Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in candle-making but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Erin Berger, Owner of Bookend Candle Co., located in Ypsilanti, MI, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Bookend Candle Co. is a home fragrance business offering soy wax candles, wax melts, diffusers, and candle accessories. It started with just candles and is slowly expanding to include other home and body products. Bookend's motto is "ethically made and realistically scented."
Ethically Made - This is at the center of how I operate my business and what goes into my products. Ethically made means I consider my impact on people, animals, the environment, and my business's sustainability. This means I buy as locally as possible so I can support other local businesses and limit the need for shipping. I limit my use of plastics in terms of shipping, production, and the products themselves. None of my products will come with unnecessary packaging. I do my due diligence on my vendors; their values cannot be in direct conflict with mine. For example, I nor any of my direct vendors test on animals. I am careful about the ingredients I choose to use in my products. The soy wax I use is grown and produced in the US. I specifically avoid using any soy wax produced in a way that leads to deforestation. The fragrance oils I use are phthalate-free and require no prop 65 warning. I know this because I check the SDSs for every fragrance oil I use.
Realistically Scented - I don't want my scents just to have a cool name and smell pretty. My goal is for them to mimic real life as much as possible. It is said that our sense of smell is more closely linked to memory than any other sense. This is why I try so hard for accuracy. I want to spark that emotional response. Rare Book Room is reminiscent of an old school library filled with dusty leatherbound books on built-in bookcases lining the walls from floor to ceiling. Kitchen Garden takes me to my backyard vegetable/herb garden. Digging around for that perfectly sun-ripened tomato, plucking a handful of fresh basil leaves, and cutting a sprig of rosemary to make dinner with. That scent lingers on your hands after a good summer harvest. I want my scents to bring about a reaction and feel like an experience.
The Bookend brand is me. My candle studio is in my basement, so my work life and personal life are intertwined. If you follow me on social media, you will likely be on a first-name basis with all my pets and get an in-depth glimpse into my home reno projects.
Tell us about yourself
Candle-making started as a hobby for me. It was something I'd do once or twice a year. Gather a bunch of mason jars or old store-bought candle containers and make a few for me. Fast forward many years, I became more interested in scent blends I couldn't find being sold anywhere. They'd be inspired by a scene in a book or a specific location. At the time, I was unhappy with my job (customer service is a terrible fit for my personality). So, I threw myself into finding the right jars, labels, and core scents. Through trial and error, I learned many nights spent in deep dives on candle-making forums and eventually started an Etsy page. It was not an overnight hit, but sales trickled in, and I received interest from local stores (to my complete and utter shock). Having this side gig allowed me to reevaluate my career, and I could take a part-time job doing something I cared about and enjoyed. I straddled both my part-time job and my business for about three years when I decided to dive into doing Bookend full time. It felt like a huge risk and was a very scary step for me. One year in, it's still scary, if I'm being honest. But I love what I do and the life this business allows. "Business Owner" is also the longest position I've ever held, which is telling.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Taking a hobby, turning it into a successful business, and creating a healthy lifestyle around that business. My favorite part about owning my own business and being self-employed is that I get to work the way I want to, which has benefited my mental and physical health. If I start to wake up regularly, dreading my to-do list or having anxiety about the tasks I'm forcing myself to accomplish, I know it's time to take a step back and reassess. My goals are more about offering an ethically made product and creating a business that reflects my values than being the biggest candle company with the largest profits.
Bookend is the most fulfilling job I've ever had. Because at the end of the day, it was all me, no one else. My hands made each and every candle. I've built my brand from the ground up. And it's one people have come to trust.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
No roadmap or anyone is telling you what to do. As freeing as that sounds, it's also scary. "Should I focus on retail or wholesale? How much effort should I put into social media? Do I need new branding? What direction should my business go?" It can sometimes feel overwhelming knowing your business's success rests solely on your shoulders. You have to wear many hats and decide what you have time for and don't. You have to learn to pace yourself and be forgiving with yourself.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Don't compare yourself to others. Every person/business has a different story, a different starting point, and is in a different stage. It's unfair to compare yourself to a business that's years older than yours or can hire specialists (marketing, branding, photographers).
Stay true to yourself and your beliefs. Having a business motto and/or mission can be incredibly helpful. The desire to be everything and go in a thousand different directions will happen. Building your business around a solid foundation of core beliefs will guide you when the question, "what next," comes up.
And don't forget to enjoy it all! Be proud of yourself and everything you've accomplished.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
My biggest supporters have been friends, family, and the local community. Ypsilanti cherishes its small businesses, and knowing you have people cheering you on helps give that little push or boost when needed. Having that constant support cannot be overstated. Use it.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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