Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in candle-making but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Samantha Casale, Founder of The Merry Wick, located in Valencia, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Six months into the pandemic, while we were under stay-at-home orders, I relied heavily on music to help calm my anxious mind, which was constantly spiraling with thoughts of the unknown. Music has always been a great way to escape, and one night while listening to my favorite album, I began wondering if there was a way to escape further into the music and the stories created in songs.
Scent is one of the strongest senses tied to memory and can heavily influence emotion, so I began to think of what the world being depicted in the songs I was listening to would smell like, and that was the origin of my candle business, The Merry Wick.
Ever since then, I have been creating candle scents that are inspired by the stories and worlds that are created through the words, lyrics, and imagery of some of our favorite songs, books, shows, and movies. These candles cater to people who feel deeply about the pop culture that they consume and wish to experience their favorite media in a new way.
Tell us about yourself
My name is Sam; I am 28 years old and lived and grew up in Los Angeles, California. I went through about ten different jobs in the span of 8 years, everything from retail, food service, admin, temp work, marketing, and product management. I left every single one of those jobs feeling the exact same way: overworked, under-appreciated, burnt out, and stressed both mentally and physically.
I often felt like there was something wrong with me. I was good at every job I tried and put all of my heart into everything I did even when it wasn't required, but it was never good enough for my employers or me. But in the back of my head, I would always think, "but everyone else can handle these job environments, so why can't I? am I just weak?". I still struggle with convincing myself that the answer to that question is no. I am not weak or incapable. The answer is simply that I was never going to be truly happy working for someone else in any industry or profession because I have the "entrepreneur spirit."
In every job I had before, I always longed to be more creative and involved in the running of the business, even when I was in the lowest tiered position possible. I wanted to help create new systems to help the businesses function smoother, and I wanted to help create new products and experiences and come up with fun ways to market those things, and really the only way I was ever going to have that much creative freedom and that much say in a business was if I created my own, which is ultimately exactly where life leads me.
Owning and running my own business is the most challenging thing I have ever voluntarily done, but it is also the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and that feeling of overcoming challenges and that sense of accomplishment I know it can provide mixed with knowing how truly unhappy I can be when I'm working for anyone, but myself helps me keep going on my toughest days.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment as a business owner has, hands down, been the personal development and growth that it has allowed me to see in myself. I think it's funny that "feelings things deeply" is the heart and origin of my business, but it is also the biggest challenge I have had to overcome as well.
Feeling those deep feelings does allow me to create things that I love, but it also causes me to feel anxiety, stress, failure, and all of those unpleasant feelings more deeply as well. The challenges can be small but feel huge, like having to figure out literally how to ship products for the first time, or they can be actual big decisions like what supplies to invest in and how much money to invest in the business as a whole. In my personal life, these would be things that I could either avoid or find a workaround for if they made me uncomfortable, but as a business owner, you have to face those discomforts and challenges head-on very often, or they can completely hinder the business.
Maybe it sounds harsh or scary, but having this business has forced me to face a lot of my fears and has also helped me overcome most of them as well, which is something that I don't know I would have been able to do without this business. Overall I have gained a lot more confidence and trust in myself and feel that I have really blossomed as a person because of this experience.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
One of the hardest things about being a business owner for me, as well as many other business owners I know, is gaining the ability to separate yourself from your business. Given that the basis for every business is serving some amount/group of people, those people often have feelings about your products and services, and sometimes those feelings are either not kind or not what you want to hear.
So, unfortunately, sometimes feedback such as "I don't like this scent" can translate in my brain to " I don't like YOU," "Your product is a failure and therefore so are you," or "Your efforts and creativity are not good enough." All of those things are much harsher than the original feedback, but sometimes that feedback can feel like a reflection of yourself and your abilities rather than what it truly is, which is simply someone's opinion, and to quote the great Taylor Swift, "You are not someone else's opinion of you," but in this case, you are not someone else's opinion of what you create. Making this separation is definitely not easy and is something I still struggle with all of the time, but it is a skill that will always be important to keep in mind and work on.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Based on my personal experience with owning a business, my top 3 tips for someone who wants to create their own would be...
- Keep Learning and Researching whenever possible: Advice that I see all the time regarding business is to not be afraid to make mistakes, which I generally agree with because mistakes can and will happen; however, there are always mistakes that can be avoided as well. Speaking specifically for product-based business, try to do as much research and gain as much knowledge about your products as possible, and specifically, try to always ask yourself "why." For example, there are SO many elements that go into creating candles: choosing a type of wax, choosing a type of jar, choosing a type of wick and the list goes on. The type of wick you choose depends on every other factor that you make a decision on, and if I hadn't asked myself "why?" and chose just any wick, I would not have learned that the wick sizes depend on the diameter of your jar, and the wick type depends on the kind of wax you use, and the type of wax you use can change how much fragrance you can put in a candle and so on. One question of "why?" led to answers about so many things that I needed to know to make decisions that would ultimately help me understand the science behind my product and also help me avoid mistakes that, with something like candles, can actually be very dangerous.
- Stay true to yourself and your values: This one has been very important to me throughout this entire process. Not to sound too cynical, but I do think that no one is immune to the mental shifts that can come when it comes to money and business. I think most business owners, at some point, are faced with decisions and situations that can be ethical or moral dilemmas. Situations like owning when you make a mistake, even if that mistake will cost you, or telling customers what they want to hear or what will keep them happy rather than the truth. When money is involved, sometimes it does take an extra push to do the right thing in some situations, so I think it is important to always do your best to remind yourself of your values and let those guide you through certain situations.
- Learn your boundaries and when to say no / Know your worth: Many of the business owners I know, very much including myself, are self-proclaimed "people pleasers." I can be so prone to giving people what they want just to make them happy even when it is not a wise use of my time and resources, and then on top of that, I do not charge extra even when I put in extra work. This is definitely not something that I have overcome yet, and not being able to say no to customers has gotten me into a lot of situations where I feel uncomfortable and taken advantage of. The thought of saying no to someone can seem very daunting, and your mind can flood with worst-case scenarios of what will happen if you do say no. I try to remind myself that if I were to say no to a request and the customer made my worst-case scenario come true where they were abrasive, mean, or say bad things about my business, that is certainly not the kind of person I would want as a customer in the first place. If a request is not worth your time or something feels off about it, it can save you a lot of heartache to just politely say no from the beginning. In the same realm, for some reason (especially with small businesses), people love to make comments about the pricing of products, and that comment can hurt because, ultimately, that person is saying that your creativity, time, and effort have no value, and that is simply not true. Sometimes I get caught up in feeling like I have to defend my pricing to those who question it, and that is not a good habit to develop. One way I have decided to mitigate this is to be more "transparent" on my social media about the processes behind making my products. I share more videos of me making candles, labels, designing packaging, and so on to SHOW them how much time and effort I put into my work, and in general, I think people enjoy that kind of content these days and can find it fun and inspiring!
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
If starting your own business is something you feel very passionate about, you feel that way for a reason, and the service and/or product that you are itching to share with the world has value. It is very easy to let fear get in the way of you pursuing that dream, and if you start, maybe things don't go the way you want them to, or you don't grow at the pace you want, but the experience and the effort is truly worth so much, so don't let the fear of failure stop you!
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.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.