The Candle Lab Thrives Despite Adversity

Though Steve and Katesha Weaver aren’t The Candle Lab’s founders, their diligence and hard work have helped the business flourish in the three years they’ve been at the helm.

Today, The Candle Lab offers hand poured soy candles in more than 120 scents at stores in Worthington, Grandview, and Powell, and the Weavers have plans to open a Short North location in March.

However, when the husband-and-wife team discovered the business (which originally was just one shop in Worthington), its days were numbered, Steve says.

“It was opened by two guys who wanted to run their own candle shop, but they opened without any branding or additional merchandise, ” he says. “It was just candles on plywood shelves. The business was struggling and they were preparing to close when we stumbled onto the shop. We bought the name and the candle making equipment, and set about creating a concept and a brand that we could be excited about.”

Read our interview with Steve to learn what spurred the Weavers to reopen after a fire destroyed their Grandview store, why they value community involvement, and how he thinks up-and-coming entrepreneurs can achieve success. (Hint: marketing savvy is not enough.)

Melanie McIntyre: First off, why did you get into the candle making business?

Steve Weaver: I worked in politics for 10 years and had my own political consulting company. I decided I couldn’t work in the political world any longer, so I shut down my company and went looking for the next opportunity. I loved the small business ownership part; I just didn’t like the political work I was doing. My wife has a very strong retail background, so we started looking for a retail concept that we could do together. When we stumbled upon this struggling candle shop, we thought it might be a good opportunity to try to recreate this concept into something completely new.

MM: Your candles are made with soy wax and cotton paper wicks. Why use those materials?

SW: Ninety percent of all candles sold are made from paraffin wax, which is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process. Before you start adding color or fragrance, there are a lot of impurities and harmful chemicals in the wax that cause black soot and breathing problems. Soy wax is made from soybeans, so it doesn’t have the chemicals or impurities. This makes a candle that burns longer, cleaner, and more true to scent. All you need to know is this: if you own a pet bird, you can’t burn paraffin candles because it kills the birds. You can only burn soy candles. If they kill birds, then what is it doing to you or your family?

MM: Where are your candles made?

SW: All of our candles are made fresh in each store, every day. We pour every day to keep up with the candles that are sold off the shelf.

MM: The Candle Lab also sells products other than candles, right?

SW: In addition to the candles, we offer reed diffusers, wax tarts, room sprays, linen sprays, bath salts, oil for oil burners, and other home fragrance products. The candles are the only pre-made products we offer. All of these home fragrance products are custom mixed with each customer that comes into the store.

MM: When you decided to relaunch the business, what were some of the first steps you took?

SW: Our first step was to gather as much information as we could about how people scent their homes and offices, and how much time and effort they put into thinking about home fragrance. We had some great ideas about what could be done to create a very interesting retail concept, but we had to be sure that people would be open to creating their own scents and making their own products. We put together a business plan, raised some initial capital through friends and family, bought out the original owners, and went to work on creating The Candle Lab.

MM: What resources did you use to further the business?

SW: We spent as much time as we could with other small business owners to see what lessons they would share. We also joined as many organizations as we could find: the Worthington Chamber of Commerce, the Olde Worthington Business Association, Experience Columbus, and many more. We were determined to learn as much as we could about our market, our community, and our neighboring businesses.

MM: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a business owner and how did you overcome it?

SW: Our biggest challenge came in January of 2009 when our Grandview store burned to the ground. In fact, our whole block burned and 22 businesses lost their stores or offices on that day. There were only three open storefronts on Grandview Avenue, so we watched the fire in the morning and went looking at those three spaces that same afternoon. We signed a lease two days later and reopened in our new space exactly a month after the fire.

It’s hard not to get discouraged when something like that happens, but we love our customers in the Grandview community and we didn’t want to wait two years until that block was rebuilt. It was just another reminder that you never know what is going to happen each day when you own a business. You just have to be ready to take it in stride and keep moving forward without getting discouraged.

MM: What other advice do you have for someone looking to start their own business?

SW: First off, be sure you know going in that you will never have another day off. Because of delays with our Powell store build out , that store opened during the same week that my wife had our first little baby girl. I had to leave the hospital multiple times to supervise the build out and get things ready for the store opening. I wish I could have just stayed there to enjoy the first couple days of my new baby’s life, but you don’t get to just take a vacation when you want. The business has to keep going.

Secondly, your success is linked directly to the success of the business community that surrounds you. We spend almost as much time working on building our business districts in Worthington, Grandview, and now Powell, as we do on growing the business. Too many business owners bury their head in their business and don’t take the time to get involved in the community around their business, and that almost never works.

Finally, do something interesting and do it very well. The businesses that seem to be flourishing and attracting the most attention right now are the ones who take a traditional model and give it a new twist. New entrepreneurs who bring their own personality to their business will help to grow Columbus’ reputation as a great place to live, eat, shop, and explore.

We opened our Powell store in the same space as a new Jeni’s Ice Cream shop. In the small amount of time I’ve had to spend with Jeni [Britton Bauer], I am constantly amazed by her unwavering commitment to making the absolute best ice cream you can buy, using the highest quality, locally-sourced ingredients possible. Her success proves you can’t just rely on a fancy logo or savvy marketing or great social media. You have to do what you do better than anyone else is doing it and the rest of the business plan will take off from there.

MM: What is your main goal for the The Candle Lab?

SW: Our main goal has always been to grow the company to the point where we can really make a difference in the communities where we have our stores. We believe passionately that malls are an outdated model and that a walkable downtown that sits at the heart of a community is a much better model. When I was in high school, City Center Mall was the place to go to shop, and now it’s demolished and covered with a park. When you contrast that with the stretch of High Street through downtown Worthington, which has been the center of that community since the early 1800s, it’s easy to see that’s a more viable model.

The businesses might come and go, but the people of Worthington make it a point to shop, eat, and gather in their downtown. It’s a source of community pride and identity, and we are thrilled to be a part of that. It’s not enough for us to just open a new store; we want to be a part of making that business district a more viable place for that community.

To learn more about The Candle Lab, visit TheCandleLab.com.