RURAL TOUCH: Margaret Hooker has been milking goats for Washpool for as long as she can remember.
RURAL TOUCH: Margaret Hooker has been milking goats for Washpool for as long as she can remember. Contrinuted

Online sales keep soap maker afloat

A TOURISM downturn has hit Ballandean's handmade soap business hard, but its popular online store is keeping the doors open.

Washpool Skin Wellness has been operated by Melissa Thomas for a decade and employs five local staff, but the ongoing drought and recent fires have kept trade away.

Mrs Thomas said two-thirds of sales usually came from visitors to the region, and locals.

"We believe we can see the impact of weather on our visitor numbers and it was apparent in the last quarter of 2018 that there was a decline in visitor numbers,” she said.

"We saw a spike at Christmas when people visited relatives for the holiday but immediately after, when people would normally be visiting the national parks, we noticed a sharp decline.

"Lack of water in the national parks and fire bans all play a part.”

Mrs Thomas said travellers visiting the store told her they felt torn between trying to support rural businesses and being a burden on water resources.

"It's not something we have any control over, so at times like this we focus on growing our online presence.”

Mrs Thomas said the store's growing online customer base alleviated the drop in trade in the physical store, but she had still been forced to cut back staff hours.

"I can't tell people to come to the Granite Belt right now because I understand that water is restricted and the countryside is not at its best,” she said.

"What I can say is that we're working hard to stay afloat and be here to make sure they have an enjoyable time visiting when things improve.

"We are incredibly grateful for our online customers because without them we simply would have closed the doors.”

Until the situation improves, Mrs Thomas is doing everything she can to keep Washpool Skin Wellness going.

"My job is to keep the business afloat so there's still a job for my staff in years to come,” she said.

"I'm keen not to let them down.”

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