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Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

Ann Marie Craig Balances Work and Family

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West Bend's Ann Marie Craig is featured in the book Country Living: The Mom's Guide to Running a Business. The owner of Century Farmhouse, which produces handcrafted artisan soaps, is among 28 women profiled in the book, regarding “everything a determined entrepreneur needs to know to successfully run her own business while raising a family.” Locally, Century Farmhouse soaps appear at the Fox Point Farmers' Market and Will Allen's Growing Power on Silver Spring Drive.

Did the business really begin in a tiny, log farmhouse your family has owned for more than 125 years? Or is that just for promotional purposes?


It sure did. It's near Big Cedar Lake—built in the 1870s, and it's been in the family ever since. My grandfather grew up there—my mother, too. Now my kids are there. But for disclosure's sake, the business has transitioned out of the house. We now have a formal place of business and expanded retail space in West Bend.

What's one thing everyone should know about soap?


It's not hard to make, but you need to be very careful. If you can bake a cake, you can make soap. But, again, you need to be very careful. The acids involved are dangerous. All hard soaps include sodium hydroxide, which is lye. All liquid soaps have potassium hydroxide. So you definitely can get chemical burns.

Have you seen
Fight Club? They make soap with stolen liposuction fat.

Heard about that—never seen the movie. Yes, it's possible. But, no, it wouldn't make good soap. Trust me on this one. You can actually make soap from any oil or fat. Commercial soap is made with petroleum. We make ours from food-grade vegetable oils—soybean, coconut, olive and nut, mostly—as well as filtered rainwater, organic teas, maple and even snow. Those are better ingredients.

You're in a book on family and business. How are they alike and dissimilar?

In both, you need to be determined. You have to be self-directed and have priorities and budgets. Goals are important. Both should be cohesive groups. They're different because as a parent you're encouraging others' creativity, and when push comes to shove—sick kid or whatever—personal things get back-burnered.

In business, you can be as creative as you want and focus on what you want and need to do—which is a slippery slope. It's very, very easy to get locked into business being more important. And there are times when it needs more attention. But family balances all priorities and perspectives. It becomes easy to say, “It's not terrifically busy. I'm closing up shop so we can do something as a family.”

Which one's harder?


Running a family. But it's also more rewarding. So many lives are dependent on you. And your influence can be felt forever.

Have you ever gotten roles twisted—fired a family member or washed employees?


It is more difficult to correct family. With kids, especially teens, you have to ask, “Is it really that important?” Whereas with employees, you can expect things will be done a certain way. And they're certainly more open than if it's your mother telling you what to do. I have never tried to wash a business associate. I've never needed to. Thank god.