Mrs Bubbles @ the Emporium is filling Larne with sweet scents and much more
A passion for bath bombs has led to a steadily expanding emporium for two Larne ladies
Kathy Foster and Emma Magill are the owners of Mrs Bubbles @ the Emporium, a business which has “exploded” from a spare bedroom into a retail outlet and a workshop.
The ladies have a shop at Riverdale in Larne and have recently opened a new unit at Inver Road in the town.
The business idea grew from Kathy’s love of bath bombs and wax melts which she used to order for her own personal use.
When friends’ interest started to “fizz”, an idea began to bubble.
Kathy said: “Other people liked the idea and asked me to buy for them too.”
Together with Emma and their skills combined, the pair who worked at Larne’s Prom Cafe at the time, decided to have a go at turning the burgeoning sales into a business.
The ladies invested £500 each and in Kathy’s spare bedroom, they set to work selling bath bombs.
“We put in £500 each. I knew it was a good idea. I turned my back bedroom into a bath bomb shop.
“It started taking over the house. It was everywhere. We did really well at Christmas.
“We got Christmas past us and took a month off.
“We had no idea about business,” admitted Kathy.
“It was getting bigger and bigger. It was snowballing. We felt it was made for us.
“We decided we needed to take on a unit, more of a storage unit. The shop was Emma’s dream.”
A move to LEDCOM in Larne followed and then the ladies had the opportunity to participate in the pop-up shop initiative run by Mid and East Antrim Borough Council at Murrayfield arcade in the run-up to Christmas.
“We had to run it as a shop. We decided nobody is going to run it as well as us. Nobody is going to look after our business as well as us or sell them as well as we sell them.
“We wanted to take it on to test if it would work.”
For the ladies, it was also a marketing opportunity to “get their name out”.
Buoyed by their success in the pop-up shop, they took the decision to open a shop at Riverdale in February 2019 after ruling out a Main Street premises due to cost.
Bath bomb sales were boosted by bath bomb making parties and novelty ideas with Emma renting a “Game of Thrones” chair which proved popular with local enthusiasts of the blockbuster series, some of whom came to the shop in full costume for selfies and a “Grinch” themed event.
“We have tried to do things to make it different like the Game of Thrones chair.
“It is nice to be able to give back and nice to do something different,” said Emma.
The ladies also enjoyed taking part in a Larne Alive parade lending to the party atmosphere with masses of bubbles.
They say they have made many friends who they are delighted to welcome to the shop again and again.
And they have found that Bubblegum-scented bath bombs are among the most popular items they currently stock.
“We want Mrs Bubbles to be an experience. We want people to come back just to enjoy the experience,” added Emma.
In March last year, with shop doors shut during lockdown, the ladies set to work on alternative ways to bring in trade.
“During Covid, we asked ourselves what people would want that would fit through a letterbox.”
With families separated and shielding during lockdown, they came up with the idea of novelty items and personalised gifts that could be posted through letterboxes to show the recipient that someone was thinking about them,
“You have to keep it fresh. You just have to learn to adapt,” says Emma.
They have also become involved in a number of collaborations with other entrepreneurs whose merchandise “complements the shop”.
With restrictions continuing to ease and the opening of their new unit, the bath bomb making parties and workshops resuming, the ladies are looking forward to a new chapter.
They have been working with a number of groups including the National Autistic Society, the Prom Friendship Group and Larne-based AEL.
“So many people are enjoying working with bath bombs from three-year-olds to a 93-year-old,” said Emma.
“It is also very good for people with autism for the sensory experience,” she added.
The ladies are now planning to produce their own bath bombs.
Brexit and difficulty in sourcing products has prompted them to “take matters into their own hands”.
“Brexit could have broken us,” admits Kathy.
“We had literally sold everything before Christmas.
“We realised the problem we were going to be in. We thought, we are going to have to start making these.”
With stock low and afraid they would “have a shop with nothing to sell”, the ladies found themselves facing barriers to sourcing stock with some items unable to be sent over from England due to customs.
“In Northern Ireland, we are being punished,” said Kathy.
However, the pair were able to source a supplier which is listed on an EU portal meaning that they could access the goodsthey needed.
Now they are planning to produce their own.
“Our goal is to manufacture for ourselves and be a wholesaler for others and employ more people in Larne,” said Emma.
“People in Larne have been very good to us, especially at Christmas.”
When it comes to stocking a new line, the ladies are so familiar with their regular customers’ tastes, they can predict items they know will prove popular.
Emma said:”We like to get to know our customers.
“We know our customers better than they know themselves.
“We would not sell anything we do not like ourselves.”