalizing details

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this campaign in one way or other, whether directly through the campaign page on Indiegogo or by buying our products directly through our website and retail shop. I’ve been so caught up with production work, handling some new potential corporate clients and of course being with the children, that I haven’t found time to write as much as I want to here. Time management isn’t one of my stronger suits. :”) But I’m trying really hard to improve on that.

Wishing you all a productive day ahead, and a very pleasant, restorative weekend. Virtual hugs from me.