Building A Scented Candle Brand – D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 56:42)

PODCAST AUDIO

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Intro

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company shares lessons on building a strong brand within a generic scented candles category.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

What You’ll Learn

Interview with MattheD’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company

00:00Introduction
01:19Startup Story
04:47Branding – Storytelling
11:52Target Market
15:53When to quit your job
20:41Product Development
24:01Sales Channels
31:21Subscription business model
33:04Social Media
36:33Shipping & Fulfillment
39:20Selling on Amazon
41:38Post Purchase Experience
44:08Mistakes and Challenges
47:58Rapid Fire Questions

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company

  1. One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2021 and why? (Response: The Four Agreements)
  2. An innovative product or idea in the current ecommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Shopify)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend/Productivity Tip (Response: Klaviyo)
  4. A peer entrepreneur or business-person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Natural Annie Essentials, fragrant J, Joe’s Gourmet Seafood)
  5. Best business advice you ever received or you would give (Response: You need to hand over a lot of stuff and get out of your own way and let other people make decisions)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of Trep Talks

Hey there entrepreneurs My name is Sushant and welcome to Dropbox. This is the show where I interview successful e-commerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story, and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Deshaun Russell to the show. Deshawn is the founder and CEO of southern elegance, Candle Company, Southern elegance candle company creates soy candles that celebrate everything that there is the love about the south, from the charm to the heritage, to the irresistible sense of comfort. The shone, a former teacher started the company to honor the joys of Southern Living and also to provide a creative outlet for her sense of nostalgia. And today, I want to ask Deshawn a few questions about her entrepreneurial story. And so the strategies and tactics that she has used to start and grow her business. So thank you so much for joining me today. Trep talks.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.

Sushant Misra  

Thank you. So I know you have a very interesting story. You used to be a full-time teacher. What got you interested in candles and what made you start this business.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

So it’s always interested in I always tell the truth about this, I knew how to make a lot of things I knew how to make. So sugar scrubs, body butters, just Bath and Body products. And then I learned how to make candles from watching YouTube videos. And I literally walked in my job one day, and I was like, I just I can’t do this anymore. I just I hate it here is like sucking the life right out of me. And I was like, I just quit. Like I just went into work one day, and I quit. And so I had to like look at all of the stuff that I knew how to make. And I said, which one of these things can I charge the most money for? Because I need to hurry up and make some money. So of all of the things, I said, Okay, I think I can do, I can charge the most with candles. And I just wanted to replace my low education salary. So it wasn’t like I was out to make a lot of money. I just wanted to replace what I had just, you know, the job that I had just left. So I wish that there were some great, you know, insight into it. But literally, I just want I just needed to make money. I needed to make money quickly. So I looked at my margins and said, which one of these things can I make the most money for? Quick? And that’s how I settled on candles. And it’s just been phenomenal for us.

Sushant Misra  

But that’s really interesting that you were actually interested in creating the bath and body products. Like not I mean, not everybody, not everybody is interested in doing that. Was there? Like it wasn’t just inherent for you like it was just a hobby for you? Or? Or did you start doing that? Did you start researching it as a part? Because you were thinking long term? That you know, maybe there’s a business opportunity there?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Oh, yeah, I want to be honest, there’s never a long-term anything with me. So, I mean, there is but there really isn’t, um, my son, I had a son, and he had a skin condition called eczema, and everything that I used on him broken out. So I learned how to make all-natural soaps and lotions and stuff just for him. So that kind of started me on the journey of making crafting stuff. And because it’s hot, you can’t make just one bar soap, you have to make a lot of soap. So then I started selling all of this stuff, like, you know, flea markets, and farmers markets and festivals and stuff like that, just because I had so much when I would make it for him. And it was a creative outlet. And I really got a lot of pleasure from having it as a hobby, you know, so it was fun. For a while. It didn’t like I said, I learned how to make candles. And I was like, Okay, this is fun. But I think I could really make a business with the candles.

Sushant Misra  

And that’s really important. Because in a lot of businesses, I think the advice that people give a lot of times, you know, when you’re trying to start a business, especially if something new is to go out and talk to people and try to sell it to them before you invest a lot of money. And it seems like it happened organically for you. Because you went to these farmers market and local markets and you you tried selling it and what was that the lesson lesson for you there? Like? Did you realize that? You know, maybe it started off as an hobby, but there’s a lot of people who are interested in buying this, like did you did you have to do a lot of effort to buy it or do you just put your stuff there and people would come and just buy it?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

You know? No, I put a lot of effort into it. And I think that a lot of times entrepreneurs just want to make stuff thinking that people are just going to show up and buy whatever their widget is without taking the time To find out, do people really care about the thing that you’re selling. And then I think that branding is very, very important because it sets you apart from the competition. So rather than just being another person selling candles at farmer’s markets, I literally had a story to tell. And there’s a story around each candle. So when I started talking to people, we had something to talk about other than, you know, the candle just smells like pine, there was a whole story about why do these candles smell like pine? Why do we choose this particular scent? So there’s a lot of thought that went into the brand itself. And I think that too many entrepreneurs gloss over that part of who are you selling to? And why are you selling it? So out of the gate, that part of our, of my product, in my branding was very, very clear. And through the years, I was just able to refine who I was talking to why I was talking to him, and what message did I want to get across about living in the South. So it was a lot of, but I talked to so many people at these markets, that they gave me the insight that I needed in order to refine the product. And I cannot stress enough, especially for new makers, that they have to have like a test audience or test market or something, to let them know that the thing that they are trying to sell like somebody actually wants this thing. Because anybody can make a candle, like anybody can google how to make a candle. There are plenty of people that make candles, but there are only a few people that are able to elevate to the next level. And all of that comes down to his brand. What sets you apart from everybody else.

Sushant Misra  

And that’s exactly what I was going to ask you know, it’s like a candle is probably around for like 1000s and 1000s of years. It’s like it’s a very basic product, very generic product, you go to any regular store, you can find candles. So it definitely seems like you just by creating the story around it, and by the branding, you were you’re able to create more demand for it. Is are your candles actually different in any way from what anyone can find from like a regular store is like, is there something that differentiates you can move?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

I mean, I think that we’re anything, there are levels, to the quality of products that you can buy, you know, so we have our wicks are custom made for us. Our fragrance is very high-quality fragrance or for candles. You know, our wax is a special blend of wax. But in terms like if you just bottom line it like just is it particularly special? No, it’s not particularly special. It really isn’t. Um, all of the companies that we work for sell to the public. They’re not like just selling me wax or just selling me wicks or just selling me fragrance. It’s not that anybody can work with the companies that I work with. So if you just bottom line it, no, it’s still just a candle. You can go to Walmart, and I tell people all the time, you could go to Walmart and if you just want your home to smell like vanilla, you can go to Walmart and buy a 10 $15 candle for your home smell like vanilla isn’t going to be the same quality as the candles that you get from me. No, it’s not, you know, because you know something is mass produced is just not quite the same. But bottom line, I sell candles and bottom line you can go to the dollar store and buy candle if that’s all you want is just like with anything else. Is there a difference between you know Gucci, Nike and some brand that you can buy and Walmart ultimately they’re all a shoe. But what is the story that you are telling yourself about the reason that you bought that particular item? And so I tell everybody, you know what we’re selling, okay, we sell people candles, and room sprays and you know home fragrance products, we have a you know, we’re expanding our line. That’s the product, but the feeling that we are selling, it’s about a community. It’s about a sub certain culture. It’s about what people tell themselves about living in the South. So we reinforce what people already see themselves as, you know, like these great people, this great culture, this family oriented, community oriented. A lot of the people in the south are face to face, you know, they call us the Bible Belt. So we reinforce what people already believe about them. sells, we focus on the good and push that narrative forward. So that when you buy a southern elegance candle, you’re not necessarily buying a candle, you’re buying into a whole community of people that celebrate a certain kind of culture and a certain kind of belief system. So it’s not just the candle, because you can get that anywhere.

Sushant Misra  

And does that mean that you know, if you’re selling this southern story? Does that mean that your main market? Is this the south southern part of the United States? Or are you selling the whole to the whole country and beyond? And how do you? I mean, it’s one thing to tell that story, one on one in person, how do you do that, like online?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

So to answer your question, like I tell everybody all the time I tell the southern bills, those are my people, like those are my people. Now, you can be a Southern belle anywhere, you might be a Southern belle living in California, you might be a Southern belle living in New York, you know, so it’s all about most people that buy from us either have lived in the South, or from the south, or their parents migrated, or grandparents or great grandparents migrated from the south, so they have connections and deep roots to live in, in the south. How do we tell that with everything that we do? Literally, every single detail that we do from the fragrances, we choose the candle names, we choose our packaging, our website, our videos, all about our social media, everything that we do, is talking to a very particular kind of person. And we never deviate from speaking to our ideal customer.

Sushant Misra  

And a product like candles is something that women buy a lot of like, if your market more women than men

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

85% of our market is women. So we have a few men that buy but the vast majority of people that buy from us are women. So we pretty much focus on the women, you know, because that’s two bar candles for the most part, you know, we appreciate our men, but it’s really geared towards Southern women that are highly educated, you know, they usually have advanced degrees and working in executive kind of positions. So we have a whole we have 15 pages of psychographics on who our ideal customer is.

Sushant Misra  

And Gandel is because I’m I’m personally a bit disconnected from you because I have never bought a candle for the purpose. So is it really about the fragrance and just just getting your surroundings smelling innocent lips of vanilla sand or something like that? What is the what is it that the person buying the GET OUT OF THE the candles

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

is never the candle, it is never with us is never the candle. It is always about the story that the candle is telling about that person. So we have a tobacco candle, which you know, tobacco is one of those things that’s kind of controversial and when you think of cigarettes, but if you grew up in the South, we still have tobacco fields. And there was a time when you could smell the tobacco curing all throughout the south like you would go downtown you would you know, just literally driving down the street, you could smell tobacco curing, so when you bought a tobacco and caramel scented candle, and you smell that tobacco, more than likely it’s going to remind you of your dad, your granddad and your childhood. So that sense of smell is tied to a lot of memories that you have if you live in the south, the pine we have pine trees everywhere like North Carolina’s tutorial state because of the pine trees. Um, so you know, we have a high cotton candle because of the cotton fields that we still have in the south. So every single candle reinforces a certain aspect of living in the South. And the scents are chosen specifically to elicit certain memories. And then we tell a story around that whole candle. So it’s not just you want your home to smell good. But when you smell that candle, it is really taking you back to a place that has great memories for you. And even currently, like we’re surrounded by pine trees, so during certain times of the year like that is all you smell. So just mine a pine candle, our Carolina pine candle right now for certain people, takes them back just to a certain time of the year. So it’s all about that connection between memories, your senses, and like I said that psychological story that you really, you know, telling yourself, we’re just reinforcing what you already believe through fragrance.

Sushant Misra  

That makes a lot of sense. Now I know when when you were starting the business, you chose a certain path. So you decided you were saying, you know, you went to your school, you basically quit. And then you were 100% in your business. A lot of people who decide to go on the entrepreneurial path on the business journey, may not have that kind of luxury. So they have a full time job, but you know, they want to have some extra income. They want to start a business or test an idea they still have to work. Can you share a little bit about your experience just working 100% on the business or? And and do you have any suggestions for people who may have a full time job and who still want to do a business? Can you share your thoughts on that a little bit?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Yeah, I didn’t quit my day job until my side hustle, match my income. So for about two and a half to three years, I work every single weekend. So I work my full time job. And I work every single weekend at craft fairs. And then it just got to a point where I was like, I cannot do this anymore, because candles are heavy. So I was having to set up a tent, set up the candles, and I’m out in the heat, I might be out in the cold. Um, it was year round that I was doing this, it just got to a point where I was just like, I cannot do this anymore. And I really have got to focus on my website, I have gotten to just drive more traffic via e commerce. And I just have to learn how to sell, like literally sitting at home, basically. Because it got too much for me to do both. And so when I decided to go all in, I just spent all my extra time when I didn’t have any orders, studying e commerce, building the website, finding out where what was the best platform for me, or, you know, what were the best apps that I needed to do? What type of photography did I need, what type of copy did I need, and all of the money that I made, really went back into the company. So I had a husband at the time, but we were poor. Like we went from two incomes to one income. So it wasn’t like I had, you know, a whole bunch of money to invest in the company or anything like that. That is like that’s just like a Instagram lot that people tell I’m building a company from scratch, with no investors is going to take time, and energy and the money that you have, you’re gonna have to put it back into your business and grow it slowly. These overnight successes that people see generally are not overnight successes, and they have put in that break and work to build up their company. So I try to make sure that I tell people, my social media, if you got time to you scroll all the way back, it tells the story of where I started to where I am now, there is no fairy tale here. I was poor. And I worked all the time. And I made a lot of sacrifices to get where we are now. So I don’t know, I tell people all the time, don’t quit your day job until your side hustle, can pay your bills. And if you cannot figure out how to get your side hustle to pay your bills, then you need to sell something else, because whatever you’re doing is not working.

Sushant Misra  

Yeah, makes a lot, a lot of sense. And I’m assuming that now that you have a successful business, you’re still working really hard. You don’t.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

That’s the other part. You know, I think that people think that a certain at some level, you get to relax. No, you know, I got almost 30 employees right now. So that means that those people are dependent on me to eat. So whereas before, I didn’t work, I didn’t eat. Now when I’m not working, I got 30 People that don’t eat, it brings another level of responsibility because I’m not just responsible for myself. I’m responsible for a whole team of people and my bad decisions adversely affect other people. So you know,

Sushant Misra  

it’s a different experience being being your own boss. And having that. That autonomy I guess that’s that’s different in working working with autonomy is a bit different than working in a job and you know, you’re supposed to do nine to five and those kind of things. So I’m assuming even though you’re working hard, it’s a different experience.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

It’s definitely a different experience, you know, because I’m responsible for everything. I tell people sometimes I wish somebody saw my check and I just get to go home at five o’clock and don’t think about this. But at five o’clock, I’m still working. When I get home. I’m still answering emails, I’m still thinking about things. I’m still worried about, you know, supplies It’s just because of COVID, I don’t get to not worry about the company, I don’t get to just turn it all off as much as I would love to, you don’t really have that luxury when you are the owner and the one responsible for everything, the buck stops with me. So and I took that very, very seriously.

Sushant Misra  

Can you share a little bit about your product development process from the beginning? And now? How has it evolved? I know initially you started off building your own candles are used to like is that still the process is everything built in house or something, outsource,

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

nothing is outsource, everything is still done in house, we still control the process for every single thing that we do. So whenever we introduce a new product is all about, can we fit that product in our production. I’m all about the community, like when I start talking about the community, that is not lip service, I would dare say that 80% of our products come from other small summon businesses, so we pay a little bit more for it. But we really believe in supporting other small selling businesses, anything that we can buy, from about a probably about 100 mile radius we do. So those are always our first suppliers. So I believe that keeping jobs in the community. So if we can do it in house, we do it in house. Now, having said that, there’s a huge learning curve for everything that we do. Because we are basically, you know, learning how to do everything from scratch, every time we introduce a new product, you know, there’s information out there, but it’s not like you can call up your competitor and say, hey, I want to introduce room sprays once you tell me how to do it, and nobody doing that. So we have to spend a lot of time researching and figuring out, do we have the capability to do to do this? And can we scale it, you know, as the company grows. So I have a whole team of people now, like I said, I have 30 employees, we have a sales and marketing team, we have a product development team, we have a production team, we have a shipping team. It’s not just me. And I don’t know why, like people still email us and think that they are emailing me when we have two people that respond to emails. So there is no way that I could do this on my own. In the beginning, it was easy to do because it was small, and you know, rolling out a product was whatever I thought I wanted to do. Now there’s a whole process that we have to take into consideration of where are we going to put it? How are we going to supply it? Who’s going to make it? How are we going to scale it? How are we going to roll it out through social media, you know, what happens? Like what what fragrances are we going to use isn’t something even our customers are interested in? So I have a whole team that helps me and sometimes stops me. Because I’ll come up with and want to do something and they’re like, Absolutely not. Um, but I have a whole team of people that helps with that whole product development. And we are a small business, but we are still it’s like a miniature Corporation, so to speak. So just like Nike has like all different departments. We have that too. There’s no way that I could do this on my

Sushant Misra  

own. Yeah, definitely. A little bit about your sales channels. So I know that you you know you’re initially you were selling face to face. Then while you were doing that you started learning about e commerce, you started building that business. Can you share a little bit about how you moved from like in person to ecommerce? And do you sell like wholesale or retail? Or do you have like brick and mortar presence? Can you share a little bit about how you grew that and what that process was like?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

So like I said, it was a lot of face to face very little online sales. And then it just got to the point where I was like, I can’t do this anymore. When I switch my platform to Shopify was when I really saw a huge difference in my online sales. Just switch into Shopify, I saw an immediate increase in the number of sales that I was getting what we’re using WooCommerce WooCommerce. Okay. So and not to disparage them because they were great the first couple of years, but I think I got to a point where I needed something different and I switched over. So once I began to see how ecommerce works, then I begin to say okay, how does social media and email commerce tie in together. And that was the link that I spent a lot of time studying. Because in the beginning, I thought social media was about pretty pictures. It wasn’t until about a year and a half, and that I really understand, I started to understand that social media is really about driving sales, like telling your message, but it’s really about making money. And if you’re on social media, and you’re not making money, you’re just playing. So I stopped just posting pretty pictures. And I really started focusing on the brand message and asking for the sale, and sending people to my website to get that sale. And that’s when I started to really see the difference in terms of money. Then, so we were doing about 20 $30,000 a month, which I thought was like, incredible, that that was perfectly content with that. And then we went viral. And for the first time we did $100,000 in a month. And I really was like i Something just clicked in my head. And I was like, I see the power of social media now. You know, you hear about people going viral, but a lot of times people go viral, and they’re not going viral. With a product to sell, they’re going viral for some crazy antics that they’re doing. And there’s nothing to do, they might you know, throw out a t shirt or something with some stupid sand on it, you know, but it’s nothing long term. But that one time when I went viral for I think a hashtag was bought from a black woman. It was something innocuous that it could have been anybody. But for some reason it was me. And we went from about $0 Because it was during COVID, maybe five $6,000 A month or COVID to $100,000 in a matter of days. After that, I was like, Oh, I didn’t crack the code. I get it now. And we’ve just had explosive growth since then. Well,

Sushant Misra  

1111 idea that that was coming to my mind was you used to be a mathematics teacher. So that does that analytical thinking mathematical thinking helped you I’m pretty sure that that helps you in terms of managing your business and thinking about it. Problem folding and things like that.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Okay, so I tell everybody this all the time? Yes, it does. And I tell people, I’m not sure average bear. Like, you have to be smart in order to do this. There was a time I used to like kind of downplay that aspect of it. But because I did major in mathematics, I have a very analytical mind, I’m able to break everything down, step by step. So when I train people, the teacher in me comes out to do the training. But the mathematical thinking is what really sets me apart, I can look at one of our products and know exactly how much did it cost to jar costs? How much wax it is how much we paid per ounce for the wax, how much fragrances? Is it? How much we pay for that fragrance, I can look at our production schedule, know where we’re going to be making in a day know how many candles we’re selling, you know, I have all of these numbers like popping off in my head. And before other people can even put together a list of what it is they need to figure out. I’ve already calculated what we need to do. Yes, so having that math background, like really, I think it was my saving grace. Now what I also don’t have, I don’t care about a font, I don’t care about a color. I don’t care about some of the fruit, the nuance in the fragrance like we’re picking between, you know, a cake sent, like we might have six or seven cake scents and I’m just looking at them like which one is the cheapest, you know, and then my team is like, no, no, no, did you smell the cinnamon in the bottom note and I’m looking like I don’t care y’all make a choice and then I’ll make the numbers work. So you know there’s a balance there that the math makes me always pay attention to the money but that creative side for me sometimes is kind of low so I have to have people around me to fill in the gaps where I’m missing that particular part of it because a lot of the woowoo artsy stuff I really don’t care about

Sushant Misra  

I guess that’s that’s why you have the team around you that that have that have the smell for that. What so so your business right now it’s completely ecommerce you’re not selling like retail or brick and mortar anything.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Right? And we did have a brick and mortar store where after COVID Hit um, it We basically had to shut it down. It was just a time energy and money suck. And so I had to just say, listen, we’re losing too much money with just brick and mortar. And we’re gonna shut it down. We may revisit it like once COVID Kind of, you know, now things are kind of getting back to normal cell is something that we may revisit, but right now we’re doing so well with E commerce, that is not anything that we see as a necessity. Whereas you know, back in the day, it was absolutely the way to go. But you have so many options. Now we sell on Amazon, we sell with Macy’s, we sell with walmart.com. So we have so many different ecommerce platforms that we’re on, that having a brick and mortar almost seems Oh, no. Oh, fashion. I don’t mean to say like, it literally feels like we’re taking a step back. And it will require too much time and energy, when we could just sit around and wait for orders to come in and make money that way.

Sushant Misra  

Yeah. And on the on your website, I also noticed there was a subscription option also. And I think subscription business model is really great. Because it’s like, you know, then then you have recurring revenue. Is that, are you? Is that new for you? Are you still growing? How is that working for you?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

That is actually new. And we have it because our customers kept asking for it. But we had to figure out a way to do it that made sense for us. You know, too many times people just go, oh, a subscription layer, let’s just do it. And did they do it very, very poorly. So we had to first make sure that it was something that our people want it. And then we had to create a system where we felt like the value of it far exceeded what they paid for. Because we always want our customers to feel like what they get from us is far and above what they could get anywhere else. So our current model is more like a membership, you get your product delivered. Once a month, you get your own code so that you get a discount anytime you want to use it, you can share the code, and your friends can use it a couple of times, in addition to getting products. And then we have different tiers where you can get different levels delivered to you. So we really like the the app that we’re using now for our membership, we are really looking to grow it over the next year.

Sushant Misra  

So do we feel like social media is working really well for you? Do you also do paid advertising on Instagram, Facebook? Is that something that is working well for you? Because to me, it seems like when I talk to a lot of business owners, it’s kind of like a hit or miss some for someone for some, some businesses, it works well. So for some businesses, they’re not breaking even with that. Is that something that you also are doing?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Yes, we use Facebook ads, Google ads, Instagram ads, and we’re looking to add Pinterest ads also. And I think it’s hit or miss because people don’t know what you’re selling, or who they’re selling to. When you really know your people then you know how to talk to your target audience. And I think that one thing that we do well, is relay our brand message over and over and over and over and over again. Like it’s really, really clear. And so when you see an ad for us a Facebook ad, we know exactly who we need to target. And then we know exactly what we need to say to them to elicit a purchase. So we do very well without Facebook ads and Instagram ads and Google ads because we only talk to our people. And we only target our people. And we know exactly what to say to our people to capture their attention. And then that again, going into that background, math background. I go in, I look at all of our Google Analytics, I cross reference that with the data that we get from Shopify. And then we use that to decide which Facebook and Instagram Google ads, you know, we’re gonna continue to run. So it’s a matter of taking all of those data points and putting them together to create a plan to grow the company in addition to we send out surveys and taught her our customers. So it’s a combination of things that you have to fit together like a puzzle, rather than looking at each piece in isolation. So I think a lot of times when people do poorly with their ads is because you’re looking at as singularly rather than putting things together saying, what do we need to say? The I don’t know Facebook post or Instagram post, how can we tie that into an ad that we’re running, that relays the brand message, and supports whatever marketing projects or marketing or sales channels that we have at this time. So whenever we post, there’s something that’s tied back to five, or different five or six different aspects of what we’re doing. We never just post a pretty picture. For the sake of posting a pretty picture, we know that we’re going to turn that picture into an ad. Or we are asking for a sale. Or, you know, it’s like a whole bunch of orders, we’re building up to something, you know, people love behind the scenes. So when we post behind the scenes, pictures, it sucks people into the company. So everything we do has a purpose. And we tie all of that in on every single level.

Sushant Misra  

And and that is all done in house. Right? Yes. So one thing that you mentioned before that your candles are heavy? I’m curious, could you share a little bit about your fulfillment and shipment? Shipping strategy? Are you doing everything in house? Or are you using like third party warehouse? How do you manage? Do you like bake in the shipping in the price of the candle itself? Can you share a little bit about your fulfillment and shipping ready,

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

everything is done in house. So we have a whole shipping department. And trial by Listen, shipping is trial by fire. It’s not trial and error, it is literally trial by fire, and you have to find a sweet spot. I think because our margins are as good as they are, we are able to offer free shipping at a certain threshold, without it feeling too light without eating too much into our profits. So shipping candles was a learning process because we had to learn how to pack them so that they didn’t break. Our packaging that we use serves a dual purpose is beautiful on the shelf. But it really is designed to protect the candle. So we don’t need custom shipping boxes, because we designed our packaging to protect the candle. So some of it was trial and error. Some of it was just a never like to say luck. Some of it was just the right people were sent to me at the right time to help me solve a problem. And our solution is not the only solution. But it is the solution that we chose to go with. And then we made it work for us, if that makes sense. So but all of everything that we do, literally everything that we do is done in house even selling on Amazon, we ship our own this fulfillment by seller, we ship our own Amazon orders. And I don’t know, I think it’s just me wanting to control the whole process, and making sure that we’re able to control the growth of the company. Because it’s easy to lose control of that. If everything is outside of our control. When it gets too busy. I slow down the amount of money that we put in ads and slow down until we’re able to catch up. You know, if all of that was done outside of my control, I’ve seen companies implode because they are not able to manage their growth, you know, so it’s really important to me to make sure that everything that we do is done in a responsible manner, so that the company is protected and grows at a pace that is appropriate for us.

Sushant Misra  

And when you sell on like a third party platform like Amazon, even so if you are shipping out the products, do you actually get that customer’s email address so that you can market to them later on or that customer belongs to Amazon.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

That customer belongs to Amazon. And that’s not even something that I sweat. So when we sell on a third party platform like Amazon or Walmart, or Macy’s, or any number of places that we sell on, we understand the relationship that we have with them, they’re doing the marketing is their customer, we’re just sharing in the profit. So I don’t get caught up in that part. If I need somebody’s email, I know how to get it. Like if and I’m not meaning like take it from Amazon and take it from a Walmart or anything like that. What I’m saying is I need to build my email list. I know How to do that. And so that’s what I do, you know, we have an extensive email list. And we use email marketing, we send out at least one email per week. And we make a whole lot of money from our email marketing, but again, our email marketing and ties back to our Facebook ads, or Instagram as our posts in our home marketing plan. So everything is tied together, we’re not just randomly sending out emails, but I don’t like get bogged down worrying about what Amazon is doing or what Walmart is doing. Because I don’t depend on them for my business, they provide a nice look, you know, chunk a change for us. But if they were to go away, I have my I control my whole process. So I don’t worry about Amazon, you know, sending all my stuff back or changing a rule or whatever it is that they’re doing, because it really doesn’t affect us that much, we will still grow and control the process.

Sushant Misra  

The post purchase experience, so you know, one part of ecommerce of you know, giving customer the the channel to buy the product. The other part is the fulfillment and that post purchase experience. What do you have? Like? Have you have you partner with shipping shipping companies where you you provide them like a two day shipping experience or overnight shipping experience? And return experience that? How do you delight your customers in the post purchase cycle of the above.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

So number one, we spent a lot of time on our unboxing experience, one of the things that you get is you know, you get a candle care insert, you get all of our social media, we include a free mini candle where every order, which is a cent that is the person did not buy, so they actually and we get people that will call us and be like, Hey, you gave me an extra candle. And we’re like, ma’am, that’s complimentary, you know, but that cost is built in to that higher price point also, is packaged beautifully. And the beauty of what we sell is that as soon as you open it, you’re smelling what you bought. So it’s almost like you’re opening a gift to yourself. And then there’s another gift in there with a free candle something that’s complimentary. And then when you burn it, because it is a candle, and it lasts an incredibly long time. Every time you burn it, it’s like that same experience comes back to you. So our unboxing and post customer experiences is really important to us. And we have a Facebook group. So people will come in and talk about their buying experience and their burning experience in our Facebook group. And our people love the product, they are really fanatical. So they love to tell us about burning a candle how it made them feel where they’re burning it, they send us pictures of them burning the candle and all of that we repost on our social media, or turn into ads. So it just kind of really sucks people in because people want to know what’s so great about this, you know, candle company, is not just that we’re telling the story about living in the South and building a community and having all of these great values and morals and all of this stuff is that we really are creating a safe place for people to feel like they are a part of something special. And then the products are fantastic on top of that, you know, so

Sushant Misra  

I know that any business owners entrepreneurial journey, is there’s always challenges to it. Can you share in your business journey of starting and growing this business? One or two biggest challenges or mistakes that you made? Or pitfalls that that were learning experience for you? What did you learn from them? And what can other entrepreneurs take away from that?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

You know, first off, I’m never the person that people expect to walk into the room. Owning my company. Never not one time. Have I walked into the room as the owner that people go oh, yeah, you’re exactly what I expected. No, they usually expect somebody white. And probably female, like this has just been just straight up honest. So um, in the beginning, what I got a lot of was, who helps you with this? Who makes the candles? Who, who and who. And every time I’d be like, it’s me, or it’s my employees as the company began to grow. And like literally I can see people like trying to calculate in their mind like how is this possible that you’re doing all of this yourself? Even now when people talk to me like we’re getting ready to move into a A brand new production facility, I think it’s gonna be like 2520 20,000 square feet or something like that. It’s a $1.5 million building. Um, people still ask me who, how. And when. And I’m just like, it amazes me the amount of racism, classism and sexism that I deal with on any given day. That part was shocking, that when I call certain companies to inquire about buying things that I need to run the company, they’re pretty much like what you need this for? Like, why do I need a wax melter? Because we’re making candles? Well, why do you need one that big? Because we’re making well over 1000 Candles a day. And I need a wax, a bigger wax motor, you know, or one time I called a company and the lady was like, we only deal with legitimate businesses. And I was like, why would I even be calling you like, if I wasn’t like, this was a major company, and I’m buying, like pallets of supplies. I’m like, Who in their right mind is gonna call you and spend 1000s of dollars if you’re not a legitimate Candle Company. So that that we get is still shocking to us?

Sushant Misra  

Has that ever made you reconsider your like, if you go to a business and they ask you those kind of questions, you think, Can I can I find a different business to do

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

this? Yes, there have been companies that I’m like, I just, I’m just not gonna deal with it. Like, I’m just not gonna deal with this level of disrespect. I’m just not gonna do it. And then there have been times where I was like, I have got to swallow my pride, fix my attitude, because I need this thing. You know, and just try to finesse them enough to let them know like, Hey, I’m, I need to stain that you, you’re the only one that I can get it from. And I need you to take me seriously. And usually, that involves sending the money immediately. And being very nice and unproblematic. And once they see that, like I am a legitimate business, and they Google me and they Google the company. Then they say, okay, you know, she’s legitimate, and we’ll sell to her. Um, so yeah, there are some times I’m just like, not doing it. The other times, I’m like, as much as I hate to do this, I got to make a decision that is best for the business and best for my employees. And I have gotten to set my ego aside and do what is going to grow the company. I think every business owner makes those kinds of decisions. I wish I could just do what I wanted to do all the time. But that’s not the case.

Sushant Misra  

Those are all the questions that I had. Now I’m going to move on to our rapid fire segment. And in the segment, I’m going to ask you a few questions. And you have, you can answer them in a few words, or a few, or one or two sentences. So my first question is, do you have any? Are you a big book reader? Do you have any book recommendations for entrepreneurs or business people?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Listen, I always recommend The Four Agreements. And mainly because one of the Four Agreements is never taken anything personal. And when you are in business, you have better learn how to not take rejection, personal. And so that book lays out exactly how you can learn how to not take things personal. Now, I will tell you, I still take things personal, when a candle doesn’t burn or customer has a negative experience, I still kind of internalize that. But at the end of the day, there are a whole bunch of people out there to just have a miserable lives. So it helped me kind of detach myself personally, from the company, and people’s perceptions of me the company or the product, or whatever. So I love the Four Agreements just as a great book that everybody needs to read

Sushant Misra  

an innovative product or idea in the current ecommerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Oh, man, so like our membership, we just got that. And I know I’m kind of late to the party with that. But with friends, the app that we’re using is just they’re doing it in a very innovative and easy way. Like they made it incredibly easy for us to have a membership slash subscription service on our Shopify site. So between Shopify and you know that I think that that is the newest thing that we add and I’m just loving it

Sushant Misra  

a business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip,

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

man. Okay, first off, we use buffer to schedule all of our social media posts. So you ain’t got to use Buffer but you better have something that stretches out all of your social media posts, we use Klaviyo for our email. So between man like there’s so many that you need when you anything that makes your life easier with automation. So our app for our subscription with friends Clavijo buffer, Ko, I love all things bold. Like we got every bone subscriptions bold loyalty points, we have both like anything that automates some bold upsell, like anything that helps you make money that you don’t have to think about doing every single day, whatever that technology is for you. You need to figure out what it is. Because those things always make us money. And I’m shocked sometimes that how much money we make automatically without us even thinking about it. So anything automation that you think will make your life easier, do it.

Sushant Misra  

Yeah, I think I think that’s the wonder of ecommerce and online, appear entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to, or someone who inspires you. Oh,

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

man. Um, so what I did was I started a group of other black female entrepreneurs that work in manufacturing that do their own thing that control their own process. So I have a group of about five women, that just man they motivate me We meet once a month, we talk about our challenges. And they like keep me so motivated. Two of them are candle companies, natural Ania Central’s and fragrant J their does their kind of candle company started by three brothers and told to their mother, and then the lady that schottlander ones, mutt sauce. And then there’s Miranda that does Joe’s Gourmet Seafood. So all of us getting together and talking about the unique challenges that we have, as black women entrepreneurs, really just keep me motivated. And I try to surround myself with other micro manufacturers just be the black, white, that part doesn’t matter. But I really tried to talk to these people, because we all have the same challenges. And there’s so many of us out there. That’s like making a difference in our communities. So I’m in groups, with other manufacturers, and just I try to reach out at least once a month to like my core group of people just to say, hey, we’re all in this together, and we can do it.

Sushant Misra  

And you find them in your own community. Like these are people that are not like, somewhere else. They’re in your own community and you meet them in person.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

No, they’re all over the world. Like, literally, they’re there. They could be anywhere. Um, I live in a town with less than 5000 people. So I am the only one doing this, you know, people be like, oh, what kind of support does your community give you? I’m like, Honey, like, there is nothing here. So thank God for the internet that I can like, literally, I might be Googling somebody see who they are now shoot him an email and be like, Hey, I do this, this is who I am. And this is what I do. I just want to touch bases with you and talk to you. Not you know, as like, give me advice, but just talk. And so many times. Women in particular are just love the fact that there’s somebody out there experiencing the same thing that they’re experiencing. And we just have like a whole community of people that, you know, we all uplift each other. And there’s so much money out there the whole competition thing. I tell people all the time, listen, there is no way that I’m gonna make enough money. Like there’s so so so much money out there, that there is enough for all of us to be rich, like super rich, and wanting to scratch the surface. So there’s no competition. And we just all want to see see see each other succeed. So I have a whole community of makers that I’m just friends with and talk to.

Sushant Misra  

And last question, best best business advice you ever received, or you would give to other entrepreneurs.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

They get out your own way. Somebody had to tell me that they were like your company has so much potential, but you are trying to control too much. You need to hand over a lot of stuff and get out of your own way and let other people make decisions. You can like make the final decision, but a lot of the stuff that you’re controlling because like I said, I like to control the process. They were like you need to get out of your own way and hire people and let them do their job. And so once I started letting other people do their job in their way, not the way And I want to overdo it, but in their way, man, oh, my team, like they are so amazing. They, they think about things that I would never even consider. So just getting out of my own way letting go of that control, giving people the autonomy to do and think and be creative. Oh man, when I learned how to let go of that my company started doing so much better, because their ideas were so much better than mine.

Sushant Misra  

Perfect. Thank you so much for sharing your story. For sharing all the business advice. It was really interesting and useful. Now is the time for you to share your website. Where can people buy your products? And how can people get in touch with you if they want to?

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

So our website is se candle co.com. But at this stage in the game, I love telling people Oh, just Google us. We’re on the first page. So southern elegance candle company or you can Google me Deshawn Russell, Southern elegance Candle Company. And everything that you need will be on the first page. I don’t care where you buy from us. You can buy from us through my website, Amazon Macy’s, Walmart, I don’t care. We still make money. So as long as you’re buying our candles you can buy from some of the stores that carry us. I don’t care. Just buy them wherever you see them.

Sushant Misra  

Perfect. Thank you. Thank you so much. Deshawn for joining me today atriplex I really enjoy talking to you really enjoyed learning about your story and, and some of the grid business advice that you shared with us. So really appreciate your time and thank you so much.

D’Shawn Russell of Southern Elegance Candle Company  

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate being here.

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