Starting with $200 in homemade candle supplies, Brittany Whitenack, founder & owner of Antique Candle Co. has built a company that six years later employs 34 people in Lafayette Ind. Each soy candle her company sells is still hand-poured. Nav is proud to award Antique Candle Co. with the third place prize in the Nav Quarterly Small Business Grant.
The Antique Candle Co. grant application stood out among hundreds in part because it clearly and specifically explained how each level of prize money could be used to help the business grow. “We are going to purchase a wax melter to ensure our operational process can handle the increased demand of fall and holiday candles (think Pumpkin Spice)” she explains. “Right now, we can produce about 2,000 candles per day. With this new equipment, we can produce up to 6,000 candles per day. Game changer!”
Knowing Her Numbers
Whitenack’s clear understanding of her business finances impressed the Nav team who interviewed the grant finalists. She reviews her company’s financials weekly and effortlessly shared critical numbers when asked.
Like many business owners, she admits cash flow can be a challenge. She has bootstrapped her business despite significant year over year growth. “Personally, the largest challenge is forecasting sales data during flash sales,” she says. “It can be difficult to accurately predict what our daily sales will be. Under forecasting or over forecasting incorrectly can have drastic ripple effects throughout operations and the financials.”
Her Nav account helps her stay on top of her business cash flow. “I love the cash flow model in the Nav dashboard,” she says. “It’s refreshing to look at a visual model that is easy to understand. It’s a great daily check to see how much cash is coming in and out of our business checking account.”
She is also using Nav to help build her business credit. “As our company grows, this will be a vital step to help accommodate for growth over the next 1-3 years,” she adds.
But this creative entrepreneur admits she wishes she had focused on financials sooner. “I wish I would have started using Quickbooks from the get-go and spent my time learning the ins-and-outs of that software,” she says. She had more free time in the earlier days of her business, she says, and trying to fit it in now with the day-to-day demands of running her business is more challenging.
Humble Start, Big Growth
Growing up on a farm in the Midwest, Whitenack says her childhood home was full of antiques. “I started making candles in unique antique and vintage vessels like coffee tins, old ball jars, and crocks.” She started by selling her candles at craft shows and pop-ups, and the business now has a thriving online store and presence on social media.
Managing a rapid growing business has had its share of challenges, but COVID-19 has been the most difficult by far. Knowing she has a team of 34 employees counting on their jobs through this difficult time has been stressful, she admits. But she’s grateful for her customers and team. “It was a blessing that we retained sales and could deliver candles to our customers,” she marvels. ”All our employees remained on payroll and received regular wages!”
Antique Candle Co. is in the process of renovating a 1950s dairy factory as its new candle studio, and everyone at the company is anxious for construction to be completed so they can move in. “We are busting at the seams!” Whitenack exclaims.
Community and Connection
Whitenack believes in the power of community and strives to incorporate it into her business. “Co. (in Antique Candle Co.) stands for community, and all the important values that encompass that simple work,” she says. “Co. also stands for company, which accurately reflects that this is a company of candle makers.” She says she loves it when she can help employees match their dreams, skills and talents to the needs of the business.
She also taps into the business community in Lafayette, which is also a college town and home to Purdue University. She says her local Chamber of Commerce has been extremely supportive. And a local mentor, Mikel Berger, who has started several successful businesses, is there for the “tough questions”.
She also taps her community of candle lovers by inviting customers to be Candle Testers several times a year. “First, it’s super fun,” she says. “Second, you are ensuring that you are producing a product (candle) that will be loved by your target demographic!” She encourages other entrepreneurs in the creative space to make sure to interact often with their audience to get their feedback.
When asked what advice she would share with other small business owners, she emphasizes the need for understanding their numbers.
“If you are a new entrepreneur and aren’t comfortable with accounting or the financial side of the business like understanding a profit and loss Statement and balance sheet, I would strongly suggest that you take a class to understand the basics,” Whitenack said. “If your goal is to have a profitable business (non-hobby), then it’s imperative that you are comfortable with your finances, even if you hire an accountant or bookkeeper to help.”
That’s good advice from a business owner whose financial savvy is clearly marking her a winner.
This article was originally written on June 30, 2020.