Career change ignites passion
BURNING the candle at both ends took on a whole new meaning for Cate Burton when she changed careers from corporate lawyer and marketing strategist to candle maker.
Burton was searching for a calming hobby following a series of anxiety attacks when she discovered making beeswax candles. Eight years ago, this hobby became the Queen B business.
"Candle making started off as a hobby and I gave away the candles I made to friends and family but I soon got calls from friends of friends who wanted to buy them," Burton says. "Before too long, my hobby became my business."
All Queen B candles are made from 100 per cent Australian beeswax and don't contain paraffin, soy or palm wax. Burton chose beeswax for a number of reasons, including environmental. "About 95 per cent of candles are made using paraffin, which is a petro-chemical that is toxic when burned," she says. "Beeswax is a natural product which is also a natural ioniser when burning."
Every element of Burton's candles is Australian made, including the beeswax, the cotton wicks and the packaging.
"Because I am committed to supporting Australian producers I do pay a lot for the beeswax," she says. "I could buy it 30 per cent cheaper from New Zealand but that would mean I'm supporting New Zealand beekeepers. The higher costs are reflected in the price but beeswax candles do burn longer than other types."
Growth has averaged around 30 per cent a year every year. The average customer spends between $25 and $50 in store and over $100 online.
One of the perceptions Burton has sought to address was the perception of beeswax candles as being "alternative" or "hippy".
"While I am interested in, and passionate about, non-toxic products and the environment, I love beautiful things with a strong design aesthetic and believe you can have both," she says.
"Last year, I was approached by [restaurant] Vue de Monde on behalf of Dom Perignon to do a light sculpture epitomising the brand. I love that we created something truly unique and beautiful for one of the world's top luxury brands."
One business challenge relates to the amount of administration. "I receive about 150-200 emails every day and despite making my website information rich, I get many requests for information," Burton says. "Answering them is very time-consuming."
About 4 per cent of sales are made online and Burton says a lot of time is needed to service the website. "There is a lot of added-on work with Pinterest, blogging, Facebook, and it just keeps adding on. My BAS also takes about 10-15 hours a month but this is okay as doing it myself means I know exactly where the business is at any time."
Queen B also supplies to 100 retailers and about 20 per cent of sales are made via the shop, located in Brookvale in Sydney's northern beaches. Most of the promotion is on social media and through public relations, which Burton does herself.
She says Queen B survives because of the help of volunteers. In addition to Burton, a full-time administration person and a part-time candle maker, about four volunteers come every week to help pack orders.
While the most popular products are the tealights and tapers, Burton says there is growing interest in candle-making kits and making beeswax candles for fund-raising.
"While we sell over 120,000 candles a year, that is a small fraction of candle sales in Australia so there is enormous potential for growth," she says.
While Burton says she now has very little spare time, she has no regrets about starting her business.
"I adore what I'm doing," she says. "One minute I'm in the car off to meet one of my beekeepers and next I could be blogging about my company or working on accounts. I've never been happier."