Etsy is a marketplace for creators to sell their unique hand-made products and vintage goods.
Tamara Mayne makes soy candles and sells them on Etsy, and it started out as an experiment. Would anyone buy a scented product online that they couldn't smell?
It turns out they would.
After experiencing a lot more sales than she anticipated, Tamara decided to create and own her brand by opening up a Shopify store: Brooklyn Candle Studio for deliciously scented eco-friendly soy candles.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear how she got her start selling candles and the sequence of events that led her explore Etsy alternatives in order to open her own store to take control of her brand.
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“And you can really represent your brand across all facets from typography to all the imagery so I think always do a Shopify in tandem with an Etsy store."
Tune in to learn
- How you can attract wholesale clients through Etsy
- How to make sure your differentiators are clear to first time visitors
- How to hire and ramp up temporary workers
Store: Brooklyn Candle Studio
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Tamara Main from Brooklyn Candle Studio. Brooklyn Candle Studio sells deliciously scented, eco friendly soy candles and was started in 2013 and based out of Brooklyn, New York. Welcome.
Tamara: Thank you!
Felix: Tell us a little bit more about the business and what is the most popular product that you sell in your store, currently.
Tamara: The business, we make as you just say hand made soy candles. They’re very … We use natural ingredients, [inaudible 00:01:24] fragrances, really domestically grown soy and our most popular product is our fern and moss candle. Our mason jar candle, it’s kind of a very wonderful unisex scent, notes of oak moss and spruce. It’s a very naturey scent. It was inspired by a hike in Fern Valley, California. That’s our most beloved item.
Felix: Were you selling these products offline to start? How did you get your start with the business?
Tamara: I started on Etsy, actually. I started making candles for fun and it was really a hobby at first, something I started making them as gifts for Christmas the year before. I got very obsessed with learning how to mix scents and learning about the different ingredients in creating these candles that were eco friendly, that use cotton braided wicks, soy wax. A lot of the stuff you find in the stores don’t really use the best ingredients. I started making these candles and I had a whole bunch, and I was a designer with [inaudible 00:02:47] designs and packaging.
I decided to throw up an Etsy shop just for fun. It was kind of almost a joke. I was like, “Oh, I wonder if I can sell these candles online where no one can smell them.” Yeah, they actually took off. Etsy featured us in a couple of emails and we ended up getting a lot of requests from buyers of retail stores. That’s the point where I quit my job. Yeah, once sales were getting crazy and I wanted to parlay things into my own eCommerce shop, and that’s where our Shopify came in.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard of retailers shopping on Etsy to look for producers for people like you to [inaudible 00:03:36] I didn’t realize that existed until I heard it a few times from other successful Etsy sellers. What was that experience like? What do you think made them attracted to working with you specifically?
Tamara: I think that they were attracted to multiple aspects of my business. One, I think beautifully designed products. I paid really close attention to the typography and the balance and the aesthetics of my products. That’s number one. Number two are the scents. There’s a lot of stuff out there. In the home fragrance market that’s kind of very [coying 00:04:17], very unnatural, like cake smelling stuff. I wanted to go on a more botanical angle.
A lot of our stuff are made with essential oil infused fragrances and then also the eco friendly aspect. Our candles are made with domestically grown soy, which is a sustainable ingredient. When you burn the candle, it burns a lot cleaner, it doesn’t omit [inaudible 00:04:49] into the air as a paraffin wax does. We also use cotton braided wicks, which are made in the US. They don’t really [inaudible 00:05:00] as other candles do.
There’s multiple aspects I think that people are looking for.
Felix: All these differentiators that you listed, did you know that your customers before, of course, you opened and before this success, did you know that the customers cared about these differentiators that you listed?
Tamara: I did. I think it shows with markets like Whole Foods that focus on organic ingredients or all natural products. I’m part of that target audience as well. I’m very conscious about what I purchase and I know a lot of people that are, especially living in Brooklyn, New York City, it’s something that people are very concerned about. I wanted to make a product that I would use and I have researched the ingredients, I research fragrances, I researched all the different materials you can use and wanted to make them as safe and eco friendly as possible.
Felix: Now that you knew that there was a need for this kind of differentiator, because you did a research and of course you are also your target customer, which I think is definitely the best place to start from. How did you make sure that these differentiator were clear to the people, especially early on, especially before people knew who you were. How did you make those differentiators clear to people that were visiting, let’s say your Etsy store for the first time?
Tamara: I think that you have your mission statement, you put that in all your Google or your metadata descriptions and stuff like that, but I always made that clear on my about page and all the product descriptions and I make it known if you’re reading about the product, you read the scent and then you read about the different ingredients and the materials. I think that’s a very important aspect of the candles. It’s not just the design, it’s not just the scent, but it’s also the fact that these work for a long time and these ingredients are sustainable and you’re not wasting its resources.
They regrow. I think that’s important.
Felix: Were there every any differentiators that you as a consumer of these kind of products that you really, really wanted, you really wanted to exist, you really cared about, but found out that your audience, your target customers at large didn’t really care for it. Were there any differentiators like that?
Tamara: I’m trying to think. I don’t know. I don’t know that all of them really care so much about the whole eco friendly aspect. I think they really love that they smell good and they buy them in the store, they smell them and they purchase them. I don’t know that it’s necessarily … I think it’s an added plus for al to of people. We’re in not just the health conscious market, but we’re also in for the fashion market, where there are a lot of candles that are popular and out there just because they have a beautiful design. I think that’s one of the more important things to some people.
Felix: Yeah, what does that do when it comes to the way that you represent your brand or in your actual marketing when there is an aspect, it sounds very important to you, the eco friendly aspect, but the customers, like you’re saying, it’s a secondary, it’s a nice plus but it might not get them to actually buy. They might buy more because of the design or the smell. Do you then try to squeeze in the eco friendly aspect? Do you lead with it because that’s what you care about? How do you think about positioning or messaging your brand when there are differentiators that you care a lot about but maybe your customers don’t care as much about?
Tamara: I think for me it’s more of a secondary aspect that I always mention in product descriptions, but I mostly highlight the design aspect of the candles, the design, the fragrance, I think that for me, I’m a designer. I’m an art director, and design is very, very important to me and creating a curated environment and having something that’s not only a sensory old factor experience, but also can be a beautiful statement piece on your coffee table or on your shelf or in a room. I think that’s a really great aspect of our products. It happens that it’s important to me that everything is made with great ingredients as well.
Felix: Right, makes sense. You started Etsy like you’re saying almost as a joke to see if you could sell these online. How quickly did it take before you started realizing that this is no longer a joke business, this could become an actual real business?
Tamara: Yeah, it was during the holiday season. We started escalating around November, December.
Felix: You were in business for how long by this point?
Tamara: Just a few months. Two or three months. I got a few orders around October on Etsy. It wasn’t like I was going to quit my job, but November and December, things got really crazy. My entire apartment was covered in candles. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, he was helping me wick countless jars and our floors were covered. It was at the point I was probably about six months after I opened an Etsy shop. I got this big order for $4,000 worth of candles. I was like, “This is more than my monthly paycheck! I could totally do this, because I can make these candles in four days!”
It was at that point where I was like, “You know what, I can quit my job if this keeps going.” It didn’t keep going right away. It was like [inaudible 00:11:14] but eventually, after a year, I was able to quit my full time job and do this full time.
Felix: What were you looking for before you quit your job? Was it that repeat enough monthly revenue that matched your income?
Tamara: Just more consistency. I got one really big order and then it was kind of, I realized that I ended up doing free lance design work at the same time as running the business, so I was kind of doing both. I realized that I couldn’t do candles, make them full time until I really got the name out there. I really started pushing my brand, and I really wanted to … I started out with different branding at the beginning and I didn’t love it so much and I really wanted to create something that I really, really loved. That took a lot of time to really create the branding and the packaging and all the vintage inspired botanical stuff.
It took me about six months beyond the first time I quit my job to really get to a point in branding wise where I was really happy with what was [inaudible 00:12:28].
Felix: For a few out there that are creating their branding for the first time or recreating it as you did, how do you I guess work through this process when you are let’s say in the middle of rebranding, but your assets or your old assets and you’re trying to move towards new ones, what’s that middle period like when you’re going through this transition of your branding?
Tamara: That’s pretty hard, because some people really loved my old design, but branding needs to be very consistent. It needs to be a bold statement I think just in very continuous across all aspects. You can’t have just … My old candles were these colorful and they were a totally different style, and then the new ones which are more minimal, more refined. Basically I just dropped all my old stuff and I put up my new stuff. I started doing some serious sales after I finished my new branding. I don’t know, I don’t think that my business was established enough to needed to have retained the old stuff.
It was at a point where I wasn’t really at there enough where I couldn’t drop it. I was just, I’m just gonna drop all this old stuff and really push this new stuff.
Felix: Right, kind of do a hard cut off and transition over. Makes sense. Now, when you were first on your Etsy store, how were you getting traffic? Where were they coming from at that time, especially when you were only a couple months in, you’re a new brand, people probably haven’t heard of you before that time. How were people finding your listing? What do you think helped?
Tamara: This is partly where luck comes in and partly some research. I went to a couple Etsy workshops and they did a lot of talking about keywords and they taught you how to optimize your keywords, make your stuff easy to find, really make sure your store is trustworthy. One thing that I worked on a lot was the photography, the product photography. I redid it like five times. I tried in studio lighting and the I tried in natural lighting and whatever was getting the most traffic, I would work on that and optimize that.
Where the luck comes in is after I did all that stuff, Etsy ended up featuring me in a couple of emails during the holidays. That was pure luck, because I didn’t reach out to them or anything about that. They just found my product. That was probably the photography, too. Once I had really good stuff [inaudible 00:15:10] they want to feature you in their emails because you make them look good. They sent out an email blast to however many thousands of people and some of my candles were on it and I just got crazy orders from that.
That was one thing. I also did reach out to a few … I reached out to Brooklyn Based and a couple other press outlets just telling people about the candles I was doing, and I was also doing markets. I did Artist [inaudible 00:15:43] and a couple other independent markets just to meet people and tell them about my brand. That’s what I did initially. I have other things that I did after I did the rebrand that helped a lot.
Felix: When you were reaching out to press, was it all local press at the time? What kind of press were you going for?
Tamara: Just local press. I just reached out to Brooklyn Based, and they did a feature on a collaboration I was doing with a friend of mine who makes ceramics. I didn’t get a ton at that point. It wasn’t super aggressive, it was just a couple different publications.
Felix: The retailers that started finding your listing, was this after the holiday season? What I guess led them to discover you?
Tamara: There was a few that found me during the holiday season. I think they were looking for soy candles or candles or Christmas candles. Usually, Christmas is our busiest time of year. I think what happens is a lot of people are Googling candles and they want candles quickly and they’re just like, “I need candles now!” I think they were searching candles and Christmas candles, in particular.
I had a Christmas tree candle that was crazy popular and was making tons and tons of those.
Felix: How do you work with these retailers? Are they just buying from you whole sale? Is there a specific kind of arrangement you tried to set up?
Tamara: We just sell whole sale now. I did consignment at one point, and I didn’t really like that relationship. It’s a lot to keep track of. Our retailers just purchase whole sale from us and that’s mostly through our shop based store. I have a whole sale portal that I created on our web store. Basically, our whole sale partners log in and they can purchase products at whole sale prices and yeah. Sometimes I’ll invoice them. They’ll email me and if it’s a big order, I’ll invoice them. Yeah, it’s a pretty, pretty simple arrangement. They just reach out to me, give me their resale ID, send me a link to their website and I’ll evaluate whether we’re a good match as far as our products and their aesthetic. Then they’ll place their first order and then see how it does in their store, and then they’ll continue to place orders if it does well.
Felix: Are you using some kind of app toward this whole sale portal?
Tamara: I use a combination of apps. The one app that I use for our whole sale portal is called give me one second. It’s called Locksmith. It allows you to password protect part of your site so that only people with certain permissions can enter that part of your site. All I do really is I go into Shopify, I’ll enter a customer or I’ll go to an existing customer and tag them as a stockist, and people that are tagged stockist can login.
Felix: Once they login, is it just a list of products that they can order from you whole sale?
Felix: Cool, so it just looks, I guess not exactly the same, but it looks like a similar eCommerce store, the shop [inaudible 00:19:12]?
Tamara: I recently made it a lot more streamline because we were adding more products to this section of the site, so basically I have one line and then I have a drop down using one of the apps product options by bold so they can pick their scent. I can a combination of variations and then send options.
Felix: Now, your Etsy of course, opened up your Shopify store after the Etsy store. What spurred that decision? What made you decide that even though it was having success on Etsy, you got a lot of attention from Etsy, from [inaudible 00:19:49] retailers from people that were buying like crazy during holiday season, why not stick and focus on that rather than open up a new store?
Tamara: I have both, now. Most of my traffic comes from Shopify, and I think you have so much more control with your own eCommerce store. I actually started on, I tested out several different eCommerce providers. Square Space, which really didn’t work out well, and what’s the other one? Big Commerce or some other commerce. That didn’t work out well either. Where really Shopify came into play was this is kind of where me trying to grow my business, or a huge thing I did to help grow the business was I did a guilt city offer. Basically, guilt city are these different subscribers.
They have millions of people that subscribe to their emails and I email out a blast about deals, which drives people directly to your website, and they can enter this discount code. What led me to end up doing Shopify is it enabled me to import hundreds of discount codes without having to add them in one by one. There was an app for that called bulk discounts, which was huge, so all I had to do was upload an excel spreadsheet. I ended up starting my Shopify and doing it over the course of an all nighter creating the initial store.
Felix: Yeah, so you were doing this because you also need to do it for that guilt city offer, is that correct?
Tamara: Such an off the cuff thing. Then it ended up being the best thing for the business, because I love how I can just add different apps and anything I want to do, there’s an app for it on Shopify, it’s amazing.
Felix: The guilt city offer, how did you get this set up? Do you have to get approved for a deal? Can anyone sign up to offer a deal through guilt city?
Tamara: No, it’s kind of like they are curators. They have to select you. I don’t remember if they reached out to me or if I reached out to them. It was one or the other, obviously. They wanted to feature our … They have a curated experience. It’s not just anyone. I think they cater to a certain urban dwellers, people looking for luxury type items, people looking for a curated experiences, brands, stuff like that. I think we fit into the profile of stuff they wanted to sent to their following. I think that was important, because we have that aesthetic. We have the more high fashion aesthetic, which they were looking for.
Felix: Was it a quick process between the time they reached out to you the first time to the point where they blasted out your deal to their huge audience? How long did that take?
Tamara: It took a while. I think it was a couple of months when we first started talking. You have to send them lifestyle photography and they edit it, they have to go through it and decide what they want to feature on your page, and then you have to go through the contract and the negotiations as far as they get a cut and you can negotiate how much of a cut they get, because it ends up not being a whole lot, because people come to your site and they basically enter a gift card code and they get it for free and then what happens is guilt pays you a cut of that afterwards. That ends up not being a whole lot, but then you end up getting 1,000 new subscribers and people learn about your brand and you can possibly get repeat customers and stuff like. It’s a good way to start.
Felix: That leads me to my next question. That’s usually the sometimes negative, I guess the complaints with working with deal size, not just guilt city, but I guess the living socials and groupons of the world that they were saying that you get all these huge influx of customers, but they aren’t the type to necessarily repeat buy. Did you experience that with you as well?
Tamara: Definitely, I think a lot of people they only wanted the one time deal, but they find out for the mailing list, and if I sent out a blast that basically is the same deal later, three candles for $50, I ended up making all of that and I think that they respond to your deal, so if they’re on your email list and you have discounts or free shipping or a promotion, they’re the type of people who would react to that as well.
Felix: They might not be … They look for the deals because that’s how they found out you, but you can always offer them deals and promotions after that initial deal as well to bring them back to the store?
Tamara: [inaudible 00:25:19] signed up for your mailing list, you know? It’s really the key thing is them learning about your brand, telling other people about it, trying out your whatever you’re selling and also signing up for your mailing [inaudible 00:25:35], which is huge for eCommerce.
Felix: Did guilt guys coach you or suggest the offers or products that made the most sense for the business? What was that curation process like?
Tamara: It’s more of a you talk back and forth. They select what they ideally would want from your product offering and you can say, “I can’t work with those margins on this product. Can we offer this higher margin product instead?” Or you can agree with them. It’s kind of a back and forth, but they do the initial selection and you can gear them towards other stuff that you would rather sell.
Felix: Right, makes sense. Now, at this point, the Etsy store is going. Your personal store is going, or your own store is going, the whole sale is going. Which one, I guess, is most important to you to your business? Which one do you think is, if you had to focus on just one, which one would you spend the most time on?
Tamara: Whole sale by far. Whole sale makes up probably about 85% of our business and bulk orders during the holidays for corporate gifting and stuff. I think because scented candles tend to be a big impulse purchase and happens a lot at point of sale. In stores, it’s like last minute gift or, oh I need to get a candle today. I’m just gonna go nearby, it tends to be. When people order online, you can’t smell it, tends to be more of a process, so it’s more when people that have smelled our stuff before and love it and so they’re ordering more, they’re restocking.
Our stores do really well with our candles. It’s a lot easier to sell candles in person.
Felix: Would you say that you probably wouldn’t be able to go this route, or could you go this route of going into retailers without having Etsy or your Shopify store? Could you do it without those two?
Tamara: I think you could, but you don’t have much validation. I think the Shopify store, at least my store, really makes people, retailers take us seriously. At this point, we’re in a lot of stores. We’re in over 300. We’re around the world, so I think that people have seen our product, so if we didn’t have a website, they would be like, "Okay, I’ve seen your product, I can take you seriously, but you’re just starting out, I don’t think it’s really something that … You want to make sure you have a website.
Felix: What about when we were talking about Etsy and your own store then, if you could go back and do it all over again, would you start off with your own store? What did you find value in starting with Etsy first?
Tamara: I think Etsy was great to start with because of that community. The fact that people leave reviews and they can favor your items and they can follow you and people see that. If people can see how people are engaging with your shop, also the folks at Etsy are really great. I have a great relationship with them, since we’re both Brooklyn based, they come to the studio sometimes. I’ve taught them a class. They invite me to press events. It was really great. They feature my stuff in lots of different editor guides and Etsy finds and stuff like that. They have Etsy whole sale as well.
[inaudible 00:29:15] can find things and purchase things on Etsy by whole sale, too. I think Etsy was really great to start out with. Once people knew about our brand and were searching it, it’s really nice to have something where I can control the assets, I can control how the product pages look. I can control the metadata and people aren’t gonna be like, “Oh, I got this on Etsy.” They’re gonna be like, “I got this on BrooklynCandleStudio.com.” Which is a branded thing.
Felix: How do you know when that moment has happened where it makes sense to keep your Etsy store, but also opening up your own store? What would you recommend to other people that are on Etsy and are thinking about opening up their own store? What’s that critical point where either traffic or sales, what are you looking at? What would you recommend they look at to determine, “Okay, now it’s time to devote some of my attention towards creating my own store?”
Tamara: I think people should do it instantly because, especially if you are doing a lot of whole sale sales because if a buyer asked for information, and you want to be like, “Oh yeah, my store is www.so-and-so.com” because that’s the kind of more pure brand I think in my opinion and you can really represent your brand across all facets from typography to all the imagery. I think always do a Shopify in tandem with an Etsy store.
I think also I work with a bunch of different shops that are drop shipping shops, but not really. They link to your products. Spring, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Spring. They’re a shopping app and they curate a bunch of fashion brands, and basically you can place an order on Spring, it goes through to your Shopify store. There are a lot of apps that can help you spread the word about your brand as well.
Felix: Spring, that’s an app for shoppers to browse and buy things and then it goes to your Shopify store if someone purchases through Spring?
Tamara: Yeah. Spring integrates … Spring is not the only shop that does [inaudible 00:31:30]. There’s Pop Map or Spring, it’s House. There’s a bunch of different shopping apps for your iPhone or your iPad where people can scroll down and their credit card is connected to the app and so people can just click on the item they want and purchase it and what happens is it’s integrated into your shop. It’s not like with other shipping sites you have to go through their portal and you have to do whatever processes they have, you just fulfill the order as you would your own. It makes things easier if you have a certain workflow in place. I don’t like to work with any job shipping sites with my products unless it’s just integrated.
They take 10%. It’s not like they take 50%. They take 10% of all their sales, but they can offer a lot of products.
Felix: Gotcha. You mentioned this a few times already about the value of photography for your business. Are you a photographer or did you do it all in house? How did you get started with taking amazing product photos for your products?
Tamara: Yeah, I studied … I wouldn’t call myself a photographer, but I have always done a lot of it. I probably am a photographer, to some degree, but I’m not a [inaudible 00:32:53] anyway. I studied photo styling photography. I took a bunch of courses. I studied graphic design and a bunch of different [inaudible 00:33:03] direction. I also worked as an art director in the corporate fashion world as a designer. I had a lot of experience with photography from school, from design school and from my job. Yeah, that was really huge and I did a lot of research on that stuff.
Also through a lot of trial and error, if you have an internet connection, you can put up products [inaudible 00:33:33] and see if people respond to them. It’s also very important for social media for all the different assets on this site from your [inaudible 00:33:41] images to your product images. These things market themselves. If you have beautiful photography, if you’re not a photographer, hire a photographer. Super important and then a stylist if possible, because this stuff gets pinned on Pinterest and it gets shared and the links get sent around and covers the internet. You need to make sure you’re presenting things in a beautiful light. I think that’s the most important part of any commerce store, really.
Felix: Once you have these amazing photos, where do you find most traction in sharing? You mentioned Pinterest before. Is that where you try to get all of your photos up?
Tamara: Yes. I haven’t been [inaudible 00:34:28] lately, but yeah I try to upload everything to Pinterest, link it back to the site. I’ve done a lot of Pinterest advertising around the campaigns that I am most proud of. I released a line last year and I did these really cool botanical styled photos. They were botanical still life’s. I ended up hitting that and paid. I promoted that pin and did a paid promotion and it’s gotten … We get so much Pinterest traffic now after the promotion because it’s been pinned so much.
Felix: Do you remember how you had the Pinterest ad set up?
Tamara: Not exactly. I just went to promoted pins. If you set up a Pinterest business account, you can say the target audience, the different key words you want people to look for and stuff like that. I don’t remember exactly what I … I remember it was very … I did something very quickly.
Felix: Yeah, action is definitely important more than trying to be academic about it. Any tips for people that are, maybe they do have a nice camera but they’ve never done product photography before? What tips do you have to recommend for people that aren’t great photographers or just don’t feel creative to take the photographs that you’re talking about?
Tamara: I think that you don’t necessarily need a very complicated lighting setup. You just need to be by a window and get the natural light. I think that’s very important. You can create really beautiful photos that way. You can just get any white paper. Create a white, seamless backdrop and put your product in front of it. Make sure you have a really nice camera. Don’t just use your iPhone because it kind of distorts things in weird ways. I have a Cannon 6D and I just bought it refurbished on Cannon.com. I think your lens is also very important. I have a 15 millimeter, a prime lens and that allows me to create either a really ethereal effect in my photos.
I think that’s an important product photography lens. There’s also 35 millimeter, which is a good lens. Do some basic research. Google pop products photography. I think you can find some good information on it and just do a lot of trial and error and talk to someone who’s … After you take your photo, show it to someone that has a discerning eye and be like, “Hi, what do you think about these? Would you buy this?” Because not everyone has an eye for this stuff. Not everyone can hire someone. Try to get help where you can.
Felix: When you sit down to compose your product photos, your lifestyle shots, what kind of conscious decisions do you make to improve the visuals of the product photo?
Tamara: I do a styling. I like to incorporate a lot of botanicals. I found through Instagram that my audience really responds to that. Flowers and plants and stuff like that.
Felix: How did you know that your audience would respond well to that?
Tamara: I track my Instagram engagement. Whenever I post stuff with flowers or plants and then people go crazy. We tend to get a lot more likes and engagement when I post something like that. I try to do that across all channels for lifestyle photography. Yeah, yeah incorporating gold. I like to do a lot of aerial shots or lay downs as people call them. It’s a lot of experimentation. I take a lot of shots and I [inaudible 00:38:38] direct them and narrow them down.
Felix: Can you give us an idea of how successful the business is today?
Tamara: Yeah, we are in … It’s at the point where I can’t even update my stock. [inaudible 00:38:52] we just keep adding people. We are probably in over 400 doors at this point around the world. We’re in over 20 countries from France, Italy, Germany, the UK, were in China, we’re in Hong Kong, Singapore, all over the US. That’s very awesome. We also sell to major retailers. We have a good partnership with West Elm. We’re in 12 different West Elm stores, lots of market stores. Whole Foods.
We have sold to Urban Outfitters before. A bunch of really amazing independent retailers too.
Felix: When you go after these bigger plays like Whole Foods and Urban Outfitters, were they reaching out to you or did you have to go through-
Tamara: They all reached out to me. All the West Elm buyers reached out, the Urban Outfitters reached out and Whole Foods reached out.
Felix: That’s awesome. Now, when you are working with them, is it any different than working with independent retailers or is the process more involved?
Tamara: It’s definitely a lot more involved. We work with them and Ann Taylor and Ink and Diesel, really big companies. They just have a lot of documentation that you have to follow. I think it’s a legal thing. All of them have literally 200 pages or more page of logistics that you have to follow. It’s certain ways that’s labeling your product, you have to have UPT codes for Whole Foods. That was a whole process and yeah. There’s a lot of different requirements.
They send you official PO’s. You need to invoice them a certain way. It’s definitely a lot more involved, and I don’t know the average person would be able to work with these big [inaudible 00:40:52] so complicated. There’s so many things that could go wrong, but it’s definitely, once you’ve done the more complicated ones like Urban, other ones become a little bit easier, I think because they have a lot of parallels.
Felix: You’re still not still making these out of your home, are you? These candles?
Tamara: No, no, no. We almost got evicted from me doing that.
Felix: Your entire building must have smelled like candles.
Tamara: Yeah, yeah, that was not a good experience. No, I have two studios now up in Sunset Park. We had a 500 square foot studio that we worked out of for about a year and a half and then it was time to … The people [inaudible 00:41:39] moved out, so we took over that studio too. I’m still looking to expand to bigger spaces. We’re kind of spilling out of those spaces, too.
Felix: How big is the team now? How many people do you have working in the studios?
Tamara: I have four full timers right now. They do all the production. I still am managing all the other hats. Then we have two people that come in as needed, so that when we are really, really crazy, they come in and will help out. Sometimes I work with the temp agency and we’ll add more help as needed. We have our four core team doing all the work, and then when things get crazy, we have additional help plus me.
Felix: You do hire from a temp agency, or you’ll hire someone part time with the seasonality. How do you ramp them up? How do you get them into ready to work mode as quickly as possible?
Tamara: That was a big challenge this year, especially since this was a really big year for us. We doubled all our sales from 2014, or 2015 and 2016. We’re on track to double those sales this year. I didn’t anticipate [inaudible 00:42:55] this holiday season. I was also, when the holiday season started, I was nine months pregnant and I gave birth in the middle of our busiest time of year.
Felix: Oh, God.
Tamara: That was really, really stressful and insane. I basically hired people … I use Craig’s List and posted ads on Craig’s List for job offerings, job offers. Job advertising. Did a lot of interviews and we do a lot of production, so I have people come in for trial days, paid trial days. Come in for one day and work with the team. We evaluate if they’re fast enough or if they’re … It’s kind of a small open space, so people work together a lot. This person has to be easy to get along with since everyone is in such close quarters. We’ll do a trial day, which is important.
We need to see how the person works, and then from there, I narrow it down. The temp agency, [inaudible 00:44:02] that was pretty tough. We went through some interesting people that came to work for us for two days. It just didn’t work out. I wouldn’t work with them again. They sent a couple people that were great and that we kept throughout the holiday season, the whole holiday season. We had to go through six different people that were totally wrong for the job.
One person didn’t even speak English. I don’t know that I would recommend that route, honestly. I think that if I was not super pregnant, I would have interviewed people off of Craig’s List myself for [inaudible 00:44:38].
Felix: Yeah. Now a days, now that you have a team of people helping you out, where do you focus most of your time on a day to day basis?
Tamara: I do everything else that’s not production. I do customer service. I invoice our whole sale customers. I answer questions about our brand and I do all the press questions and interviews and stuff like that. Also do all our creative assets, our email designs or website stuff, photography or social media. I mostly focus on creative direction and customer service, which are two of the very important areas. I have an accountant, so I am able to [inaudible 00:45:24]. I actually do a lot of our accounting. I use QuickBooks, which makes things easy.
Yeah, I just do everything else that’s not production. It’s a lot of work.
Felix: That’s a lot. Awesome. BrooklynCandleStudio.com is the website. Where do you want to see the business go next?
Tamara: You know, I love introducing new stuff. I want to keep expanding into new markets. Do a lot more cool collaborations. I’m working on a couple of really interesting ones right now. One with different unnamed big retailers, doing some custom scents and stuff like that. Just being able to grow my team, offer more opportunities to my current team and come out with great scents and great products for people to enjoy.
Felix: Very cool. Thank you so much for your time.
Tamara: Thank you, Felix.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode:
Speaker 3: We have to be careful with our content online marketing. We had a lot of banner ads turned down because of the content. We really had to draft our marketing so that it was palatable.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.