Hi Amalia, when and why did you decide to open The Botanical Candle Co.?
In the spring of 2018 we moved the business from our attic bedroom, where it had been solely an online venture, to a bright and airy studio space on the first floor of our current building on Shaftesbury High Street. By early 2019, the ground floor shop became vacant and we decided that a physical shop was the logical next stage of the business.
What had you done before? Did any of these skills help?
I’d worked in sales and marketing since leaving school and James, my real-life and business partner, had always worked in logistics. We have opposite brains, his more logical and routine-driven, mine a little more creative and impulsive. We’ve found it to be a combination which has worked in our favour. Our individual strengths are very clear to us, and our roles within the business have formed naturally. Digital marketing has always been an interest of mine and I was lucky enough to work with talented colleagues who taught me a lot in my early 20s. There’s little that phases James, who can make sense of new systems and procedures without batting an eyelid.
What a perfect combination! How did you decide on the name?
We knew we wanted ‘Candle’ in the title to make it clear what we were all about. ‘Botanical’ is a soft and friendly word and as our main ingredients are all plant-based, it fitted perfectly. I guess it’s quite a traditional name but we were keen to have a brand that would grow with us, and to appear professional from day one.
Tell us about the range of beautiful products you stock…
Lack of willpower is mostly why the shop isn’t 100% our products! I’m a total magpie and find such joy in sourcing beautiful new makers to work with. I also realised that not everybody is in to candles, and that offering plenty of other things to talk about with visitors was vital. We stock the work of over 50 other independent makers, artists, weavers, potters and illustrators. I could tell you every one of their names and what makes their products special. Giving a platform to other small businesses is a privilege and their work so enriches our shop space.
Our candles are the cornerstone of our shop, with them being the bestselling lines by far. With a huge range of scents on offer, we love talking customers through each one. Helping them find their favourite, or making a recommendation for a gift, never gets old. Lots of folks know we make the candles ourselves but many visitors to Shaftesbury don’t realise. I think they’re always amazed that each one of our products in made just a few yards from our shop, in our separate workshop space.
What does a ‘normal’ day look like?
The team start at 9am and will start with packing up orders that have come in overnight. The workshop crew will set about making whatever is on the schedule for that day, or finish candles that were started the day before. The shop opens at 10am and we’ll light a candle, put some gentle music on and make sure everything is looking spotless. We find Shaftesbury to be consistently busy, with visitors coming to see the famous Gold Hill, which is a just a couple of minutes’ walk from our shop. Each day we’ll have the pleasure of meeting customers from near and far. We’ve always tried to be the friendliest shop in town and always have time for a chat.
We’re big on gifting so will help customers put together custom gift boxes multiple times a day. We’ll also be unpacking deliveries and restocking candles throughout the day. There’s always something to be done and our shop crew will always be busy parcelling up individual tealights, bundling reeds or preparing wicks for our workshop team.
How do you go about choosing the items you stock from other makers?
With such a tiny shop we have to be selective but I actually thrive on that challenge. We’re always on the lookout for products which perfectly marry usefulness, beauty and value. Being realistic about what our customers are looking for is at the centre of every decision we make. Anything that serves a purpose will always be easier for customers to justify. It sounds silly but in these times it’s very true.
One of my biggest passions is ceramics, so I’m always on the lookout for new potters to work with, as well as keeping in touch with our network of existing ceramicists.
Which item is your bestseller? Why do you think that is?
Quiescent is our bestselling blend. It’s a beautifully fresh yet calming combination of essential oils that works wonders for a rushing mind. We made a small batch when we were renovating the shop space and it worked so well at calming me down, we decided we needed to release it. People love the combination of lavender, frankincense and eucalyptus as it’s refreshing yet grounding. It’s the candle that changed everything for us, marking a turning point in the business’s story.
What items are your personal can’t-live-without?
I absolutely adore the tealights we make and never have enough at home(!). Lavender & Petitgrain is especially soothing and grown-up but I find it hard to pick between them and Orange Blossom. Their gentle scent and immediate atmosphere are so welcome during the winter months, or during summer get-togethers. They come in fully recyclable packaging, too.
What do you enjoy most about running The Botanical Candle Co.?
Although one of the hardest parts, I find being an employer one of the most rewarding things about running a business. It’s a huge responsibility, but fostering a positive, inclusive and safe working space for people is huge for me. Unhappiness at work is so common in our society and we are on a mission to prove that it doesn’t need to be that way. I’m determined to show that putting peoples’ well-being before profit can still result in a successful, robust business. In fact, I think the passion and dedication from our team is what’s got us this far. We have a team of 13 wonderful people who do everything from making candles to answering the phone. We are a close-knit bunch and any success is shared.
What has been your career highlight?
We recently had two friends visit our shop from Brazil! They’d flown to London for a concert but had hired a car especially to travel down to Dorset. It absolutely blew us away that the strength of connection had motivated them to come all that way. We were so touched that we took them on a full tour of the business, including getting to see candles being made in the workshop.
What is the neighbourhood like around your store?
Shaftesbury is a beautiful Saxon hilltop town that’s steeped in history and character. It’s the highest town in Dorset, meaning the winters are pretty wild and wonderful. We have a caring community of independent businesses and shops in town, with a local community who support us. We’ve also seen an increase in visitor numbers in recent years. Gold Hill (from that famous Hovis advert) is here, and we are just an hour away from the Jurassic Coast, meaning there’s plenty to do and see.
What do you wish you’d known before opening the store? Any advice for those thinking about opening their own stores?
I guess I’ve had it confirmed that every customer is looking for an experience, and for connection. Taking the time to talk somebody through the item they’ve spotted, or just asking them how their day is going can make a difference. We try and offer a space which is calming and welcoming, where people can browse freely without any pressure. While we have an extensive range on our website, there will always be items in-store which people may not have found online. This keeps visiting in person special and worthwhile, we find.
My advice would be for people to think about the experience of visiting your shop as a whole. Making sure it smells good, is warm, and that there’s a friendly and welcoming atmosphere is imperative.
6 The Commons, Shaftesbury, Dorset