Unlocking the Secrets of Entrepreneurial Success: An Inside Look at Black Tie Barn with Founder Wade Thomas
Get ready to light up your entrepreneurial spirit with this inspiring interview with Wade Thomas, the mastermind behind Black Tie Barn - a thriving candle business that started as a happy accident.
Not only does Wade run a successful business, but he also shares his expertise on candle making through his popular YouTube channel.
Join us as we uncover the story of how Wade turned a crisis into an opportunity and built a successful business from scratch.
Village: How long have you been in the industry & how did you get into candle making?
I got started which was funny kind of,- it was completely by accident. My girlfriend at the time was a huge candle avid lover, so she was buying a bunch of the normal brands and I just made a stupid early new boyfriend comment that you're never supposed to make, and I was just talking about how she's spending so much money on candles, and she made a joke back that she wouldn't have to spend the money if I could learn how to make 'em. So, that's kind of what started it. Trying to impress someone early on.
I tried and I bought a bunch of random materials that did not go well, it was horrible. My first candles were train wrecks, they tunnelled down the middle, and couldn't smell a thing. And then, I guess to kind of summarize it all after that point, that caught my attention because, to me, I thought this is no big deal.
And then I found that it was more involved than I thought. So that interested me and kind of got me going. And I didn't make another candle after that point for about a year. I did nothing but just research and learned things and talked to people and reached out to some partners and industry leaders and started asking questions and then kind of took off from there.
Village: Where did the name Black Tie Barn come from?
I've always worked in corporate so I do like the business aspect of things but I've also sort of always wanted to do something more creative and handcrafted.
I'd always been involved in more corporate stuff, I have always been more of the business type of person and so, my attire was always suits and ties. Not necessarily suits and ties, but business.
I was combining that with more of the rustic nature of making candles, so I combined the black tie with the barn, a kind of rustic elegance that was the kind of thing I was going for. I wasn't too sure how I liked the way it sounded, the way it rolled off the tongue, but, I'm not very good at making the decision and just being happy with it for a long period.
So I wasn't super content. So I spent just countless months, and even years later, I was still always thinking about other names. And it got to the point where everyone just told me, “No, leave it. We like it. Stop messing with it.” And so I stopped messing with it.
Village: What are some of the more memorable challenges that you've faced aside from the startup where you were learning candle making?
Well, recently I think it's been mostly what everyone's experiencing and that is supply chain issues.
Issues with stock and then pricing. I mean, everything seems like it's gone up 70%, especially wax. So I think recently we can all probably agree it's pretty much the same problem. And then now there's the whole risk of, because it is not a necessity, there's a lot of fear about starting a business or making and selling candles during a time when people are trying to be a little bit tighter.
The good news is this is something I learned early on, is while it is technically a commodity, not a necessity, Nine out of 10 homes still burn candles no matter what's going on and the way I looked at it is the fewer people are out doing things and trying to save money, the more they're spending time at home.
And so that actually can help candle sales. From that perspective, I wasn't as worried as others were and I didn't see much of an issue with that. But supply management, supply stock, and pricing have been the biggest challenge recently. Early on, it's just gaining traction.
And there are shortcuts to gain traction, running ads and doing a lot of heavy marketing which I do encourage doing if people can, but it should always be subsidized, in my opinion, or supplemented with organic growth as much as possible because the ads and spend will get you going faster, but organic will make you last longer.
So keeping the two together I think is important. But the struggle is when you're first starting, a lot of people don't have the money to invest in ads. And so that's why it can take a lot longer to get going. So I would say getting traction early on, and being patient without giving up.
Village: Somebody who is early on in this and loves candles or is interested in maybe starting to make their own and has no idea where to begin, what type of advice would you have for somebody like that?
I think the most important step is keeping it simple and it depends. First of all, do you want to just make candles as a hobby or do you have plans to sell them? And I think you gotta answer that question first because it determines the kind of the rest of the roadmap. But if you're just making it as a hobby, I think the same thing is true.
You still wanna keep things simple. Learn one jar at a time with one wax and just nail that down and then you can expand from the other side of things.
Village: Do you have a certain audience or a certain type of candle you're wanting to make for certain types of customers?
I think the more focus you can get on the type of materials you wanna make for someone, the easier it is to sell. If you have a certain brand in mind, focus on that first and that will help you determine the jar that you're looking for because it'll fit the style that you're looking for, and that'll help you with labelling it.
Village: Candle-making advice on the internet, like there's just so much out there, curious about your basic training and advising on potential competition. What made you decide to start your channel?
That's funny that you said that because I get that question all the time. With that, it was made like a funny 15 minute video. I think it's smaller than that. Shorter than that. Um, that is different from all my other videos on the channel. And it's just funny, I play like seven different characters in it. It's, it's funny, but the reason I did that is I was, I was answering that question in a fun way.
Why am I willing to teach others how to do what I'm doing when I get questions, is that competition? Am I worried about that? And the short answer is, no. I think we all know that candles are such a high-demand product and there are tons of customers. We can't all have all the customers, we all have capacity limits anyways. Even if I could magically snap my fingers and have every candle customer in the world, I would've to close down.
And the original reason I started was I used to do paid consultations quite a bit. That was just so hard to keep up with. And if I focused, if I did spend too much time doing that, it was kind of hurting my other business, my normal business a little bit. Cause I didn't have time to do both and I was having to turn down people quite a bit.
Village: What are some of the other things that people can expect to find when they go and check out your channel? What types of information can they find there?
I try to keep it a little bit for everyone. So there's a pretty good split, I'd say between videos about specifically making candles and products, such as demonstrations, tutorials, and those kinds of interactive videos.
And then I have videos that are more talking head videos sort of like this, where I'm doing the teaching and explaining without necessarily showing. So things that require more talking, I guess more instruction.
And then another third of the businesses if not more are related to running a candle business. And that one was one that I kind of saw the biggest gap in as far as educational resources online.
Village: You're talking to a lot of your followers. What are some of the top questions that you're hearing over and over and over again?
Going into every season, you always get questions about what type of scents does well in certain seasons. Again, you can get tons of answers from that, from tons of different people but I would say from a general all-year-long perspective, the number one question always is “What wick should I use with this jar?”.
“Can you tell me more about the materials you're using?” - For brand-new makers, that can be frustrating or not seem very helpful, but it truly is the question you have to ask first. You just can't help without knowing more information.
So most of the questions tend to be about wicking and the second would be when they ask about wick and I ask about their jar and their wax, and then if I have experience with those, I try to relay some starting point. If I don't, I try to pass them to someone that I think might have more information on it, or I point them to a Facebook group or something where they can get a lot of different answers.
The next question is always, “How can I get a better hot throw, and which wax will give a better hot throw?”.
Village: Do you use essential oils in any of your candles?
Only the ones that are pre-blended with the fragrance oil. That came already included.
I don't add any essential oils directly myself for a couple of reasons.
One, a lot of fragrance oil already has some which are great, but the cost of essential oils is high. The reliability of them only, some of them throw off the fragrance well. You just gotta be more careful with them and it's hard to scale with those.
Two, I've noticed, at least in my experience when I've worked with larger orders, they're trying to get costs down and you're adding essential oils, it costs just go up, so a lot of it's just a based amount around what your business goals are and who you're working with.
Village: You have so much knowledge, we’ll recommend that everyone should check out your YouTube channel (Black Tie Barn)
I occasionally change the name a little bit, but you can find it by searching Black Tie Barn and I appreciate that.
I like to share the knowledge and the experience that I do have,
I'll be doing this soon on the channel if there's also a ton that I don't know or that I don't have experience with and so my goal is to incorporate more and more people into the channel that are experts in certain things.
Kind of like we're doing here, I want to involve some other industry leaders, whether it be some manufacturers or people that have worked in the field for a long time and or use materials that I don't necessarily use.
My goal is to help everyone, not just help people that use what I use.
- In times of crisis, it's important to keep an eye out for opportunities - like the steady demand for candles in households.
- A well-rounded marketing strategy that combines both paid advertising and organic growth tactics can help to establish and sustain a successful business.
- Identifying and targeting a specific niche market, such as certain types of candles, can streamline the sales process and increase overall revenue.