This Homegrown Brand Started With $500 Capital And Broke Even In 2 Months

Homegrown brand Hush Candle was established as a passion project by Nicole Su and Chelsea Low in 2014. Today, it’s become a force to be reckoned with. 

You might have seen the elegant, monochromatic packaging at Sephora and Watsons, but did you know that Hush Candle is a bona fide homegrown brand? Co-founders Nicole Su and Chelsea Low kindled Hush Candle in 2014 as a side project. Today, the home fragrance brand is available at all major retailers, and has expanded its portfolio to handy sanitizers (we love the compact size), room sprays and roll-ons.

Thirty-two year old Nicole tells us how they’ve kept the fire burning for so long.

Hush Candle started out as a side project. Is it still a side project or do you guys now run it full time?

We are currently running the business full time as of April 2019.

You started the company because you felt like there was a lack of good quality and affordable soy-based candles in Singapore. What are the unique selling points of your products, and how are they priced? How do you stay competitive given that more merchants have been entering the market?

We position our brand as simple, fuss-free and affordable candles made with high quality ingredients. We keep everything, from our packaging, design, communications and even the names of all our products simple without any gimmicks or pretence. Basically, what you see if what you get!

Back when we first started, I believe we had a first mover advantage as there weren’t a lot of other homegrown candle brands. With the emergence of more competitors especially since the start of the pandemic, I believe what makes us competitive is the fact that we continued staying true to our belief in providing accessible, affordable and high quality home fragrances.

We’ve also invested significantly in branding, marketing and human resources by growing the team, and we are constantly coming up with new product offerings in order to stay relevant and ahead of our competitors.

What is your role at Hush Candle? How does it differ from your partner’s role? Do you guys have a team or full time employees?

I handle almost everything, from business development, research and developing new products, marketing and social media content management to accounting and managing the business’s cash flow.

Both Chelsea and I work on product development and marketing together. While my job scope is more focused on accounts and client servicing, Chelsea handles all design and web related matters, such as the upkeep of our Shopify, Sephora, Lazada and Shopee stores, Google ads, and so on.

At the moment, we have a dedicated team of full time employees that assist us with logistics, production and customer service in order to ensure our operation runs smoothly.

Where are your candles manufactured? Do you make them yourselves? If so, where does the manufacturing process take place? What goes into the R&D of coming up with new scents?

When we first started, everything was made by us! Right now, we no longer make the candles personally – it is currently still made in Singapore by our production team.

When we come up with new scents, we first think of the kind of scent we plan to create, before procuring the necessary raw materials and going through eight to 10 rounds of testing in order to ensure optimum scent throw.

" Through all these challenges, I’d say it’s always best to take a step back, stay calm, and work towards finding a solution. I believe there’s always a solution for everything and we shouldn’t be too hard up over things that are not within our control." - Nicole Su

With the Covid-19 outbreak, you had to change Hush Candle’s entire business model due to the restrictions. What was the business model before and in what way has it evolved?

Before the pandemic, we relied quite heavily on workshops, private client engagements and B2B orders for events, which made up around half of our revenue stream. With the start of the pandemic, almost all our engagements and job were cancelled, and we were pretty worried that this would impact our business significantly.

Thankfully, we already had an online presence and with more people shopping online, we decided to focus all our efforts and resources into growing our business online We invested in a lot of Facebook and Instagram ads in order to garner more awareness and online presence. We’ve also worked on expanding our brand presence successfully, and we’ve since been available on Sephora online, 16 PandaMart outlets, Shopee and Lazada, in order to make our products more readily available to the masses.

Apart from expanding our brand presence, we’ve also worked on staying relevant by expanding our range of product offerings. During March/ April 2020, we came up with our range of organic hand sanitisers that are priced at a very competitive price point, which has since been our constant top-selling product. We also came up with curated care packages during the circuit-breaker period which were very well received.

What are two of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in your entrepreneurial journey so far, and how did you overcome them?

The pandemic definitely threw a huge curveball.

When the government declared DORSCON Orange on the situation, we had over S$30,000 worth of jobs cancelled or postponed overnight. I had recently got my own place with a mortgage to pay for as well, and it made me so stressed out that I broke down and cried! We worked through this hurdle by pivoting the business and focusing on our online sales. Thankfully, our efforts paid off well.

Another challenge we had to face was managing our supplies during the pandemic. For instance, there was a worldwide shortage of the particular brand of wax we use due to the disruption of logistics and supply chain brought about by COVID-19 for two or three months. It took us a while to finally sort this issue out by extensive researching and sourcing on our end.

Through all these challenges, I’d say it’s always best to take a step back, stay calm, and work towards finding a solution. I believe there’s always a solution for everything and we shouldn’t be too hard up over things that are not within our control.

Can you share a ballpark figure of how much you guys put in to start the business and did the sum come from your savings? How long did it take before you guys broke even and what is a lesson you learnt about managing money in business?

Honestly, we didn’t really put in much money as we didn’t start out with the intention of starting a business. It was more of a side hobby that we wanted to try out during our own free time, and our growth and eventual transition to a business was very organic. I’d say we put in around $500 to buy some candle making supplies. Due to the nature of our business at the beginning, we didn’t have much overheads to cover. The candles were made in Chelsea’s home kitchen. Our friends helped out with design and photography, and we only sold our candles on Etsy then, which took a small cut from any sales generated.

We probably managed to break event after one or two months.

A lesson learnt in managing money in business – always overestimate any cost involved to ensure your numbers are healthy.

Are there plans to expand the product line? In your opinion, are more Singaporeans investing in candles? If so, why do you think that is? Does the WFH model play a part?

Yes, we are looking into creating more new scents and new product lines. We won’t reveal too much yet as they are all still in the works.

Singaporeans are definitely more into candles than they were five years ago. Back then, there were probably only three or four homegrown candle brands in the market. At the moment, I won’t be surprised if there’s at least a hundred out there.

With majority of people staying home more than ever, it has been increasingly popular for individuals to create a cosy and comfortable living space. Interestingly, candles have already been popular in the past in a lot of western countries. The candle market in the US or Australia has always been huge. I personally feel that it took Singapore a little longer to get on the candle bandwagon, and I’d love to believe that we helped play a small part in this.

Do you have your products in stores? How do you help customers figure out what scents to get?

We don’t have our own standalone store at the moment, but we’re also available in a number of brick and mortar stores across the island such as Watsons Ngee Ann City, Therapy Market and SOJAO. We usually ask customers what kind of scent appeals to them, where and when will they typically be burning the candle, before providing them with recommendations.

What advice would you give for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Be prepared to work extremely hard and get your hands dirty. I believe you have to be really hands-on and on the ground especially at the start, in order to get the best insight into your business.

Always have an open mind – be open to new ideas and suggestions.

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