As much as I love being able to work from anywhere and create content for DollarSprout, I felt myself yearning for a new challenge. I’m an ADHDer, which means one of my biggest weaknesses (but sometimes also a strength) is that I easily get sucked down rabbit holes with new hobbies and interests. Every few months it happens, like clockwork. Past rabbit holes for me include poker, boxing, chess, surfing, card tricks, hydroponic plants, Rubik’s Cube, intermittent fasting, the list goes on.
This time, it was going to be something completely new to me: candles.
The Spark of an Idea
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at starting a business that sells physical products. For some reason, as a writer and online content creator, the idea of making something tangible that someone can hold in their hands and enjoy has always sounded like fun. Maybe it’s a classic case of “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”, but, like most other things in life, I had to see it for myself.
After reading a million articles across the web (including a few on our own website, like this list of business ideas), I realized I was spending too much time looking for the perfect idea. Deep down I knew I needed something simple. Something that a person like me with no manufacturing or product development background could pull off.
This wasn’t the time to reinvent the wheel. After seeing candles pop up a few times across several articles on high-margin physical product direct-to-consumer businesses (say that tens times fast), my mind was made up.
I was going to start a luxury candle line and sell online using Shopify. I love burning candles in my house year-round and figured that was enough passion for me to pursue the idea.
Enter: Market Research Phase
Right away I knew that I didn’t want to compete for razor-thin margins on a mass production scale, since my wife and I would be operating this business out of our dining room and garage. That meant creating candles that catered towards high-end clientele that value things like:
Environmental and health-friendly ingredients
Unique scents that you can’t find in Walmart for $8
A luxury experience
Low volume, high margin. That was the general idea, at least.
After some brainstorming with my wife, we settled on a name and filed for an LLC in Virginia. Our house number is 504, so we named the company Club 504 Candle Co.
Getting the Branding Right
Between me and Ben (my friend who I started DollarSprout with), I’ve always been the more visual thinker. To me, the way a brand looks and feels matters just as much, if not more, than the words on the page.
So, naturally, that was where I decided to pour my energy at first.
But let’s be real. I’m not a professional graphic designer. I’ve never used Photoshop in my life, and, up until recently, I had exclusively used PowerPoint to create all of the graphics you see on DollarSprout. I eventually switched over to Canva since it’s much easier to use and has a massive library of assets that are ready to use.
I settled on this logo because I felt like it conveyed what we wanted the brand to stand for:
Luxurious and classy
Elegant but not feminine
Modern but with character
Along with the logo I also decided on brand colors that would match the vibe. Dark grey, light tan, and white. Simple and clean.
Rant: It seems to be “in” right now for entrepreneurship influencers to spout off about how you are spending too much time on your logo, but I couldn’t disagree more. Your logo is the first impression that your brand makes. It frames how people view you and your products and how they connect with your message. Remember that many of these influencers want to trivialize logo design so they can sell you a course on the “stuff that matters”. Spend time on your logo until you feel like it is absolutely perfect. It is time well spent, trust me. /rant.
Setting up an Online Storefront
This is about the point in time when my wife noticed the elephant in the room. I was doing everything except making candles.
Like an athlete having to answer to the press after a lackluster performance, I quickly fired off a “we just have to trust the process.”
Sure, I was starting with the stuff I was comfortable with, but I knew that eventually, we would have to actually start making candles. But we also needed a website. I was fine with the order I was doing things and I knew we would eventually get to the candle-making part of running a candle business. It’s a cliche but I guess you really do just have to trust the process.
I’ve never run an e-commerce business, so I figured I would make my life easier and just use Shopify. They have a bunch of free templates so if you’ve never built a website before, you can easily get started. I started off with one of their free templates but then I found a theme I really fell in love with. That set me back $350, but it’s money well spent. Like I said, branding is everything.
Once I figured out the general layout of the site and had some basic copywriting down (with the help of ChatGPT), it was time to start making candles. After all, there’s only so much you can do for an e-commerce site when you don’t have a product or photos yet.
Sourcing Vendors and Creating the Product
I can’t emphasize enough that I didn’t know the first thing about candles or candle making when I decided to start this business. I’m not a candle guy. Sure, I liked lighting a candle every now and then, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
But, as rabbit holes go, I got totally immersed in candle content. I think I’ve watched every YouTube video that exists on candle making (not really, but it sure feels like it).
After dozens of hours of research, I found a few vendors for supplies that seemed trustworthy and had positive reviews. I submitted our first order and within two weeks my dining room was transformed into a warehouse/candle lab.
Since I didn’t know exactly how many different scents we wanted to start with, we ordered a bunch of tiny samples so we could pick and choose what we liked. I was a little bit self-conscious about using an off-the-shelf fragrance that wasn’t “proprietary”, so I decided to try blending fragrance oils together to create our own secret sauce.
We eventually landed on six different scents. It seemed reasonable and we figured there would be something for everyone. Four felt like not enough variety and eight felt overwhelming for beginners like us.
Labels and Packaging
Since I want this brand to compete in the luxury category, I needed more than just a candle that smells good. I needed to create an experience for the consumer that makes them feel like this is a special occasion. Think Apple, but for candles. That’s the experience and feel I want to create.
For the design of the labels, I fired up Canva again and went to work. I made so many different designs and none of them felt right. After a while I realized that the problem wasn’t so much the designs themselves, but how they looked when they were printed on a sticker. Everything I made just looked…cheap. And tacky.
So I did some research online and came across a label manufacturer that specializes in making high-end metal labels. The cost was expensive (around $1 per label), but once I saw a prototype of a label I designed, I knew that this was the only way to go. I submitted the order and eagerly waited for my labels to arrive from the other side of the world.
The boxes were a similar process: I found a manufacturer that specializes in gift boxes. They had a box style that I liked, and after a couple of weeks of back and forth, we were finally able to bring my crude designs from Canva into a working prototype that fit the exact dimensions of our jars (or what people in the candle biz call “vessels”).
There was a bigger learning curve to this part than I had expected. I’ve never worked with a manufacturer before so I was constantly Googling things they were asking me so I didn’t look completely clueless (hopefully they couldn’t tell). That said, the people I worked with were extremely helpful in guiding me along. If you want to start an e-commerce brand, don’t be intimidated by this part.
Product Photography AKA the Bane of My Existence
Your Shopify store is pretty much dead on arrival if you don’t have high-quality product photos. The minute people sniff out that a business is being run out of a dining room with nothing but a wax melter and an iPhone, you’re in trouble. And since that’s exactly what I was doing, I was in trouble.
It took me weeks to figure out how to take product photos with my iPhone that looked halfway decent. I watched so many tutorials and tried every lighting situation known to humankind. Also, trying to convey what something smells like through a screen is not exactly an easy task for a budding photographer like myself.
In the end, I went with the route of less is more. Clean, white backgrounds. Even these were hard for me to pull off.
Up Next: Social Media Marketing and Farmers Markets
Honestly, it was exhausting just getting the business to this point, but we are in too deep now to stop. The hard part is still to come: actually getting people to see these candles and buy them.
I plan to focus most of my attention on a mix of paid and organic posting on Instagram and TikTok, even though I swore I would never join TikTok. Truth is, it’s a goldmine for brands that can figure out how to crack the code and totally blow up — which I hope to do. In fact, as I was working on this post I created my first-ever TikTok. If you want to watch a grown man embarrass himself and sling some candles online, go follow me 👇
There is also a farmers market two blocks from our house every Saturday, so we are going to figure out how to get in on that.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start!
It remains to be seen whether this new venture of ours will be a success or not, but I feel great about the progress we have made in the five months since filing our LLC. It’s been a fun project to work on in my spare time and maybe one day it can turn into a nice source of side income for us.
Remember, just because you don’t think you have a passion for something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it. The idea of creating something new out of thin air was plenty to keep me interested and motivated to get this off the ground even though I don’t have any intrinsic passion for candles.
Don’t wait for the perfect idea. Just pick something and go with it!
Shopify offers a user-friendly and efficient platform for launching an e-commerce business. With its intuitive design and robust tools, it simplifies online store management, making it a practical choice for entrepreneurs starting their digital journey.