Hannah Chapman, age 25, is the founder of multi-million pound wax melt and candle business Ava May Aromas – which she set up from her parents’ kitchen table with no financial help or backing.
Her dad tried to persuade her to get a job. Two years on, she employs more than 20 people and has sold more than half a billion wax melts – and her dad is now her full-time business partner!
When did you start Ava May Aromas?
I started Ava May Aromas when I was 23 two years ago from my parent’s kitchen table!
Why did you start it?
I wasn’t enjoying my job in a social media agency and I wanted to be self-employed. I loved candles and I’d seen a few accounts pop up on Instagram making their own and I thought – I could do that!
What did you do before? What led to starting the business?
I’d left my full-time job working at a social media agency because I just wasn’t enjoying it. I was strongly encouraged to try becoming self-employed by my dad – who is now my business partner – although he wasn’t too keen when I told him I wanted to make and sell candles. I had saved enough money to see me through the first two months but my dad was worried that I would never be able to make a successful business to sustain me from selling candles.
I started out on Instagram, a platform I knew had huge potential having seen many brands grow from humble beginnings to hugely powerful companies. Gymshark and Pretty Little Thing are two of my favourite examples. That’s the beauty of social media – there are ways of leveraging it that don’t necessarily require money and I think that’s what makes it so exciting for budding companies and young entrepreneurs, it really levels the playing field.
What do you sell?
Ava May Aromas is a home fragrance brand producing handmade or hand-poured items, from bath bombs to room sprays. We’re best known for our Wax Melts – we produce more than 2,000 clamshells per day.
Did you have to do a lot of product testing?
Yes candle making is a real skill and takes a lot of time, patience and dedication. From finding the right wick, to the perfect wax, pouring temperature, fragrance quality – it’s all very much an art form.
How do you pick the scents?
We specialise in scents which are inspired by designer dupes so you can make your home smell like your favourite scent for cheaper. I started off duping my own favourite scents and as the business grew I would take on suggestions from the Ava May Aromas fans.
Have you had to overcome the challenges? How did you do it?
Believe it or not, the biggest challenge for me was being able to keep up with demand.
I was lucky enough to connect with an account on Instagram within my first few months of business that has gone on to become a social media powerhouse. The amazing Sophie Hinchliffe – aka Mrs Hinch – has become a friend of mine, and she also changed the course of my life. When I first started out on Instagram I knew influencer gifting was a powerful way for fledgling accounts to grow rapidly. I messaged Sophie when she had around 4,000 followers, and asked if she’d like to review our products. She agreed and has continued to show her support to our brand by mentioning us on her page. Shortly after initially making contact, Sophie’s page blew up and her following grew to 100,000, then 500,000 and before long she was passed 1,000,000 followers. As a result, if she mentioned us to her growing audience our page would go absolutely crazy. The website would sell out and we’d have to shut down for a couple of weeks to clear the backlog of orders.
It was amazing but equally stressful. My parents’ house essentially became a factory with boxes in every room, and within six weeks I had to move to my first commercial unit. Even with the unit and more space, meeting demand on my own was a real struggle. From making to packing, dealing with emails and social inboxes, I was drowning in the workload. Prior to taking on staff, I do look back at those early months and realise how burnt out I was. It was a really testing period of relentless dedication, but I think every entrepreneur has to go through that in some way.
Your father is co-director of Ava May Aromas, what is it like to work with your dad?
My dad thought it was a mistake at first, and didn’t really think I’d be able to make a business out of candles and wax melts. He soon changed his mind when he could see it taking off – so much so that he left his job to become a shareholder and director in the business alongside me. We already have a good relationship anyway, but we run different sides of the business too which I think helps. I take care of Sales & Marketing whilst my Dad runs Operations and Finance. We both consult with each other and make decisions together but neither of us get too heavily involved in the other’s side of the business and I think that’s why it works so well. All good relationships are built on trust and there’s nobody I trust more.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start their own business?
Find your passion! A great thing about being born in the millennial generation is that the number of opportunities open to us is greater than ever before. Jobs and roles that didn’t exist 10, 20, 30 years ago such as content managers or videographers are now available to us. But it can be a bit overwhelming to know what you actually want to do as a result. Take your time and find your passion, don’t rush or worry about what everyone else is doing, this can often cloud your judgement when making decisions. Once you do, find what you love, think about how you can capitalise on that as a business opportunity. Suddenly it’s not work but a passion project.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t think you need to do it all alone! The sooner I asked for help and brought other people with the skillsets I lacked into my business the better. You’re less likely to get into a mess, as I’m sure I would have if I’d been left to my own devices not collecting invoices or doing any form of accounting.
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