To gain some insight into the inner workings of a successful microbusiness, we spoke to Emily Meagher who launched the handmade soy home products company, Country Wicks, in April 2020.
If you had to describe your business in one sentence, how would you describe it?
I always find it difficult to condense it down into one sentence, but I’d say Country Wicks is a selection of handmade soy products for the home, and all of the scents are inspired by my countryside surroundings in the Peak District.
How long have you been doing this?
So I’ve been doing this for just about two and a half years now. It started off literally just me making myself some wax melts! I was spending a fortune on wax melts and candles from big brands, I was just a bit candle obsessed. Gradually I started making them for friends and family. and then I started off platforms like eBay, Etsy, that sort of thing.
It wasn’t actually until earlier this year that I decided, okay I’ve got something good here, I’m going to actually go for it and create a business from this. So that’s when I decided to start a full rebrand, creation of new products and launched Country Wicks. Now that I see so many people enjoying the products, coming back again and leaving such positive feedback, it’s really made me feel so impressed with myself!
How did you get started?
I took quite a gradual approach to it which really helps me, so it didn’t seem too daunting, everything was more just a gradual next step to follow. I got loads of advice from the government helpline as well, which was really, really useful. I just had a meeting with them and literally asked them a million and one questions. That was really good because it can get so difficult and confusing with all the different routes you can go down to create an official business.
From there it just kind of naturally progressed. Just this weekend my friend was helping me pack up for a stall I had at Sandbach Makers Market and he was like, “how on earth has it turned into this?” Because he remembers when I was at uni and I just had a little box under my bed, where I kept some wax and tiny little bottles of fragrance. Now I’ve got my own office room and there’s 25kg and 50kg bags of wax everywhere! It’s crazy to think how fast it progressed.
So yeah, it was all very natural. I’ve never really sat down and put a business plan in place. I’m very much a ‘wing it’ kind of person. It’s great but at the same time I often feel as though I’ll never be 100% content because I’m always thinking about the next step I can take. So it does have its pros and cons but it’s so exciting and works well for me whilst balancing it with my full-time job.
How many people are involved in the day-to-day?
It’s still just me! But don’t get me wrong, my family is fab. So if I’ve got lots of orders lined my Mum will help tape them up or put the addresses on and things like that. So if it’s manic, my family always muck in and help out. But technically, yeah, it is just me. Having a kind of one man band can be quite difficult at times but I think if it grows much more I will start looking into some options for help. I know with Christmas coming up it’s going to be quite chaotic so I’ve got that to look forward to!
What’s been your biggest challenge since starting Country Wicks?
I would say testing and making sure that the product is perfect for what I wanted. It’s very technical the process for actually getting the combination right for the candle. So in terms of like the real correct wick size, the right formula, etc. It can be quite stressful. I only have six fragrances in my range and even that can be a lot to think about!
And some days it just doesn’t happen, something will go wrong and it can really get you down. Especially when I was working towards a launch day, I was putting so much pressure on myself to have it perfect for then. In the end, I just decided it wasn’t realistic to get it all finished for then, so I pushed the launch date back which helped take the pressure off and give me time to get the product perfect.
I think sometimes I need to just step back and think ‘Emily calm down’. It won’t be perfect every time so I just need to learn from it, which I’ve definitely worked on.
If you had to pick just one, tell us about the best day you’ve ever had running your business so far?
There’s been so many high points, but I think the best day was when the Black Lives Matter movement was happening and I decided to launch a candle where 100% of the profit went to charity. I split the proceeds 50/50, between the Stephen Lawrence charitable trust, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
At first I only made 25 candles as I wasn’t sure whether or not they’d sell, so I set myself a £250 target. I launched it in the evening and within 24 hours all 25 candles had sold! So I went ahead and made another 25. It was amazing that I could help such important charities through my business. As well, knowing that people being reminded of what they symbolized when they lit them was such an achievement for me.
What motivates you to keep going on the bad days?
I think for me, something that’s really different this time round compared to when I used to do it on a much smaller scale is the amazing community spirit we have on Instagram. I’m not very tech savvy or social media savvy, but our brand ambassadors are an amazing support. There’s a team of seven or eight of them now who always give honest feedback and support me if I ever have a bad day or am facing a new challenge. As well as them though, the wider community on Instagram are also amazing, I have some absolutely fantastic followers on there who are so supportive.
What is the worst job you ever had before starting your business?
This one’s tricky for me given my age and the fact that I’ve so early on in my career. But ironically I’ve actually had a few salesy jobs which I’m absolutely useless at! I just can not do pushy sales, I’m hopeless! I absolutely hated the corporate, pushy side of things, which has definitely shaped my business style massively.
For example, if people ask me questions I’ll always give them an honest recommendation or piece of advice rather than pushing them to buy my products. I’m so much happier running Country Wicks in my own natural direction than using very salesy approaches.
What was your favorite job that you had before starting your business?
I love being outdoors. So I’d have to say my favourite job was one I had when I was around 14 working for a hotel in the middle of the countryside near where I live. I was a pot washer and also used to work on their clay pigeon shoot ground, where I was basically getting paid to stand in a field and chat to people all day! I was very much in my element.
My passion for the outdoors has definitely been reflected in my product range, with loads of countryside-inspired scents such as Pear & Freesia, Rose, Patchouli & Damson Plum and Elderflower & Iris.
What impact has Coronavirus had on your business?
At first it was really tricky to gauge how to go about it – March time was such a scary time for everyone. And for me, that was when I was still getting it all ready to launch. So I was in a predicament thinking ‘is this the right time?’. But I went for it, and I’m so glad I did.
Just before the launch, I started out by doing a social media giveaway where people could nominate someone who’s been having a tough time, doing something positive in the community or simply just someone they appreciate. This was a great way of introducing myself and the launch ended up being a really positive experience for me.
I think with a lot of people spending more time in their homes, especially during lockdown, they were more likely to buy things like candles online. I think as well, people were treating themselves a little more and buying more gifts for loved ones to help cheer them up, which of course had a positive impact and allowed me to spread a little positivity too.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about starting a business?
I’ve not been someone who’s actually sat down and done a full business plan, so for me I’d say just go with it. Be confident and believe in your idea and just go with the flow and let everything happen naturally. Obviously that’s not for everyone, but I think for someone quite creative like myself, if you’re struggling to decide what to do just push yourself and go with it.
Find out what works best for you by trying different things. Ultimately I’d say you just need to trust yourself and don’t give up no matter what challenges you face. I think having that patience and resilience is so important, as well as trusting your own instincts, ideas and thoughts.