How COVID Changed The Way We Do Things
Hello! Thank you for dropping in to read our post discussing COVID and how it impacted our business. Many times we've been sure customers have wondered why we only have one style of candle, why things that were planned never made it to the website, etc., and we thought it was time to address those questions. I'll start by saying, we are a small family-owned business and don't do things as quickly and easily as a larger business.
Here's a quick summary of this post:
1) COVID has been a huge challenge for literally EVERYONE.
2) Being a small business during COVID takes something that is already really hard to do, and ramps it up to a whole new level of difficult.
3) Since the pandemic started, supplies vanished and/or have been extremely difficult and expensive to acquire.
4) We have had to come up with creative solutions, and are going to have to keep doing so.
5) All the changes really upset our apple cart, and every goal/plan we had changed.
6) Through pain comes growth they say... All we can do is look for the valuable lessons in all this.
It's pretty common knowledge what a devastating effect on most businesses that COVID had, and is still having. Many were forced to close temporarily, some permanently. Supply chain issues became difficult and in some situations impossible to navigate. Safety policies and practices were put into place for pretty much anyone operating a legitimate business. Local markets to sell at pretty much dried up. Even if you were able to attend a market, how were the customers going to safely smell the product without potentially contaminating it with COVID? There were many minefields to navigate.
For us as a small business still in the growth and development phase, along with many other candle makers all across the United States, we really hit some snags. We were and still are learning and growing, both creativity-wise and business-acumen wise. Fortunately, with hard work and perseverance we are working our way toward more inventory, more product types, and more services for our customers. But, at the time we began, the reality was, I was a stay-at-home-mom after forgoing my career in real estate and having my youngest son, and also following the death of my middle son. Candles were really a comforting past-time and I needed that, as well as some time to love on that late life baby and grieve the one who left me.
Since we were not a high-budget operation able to hire accountants and pay for slick marketing, web developers, production assistants and photographers, we got to do everything for ourselves. I think that is a positive in that we know every aspect of our business. When we do hire people, at least we will know very well the job we are hiring them to do.
An example of one development that was cemented into place by COVID is our doorstep delivery. With today's busy lifestyles that service is invaluable to customers. It's nice to be able to chat more with our customers rather than just having strictly online orders with no one-on-one conversations.
Supply shortages are still plaguing us in a major way. This problem is probably with us to stay. Supplies will come back on the market for only what seems like an instant before they are snatched up and are gone. Or else they'll come back online much more expensive. There was a very large influx of candle-makers who got into the market when they were displaced from work, which in addition to the suppliers having their own problems keeping employees in the workplace, really caused materials to dry up, first, the candle jars/containers, then wicks, now the wax... I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon here about no manufacturing going in the U.S. except to say, it's really scary.
Of course, candle-making is not a get rich quick scheme. It takes years to get fully established. Now, I see many selling off their supplies. And I'm grateful to still be able to work at this craft. Although many newcomers are exiting the business, it hasn't helped the suppliers who are having trouble finding employees to work. To top it off, there is now a soy wax shortage.
Any business that is new has to pace its growth and try to avoid bad debt. One way to avoid getting bogged down with debt is to reinvest profits, but that can get tricky when you are still in the expensive product development phase. One specific example from our experiences last year, we were planning to release a new sample jar, and suddenly, the wick for it couldn't be found anywhere. We managed to get the jars, the lids, the labels, but at the last minute, no wicks...
It was also very disappointing to shelve the goal temporarily to release another candle line in more upscale containers (or any containers) due to none being available. This meant not only did you have a money problem in the sense that you were waiting to have the funds to buy, but when you were ready, there would be nothing left. If there was something left, it would have increased in price so much that your margins were crushed.
It literally got to the point when the money was there, there were no supplies. When the supplies were there, no money. It was very frustrating, but what came out of it was positive change, all the way. We're starting to buy our supplies in bulk. Before you know it we'll be rolling out those fancy jars and multiple looks. The hurdles that slowed us down prevented us from making expensive mistakes. So actually, we are grateful we made a lot of mistakes while we were small.
At time when we needed to progress to pouring more candles at a time, we had to ration our wax and jars to make sure all existing customers were accommodated. We have tried to never say no to an order of our main product line, and continue to embrace that policy. We might restrict the number of wholesale accounts we service, but that is just a measure to be sure we can do a good job for our current customers and business owners/wholesale accounts, generating the right kind of business for where we are right now. More than once, we made a decision to forgo our profit in order to make sure customers who relied on us in resale were taken care of. I remember a few times when the containers used for an account were bought up and sold off at a higher price on Amazon by wonderful individuals. I send them special blessings. It was frustrating to see this and not be able to do anything about it.
Overall, the pandemic created an enormous juggling act. What was the most important material to purchase, and when would we need it by? There were days I thought my brain was going to explode thinking about it. It created a complete reallocation of funds. Since COVID, it's much more difficult for small businesses to survive, because instead of being able to buy in smaller quantities the sometimes seemingly endless list of necessary materials when you're trying to ramp up, you really must buy more quantity in order to not run out, resulting in less funds for other things. There's no guarantee if you wait to buy what you need that it will be there next time. We're holding out as long as we can on raising prices, because every single supply we order has increased in price as well as the shipping cost, and not just by a little.
In spite of it all we're stocking more inventory than ever before. Everything is hand poured, but we're slow pouring more candles at a time (believe me we were very much slow pouring before, maybe even like turtle pouring), creating new products, and preparing to increase our advertising and marketing.
The goal is to just keep moving forward, focusing on the quality of the products, and never giving up on maintaining a great range of fragrances with excellent scent throw. The most exciting development of all is coming up this year with some one-of-a-kind scents! We've spent the last few years painstakingly researching fragrances, and are ready to formulate the best!
If you are a customer of ours or plan to become one, we want you to know we love our work and are committed to it. We hope to get to know you and enjoy these wonderful fragrances together for many years to come! Thank you for helping us to get this far. If COVID is having a negative impact on your life, we are all in this together, we're here to talk if you need help, and as a community, we will get through this and come out the other side of it stronger, more bonded, and accomplished.