Small Business Success - The White Candle Company
Jo Kendrick launched The White Candle Company at the end of 2013, after attending a candle making workshop in the summer. 6 years later, Jo now offers her own candle making workshops and has done so successfully for the past 3 years. Here she tells us about her journey.
What inspired you to start making candles?
Having had the most beautiful large candle bought for me for an anniversary present (which was all gone too quickly), I was eager to be able to find a way of refilling it. By chance, there was a special offer of a workshop with Prince Charles' candle maker in London, so I booked this and immediately fell in love with candle making! Sadly, the course wasn't quite as I was expecting, focusing primarily on paraffin and moulded candles, but it was a great insight and James, who taught me, has been, and still is, a great help when things go wrong - which, 6 years later, they often still do!
Have you faced many challenges over the years? How did you overcome these?
I seem to face new challenges every year, with 2019 being one of the hardest... although the year CLP came into force was high up there! As any business grows, space becomes a huge issue - this is still my nemesis, even now. It's very easy to charge ahead, offering more and more products and that's certainly a mistake I've made. With more products, comes more supplies needed. With more supplies, comes more storage... it goes on and on! I started from my kitchen table, moved into a converted garage and then into my current workshop which also has a shop attached to it and a Tea Room below... but even now, my stock is kept elsewhere and I find it frustrating that so much of my time is still spent going to and fro, particularly when I'm trying to pack up for a market. I'd love to find premises large enough to have it all under one roof.
I find this time of year a particular challenge, so much money has to go into Christmas supplies. Because of how I choose to trade, I actually take 70% of my annual income in November and December - I need a lot of stock! I've always been quite organised and my Christmas stock is usually made from April onwards. This year, due to personal circumstances and two broken ribs, I seem to be further behind than ever. I've usually made at least 2000 candles by now and this year, as I type, I've now managed to make 48! I have a long way to go! The cash-flow thing is always an issue. It's the time of the year where I need to be making but I have to keep doing markets to keep the pennies coming in, it's times like this I'd like to be cloned.
I think it's important to keep remembering what it is you originally set out to do. I never wanted to become a large company and had no interest in taking on staff - but the more products I offered (I blame Candle Shack for this as their list of items on offer keeps growing so much!), the more I realised I needed help. I'm fortunate now in that I have someone who makes all of my tins which are the mainstay of my business, leaving me to be able to run my workshops and make the more exciting or high end products. That said, I have no interest in growing any more than I have, in fact, with the new legislation that's on it's way, I may as well start reeling it all back in and focus purely on my new Natural range, which is a beeswax/soy and EO mix. Time will tell but I honestly don't think I can face going through all of the red tape for the number of products I currently offer.
You have a great, consistent look across all of your products. Have you always had an idea of how your branding would look or has this evolved with time?
My branding is the thing I'm most proud of. It's probably my greatest asset, having come previously from a marketing background for a house builder. My skill has always been making something look 'nice'. The colour was originally chosen because it matched the interior of my home and my train of thought has been that if I didn't sell anything and was left with a load of stock, at least it wouldn't look out of place in my house! Joking aside, it's the thing that people always comment on and remember, so I obviously did a reasonable job.
I can see that you regularly attend markets and fayres throughout the year, do you find this sales channel works best for you? Why do you think that is?
Markets are my favourite thing to do. If I had to choose the one thing I loved, it's that. The atmosphere and camaraderie you experience working at a Farmers Market or Craft Fair is second to none. I find it such an inspiring place to work. I'm a huge advocate of the High Street and will do anything I can to support it. Suffolk is a particularly talented county, with many artisans and 'buying local and shopping small' is very well supported. I also figure that I am the face of my business and I want people to know that face. I love nothing more than chatting to strangers, explaining my product range and generally building a rapport with my customer. I realise the way of the world is changing and I probably should be selling online, but it just goes completely against the grain for me. A candle needs to be smelt - online may suit repeat business and of course I'll always send products in the post when requested but hell will freeze over before I go 100% down that route.
Running your own business can be stressful at times, what makes it all worth it for you?
My last year has been very stressful but once you've worked for yourself I think it's very hard to go back to being ordered around and the pluses definitely outweigh the negatives. I can make candles at any time of the day or night. If the sun is shining and I'm feeling stressed, I can take myself off to the beach - I don't need to complete a holiday form, I don't need to jump through hoops or fight for that day off. If I need to go to my workshop and make candles at 10pm, I can do that. Then there are the times when you've set up a Craft Fair and you stand back and look at your display - with the products YOU'VE created - and you feel that lovely sense of pride and satisfaction. When you're having a tough time, I think you sometimes have to do that. To start something from nothing and get to where you are, no matter what size your business is - just seeing your very own creations is fantastic and sometimes I think we need to give ourselves a pat on the back.
Finally, can you tell me a little bit about the candle making courses you offer?
I started running candle making workshops when I made the move from Essex to Suffolk 3 years or so ago. Originally it was a way of meeting people as I knew no-one. In actual fact, if you look at the demographics, Suffolk attendees are few and far between. I've had people from far and wide and at the last count, have welcomes more than 400 people through my doors! Some come from as far away as Paris, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. I've made some lovely friends along the way (the majority of whom are now a part of the Candle Shack Community) and have gone from offering one workshop a month to running at least two or three a week.
The original course focused on candle making as a hobby but increasingly I'm meeting people that want to start their own little cottage industries so it has slowly been adapted. The workshop delves into a variety of waxes, as I think it's important that people know the huge selection that is on offer. Soy wax is a bit of a frustration for me as it takes such a long time to set and is so temperamental dependent upon the weather and the temperate that's inside (my workshop is a 15th century building - not the easiest to maintain an ambient temperature!)
I guess introducing people to a career in candle making is a double edged sword. Some may think I'm diluting the industry, but I do firmly believe there's a place for all of us. What's important is that they do it the right way, with the right legislation and an initial knowledge that can be built on - the same way most of us have learnt. It's been great to meet so many varied and interesting people, most of whom I stay in contact with. Along with the C/Shack Facebook Group, it's great to pick up the phone and arrange a catch up over coffee with someone who understands the frustrations we regularly come into contact with.
To find out more about The White Candle Company, visit www.thewhitecandlecompany.co.uk
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