In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands your customers are sure to love. This week we sat down with Stacey Fish, President of Lit Up Candle Co. Lit Up Candle Co. sells sustainable, handcrafted home fragrance products, is based in Decatur, Georgia and has been in business for five years. Shop soy candles here.
Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
I studied entrepreneurship in college and always had the goal of starting my own business. PJ, my husband and business partner, has always been an entrepreneur at heart; growing up, he even sold people plots of land on the gaseous planet Neptune.
Although I started making candles before studying business, I never envisioned something crafty being my first business; I always thought it would be tech-related, since that was my career focus. And PJ certainly never imagined becoming a candle-maker.
This all started back in 2014 when PJ surprised me with a much better bottle cutter than I’d been using and showed interest in sharing my hobby. We decided to see if there was any interest in quality soy candles made in upcycled beer and wine bottles, and signed up to vend at a local beer festival.
It took us over a month to create 80 candles for our first event, where we were pleasantly surprised by the response. After a few events, we saw the potential and decided to really make a go of it. This business gives us the opportunity to promote upcycling, eco-friendly and sustainable products, and conscious consumerism which are all things we deeply believe in.
How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
We handcrafted our first candle containers by scoring the glass using a bottle cutter, then thermo-shocking the glass and hoping we’d get a good cut – there’s a lot of breakage with this home-hobby method. We hand-sanded the cut bottles with 5 different grits of sandpaper, kept the original labels on the bottles, matched the candle fragrance to the beer or wine as best we could, then dyed the wax to match the label. We quickly realized this presented too many variables to customers; and, if we wanted to brew Lit Up into the business we envisioned, we needed to develop a branded product.
Because brands were already in the marketplace with wine bottle candles, we decided to differentiate ourselves by limiting our product to beer bottles and focusing on non-alcoholic themed fragrances. We developed collections to group our signature scents by fragrance type and started designing our branded labels. During this time, we invested in equipment like a wet tile saw, flat lap and high-capacity wax melter to help us improve both the quality of our handcrafted products and increase our production capacity. We also started working directly with our perfumer to create our exclusive, organic fragrance oils.
Next, we recognized a need in the market for easy gift-giving packaging and developed our custom window boxes, which also made our products more durable to ship. Over time, we’ve continued to curate our fragrance selection to only include the best-sellers; launched additional home fragrance products including wine bottle candles, wax melts and room sprays; and, we’re getting ready to launch other types of products from upcycled bottles.
How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
We manufacture everything in-house with eco-friendly and natural materials that are locally sourced. We do it all from upcycling bottles into candle containers to wicking, pouring, cleaning, finishing, labeling and packaging. We use a 4-step, cold-working process to upcycle beer and wine bottles into our handcrafted candle containers:
1) hand cut the bottle using a wet tile saw
2) sand away imperfections and chipping using a flat lap
3) pre-polish the sanded edge
4) polish the smooth edge to add shine on the glass
We hand-pour all our candles and home fragrance products in small batches using 100% soy wax blended with 10% fragrance oil (almost double the recommended amount), and our fragrance oils are 100% organic, phthalate free, paraben free, vegan, gluten free, cruelty free and IFRA compliant. We use hemp wicks because hemp is eco-friendly, much more sustainable than cotton, and burns hotter which helps release the fragrance and improve scent throw.
What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
We are a small team so we both wear lots of hats. When we’re not traveling for events or trade shows, our typical day starts with checking for new orders, picking, packing and shipping everything that needs to go out. We’re constantly working on production to keep inventory stocked which means regular trips to pick up local supplies and a lot of physical labor: cutting and sanding bottles, wicking and pouring candles, then we clean, label and package.
We work a lot of weekends vending at events. In between all that, we make time for sales, marketing, product development, etc. I spend a lot of time designing marketing materials, doing photography, managing our website and sales channels, planning and executing our marketing calendar, and running the back-end of the business.
I really enjoy doing design work and analyzing data, I love using both sides of my brain. Although I don’t mind doing it, my least favorite part of the job is cleaning bottles after pouring candles.
What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
In total, our initial investment was around $40,000. PJ and I both invested our own money over time. We both had day jobs when we started and funneled all the money we could into the business.
Where was the first place you started selling your product?
We debuted Lit Up at the Acworth Craft Beer Festival, our first event. Shortly after, we were picked up by our first chain of local stores and built our website.
Where do you sell your product now?
We sell direct to consumers on our website, Amazon Handmade, and vending at events. For wholesale, we have shops on Faire and Abound, sell direct, and exhibit at trade shows. Lit Up is carried by 200+ retailers nationwide and internationally.
Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
We would love to continue growing our retailer base, expand into more holiday markets and eventually have our own retail shop where we can also teach classes.
Do you have a favorite product? If so, which one?
Although all our fragrances are my babies, my absolute favorite fragrance is Teakwood & Cardamom. It’s woodsy and spicy, bold, sophisticated, and warm but makes a perfect year-round scent. I’m not the only one who loves it, it’s one of our best-selling fragrances!
What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
Outside of events, our marketing strategy is digitally focused. Social media is an important part of growing brand awareness and engagement. Email is important for cultivating our relationship with customers and growing sales. Website and blog content are vital for SEO. This year we’re expanding into paid ads on Google, Facebook and Instagram.
What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with Lit Up Candle Co?
If I’ve learned anything about running a business, it’s that there will always be a new challenge to overcome. One of the most recent challenges we faced was over the holiday season, aka. peak candle season.
Our wet tile saw decided to stop functioning properly and we were suddenly breaking too many bottles to be productive. We waited 1 week for the saw to be serviced, but that didn’t fix the issue; so, we purchased a brand-new saw, that didn’t fix the issue either.
There aren’t a lot of people who use the equipment we do for the same application, so it can be tough to diagnose issues. Production was at a complete halt during our busiest time of year.
While PJ was in Atlanta troubleshooting the issue, I was up in Philly running our booth at a 6-week holiday market, fulfilling orders, and keeping the business going. It was one of those times that tears come from exhaustion but you just have to keep going. After another week of troubleshooting, PJ was able to identify and fix the issue, we were back in production and there was light at the end of the tunnel.
What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with Lit Up Candle Co?
Stepping away from our day jobs and jumping into the business full-time in 2017, continuing to grow and expand year-over-year, and we’ll hit our 5-year mark this September which feels like a huge milestone.
What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
If you’re manufacturing handcrafted products like we do, you have to figure out how you’re going to scale production to keep up with growth; even if you’re not there yet, map it out so you know what you’re working towards. Pick something you’re passionate about: you have to love what you do – you’re going to do it A LOT. One thing we didn’t really think through beforehand was how heavy our product is: not only do we literally lift and move tons of weight in product, it’s also expensive to ship.
Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
Something I heard often in my corporate days at Home Depot that has always stuck with me: “You cannot manage what you do not measure.”
What’s your favorite thing about owning Lit Up Candle Co?
I love connecting with customers and other business owners, especially in person at events. I also love the full-range of creativity and challenge of it all.