How We Generated Major Press And Exposed Our Brand To New Customers

Published: March 14th, 2021
DShawn Russell
Southern Elegance...
from Raeford, North Carolina, USA
started January 2016
Discover what tools DShawn recommends to grow your business!

Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

My name is D’Shawn Russell and I am the owner of Southern Elegance Candle Company. We sell Southern Themed home fragrance products. The main product we sell is candles. We sell 5 different sizes in 3 collections, although we also sell other products such as room & linen spray, wax melts, and diffusers with reeds. Last year we sold just over 1 million in products. (almost 5 times the number of the previous year).


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

In 2020 Southern Elegance sold had just over a million in sales. The driving factor was two-fold (1) The very unexpected Pandemic and (2) The race riots that occurred as a result of ongoing police brutality in communities of color. People were sitting at home feeling very uneasy and wanting to make a difference. It became exceedingly widespread during this time to support businesses that were minority-owned and in particular women-owned businesses.

Due to this rare combination of events and mission behind the company (building community); we became an extremely popular candle company to support. Our tagline is Modern Values. Southern Charm. We had to shut down temporarily, but as people became more and more restless, we started to receive more orders. We were already selling via our Shopify site, but it was not the volume we started to see. I eventually had to be every one that had been laid off to get the orders out.

We then started to really focus on going directly to the consumer rather than focusing on selling to boutiques. We double down on our social media, ads, and email marketing.

As we started seeing more sales, we were shouted out by a popular IG influencer. That visibility brought in even more sales and exposed the company to some large corporate players. I started hiring new people and revamping the processes.

We viewed customer service and as a branch of Social media and hired someone specifically to engage with our customers via all of the channels. We answered questions, solved issues, and engaged in friendly banter on all the channels. We saw an immediate investment in return, our customers felt seen and heard. We then started asking them about the scents and other items they would like us to make. We introduced the “Candle of the Month” and started “Limited Editions” due to customer demand. We introduced a new product, a diffuser with reeds. We also improved our loyalty program by making it simpler to use and having a better payout. All of the customers are automatically enrolled and there is no charge to receive the benefits.

As a result of being so active on social media, we were able to generate a lot of press and partner with the Local stations, The View, Good Morning America, Tory Burch Foundation, and Macy’s, and the brand was exposed to a new group of potential customers.


What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

My biggest lesson is “Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready”. The company is run as if it is a large-scale operation. When we had to hire and train new employees quickly, we already had systems in place to do it quickly. We had a handbook and SOP.

I must admit that hiring people has been the biggest challenge! I was not ready or equipped to handle the challenges of managing human capital. I’ve hired drug addicts and scammers. I’ve had to fire people that literally threatened to fight me as a result. As a result of an employee’s bad decisions, the company lost almost $20,000 (and I didn’t fire them because of it even though it was their JOB to PREVENT it.) I’ve held on to people entirely too long trying to be compassionate.

I still struggle when it comes to firing, but I am much quicker to the draw now. Terrible employees affect everyone and the bottom line. I learned that lesson the hard way.


What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

After speaking to a mentor, she suggested I view the brand as a lifestyle brand rather than a candle company. As a result, I started presenting the company as a community and lifestyle brand. We are constantly trying to find products that we think our customers would like. We are introducing new home fragrance collections. Also, we are introducing new products to include a southern-inspired cookbook, apparel, cosmetics, bath, and body.

Be smart with how you handle finances, and commit to making wise, forward-thinking decisions.

We will be moving into a new $1.4 million facility built to our specifications in the next few months. Southern Elegance Candle Company is one of the top privately-held employers in Hoke county. We plan on pursuing some corporate accounts and adding an international distributor.


Have you read any good books in the last year?

I haven’t read any new books; in fact, I have watched tv for almost 3 years. I am too busy but let me list all my previous selections because these are the tactics I actually used.

All my books are on Audible. I listen in the car and whenever I have downtime.

  • The Purple Cow by Seth Godin Explains why you need to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
  • Clockwork Mike Michalowicz Helps to teach you how to automate business processes.
  • Crushing It: Inspirational stories from the experiences of dozens of entrepreneurs
  • Tribes by Seth Godin: It’s our nature. Now the Internet has eliminated the barriers of geography, cost, and time. Find your tribe and make some money.
  • The Blue Ocean Strategy: Blue ocean strategy is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost to open up a new market space and create new demand.
  • You are a Badass: Create a life you totally love. And create it NOW, Make some damn money already.
  • Start with Why: it provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.
  • The E-Myth (Highly Recommend) Gerber draws the vital, often overlooked distinction between working on your business and working in your business.
  • Profit First (Highly Recommend) Offers a simple, counterintuitive cash management solution that will help small businesses break out of the doom spiral and achieve instant profitability.


Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

I am going to let you in a dirty little secret. It is hard to make a profit and pay yourself a salary when starting a product-based business without investors. And it is even harder to scale it. I was in the red my first three years of running the company and I did not take a salary. I only recently started taking a consistent livable salary, and I still only pay myself slightly more than my employees.

I have maxed out credit cards and emptied retirement plans. I use working capital via Shopify, American Express, and PayPal whenever I am in a crunch. Before our first GMA appearance, I maxed out all three to buy supplies to make enough candles for the appearance. (We needed somewhere around 10,000 candles).

Be smart with how you handle finances, and commit to making wise, forward-thinking decisions.


Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Due to the nature of our business, almost all of my positions are in the house. We are always looking to hire photographers. That is one thing that is critical to a growing company.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!