Last week over 800 dedicated soapers descended on Atlanta for the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild (HSCG) annual conference, making it, for one week at least, the cleanest city on earth. There’s a weird amount of passion involved in our chosen profession. For some it’s the intimate nature of soap, for some it’s the all natural aspect of it - but soap makers have an amazing passion, and it always shows in our conference.
This year’s conference was extra special for me, because I was invited to be one of the three keynote speakers – a new experience for me. The other two speakers were women I have an incredible amount of love & respect for – Charlene Simon (guild president and owner of Bathhouse Soapery) and Lela Barker (owner of Lucky Break Consulting). They are wise, wonderful, and complete ball busters. We all get along great, and I consider them my mentors. The keynote was about using focus, drive, and charisma to fuel your power. Our rehearsals laid the framework for the keynote - a loose, conversational tone where we just riffed off each other. We prepped stories, both personal and business that related to the topics, but there wasn’t any serious outline.
At the open of the conference, in front of almost a thousand people, we moved around, told our stories, and engaged the crowd. It was one of the most energizing, empowering things I’ve ever done. After the keynote, I had people come up to talk, and even to hug me, thanking me. Why thank me? One of my stories was about coming out - about being out, and how that became part of my charisma. I am Burly Stone, and Burly Stone is me. as an out gay man, that DNA is baked into the business. The crowd really responded to my honesty, and to the keynote. Man… it felt good.
That started the conference off with a bang. As for the rest of the week? There are always an amazing array of seminars & breakout sessions – there was a great session about behavioral economics, and Kevin Dunn, a Professor of Chemistry at Hampden-Sydney College always closes the week out with a hysterically informative talk. I also got some great ideas for new products – glycerin shave soaps, body sprays, and more. But most importantly, I got to hang with my peeps. I reconnected with old friends, and made lots of new ones. No joke, these are some of the nicest folks you would ever hope to meet. If you think that it’s just little old ladies swapping recipes? You’re wrong. At the end of the day, after these intensive, intensive hours long courses & seminars –there’s partying. Yes, they can, & do party. Tequila is always a favorite - it’s part of our charm.
I’m bummed I didn’t get to see much of Atlanta. With the exception of a quick side trip to the Westside Provisions District shops to get my glasses fixed (and scout potential new stores like Sid Mashburn and Peridot), I was pretty much cooped up in the Westin all week. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the great party thrown by Essential Depot, a wholesale supplier to many soapers, myself included. The party was held at the (gorgeous) Georgia Aquarium, and it was a blast. A bunch of us had too many cocktails, and wound up at Hooters at 1 am for some snacks. And a little more booze. It was a great night with great friends.
One other notable thing happened - I was elected to be on the board of directors for the guild. I don’t think that this makes me soap royalty, but it’s a great honor. I’m looking forward to helping shape the agenda for the guild for the next few years. There’s a lot going on, especially legislatively, that our customers don’t know about. I want to work to make sure that you, and my fellow soapers, are well served.
The last night is always the awards dinner and there's lots of hugging & goodbyes. I had a great time, and can't wait for the next one. We're coming for you, Dallas! You'd better start stocking Tequila now.
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