Have you ever considered how you can turn your passion project into a growing business? In this episode, Camille welcomes Katrina Bell, the founder of The Copper Bell, a candle company that sells great quality soy candles named after the best puns on the market.
Katrina shares her journey from being laid off from her previous work due to the COVID-19 pandemic to turning her side hustle and passion project into a full-time business now with its own dedicated space and employees. She shares her advice on how she was able to create and source her product and how she used social media to increase her sales.
If you’re thinking about starting your own business creating a product, tune into this episode to hear Katrina’s tips on how you too can create profit and sales from your passion.
KATRINA BELL [0:00]
The audience really appreciate a real authentic and not necessarily put together person on there, which I can very easily fill. But because it shows you interests more so than who you’re following, I find a lot of small businesses fall into this trap of creating content and speaking to other small businesses. And so, I found it really easy to appear in front of small business owners and people who want to know how I grew and what I did and my wins and my losses and all those kinds of things, but I’m finding it a lot harder to create the content that gets in front of my customer.
CAMILLE WALKER [0:44]
So, you want to make an impact. You’re thinking about starting a business sharing your voice. How do women do it that handle motherhood, family, and still chase after those dreams? We’ll listen each week as we dive into the stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
Katrina Bell is a guest today who’s going to be telling us about how a business was born out of desperation. The pandemic had hit. She was let go of her job and she created a candle company that she started as a passion project that turned into a very successful business one in which she now owns her own property, where she has employees, and is making her dreams come true. Stay tuned to learn how you can do the same.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of Call Me CEO. This is your host, Camille Walker, and I’m so excited about today’s episode because we are talking about how beautiful things are grown during times of hardship. And I think so often, we go through hard things together in our personal lives, in our families, as a worldwide pandemic, and it’s only years later that we can look back and really see lessons that were learned, how we transformed, and how we’re able to become a better version of ourselves.
So, Katrina Bell is here with us today. She created the company The Copper Bell, which is amazing candles with some sarcastic names, which I’m not going to say those for you. She can introduce them. But Katrina, we’re so excited to have you here today. Thank you for being on the show.
Thank you, Camille. I’m so excited to talk with you today.
Yeah. So, tell us about your business, where were you before, how did you get started, and a little bit about your family.
I call myself an accidental entrepreneur. So, I’m not that person who was a little girl dreaming of running her own business or anything like that. I worked in non-profits for years right when I got out of university. I got really sick of it because I was in the same job forever. If anyone’s ever worked in non-profits, things are very slow-moving and it takes a while to get anywhere. There’s not a lot of growth. So, I was trying to get a different role internally at the university that I was at for about a year and a half after I had my daughter. I had no luck there.
So, I looked externally. And then, I moved into tech sales, so a very different world than non-profits and universities and stuff, but I made that transition in October 2019, obviously, not knowing what was happening or what was going to be happening in the world. So, fast forward, five or six months and we were all working from home. It was this big shutdown and we went from joking about that COVID thing in the office to like, okay, that COVID thing.
And then, just a couple weeks into that work from home, the company let go about 25% or 30% of the workforce and I was swept up in that. Yeah, and I had a two-year-old at the time, two and a half and I went like, what do you do? There’re no daycares. We weren’t supposed to be going to anyone’s houses. I couldn’t have someone come over and watch her.
And I felt like I can’t go jobhunting. There’s no way that I can apply for jobs and say, “I’m not actually going to be able to work, but please take a chance and hire me, just in case I can fit into this job around my life.”
And I had started a candle company, just a little fun side project a few months before that. So, right around when I changed jobs and it was really just a side hustle, a passion project. I totally put it on the backburner from January to March. I hadn’t really done anything with it and I went, okay, I’ve got a little bit of a severance from work. I have government support coming in. So, I guess I’ll stay home full time.
I didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom, but I’ll stay home full-time and I’ll see if I can turn these candles into a business. And if I can’t, then hopefully, this is over in a few months and I can go back to work. I know, but that didn’t happen and it’s grown. And now, I’m in a studio and I have employees and a 5-year-old. So, it’s been a whirlwind couple of years.
Wow. Okay, there’s a lot of pieces to this story that I want to piece apart.
Yeah. You started the candle company before the pandemic hit.
Just before. So, fall 2019, I had been the kind of person who liked to go to little artisan markets and stuff and I really wanted a creative outlet. So, I wanted something to be able to do and what I was looking for in my job was being able to talk to people more with face-to-face interaction, with being front-facing because I was so behind the scenes, part of why I got into sales then at the tech company.
And so, I figured I’ll make candles. I had other products too. I’ll go to market. I’m going to make so much money. It's going to be so much fun. And it was way harder than I thought it was going to be. And a new year rolled around, 2020, okay, maybe I’ll pick this back up again in the fall, but I’ll just focus on my job for now.
So, take me through the process of what it took to start the candle company to begin with because I think that’s a company that maybe people have thought about where they’re like, “That could be fun, but how do you get started?” How did you know how to source product and the right scents and everything? What did that even look like?
A lot of experimentation. So, I had started making wreaths at first and I was making candles for myself because I found that I couldn’t burn regular candles anymore. I used to buy Bath & Body Works all the time. Then, after I had my daughter, I started getting headaches and I just felt nauseous when I was burning them, totally hated them, gave them all away.
And so, I slowly started getting into maybe I could make myself unscented candles. It’s got to be cheaper to make them than just to buy unscented candles from the dollar store or whatever. It’s not cheaper. So, it was just a lot of exploring like forums on Reddit. There’s a Reddit for everything, different crafts and different hobbies. A lot of Googling like candle suppliers in Ontario to try and find something close to me. And then, experimenting, so trying different jars, different wicks, different kinds of wax, figuring out what worked, what I liked.
And then, when it came into scents, it was just introducing things that I liked and I thought smelled good. And I would give them to my candle-obsessed friends who are still my main product testers. Yeah, so just slowly built on I can’t burn regular candles and look I found this thing that I can make a scented candle and I can still enjoy it. So, let’s keep going down this path.
I think you’ve tapped into a huge need in the market. In fact, I was just talking to one of my best friends this week who she cannot burn regular candles anymore. It was after she had kids too that it would give her migraines and she would get really nauseous with it. And in fact, she just went to a market this last week. I’m in Utah and it’s called Swiss Days and she had found a bag of scented potpourri and she was like, “It smelled so good, but then I brought it home and it gave me a headache. I couldn’t even use it because it was so fragrant.”
Yeah. I had no idea it was an issue until it happened to me that there are people who are just so sensitive to different ingredients that you might end up feeling like garbage when you light up a candle.
So, what do you think it is that makes hand artisan-made candles better than say your Bath & Body Works? In fact, I was thinking about this just yesterday because I have a candle in here, and I love your candles by the way, we’ll talk about that in a minute.
But I know that in a surgical room or different things like that, no perfumes, lotions, candles, none of that is allowed because they’re saying that there’s cytochemical or different things that are released into the air. So, what do you know about that and how is it different from the candles you produce?
I think it can get very nitty gritty, so I don’t know how deep you want to go into that.
Let’s go there for just a minute.
Sure. The high-level stuff, Bath & Body Works uses paraffin wax and most candles, especially cheap candles that you get like a dollar store candle are made with paraffin. So, it’s an oil byproduct, just part of the bigger machine of gas and petroleum. And there’s just certain things in them, I’d have to pull up all the stuff that I’ve read for the specific names, but there’s stuff in them like crappy byproducts that you wouldn’t necessarily want to be burning that have been linked to health effects like irritated respiratory systems, nausea, headaches, all that kind of stuff.
And I don’t know. I don’t like it. I find that I just enjoy things better when they don’t have it. But it’s cheap and it’s also the thing that makes candles smell super, super strong. So, if you ever have that very overpowering amount of scent, it’s because paraffin helps it smell stronger. So, soy, obviously it’s made from the soy plant, so it is refined as well, but it’s a softer scent. So, soy doesn’t have some of those things that petroleum has in it.
And then, the other big thing for me was the kinds of fragrances. So, there are again certain additives and stabilizers and things like that, phthalates and parabens come to mind. You start talking about that kind of stuff, people’s eyes glaze over. They’re like if you just say it to someone, “The stuff will give you a headache,” that’s usually enough.
Yeah. No, and I appreciate that. Because I feel like it’s important for us to know enough that we’re making choices that are healthier for ourselves, for our families, for our homes that, yeah, maybe we don’t need to know all the nitty gritty. But I have a friend who just bought a flocked tree three years ago and as they were setting it up, she inhaled some of the flocking and it has damaged her vocal chords permanently.
And so, there are things like that that I think, yeah, maybe we don’t need to know all the nitty gritty, but I think there are so many things being produced in products that we don’t realize the effects that it has on our body long-term. So, go you. I just think it’s so cool.
Okay, so you have this business that’s starting. You’re figuring out the nuts and bolts of it and you say that it was hard. So, what was it that made it hard? Was it the production like the manufacturing or how did you get your sales going especially during the pandemic? What was that transition like?
Yeah. So, I’m thinking back right at the beginning of the pandemic. I think the thing that really switched was committing to being a very online-first business. So, there were no markets. I hadn’t had a website at that point. Any kind of sales that I made online were two people who had found me at markets and wanted to send me a DM on Instagram.
So, I made a website and it’s just a slow roll from there. I think in a weird way, it feels so weird looking back and saying silver linings about a pandemic, but because so many things were shut down, people really turned to e-commerce and to shopping online more. Every time there’s a shutdown, you get this boost in people are stuck at home and they’re bored and they want to shop and they can’t travel and they have extra money to burn. And they need gifts or they just want to send their friend something as a like, “I’m thinking about you” or they want their house to feel a little cozier because you spend 24/7 in your house.
So, all of those little things I think compounded together and got into the snowball of just slow growth on Instagram that built and built. And yeah, weirdly, luckily, we had a shutdown here right before Christmas in 2020. So, my sales that had been slowly trickling up skyrocketed in November. I think I did more in November than I had done the rest of the year before that combined. And I went, okay, now this is actually showing me that this could really be something. Yeah, filled my house with candles and products, and then that was really the big turning point for me was November 2020.
That’s awesome. Was it difficult for you to find a manufacturer that you could trust? What was that process like for you? Did you find one that you got along with pretty immediately? Was there growing pains in that?
Yeah. There’s always growing pains. My wax, I’ve used the same wax for the longest time. I found a supplier earlier on that could be a one-stop shop and I’ve diversified from there. But it was somebody that I trusted. I got the information that I needed in terms of the ingredients and the additives and that kind of stuff. So, I knew which fragrances I needed to avoid. Yeah, I haven’t wavered much from that first wax that I finally settled on. Jars was the biggest issue through the pandemic.
I love your jars. They’re so cute. They have a copper top which that rose gold copper vibe is totally in style too. So, I was like, I just love it. The packaging and everything.
Yes. And I think anyone can relate to the headaches that we had with the supply chain when it comes to jars and stuff. So, I have a supplier, but ultimately, the jars come from China, and then they’re down the line. So, there was a lot of hold-ups in ports and things like that. There were all those kinds of headaches.
But in terms of trusting the quality, I started with one good supplier for my materials and have expanded through a lot of Googling, a lot of searching, a lot of trial and error to finding different reputable people and reputable companies that can help me as I’m also increasing how much I need to buy.
So, tell our audience about your product. Because I’ve skated around the you have a very unique vibe to your candle. These are not your mother’s or your grandmother’s candles. So, I think that that’s a big pull to people seeking out your candles too. They’re really unique. So, tell us about that, your brand and what kind of an audience and how that’s helped you to grow your business as well.
Yeah. So, I really speak to I would say the elder millennial mother. They look beautiful. They have really nice branding and colors and packaging. And then, you get up close and they’re really cheeky and funny and there are some puns. Some of them, there’s a little bit of swears or that kind of thing. There’s a lot of options.
So, I like to play on puns depending on what the scent is. So, I don’t even know. My best-selling scent is called Day Drinking, which is not that creative, but it draws people in. They love a funny name. I’m trying to look and even think of examples. It’s just a warm cozy product that looks really nice, but has a little bit of an extra personality.
Yeah. And you’re okay to say the words. She’s like, “Is it okay if I say swears?” And I’m like, “Yes, I just have to check the explicit.” So, it was so funny.
You might need one.
Yeah. Go ahead and tell what they are because my daughter’s so funny. I was burning one of them and she’s like, “Mom, I covered that one with the cap, so you can’t see the swear.” But when I saw it, it was great job with dealing with the bullshit or something like that.
That’s a bestseller.
And I was like, I feel that today. I’m going to light that candle. It gives you that vibe of you’re handling it.
Yeah. You can deal with the shit. Good job on handling the bullshit. So, I make something that I call it a layered candle. So, that is one of them. I refer to them as a choose your own adventure. So, the jars have four layers inside. It’s two different scents. And then, as you burn it, it changes the scent. So, complimentary scents inside. So, the longer you burn that one, you’ll notice that it starts to change how it smells and you can pick.
I have I think five different scent combinations, some masculine, some sweet, some earthy, so people can really choose whatever their taste it. And then, you choose from a variety of sweet or sassy or sweary kind of labels. So, good job handling the bullshit or you’re doing amazing sweetie or whatever kind of thing that I think you might need or you think your friend would need. They’re also very popular gift items as you can imagine because everyone wants to be able to send their friends something that’s like, this shit sucks, but you’re doing it.
Yeah. And I think honestly, that idea of having different messaging that you can gift, and then I feel also like the words that we use have a lot to do with the way that we’re framing our way of thinking. So, to put that in a candle I think is so clever that you can share that message that is an experience that you smell because I think that that just adds a layer of all of it, of the business, of the experience of gifting it.
As you’re coming up with these different names and you’ve heard client feedback, what was something when your business was growing where you’re like, “Wow, this is actually going to be a thing. I’m an entrepreneur?” When was that moment for you?
I think the thing that most made me feel like an entrepreneur and a business owner and successful in all of those things is moving out of my house. I wish that that wasn’t the thing because I wish that I had felt that success and that pride in my work in my business before that, but once I finally moved it into a production space where I’m committed to paying rent every month now and I have all of these extra responsibilities, it was like, okay, it’s not just my little business anymore. It’s a real thing and it’s more serious than that. It’s actually something.
What was the timeline for you of being able to do that, which is a huge deal? I think that’s amazing.
I moved in here summer last year, summer 2021. So, I’ve been just a little over a year in my space. So, it was about a year and a half into the pandemic and doing this full-time, then I moved it out of my house.
Wow. That’s amazing growth for a candle company.
I think that’s so cool. So, tell me about growing your business and taking on employees. What has that process been like for you? How many people do you have working on your team now?
I have 3 part-time people. So, one of them was full-time in the summer, but she’s going back to school. So, she’s just working with me part-time. It’s weird. I don’t know. It feels bizarre to be on that side of things for me. I was never a manager in my old life where I had to do hiring or any of that kind of stuff. So, it is certainly an area of business ownership that I’ve looked to develop and to grow my skills like leadership and that kind of thing.
I mostly have my friends working with me. So, it really started with my mom would come and work for me for free and I could rope her in and it just got to be grandma time too where she would hang out with my daughter. And then, my friends would come and I felt guilty enough after long enough that I started paying my friends to work for me.
And it’s just grown from there. It’s been one of those like it’s challenging. It feels bizarre to be in charge of people and to trust people to create because that’s really what I brought people on for is to do the actual production so that I can focus on business growth and I can do all the stuff that’s not just making the product because you very quickly can get so bogged down in all of my time is doing this and there’s blinders on. I can’t think of all the other stuff that goes into making or growing a business. So, having other people, their hands essentially, making candles and filling orders has been hugely helpful.
Yeah. That’s something that again and again as I interviewed women that have grown businesses or I’m coaching women that have grown businesses, you can offer that opportunity to someone else’s hands that really can do the things you can do, but the growth, the projection, that vision of your business, that can only be you.
And so, I think that so often, we try to hold so tight to that thing that we started and it’s our baby and are you sure you’re doing it right? But it’s when you’re able to do that that you really see massive success. So, I’m proud of you for being able to hand that off because I think that’s really where success lies.
Yeah. It’s tough and it’s also tough to go back because, like I said, I had somebody full-time in the summer and she did most of my production now leading up into fall, our busier seasons. And I clearly did not do enough, which is great, I’ve grown and all of my work doing social media and trying to reach out to new wholesale stores and that kind of stuff is successful. And so, I’ve sold way more than I anticipated selling and now have to make a bunch more candles. Good problem to have, but I’m like I’m so rusty now going back into production. And I’m like, God, I hate this. I’d much rather be doing the store outreach or the sales and that kind of thing.
Yeah. Tell me a little bit about your social media growth because I know that you said that that was a big piece of how your company grew. So, what do you think has been successful for you on Instagram and other places that you’ve been able to grow and have such success there?
I think the thing that really helped the most on Instagram was when I started to become the face of the business and when I started showing up and really just talking to my audience and talking to my customer like we’re best friends because that’s how the brand feels. It’s like your cozy best friend’s house and it’s a place of comfort.
And so, me just being a messy authentic person on there was really resonating with people. And I think especially with small businesses, people just really like to see the person behind the brand. The brand is so much it is me, so me being there all the time was really helpful.
And I’m still trying to crack the TikTok nut. I’ve found TikTok is interesting, just it’s similar to Instagram, but it’s so different at the same time and the audience really appreciates a real authentic and not necessarily put together person on there, which I can very easily fill. But because it shows you interests more so than who you’re following, I find a lot of small businesses fall into this trap of creating content and speaking to other small businesses. I found it really easy to appear in front of small business owners and people who want to know how I grew and what I did and my wins and my losses and all those kinds of things. But I’m finding it a lot harder to create the content that gets in front of my customer.
So, you’ll look at my TikTok and right now, it’s at 14,500 followers and it’s 14,500 business owners who are like, “You’re really cool and you’ll tell us everything about how you grew your business,” but some of them buy candles and I’ve certainly met some new wholesale relationships through TikTok. But in terms of actually speaking to that millennial mom who just wants a better relaxation at the end of the night when her kids go to bed, I’m like, I’m struggling with getting in front of that.
Yeah. A bit of advice, I have partnered with TikTok in the past. I have 110,000 or something, but one thing that I would say that I’ve seen for businesses like yours that has done really well is if you bring them into the production process, but also, you’re showing and sharing that intention of what the product is for.
So, I think storytelling about the gift giving and sharing that message or the actual process of watching the candles being made is allowing them to come into that process with you of like, “I want a piece of that. I want to burn a get going girl,” whatever the thing is that you’re sharing.
But I think that you will find people will want to hear those stories of like, “I’m gifting this because of this purpose or you too can be a part of this by purchasing this candle and lighting it whenever you need a burst of energy for this reason or whatever.” So, I think that the storytelling of showing the actual candle being made and the purpose or the why behind it is what people get really excited about. But I think that that will come naturally the more that you share. So, that’s awesome.
It’s all just practice. I’m not really that worried about it.
Oh my gosh. You’re doing amazing. I’m just watching the growth in a year. It’s just so inspiring to me. What would you say for those who are listening and thinking about doing a business like yours in the way of starting something new and not knowing? What are some lessons that you’ve learned along the way as you’ve taken on this leap of faith and made it happen? What were pieces of advice that you could give to people to make it work?
I think if I could redo it or if I was doing something again, I would really focus so much more before I started on who I was selling to because I just started creating things I liked and that my friends liked and it worked okay, but things have gotten so much better now that I understand who I’m talking to has been huge.
And I know that everybody says that and it’s so hard for you to connect with that when you’re on the outside looking in. You’re probably just making something that you like and you’re like, “I could probably sell this,” which is how I started and how so many people started. But if you know who you actually want to buy your product, then it’s going to make thing so much easier because there are things that I wouldn’t have tried if I had a better understanding of who I was selling to.
People are always going to come to you with like, “Have you tried this? Have you thought about this? You should do this.” And when you have a clear focus, I could describe my customer in the way that I would describe my mom or my best friend. That’s how well I think I know her and I’m testing that all the time. I’m trying to figure that out, but it’s not just these general women 25-45 who like candles when you have a person that you’re speaking to. I can think, okay, would she actually like this product that everyone tells me I should bring in? And then, maybe I wouldn’t have brought in stuff that I didn’t sell very well.
Can you give us an example of one of those that you’re like, “That was a no go?”
Yeah. Wax melts are a big one. So, if you’re familiar with Scentsy, stuff like that, that you put in the wax warmers, a handful of people would ask me about that because it’s basically the same ingredients, it’s wax and fragrance as well. It’s just not the wick.
So, it felt like a logical progression and I had seen a lot of other candlemakers and stuff like that making them. And for me, they just didn’t really sell well. I think it’s two totally different markets and that’s fine if you want to sell to multiple different kinds of customer, but I think there’s so much you can do on just really specializing and going wide on one thing rather than trying to constantly have new products to appeal to different people just because they’re related and easy to make. I ended up with so much overhead, just different kinds of packing, different kinds of labels. And they’re barely moving. They’re maybe 5% of my revenue. Why am I wasting all this energy on them when I could just focus on the thing that’s bringing in 80% of my revenue?
That’s really good advice. And I think that that goes for any business where really evaluating and taking a good look of what is actually bringing in the money and putting the focus there because I think that’s worldwide to so many different businesses. One last question that I want to ask you is what do you hope that your daughter is learning from watching you build your business?
I know people listening can’t see, but she has given me some artwork in some of my windows here. I think just that it’s achievable. I love that she’s growing up just knowing my mom runs a business and she knows what products I make and she sees things going out the window or the door, not out the window.
So, being that example for my kid of if you want to do this, you can do this, it’s a possibility for you is really nice. And then, also, I don’t know that if she works at whatever she wants to work at, she can achieve something. It’s such a sweet question. Now, I’m going to think about maybe she’ll take over my empire one day.
Yeah. You never know. I think that our kids more often than not, they listen to what we say, but they are more listening to what they see us do. And so, I think that it’s really awesome. I can tell that she’s a part of your business. She’s drawing on the walls and I just think what you’re doing and involving your family and friends and building a business that matters and is helping so many people really I think it’s amazing. So, thank you so much for being on the show. Please tell our audience where they can find you.
You can find me on Instagram. I’m @the.copper.bell. My website’s www.thecopperbell.ca. Those are the most likely places, or @thecopperbell at TikTok if you’re into that kind of thing as well.
Awesome. We’ll be looking and thank you so much for being on the show.
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