Earlier we published an opinion piece about the lack of investors and thereby investments happening in Columbus. Businesses like Candle With a Cause are feeling the pinch.
Since 2010, CWC has been living their local, sustainable, meaningful mission. Soy wax candles are poured into post-consumer glass vessels with 25 percent of the net profit of each candle sold going to a designated non-profit.
For the first few years, CWC’s sweet spot was smaller, independent boutiques in Central Ohio and various markets and festivals.
“Once we got to a point where we felt comfortable with the product, we started pitching retailers,” says Co-Owner Mitch Underwood.
It’s been a process a few years in the making, but eyes on the prize, CWC was after a major, national retailer. And it’s finally within their grasp.
Underwood explains that the product game with retailers is generally a tough one. There’s very rarely guarantees and there’s generally not even a contract.
“That doesn’t exist in the product world,” Underwood says. “Occasionally you get told it’s ok for your to try.”
And if a business tries and actually sells their product, then they get to come back.
CWC got the chance to try with a local branch of the national retailer. Round one went well, so they expanded to another store in the area, then eventually got permission to pitch to stores throughout the region. CWC has worked up to about 20 available stores in the region and has plans to pitch to the additional 10 or so to max out their capacity.
This coming April, they have the chance to take CWC from regional to national.
“Scaling from 20 stores to 300 plus stores would be a massive undertaking,” Underwood says. Especially considering the locality of their product. They want to use it as a selling point.
“We’re in talks with non-profits so that the candles still remain relevant to the consumer in that area,” Underwood says.
The jump that CWC would have to make in terms of production has proven to be a roadblock for further expansion. They want to make the switch from primarily independent boutiques to the national retailer (Underwood says that they are still available at several smaller retailers and they won’t be phasing out markets and festivals anytime soon though).
“We make all our candles to order,” Underwood says. Currently, the process takes about a week to make the candles for each store.
If they want to scale up to 300 plus stores, “We need to figure out how to modify our production process,” Underwood says. And they have.
CWC has figured out certain tools that would literally cut production costs in half. But it costs a good amount of money to make that happen, money they don’t have. In the meantime they are trying to slim down their current process any way they can. With some mechanical knowledge, Underwood and his business partner modified a lathe to scrape labels off wine bottles. Now they don’t have to do it by hand. It saves time and uses less water – something that’s important to them in their mission for sustainability.
Cutting production costs and time would not only increase their ability to stock a national retailer, but as a company with so many bottom lines, produce a ripple effect.
“The more efficient we can get, the more we can make, as well as the more that we can donate,” Underwood says.
But so far, they haven’t been able to get a loan for the ballpark $60,000 they need to make it all happen. Venture capital doesn’t interest them because they don’t want to give up control of the company, and traditional bank loans have proven to be a fruitless effort.
“We don’t have good credit personally,” Underwood says. “We don’t have money in the bank because, honestly, we’re children of the recession.We need to figure out another way. Another way to get seed capital into the hands of entrepreneurs that might have a questionable financial past.”
Underwood believes many people started businesses out of the recession because they had to, so maybe their credit isn’t perfect, but investments are still necessary.
“Investment is necessary or else the economy doesn’t grown,” Underwood says referencing his economics minor. “There’s a disconnect in the function of basic economics because of this credit history problem.”
In today’s day and age, it seems that very few people can actually qualify for a traditional loan. Underwood says they thought it would mean something that they have five successful years in business to show, but it doesn’t
“We’re constantly on the search for capital,” Underwood says.
And they’re not alone. And it’s not just Columbus.
CWC has traveled extensively in the region setting up new accounts with their retailer and visiting festivals. Underwood has spoken with numerous small business who started cheaply, grew cheaply and have basically maxed out their capacity, much like CWC.
“They don’t know how to get from that point to the next point,” he says. “It’s a big step to take from being a local product to being a scalable product.”
The bottom line is an investment in a business like CWC isn’t just about a return on money. It means a growing economy of local manufacturing. A successful business. Jobs. And especially for a social enterprise like theirs, “When you invest in a company that invest in community, everybody benefits,” Underwood says.
For more information, visit candlewithacause.com.