Navigating A Global Pandemic- An Interview With Quirky Candles
As part of our new series 'Navigating a Global Pandemic' it seemed only right to explore other angles of the crisis and speak to other businesses who have been shaped by the past twelve months. In this post we catch up with new small business 'Quirky Candles' to find out what it's been like to not only run a business in a global pandemic but actually start one from scratch at it's peak!
Now before we get stuck in I have to say how unbelievably proud I am of this particular small business and how far they have come in such a short space of time. I found them on Instagram at the very early stages and immediately connected with what their business was creating and what they aimed to be. Since then we have formed an amazing friendship and I have seen them grow from strength to strength with a loyal following cheering them on and I hope you do too!
So tell me a little about who you are where are you from?
We’re Christa (47) and Jade (29), a mother and daughter team that makes up Quirky Candles. We operate our little business from our family home in the quiet village of Pontarddulais, Swansea. We say it’s just the two of us – it really is a family operation. While we both originally came up with the idea and deal with the orders and social media, everyone pitches in with the making of the candles (dad, sister and sister-in-law!). It started so small but now it really does take a team of us to make enough candles and keep up the good quality!
If you could summarise your business in one sentence, how would you describe it.
High-quality, handmade vegan candles with quirky messages to put smiles on people’s faces!
First things first, why Quirky Candles? What inspired the name and the idea to create candles?
I just blurted it out when we were discussing candle business names and, for once, we were both in agreement! We wanted something that would make people instantly aware that our candles weren’t just... candles? They’re different, they’re original and a little out there!
What was the driving force that inspired you to start a business in a global pandemic?
It was entirely down to mental health. I (Jade) struggle with general anxiety disorder (GAD) and the start of the pandemic just sent me a little sideways. I couldn’t face going on social media, watching the news or talking about the virus because the anxiety was just overwhelming. My full-time employer is absolutely great at helping its staff with MH issues and understood when I needed to take some time off to adapt and focus on adjusting to what I guess is now the new normal. A coping mechanism for me has always been creativity, I need something to distract me entirely and nothing works better than when all my energy is channelled into making something, whether that’s baking, painting or basically anything that’s hand’s-on. I’d been thinking about making candles for a while and I was shocked when I visited my mum who just happened to suggest why don’t I make candles as I’ve always loved them... it was one of those ‘I was literally thinking of doing that last night!!’ moments and she ordered a bunch of equipment online there on the spot to get me going. I popped down the house when the stuff arrived and we both just had an afternoon of candle making and the two of us just fell in love with it! We discussed the funny label names later that day as well as a business name, our intention from the offset was that we just wanted to cheer other people up too! It was such a miserable time for so many.
Has it been daunting starting a brand-new business at such an uncertain time when you consider how many big and small businesses have closed at this time? How have you tackled that mentally and through your own business model?
We honestly didn’t expect to gain much from our little business. We initially thought if we could sell a few to family and friends then that would be a great outcome! When I created our Instagram page, I started following lots of other small businesses and just thought that it was such a beautiful thing that so many other people had gone down the same route as us, by taking all the misery and uncertainty that surrounded us and just trying to make something positive out of it. So many people were spending more time at home who before wouldn’t have had a chance to try any new hobbies before or had thought of trying something but just never had the time. It became apparent very early on that the small business community is a close-knit one and so far, everyone I have encountered has been the most supportive and helpful bunch of people I have ever met. I think the area of business we’ve gone into is very competitive, and probably more-so now than ever before, but we try not to step on any toes – we keep our ideas completely original and continue to promote other candle businesses through our social media as well as our own. I think if everyone lived in a belief that they shouldn’t go ahead and do what they want to do through fear of being judged or because others may frown upon it then no one would ever get anywhere – there's plenty of room for everyone in the small business community and I would tell anyone who’s thinking of starting up a business to go for it, you don’t know until you try.
What have been the main challenges that your new business has faced this past year? How have you managed to overcome these challenges?
Pretty much everything! This was new territory to us and so we had to learn a lot for ourselves, which meant making lots of mistakes too. So many people don’t appreciate just how much positivity comes from making mistakes, because let’s face it – you're not going to do the same thing again are you! We had to try out different waxes, lots of lovely (and not so great) fragrance oils, find the right suppliers, learn about candle laws – the do’s and don’ts, get the right labels for allergies, come up with funny names for our candles (much harder than you’d think!) and there’s just a whole long list of other stuff too, we could go on and on! So many times, we had this daunting feeling like – are we in way over our heads? But we’d reach out to other business owners (especially Ellen) for advice and quickly learn that we were not alone. You definitely have to take the rough with the smooth and just focus on all the positives, because there are so many!
Do you feel like the pandemic has influenced the success of your new business? Do you think things would have been different if you had started in 2019 for example?
It definitely would have been different if we had started in 2019, but then, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to start in 2019 because of our jobs and other responsibilities. For mum (Christa) in particular, she worked part-time in a bridal shop but also had a million and one other things she would need to do in the week, such as helping care for elderly relatives. The pandemic and the bubble system have meant that she can’t do as much as she used to, because quite simply – she isn't allowed, so this frees up a lot of her time to do stuff that she wouldn’t have been able to do before. Similarly, with my full-time job in the office and studying in the Open University I was only free one day a week which would never have been enough. Working from home has given me the flexibility to work later in the evenings which gives me more time in the day to help my mum with the candles! We also think that in 2019 not as many people were shopping locally and buying from small businesses, the lockdowns have put us all in this new position where we can't just pop to the shops and get whatever we want and so more of us are looking to local businesses and online shopping for our treats and needs, we think this has almost certainly been a contributing factor when considering the success of our business, for sure.
What has been the thing that you couldn’t have been without this past year?
Sounds cheesy but probably each other. We both ALWAYS have opposing views on everything but with the business that has really helped us! One of us only likes sweet smells, the other only likes the subtle ones, one of us comes up with the very rude labels (almost always Christa) while I try and think of labels for all occasions etc. Somehow, this pairing is the glue that keeps the business fresh and appealing to a range of people rather than just one of us doing it on our own!
Has this year and how it has shaped your business had a lasting impact on how you will run and develop your business moving forward?
Honestly, we’re just not sure. We’re still new to having our own business and haven't really been doing it long enough to gage what things will be like after the pandemic. Obviously, we hope that we can continue to thrive but who knows what’s going to happen. So many of us have adjusted to this new normal that it’s so difficult to see past it right now. We certainly hope we can continue to make people smile through our candles as we love making them so much! Fingers crossed for the future!
What is the main thing that you have learned this year about yourself, about your business and about the small business community as a whole?
Myself and my mum have learnt so much more about each other, most of it is positive (haha!). The both of us, and my sister are already super close so it’s nice to have something to do together and bond over. We do have our disagreements but as I mentioned before, this is what makes us work in so many ways! I (Jade) have learnt that I’m not good at being organised and stress really easily when things get busy, but my mum is a total boss with that stuff. In contrast, my mum is awful at social media and anything that involves being online and I’m generally ok at that kind of stuff so together we make a pretty good team! Both of us agree that we probably wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for the help and advice of other small business owners. Keeping in touch with many people (almost all of whom we have never met in person) has seen us through lots of situations. Ellen especially is number one when we get stuck on something and need some advice! We really do feel like we’re part of this big community where everyone genuinely wants other people to do well and complement each other's work! It's great!
Is there anything that you would have done differently to tackle the challenges that you have faced this year? Why?
Probably not. At first, we thought we had rushed into things, but I think we learned so much from this, as I mentioned before – you need to make some mistakes to learn from them. The one thing that massively sticks out to us though is that we totally underestimated just how busy ‘candle-season’ is (the Christmas period), we had been warned but blimey! Our Etsy went bonkers in November and was totally bananas. We know that this year we need to start preparing as early as possible, we’re already thinking about what fragrance oils we need to get in and it’s January!
2020 hasn’t been all doom and gloom. What are some of the positives that have happened to you this year because or in spite of the pandemic?
Meeting lots of new people, making new friends and joining this community. We have so many people in our lives now who we consider friends and we’ve never met them in person! There are some businesses we buy from regularly now and we will continue to do this after the pandemic, definitely.
What are your hopes for the future with your business? What’s next? What are your plans?
We already have something in mind that we’d like to venture into this year. Still involving candles but just trying something a little different, this will be a side business though and not taking over from what we do now. We could never move away from the ‘Smells like...’ range, it’s our absolute passion and just brings us far too much joy!!
What would you like the lasting message to be from this year as a small business owner to the world? What advice would you give to those considering starting their own small business?
Go for it, stop thinking about the ‘what ifs’ and put yourself out there, the small business community will welcome you with open arms and give you all the advice you need! Something we’re grateful for doing is getting good branding too, this has helped us so much with really making our business our own and getting the right look really does help. We’re so grateful for everything Ellen has done for us because we love how our business looks and just can’t picture it any other way!
Without sounding too much like an Oscars host, who would you like to thank this year for helping you get to where you are at this point in time?
Definitely you Ellen, for all the advice you’ve given us, the friendship and the excellent branding! You've been amazing to us and for that, we’re eternally grateful. All the other businesses who’ve supported us, followed us and shared our products. Our awesome following and customers, seriously we have THE BEST customers – so many people keep in touch with us and let us know what they think of the scents/how much they love the labels etc and this helps us out SO MUCH. We have customers that order whereby we know their addresses off by heart now because they order so much, it’s the best feeling ever! We could go on for days, really!
I'd just like to say a big thank you to the ladies from Quirky Candles for taking time out of their busy schedule to chat with us about their experiences as part of our series 'Navigating a Global Pandemic'. It's been fascinating hearing their experience of setting up a business at such a strange and worrying time. I'd also like to thank them for setting up their wonderful business and for brightening up so many people's days with their fun candles!
If you would like to see more from Quirky Candles, you can find them here-