Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! My name is Adam and I run Vintage Vegan Candle Co. We make homemade soy candles and diffusers from our home in London, England. All our products are fully recyclable, sustainable, and sourced from materials which we buy from small independent businesses who follow a similar ethos to us.
Currently, our flagship product is our range of ‘Build Your Own Diffusers’. This allows the customer to choose how the diffuser looks, the style of reeds it will have and up to 10 different scents are available. The 10 scents are inspired by Countries from around the world. I love traveling and each scent brings back memories of trips abroad.
What initially started as a bit of a hobby and an aim to make £5000 in our first year has led to a fast-growing business which has generated £15000 in the first 10 months.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have been self-employed for 15 years working as a lighting technician and programmer for the theatre and events industry. The COVID pandemic has had a profound effect on both industries and many theatres have remained closed since March 2020. The impact on the events industry has been equally damaging with the restrictions placed on large gatherings.
The only way to become better is to make mistakes, so allow time for these to happen and do not be hard on yourself.
In April I decided to teach myself the art of candle making. Lighting has always been a huge part of my life and I thought what better way than to explore the history of lighting than to create my own candlelight. We live in a very fast-paced world where technology is progressing at a faster rate than ever before and we live in a world that gives us the ability to control our own domestic lighting just by speaking to a device. CDs, DVDs, and many other products that were once at the forefront of our everyday lives are becoming a thing of the past, however, candles are something that people will always have a desire to own. Candles have survived the test of time for thousands of years and are still one of the top-selling gifts of this generation.
Financially I wanted to start a business that had relatively low start-up costs. With my whole work diary canceled in the space of two weeks, it was important to be careful with my spending.
Talk us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Once I had decided on the idea of candle making, I needed to create a concept that would sell. I began playing around with different design ideas for labels through various design platforms. The prototype featured the image of a wolf on a black jar.
It looked very cool, however, I discovered that countless brands are similar to what I had made and it didn’t offer much in terms of development. One thing that is very important to me is ensuring that whatever I create is not damaging to the environment and can be reused and recycled.
After further thought and research, I decided to create my brand around vintage designs and veganism and so the name ‘Vintage Vegan Candle Co’ was born. The vegan concept ensures that only wax is used that does not contain animal products and all fragrances we purchase are not tested on animals.
The original product is presented in a simple amber jar and packaged in a kraft box which is then stamped with an old ink stamper with our logo on it for extra authenticity. It can be personalized on the candle label too which is a good selling point for our products. This design is sold all year round and every few months we produce limited edition products that are inspired by events and art of the past.
Last Halloween we created a Halloween Candle designed with horror comic art from the 1950s which was a very popular candle. We also recently launched a range that was based on the 1920s prohibition of the USA, creating alcohol-scented candles named after cocktails that were offered during this period. Each candle comes with a card of facts about the cocktail and a secret recipe!
Describe the process of launching the business.
I launched the business online in August 2020 with the help of my partner James. It was a fairly simple launch, I opened an Etsy page and then advertised the business through Facebook. The support from my friends and family was overwhelming and I sold a good amount of candles in the first month to people I know. This initial income covered the costs to launch the business (approximately £300) and restock on the materials.
This helped build my Etsy profile with positive reviews and pushed it up the search platform through the Etsy website. By September we were receiving lots of orders from customers who we did not know, this was a great feeling. By October the Etsy store was in full force on the lead up to Christmas.
We were underprepared for this and working late into the night to fulfill all the orders that were coming in. It was exhausting and exciting at the same time. We had also begun a partnership with a brand called Wicks & Reeds who began selling our stock which was selling just as well on their platform. Another page that supported us and really helped draw attention to our brand was Not On The West End an initiative set up by Anna Saunders, a West End wardrobe supervisor who created the website to showcase side businesses created by theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
As the new year began and things started to calm down online, we began designing the website. I used Shopify as my experience of website building is fairly limited. Website building platforms are very user-friendly nowadays and it was relatively straightforward to create a stylish and user-friendly shop.
The biggest lesson we have learned during the process so far is preparation. We always used to underorder on everything and underestimate how much stock would sell. Whenever we place orders now we order more than we need as eventually, it will all get used! This saves money in the long term on shipping, which can add up very quickly!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We are still in the early stages of our website journey and launched it during the quiet months of retail. We are still working on gaining traffic to the website and have been experimenting with Instagram advertising as well as Pinterest. So far both options have shown limited results in driving customers to the website. We are going to look at more targeted advertising and use these platforms in the run-up to annual occasions such as Fathers Day, Easter, etc. Instagram and Pinterest both offer free advertising credit which allows the user to experiment with different promotions whilst viewing the engagement from viewers (website click thoughts etc.)
This year we have begun trading at markets around London and Kent. My partner James has a background in retail design and has worked with Harrods, Superdry & American Eagle to name a few, so he created a fantastic visual design for our market stall. It is here where we get a lot of engagement from customers who then visit our online stores and social media pages. No matter how much you advertise online, there is nothing like meeting your buyers face to face.
This month we will be launching a new initiative where customers can return their candle and diffuser jars and receive 15% off their next order. This benefits both the customer and us and fits our ethos of being a recyclable and eco-friendly business.
We are often asked why we don't sell on Amazon and there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, with all our candles and diffusers having personalized gifting options available, we would not be able to fulfill the orders through Amazon Prime as we would need to create all our labels on a made-to-order basis. Secondly, as an ethical business, we believe it would go against our ethos if we worked with Amazon especially with their human rights record. I have previously tried to sell a product through their company and came across many issues. Although I believe their customer service for buyers is excellent, as a seller you are not well looked after at all when issues arise.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
What started as a side hustle from a terrible pandemic has grown into a business I intend to continue. As my industry opens back up and the world begins to normalize, I am looking to continue to build my brand and eventually employ staff to work with.
We are still manufacturing all our products at home. We create our candles in a large soup kettle which can melt 10KG of soy wax per time, allowing us to produce around 20 candles per hour (we could make more than this at one time and will do as the market gets busier again).
Currently, we make between £1500 - £2000 per month and this was a larger figure around the Christmas period. We are only in our first year so have to be realistic about profit margins. We are a new brand and we are still learning every day how to maximize profit. This year our Etsy store has been relatively slow and only bought in £1000 in the past 5 months. Since the re-opening of retail in the UK, we have noticed a thirst for brick-and-mortar shopping and a decline in eCommerce. In the past two months, approximately 80% of sales are in person and 20% online. We often aim to make around £300 for a 5-hour market and often achieve a greater figure. This month we are trading at 6 markets so aim to make £1800. This price excludes any sales made through our Shopify store and Etsy.
We have just launched our products in a brick-and-mortar location in a gift shop in a local town. It will be interesting to see how the products perform in this environment. This could be another positive platform to sell and we were able to secure the contract by reaching out to a few stores online. If the products sell well, we will likely contact other stores nearby and expand further.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think one of the mistakes I have made (and often still make) is always wanting to create a new product. Our original range of candles has sold well since we launched the company, however, I am always keen to expand and make new candles that look different. Whilst this is positive, in the long term it is not profitable as many of our customers come to us as they love the original vintage candle. This can often lead to a loss of income as it can cost a fair amount of money and time on testing new products and if they do not sell then they are left sitting in a draw in the house! I keep telling myself, if something sells, don’t change it, just run with it!
It will be interesting to see how the business performs outside of lockdowns and shop closures. We launched just after the first UK lockdown, at a time where many people were learning to shop online. This trend saw us through to Christmas and into the New Year when we adapted and began to sell in person as restrictions were lifted.
There will be months where you sell and make a considerable amount of profit which is great, but equally the months where sales are very low can take their toll.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our main platform right now is our Shopify store. The main apps we connect to our Shopify are Facebook/Instagram & eBay. This automatically updates all new products to these platforms and allows our followers to see all the new products as they are posted.
We also use the ‘Product Reviews’ app on Shopify. As a buyer, I always want to purchase products I know have positive feedback from other buyers. Just seeing the 5 stars underneath a product is sometimes enough for me to click and purchase that item.
We recently began a partnership with Ecologi which plants a tree for every individual sale on our website. This has been an attractive selling point to buyers as people are more aware than ever before of the impact climate change is having on the planet. It costs just 15c to plant each tree and the return on product sales is much greater.
Instagram has been great. We occasionally run competitions and ask entrants to share our page, tag friends, and comment. We see far higher engagement during the competitions and often make more sales online. We usually run competitions with other brands so that everything is seen across two business platforms.
We were initially resilient to have our faces posted on social media but we have found that photos that we are in with the product perform far better than the product itself.
We obtained our website address and email from GoDaddy. The prices seemed very reasonable to host.
Marmalead is a great tool to use for Etsy shops. This allows users to see statistics and research on keywords and gives each item you post a review based on the length of the descriptions and other SEO research. It also has a good free trial which gives you time to learn the app and maximizing keyword potential.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
As a candle maker who was new to the market, the most valuable lessons I learn are from other candle makers via Facebook groups. ‘Candle Makers UK’ is a great platform for people to seek advice on common problems and resolutions. There is pretty much every topic covered in candle-making somewhere on the forum.
There is also the American platform ‘Candle Science’ which is great for hints and tips, and they often post through their youtube channel with tutorials and hints to making the perfect candle.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
People are often looking for the next big thing to create, however why create something new when you can recreate something that is already proven to sell? In regards to candles, they have always and will always be popular. They have a track record dating back to 200 BC and what once was a necessity to live is now a luxury item. The track record speaks for itself. It would not have been realistic for me to create a brand new product with the funds that were available and so I designed my own product of something that already existed and was very popular.
As a candle maker, I would always advise a new business to test. Without testing candles, you will never create a product that is going to bring buyers back. Have you ever seen candles that sink into the glass and leave wax around the jar? Or the top of the wax-covered in soot? These are usually problems that could be avoided if the candle had been tested properly. The only way to become better is to make mistakes, so allow time for these to happen and do not be hard on yourself.
Other advice, always ensures you have the correct paperwork and insurance. Candles all require CLP labeling which details everything that is in the fragrance oil. For trading in person, ensure your public liability is up to date and that you are covered by the correct amount (our insurance covers us for 5 million).
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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