PJ Jonas, her husband, Jim, and their eight adorable children all share one passion. They like making soap – goat milk soap to be precise.
What started out as a couple of goats and a unique hobby quickly turned into a full-fledged, reputable business. Read on to hear PJ’s story and her thoughts on what it takes to manage a successful, family-run online business.
Q: How did you go from selling soap at home to being featured on the “TODAY” Show?
A: It was always my goal for Goat Milk Stuff to be primarily an online retail business. One of the first things that we did was to put up a website that could process payments. The trick, of course, was encouraging people to actually visit the GoatMilkStuff.com website. We began participating in craft fairs and festivals as a way of making sales and generating interest. During one of these craft fairs that was organized by a high school baseball team, one of the baseball moms brought around donuts to the vendors, and my children were very excited about them. They started to tell this woman all about our soap and our goats and what we did. After talking with the children, she turned to me and told me that she was a local television anchor for an ABC affiliate and asked if she could interview us. That was our first television interview and our other appearances all grew from there.
Q: What are the top three things you wish you knew before you started your business?
A: For one – how hard growth could be. I had no idea when we started that growing would be so difficult and would require so much extra cash flow. If I had realized that, I don’t think I’d have changed anything, but I would have been better prepared and not have been taken so much by surprise.
Secondly, I wish I had known how time-consuming paperwork and regulation can be. Making goat milk soap and selling it is the easy and fun part for me. I had no idea how much time it would take to research all the regulations and stay current on all the paperwork involved with taxes, employees and running a business. Working with Endicia to help us with the U.S. Postal Service interface has saved a lot of the time and hassle associated with the dynamics of online shipping.
I also learned that not everyone is meant to be your customer. In the beginning, I tried to please everyone and make every special request people asked for. There is a fine line between providing excellent customer service and straying outside of your business model and core strength. If I had realized this sooner, I would have said, “no” more at the beginning so the precedent hadn’t been set.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced as your business started expanding? How did you overcome them?
A: Space was our biggest challenge. We had never dreamed that Goat Milk Stuff would reach the size it has reached so fast. We quickly outgrew our existing soaproom and went searching for a new location. We found the “perfect” spot. But because of regulations and small-town politics, it took two years before we were able to build and move in.
We were also severely limited in the new products we could roll out during this time, so I tried to keep my customers excited about the fact that we were building (albeit slowly), and once the new soaproom was ready, we would be able to supply them with new products and scents.
Q: What is the best thing about owning your own e-commerce business?
A: The absolute best part about Goat Milk Stuff is being able to work with my family. Because we are an online business, we have a lot of flexibility. We are able to get our work done and still have time to homeschool our children and do all of our farm chores. I can schedule things in advance and appear as if I am present at all times, without actually having to be.
Q: A lot of people try to separate their work life from their family life. What do you think people can learn from working with their family?
A: We don’t segment our lives. We teach our children that work will always be a part of life, and if you can find work that you enjoy and that helps people, it’s the best kind of work. And if you can do it with the family that you love around you, it doesn’t get much better than that. There are times we irritate or annoy each other, but it gives us a chance to learn how to communicate better and resolve conflict. We’re building a huge foundation of shared memories that continues to make us a stronger family unit.
Q: Where do you see your business five years from now?
A: Within five years, I believe Goat Milk Stuff will have expanded into food products. We would like to be able to offer our customers products like goat milk fudge, goat milk caramel and goat milk cheese. I believe that we will still be primarily Internet-based and direct to consumer. Being online helps people all over the world to understand more about farm life and family business, and I don’t wish to give that up by going mainly through wholesale accounts. GoatMilkStuff.com will be a more comprehensive resource for all the goodness of goat milk in even more stuff!