Introducing our first customer blogger (and iPad contest winner), Shelley Nystrom of EcoCandle!
If you fancy yourself a bit of a writer, and have an interesting business story / tip to share, drop us a line at Patrick (at) CityMax (dot) com.
By Shelley Nystrom
We’ve been selling candles for seven years now. Everyone gets a kick out of our line of candles for men, The MANdle. They always ask how we came up with the idea – but it all happened by accident.
Flashback: a dinner party years ago with friends and family, drinking and being merry. We were talking about the subject of my new endeavor – the new Eco Candle Company store I had just opened in Oshkosh, WI. My main product is natural soy candles, but I also sell incense, bath & body products, and handmade soap. A total “chick store”.
I shared with them that many male customers were stopping in: shopping for their mother, wife, girlfriend or sister. Some were with girlfriends, obediently smelling scent after to scent and politely saying, “Yes, I like that one too” – just waiting to be set free from this trap. But many of them came back to buy candles for themselves. I never anticipated it, but a lot of guys really liked candles!
So the conversation moved to making candles in manly scents. WD-40, dog, meat, beer… Then my friend Isaac blurted, “Yeah, you could call them MANdles, ha!” Everyone laughed, but I was thinking: “Oh… my… God…. BRILLIANT!!!”
I started brainstorming instantly. What kinds of scents do guys really like? How “manly” do they need to look? Shortly after The MANdle was born. Our customers loved them – and still do. People laugh out loud and call their friends over to read them all. Sometimes I get the occasional customer ask, “What’s a MANdle? I don’t get it.” Oh well, we can’t “wow” everyone!
Things I have learned along the way…
• Have fun with new ideas – people are always looking for a laugh and something unique.
• Don’t expect every new idea to work! Nobody buys the “Frat Boy” candle that smells like the aftermath of a kegger party. Seemed like a great idea, but it sits on the shelf.
• Ask your customers for their opinions – they always want to share them. 1) It makes them feel appreciated and special and, 2) They can come up with some really great ideas!
• Protect your ideas – if you feel like a name you came up with for a product or your business really “sells it” then – trademark, trademark, trademark!!! It’s an investment you will never regret.
Back story: I got state trademarks for all of my product lines, but wasn’t aware that I needed to actually get federally registered trademarks to protect myself. I also took my time getting them because I was selling them already, so I should have been protected, right?! No. I wasn’t. A couple years ago, we saw more candle companies stealing our MANdle idea and tried to register it. Too late!
Another company had just trademarked a line of glowing neon candles called “Mandle Candles”. They had nothing to do with our premise of MAN + CANDLE, but the USPTO said it was too similar and confusing to consumers. To fight it would have cost thousands in lawyer fees to try and fight the registration at this point.
Eventually I realized that I had spent a lot of time whining and crying about corporate crooks. I finally decided to put my big girl panties on, stand up and move on. Sad ending to this story, but we definitely learned a valuable lesson and that’s what running your own business is all about. Live and learn!