What does access to capital mean for today’s small businesses, and what’s it been like to operate through the pandemic?
The Enigma Blog sat down with Paige Graham, founder and creative director of Brooklyn, New York-based Paige’s Candle Company, to get her perspective.
Enigma Blog (EB): Tell us about your small business.
Paige Graham (PG): Paige’s Candle Company is a homegoods business with a specialty in vegan soy wax candles. We sell our candles in retail stores and online, and we also do custom candle creation for brands.
We approach candle-making a little differently. Rather than using readymade fragrances, we create our own by blending essential and natural oils in top, middle, and base layers to create custom scents.
We also offer community workshops to provide an outlet in the arts for New Yorkers, especially low-income young people.
EB: How do you decide what becomes a new candle scent?
PG: We want our candles to create an experience, and I get inspiration from friends, family, and nature.
For example, with our wild grass candle, I wanted to make a scent that allowed a friend of mine who’s severely allergic to grass to experience that part of nature.
Another example: fireplaces create such a cozy atmosphere, but they’re rare in New York City. So we created a firewood candle to recreate that fireplace experience.
EB: How has the pandemic affected Paige’s Candle Company?
PG: It has been both a blessing and incredibly stressful.
On one hand, we saw an increase in sales, with more people spending time at home and looking to create a relaxing environment.
On the other hand, many markets around the city shut down, so we lost a lot of our usual revenue. The pandemic also created supply chain challenges. We’re still seeing a shortage of jars in the U.S., with delays of 7-10 business days on supply orders. Prices went up 25% on soy wax, one of our primary raw materials. There has also been more competition from other companies for natural, raw ingredients, as consumers have become more aware of what they’re putting in and around their bodies.
EB: What’s been your experience accessing capital as a small business?
PG: During the pandemic we applied for and received a PPP loan. That was fantastic – of course forgivable loans are wonderful. I worked through an alternative lender and it went very smoothly. I think in part that was because the company’s books were in order.
I’ve tried to avoid other types of loans because of high interest rates. But it can be really hard to do without, especially with issues like the supply chain back ups. I’ve found that platforms like Shopify have been good funding options: easy to use with long payback timelines.
EB: What does capital mean for your business?
PG: It lets me take a big sigh of relief! That was especially the case during the pandemic.
Revenues took a hit without all the city markets. For myself, I knew I could cut back to eating toast with mayo if I had to. But getting the PPP loan meant I could keep my staff, that they’d be OK. And Big Bertha too [Big Bertha is the company’s lovingly named industrial wax melter].
When I foresaw a shortage of jars on the horizon, capital also meant that I was able to stockpile extra pallets to keep as inventory. But even with that precaution, we’re still running low on jars. Our workaround has been to diversify our products and the vessels we offer for candles. And that requires capital, too.
And recently capital allowed us to buy a second wax melter (already nicknamed “Big Betty”), which will increase our production capacity as we head into a busy season.
EB: How would you grow the business if money were no object?
PG: I’d invest in more equipment and a larger production space. I’d work through distributors, which can be expensive. And I’d also find the perfect permanent event space to host our community candle workshops.
EB: If you could snap your fingers and fix one of the challenges of running a small business, what would it be?
PG: Definitely to fix the current supply chain issues. But I’d say a few others, too.
I’d also perfect my time management, to give myself more time to oversee all the different aspects of my business, like retail, online, events, and specialty orders. Finally, the Small Business Administration has been a great resource for launching a business, but the information tapers off once you’re established. I’d like instant access to more information for semi-mature small businesses: how do we grow and expand?
For more insights on the small business economy, explore our State of the SMB Economy Report.