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Starting a Company from the Ground Up with P.F. Candle Co.

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 04/25/2017 | 6 Minute Read

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P.F. Candle Co. has certainly experienced success, but it certainly didn’t come without its challenges. In the final part of a 4-part series, founder Kristen Pumphrey talks about the biggest challenges in founding a business, working as a female entrepreneur, how to make something that matters, and more.

View Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Did you make any big mistakes during the first few years you were in business? If yes, can you share one or two?

Kristen Pumphrey: Absolutely—mistakes will always happen, but it’s only a mistake if you don’t learn something from it. Our most costly mistakes have been around releasing new scents or products. We have a robust QC program, but weren’t accounting for the natural variants in the soy wax we were receiving, and two years ago we discovered that a bunch of product was burning too low right before it was set to release. We had to re-formulate our candles based on scent/wax combo. Now we test batches of wax when we get them in the warehouse so we know of any issues before we pour, not after—because having to junk hundreds of candles just isn’t fun for anyone!

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What was your biggest challenge in founding your business?

Kristen Pumphrey: Leadership and managing people. In 2012, my goal was just to make enough to travel around the country selling candles out of the back of a VW bus. Now we’re providing for 27 people. It wasn’t part of my original picture—we just grew to be this big, so adapting to being a leader/manager has been my personal challenge. My last job was a host at a restaurant. I was bottom of the totem pole. Tom had some leadership experience, so I learned from him, read a ton of books, and basically am willing to humble myself at any turn. Balancing keeping your staff happy with keeping yourself happy can be really tricky.

If you could go back and do anything differently in this process, what would you want to change?

Kristen Pumphrey: I would be less scared to be a boss from the beginning. You feel like you’re imposing so much on the people that took a chance on you—but that goes both ways. Having confidence in the beginning sets you up later down the line.

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What kinds of struggles have you encountered being an entrepreneur and being female?

Kristen Pumphrey: I’ve faced some serious struggles returning to work after having a baby last year. I was only able to take two months off—that’s the reality of being a business owner. In retrospect, I wish I had taken more, but I felt like I needed to return to work—like the business needed me, and like I needed the business to get part of my identity back. The first month back was tough, as I brought Poppy with me, and the stress of returning flowed down to her.

Once she got into daycare, things got a little easier on us, but more difficult for our staff. Obviously, my priorities have majorly shifted. The business was my first baby, but Poppy is my real baby. There are times she will be sick or school will be closed, and I have to go be with her. You’d think I wouldn’t feel guilty leaving my own business, but I do. You feel that classic “either I’m a failure at work or a failure at home”.

I am also choosing to pump and breastfeed for a year, and my schedule because of that has made me less available to our staff (since pumping isn’t exactly something you can do during a meeting), which crops up as an issue sometimes. Our staff is really young (most people are in their 20s), so learning to understand family responsibilities is a growing pain. It’s been an adjustment for everyone. I was surprised that I faced these issues, as the owner of the company, so I can only imagine what other working moms go through.

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Your husband joined you in the business in 2013. What advice do you have for other couples who work together?

Kristen Pumphrey: Some days we feel like we have it figured out, other days, not so much. Just know that you’ll be all in, and know it’s not going to be easy all the time. That takes some of the stress off. And also—have fun together. Business is serious, and that can make you start to be serious all the time. Tom makes me laugh—we are ridiculously silly and annoying together—but sometimes I have to remind myself to lighten up and forget about the business for a second.

What is your main advice to other entrepreneurs who would like to start their own company?

Kristen Pumphrey: Create a product or service that needs to exist in the world—it’s the only way to be successful. If your product doesn’t serve a purpose—if you are making it just to own a business—there’s a limit to how far you can go. And—quality, quality, quality. We ascribe to the kaizen philosophy of continual self-improvement and are never settling for “good enough”. How can our candles be better? How can our pictures be better? Etc. We’re always working to be the best.

What’s in store for the future of P.F. Candle Co.?

Kristen Pumphrey: We’re looking to cement our place as scent experts and trend makers, so you can expect more home fragrance goods (like our incense that will be released in April) and other scented items.

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Looking for more entrepreneur inspiration? Check out the story of future food brand Soylent.

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