Chemical-free candles light up Irish and European markets

Small Business Inside Track Q&A Emma Fallon, founder, Emma’s So Naturals

Emma Fallon: “We started this business following redundancy with €80, three kids and a mortgage. We’re now in 70 outlets in Ireland, in Scandinavia and the UK”

Emma Fallon: “We started this business following redundancy with €80, three kids and a mortgage. We’re now in 70 outlets in Ireland, in Scandinavia and the UK”

 

A desire to enjoy mellow candlelight without suffering headaches from synthetic ingredients led Emma Fallon to start a business in Ardee, Co Louth, making naturally scented soya wax candles.

What is special about your business? We make eco-soy candles fragranced only with pure essential oils. I personally blend the oils and pour every candle. Soya wax is longer, cooler and cleaner burning than paraffin- based wax and is renewable and free from pesticides and herbicides. It is also water-soluble so containers can be reused or recycled. There are no parabens or artificial dyes in our candles and we also use eco packaging. Our principle is reuse and recycle.

What sets your business apart in your sector? It’s our natural ethos. We are providing a natural, healthy alternative for people who can’t cope with the smell or impact of candles containing chemicals or synthetic scents.

Emma’s So Naturals originally came into being in 2011 because regular scented candles made me feel really ill and triggered terrible headaches. I began researching how I could still enjoy candles with beautiful scents but without the side effects. What has been your biggest challenge? I believe our biggest challenges still lie ahead. That said, it has been a huge challenge to take a craft business and make it commercially viable. Craft businesses can be very difficult to expand. We have had to address everything from the basic requirements of retailers for things like bar-coding to how our brand looks and feels to how our candles are scented and packaged.

What has been your biggest success? On a purely business level, it has been developing an effective distribution model and pricing architecture that allowed us to move quickly into export markets.

We started this business following redundancy with €80, three kids and a mortgage. We’re now in 70 outlets in Ireland, have distributors in Scandinavia and the UK and are selling in individual markets including Iceland and Ibiza!

We’re also very proud of the fact that we can deliver a high- end handmade crafted product to the mass market at an affordable price.

On a personal level it’s that our product is associated with purity and natural values.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting a business? Identify your weaknesses and buddy up with people whose strengths are your weaknesses. I am a creative person and if I wasn’t making candles I’d be doing design or art or something else creative. I’m not especially business-minded. Luckily, my husband David is. He has over 20 years’ experience in international sales and marketing and he’s the one who has taken a craft business and made it a commercial success.

Who do you admire most in business and why? Aideen and Kieran Hurley of Evergreen in Galway. We really admire their ethos and customer service and the fact that their staff are very well informed and really try to create a fulfilling buying experience for their customers.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment? Something drastic to improve the treatment of the self-employed and to cut red tape. Small business owners are the risk-takers and creators of employment, but they get no social protection in the event of problems arising.

Secondly, the amount of administrative hurdles you have to jump through makes starting your own business feel like an almost insurmountable task. Multinationals are very important, but we need a balance and that is not being facilitated at the moment. We have found a lot of activation programmes either too restrictive or simply not worth the effort required.

In your experience are banks lending to SMEs? We have never used a bank. We have grown our business to date without any major investment and literally poured ever last penny from sales back into it. However, what we have experienced is customers relying on small suppliers to help finance their businesses short term. Payment times are being stretched as they struggle.

Retail needs banking and it needs it operating at a full and fair capacity, and I don’t believe this is actually happening at the moment. This puts a strain on other areas of the business sector.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? Any mistakes have been very small in nature and we’re the kind of people who bounce back quickly.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business? Knowing there is a wider demand for your product, but only having the capacity to produce so much at this time. We are on the cusp of having to scale up significantly because capacity is the single biggest issue facing us now. However, an expansion on the scale envisaged will require us to move into new premises and that’s going to pose challenges around funding.

We want to expand our candle range next year and we’re looking at leveraging our brand values to move into new products so we will have to take the leap soon.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it? We have invested heavily in getting our name out there through attending trade shows, craft fairs and other events, so at the moment we are fully focused on building sales and trust in our brand.

In conversation with Olive Keogh

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