In the third story in a series celebrating the amazing things young New Zealanders do every day, a young girl’s love of soap – and owls – has become a business success story. Angela Cuming spoke to Ava Heath-Williams about her soap start-up.
At the tender age of eight, Ava Heath-Williams can already add businesswoman and philanthropist to her growing list of achievements. Ava is the boss girl of Dancing Owl Soaps, the handmade soap business she runs out of her family home in Rolleston, near Christchurch.
It was Ava’s love for owls, and a library card, that prompted the idea for her business
”I got a soap-making book out of the library,” Ava says. ”It was pretty easy and fun to make. You can create anything you can imagine. There are tonnes of cool videos on YouTube showing you how to make different things.”
Ava’s love of soap-making soon caught the attention of her family. ”I got so addicted to making soap that it was taking over our house,” she says. ”Even Grandma didn’t want any more for presents! Mum also said I had to start paying for any more ingredients myself as it was getting a bit expensive.”
In mid-2017 she used the $30 she had in the bank to launch her business. And Dancing Owl Soaps was born.
”My first stall at the Rolleston Market made $120. It was epic for a 7-year-old!”
From the stall she’s grown the business to selling online via her website and Facebook page. You can find her soap at Beyond the Faerie Tree in Rangiora, and she provides a bespoke soap service for birthdays and baby showers.
The name Dancing Owl Soaps? It came from Ava’s love for Harry Potter. ”I have a soft toy Hedwig, and lots of other owl toys that I like to pretend are my pets. I imagine them dancing and hooting as I work so the name for my soap shop seemed obvious,” she explains.
Ava uses her business as a platform for her environmental work, with profits going to support the Oxford Bird Rescue. Every month Ava donates part of her revenue to the Canterbury facility, which rehabilitates owls and offers a sanctuary for other injured and abandoned wild birds.
”Tracey and Scott at Oxford Raptor Rescue run a rehabilitation centre for little owls. ‘They don’t get paid and need money to pay for bird food, vet bills and owl houses. Dancing Owl Soaps runs different promotions to raise money for them. At the moment, every time someone buys a sweet pea scented owl, I donate $1 to Oxford Raptor Rescue,” says Ava.
Away from her sweet-smelling business world Ava is an ordinary Kiwi kid, albeit one doing amazing things. She has a younger brother Matthew (”he’s cheeky”) and she goes to the local primary school, although she says she’d rather not. ”My dream is to be home schooled because real school keeps getting in the way of my business, and they make me do PE,” she says.
”Mum says I have to go to school to hang out with other kids and to make sure I don’t do business all the time. We’re still negotiating!”
So where to from here for the pint-sized entrepreneur? Business expansion, of course. When she launched she was making 10 soaps a week; by October she was making 750.
”Each time I’ve made some profit, I’ve used it to expand my business,” Ava says. “I’ve had to buy more moulds to keep up with demand, plus soap tools, bulk packaging and storage shelves.”
As with any business, there has been the odd hiccup along the way, but Ava says it’s all part of the learning experience.
”I have disasters all the time, but they often make my business better,” she says. ”One day I mixed the soap all wrong so it set fluffy instead of smooth. That’s how I invented ‘soap buttercream’ to ice my ‘cupcakes’. I constantly try to improve my business. It’s been such a whirlwind but the owls and I are always investigating new things. We just found some cool new biodegradable cosmetic glitter because we were worried regular glitter was bad for the environment. ”
Technology has allowed Ava to run her business professionally, even though she’s young.
”It’s funny because the internet lets you run a business like an adult, even if you’re a kid at home cuddling a cat!,” Ava says. ”I do my own emails, Facebook and run my website shop. I do banking for my market stall using the bank’s automatic deposit machine. I order my supplies online. When I courier my soap to customers, I just fill in an online form to get the courier to come.
”I crack up sometimes because when people meet us in real life they often try and get Mum to answer all the business questions. They don’t realise it’s me they should be talking to!”
Ava wants other kids (and their parents) to know that starting their own small business is possible with a good idea and a bit of research. ”Everything is possible as there’s so much free information and advice available to everyone on the internet,” she says.
”I learned almost all my business and soap-making skills online. I learned coding from MIT, got business ideas from Elon Musk and discovered how you can make hydrogen to blow up your lawn. That doesn’t help with the soap, but it’s still pretty awesome! Sometimes I can’t sleep my brain is so full of ideas.”
Ava’s original goal for the business was to save enough money for a trip to Paris but, in true Ava style, that dream has already been reached.
”I’ve saved enough for a plane ticket to Paris, now I’m working on the spending money!”
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Previously in Amazing Kids:
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