How Coal and Canary Built a $2 Million Luxury Candle Business Online
Six and a half years ago, Amanda Buhse was working a 9-to-5 job as a graphic designer. Her day job was exhausting so Buhse and her best friend, a nurse, decided to meet a few times a week to decompress over a glass of wine and make candles together.
The hobby stuck. Buhse eventually turned those evenings melting wax and cutting wicks into a bustling business.
Now she’s the Owner + Chief Creative Officer of Coal and Canary, a Canada-based online luxury candle company. Her candles are sold all over North America and have even made it into the glamorous gift bags handed out to VIPs at the Oscar and Grammy Awards.
What started as a passionate side hustle is now a $2M business.
Buhse never imagined that one day she would be operating out of a 10,000 square foot warehouse, which, much like her brand, is vibrant and colorful, decorated in pink accents with a luxurious flair. With a staff of twenty people (and growing), Coal and Canary produces 1,000 hand-poured candles a day.
We sat down with Amanda to learn about her story, what makes her company succeed, and the way the pandemic has shifted the way Coal and Canary does business.
Watch Coal and Canary’s Wix Best Sellers video. Then, read our interview with Buhse to hear behind-the-scenes business tips on how she grew her business.
How did Coal and Canary start?
Coal and Canary started in 2014. My best friend at the time was a nurse and I was a graphic designer. We both had really stressful jobs and we were just looking for an excuse to hang out more often. So, we got together over a glass of wine once a week. He had been making candles as a hobby and had gotten really good at it. So he would come over and we would make candles together in my kitchen.
Even though it was our hobby, I took it very seriously and started doing market research on candles. We found a niche audience of females aged 25-35 that weren’t quite being targeted the way they could be. We decided to put our expertise together. I built our website on Wix and started posting the candles on social media. Once we started posting, stores began reaching out asking for our products and I would send them to our site.
That’s when we realized it was no longer just a hobby. We had a business.
It wasn’t long after you launched Coal and Canary that your candles made it into the Oscars and Grammy Awards gift bags. Can you share the story behind that?
Even though we were selling candles out of my small kitchen, we decided to make a business plan and set short and long-term goals. One of our long term goals was to be in a local award show gift bag in Canada, which we never thought would happen.
One day, I was at my full-time job and I found the people who put the gift baskets together for the Grammys and Oscars. I sent them an email and told them about our products. I shared our website and asked, “What's the process of being considered for an award show gift bag of your caliber in the next decade?” I was not expecting any sort of response. To our surprise, three weeks later, we received an email from them. They felt our product was unique and wanted to include it in their gift bags. We couldn’t believe it. We ended up accomplishing our long-term goal within three months.
How would you describe your brand, what do you think makes your product unique?
Coal and Canary is unlike any candle company that I’ve come across. We like to have a lot of fun in absolutely everything we do–from our product packaging, to the names of our candles to our pink warehouse. We like to say we make cheeky candles for playful personalities and we aim to bring happiness into homes, one candle a time.
We also really value our customer service and the way we interact with our customers. We treat them like they are our friend whenever they call or ask a question. I think our customers really see their values aligning with that sentiment and I believe it’s a large part of why we get so much repeat business.
The pandemic affected a lot of businesses. How has it changed the way Coal and Canary does things?
Being a candle company and selling a product that is scented, it’s a struggle to try to find new customers. When the pandemic hit, it was absolutely terrifying. Our main sources of revenue were from trade shows, wholesale customers, and our brick and mortar location. But at the beginning of March 2020, every single trade show we had lined up was canceled, all of our wholesale customers were closing, and our shop was forced to close. It's still closed. Nearly every part of our revenue and cash flow was gone overnight.
We really had to be creative and learn to pivot our business to try to survive the pandemic. Before COVID, our biggest area of revenue was in-person trade shows, we would do about 50 a year, and our smallest source of revenue was direct-to-consumer online. All of a sudden, we had put all of our eggs into that online basket. We decided to really invest in that. We’re so grateful that we had the Wix eCommerce platform because we had to shift our focus overnight.
But as a result of focusing on our online store, our business actually doubled in 2020 and our sales have gone up by 535%.
How were you able to attract new customers?
We are lucky in the fact that our product is something people use at home for relaxation, and many people are staying at home right now. Since we’ve moved our business online, direct-to-consumer, we’ve been really fortunate to be introduced to a whole new set of customers that we’ve never had the opportunity to reach before.
We focus a lot on our email marketing from our Wix site. One of our emails alone has generated over six hundred orders and over $40k in revenue. We send out newsletters and emails once a week now.
You mentioned you get a lot of repeat business. Can you tell us a bit about that and what you think has contributed to your customers returning?
I would say about half of our customers are returning, which is absolutely incredible. Since moving online we’ve really had to try to pull back the curtain of the website and of our customer and ask "who is she?" We don’t know because we don’t get to see her anymore, she’s online.
We track our Wix Analytics very closely to learn as much as we can about her. We also rely on our automated emails. Thirty days after a customer purchases a candle, they receive an email from us, which we found really encourages repeat business.
We also try to be creative in how we connect to our customers. For example, during the summer, when business for us is typically slower, we created a weekly VIP candle. To gain access to the VIP collection on our site, customers had to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Every time a VIP candle came out, it caused a frenzy. The collection has been a huge success.
Where do you see Coal and Canary growing?
When I first started Coal and Canary in my kitchen, six and a half years ago, I never dreamed that it would be even as big as it is today. I didn’t imagine that it would be a $2 million business. We have had to drastically shift our business model in the last year, and have grown tremendously. I hope to continue to grow online as we have.
What is something that you’ve learned about business through Coal and Canary?
Something that I always heard growing up was that you could be the smallest fish in the sea, but if you have a professional website and branding, people will take you seriously.
When I sent my website to potential retailers early on, we were making seven candles at a time out of my small kitchen. I think it goes to show that when you have a professional brand, the goals and dreams that you have are limitless.
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Sarit made the transition to the world of eCommerce from government policy. She’s a Toronto native, an avid reader, blogger and foodie.