Where to even begin…. I’ve been meaning to write a blog for weeks now, there’s so much to say but I don’t know where to start! First a little bit about me. I’m Hannah, 23 years old and a few months ago I started Ava May Aromas from my family home in Fleet. While working a full time job in marketing, I’d grown tired of advising people on how to improve their social media etc and that advice falling on deaf ears. I used to wish I had a business of my own so that I could run the social media myself and do the things I advised my clients to do. For 8 months I’d had the idea of starting Ava May Aromas, I truly believed there was a real opportunity on Instagram for a candle/wax melt company to make an impact. Australia is so far ahead of the UK when it comes to candle making, and the industry as a whole. Luxury Candle Supplies was the first candle account I came across that truly caught my eye and gave me the inspiration. After just under a year in marketing I quit my full time job and decided it was now or never, if I started another full time job I’d never do it. With that I built my own basic website (another handy skill I’d picked up), spoke to my parents (who will admit they were seriously sceptical about my choice of venture to begin with) & ordered some jars and wax. It honestly was as simple as that.
The wax, scent and wicks etc arrived and it was time to make our first candle. I’ll spare you every detail but essentially after a little trial and error, and a lot of research we got our method right. Within days it was time to do my first Instagram post – 16th July 2018. Wow I had no idea what was to follow. Of course I started out like any other Insta business – 0 followers. I knew the home interior accounts would be my target audience so I began following and interacting with them in the hopes of making some connections. Kayleigh (@kayleigh.loves.life) & Deanna (the_ogrady_cottage) were among the first really friendly accounts I connected with. Slowly the numbers picked up & I began approaching accounts with good followings to see if they’d like to try some of my products in return for an honest review. I can’t even begin to tell you how many I approached that never even responded or gave me the time of day. This is one of the reasons I like to collaborate with other small business’, because that was (& still is me!) just trying to grow and make my way in the world. It’s hard work when you first start out and the rejection can be one of the hardest things to deal with.
There were many days that would pass where no orders came through and I’d question EVERYTHING. What was I doing? Why? What was the point? Was this ever going to work? Feelings of failure when orders didn’t come through & hurt when competitors were unwelcoming and cold. I’ve of course grown a much thicker skin since then – you have to with social media.
However, there were of course some lovely accounts that helped me along the way. @claireshomestory, @homeofkg, @heidishouse_of_grey
were amongst the first accounts that kindly responded and reviewed my candles. I’ll always be grateful to the accounts that gave me the time of day when I was a tiny little company. With their help, regular posts on my page and following lots of accounts, my following began to increase gradually. Orders were gradually increasing too, but still there would be days of no orders or much less than others.
I often get asked if I have any advice that I would give to others starting out on Insta – and if I could only give one tip it would be this – Be prepared to give. Of course it is no secret that Mrs Hinch has hugely helped my little business explode at a pace I can only describe as lightning speed. However, when people say that I ‘just got lucky’ it actually really offends me for reasons I‘ll explain. My Dad has always taught me ‘You create your own luck in life’, & so whilst I most definitely hit the jackpot when I stumbled across Sophie’s account I was prepared to give in the first place, just as I had to many others. I’ve found the first message I sent to Sophie on 25th July 2018 – it makes me smile thinking of all that has happened since! Little did I know it was to be the most important message I had ever sent!
I should probably mention that at this point I was living at my parents family home, working on the kitchen hob creating everything by hand and to order. As the weeks passed and Sophie’s account started to grow, her stories or mentions would send a wave of followers and consequently orders like nothing I’d ever experienced! We were on our way to 10k, probably around the 7/8k mark when Sophie started to truly take off. Suddenly Ava May Aromas was at 10k, then 15k and wow…. the orders were just going through the roof.
When I quit my full time job and decided to start this venture, I knew I had enough money to last me roughly 2 months not working. So I had 2 months to either turn this business into a little side hobby or a full time job. Secretly I dreamed it could be full time, but my family were more sceptical. I will always remember my Dad ringing me as the end of the second month approached telling me that I really needed to get a job. It was time to start paying my way again and I couldn’t rely on the candles alone. It was around this point Sophie was really growing and she mentioned me in her stories a couple of times that week. Orders went boom and by the Thursday my Dad was on the phone again… this time telling me not to go to the interview I had scheduled for the following day. Funny how quickly that tune changed. This was a really significant turning point for Ava May Aromas. Orders were really starting to increase and I was still very much on my own. These were some of the toughest weeks mentally and physically. I’d be up at 6/7am and not go to bed until the early hours 1/2am. Even 3/4am wasn’t unheard of as I was so determined to make sure I got orders out in time for the post the following day.
Thank goodness for the post office just round the corner from our house and the lovely couple who run it. I still remember my first trip and telling them about my venture. I think I had about three parcels in my arms at the time. Gradually that turned into carrier bags, and then the daily trip turned into two or three trips before the last post.
As the orders grew so to did the space required for all the stock! I can’t remember exactly when or why I started doing wax melts, I suppose I’d seen them around and recognised they were an affordable option over more expensive candles. One thing I know for sure is I had no idea what I was doing when it came to making them! However, with some research and practice I had my first batch. So now not only was the kitchen taken over, so to was the dining room, living room, hallway, dining room, my sisters bedroom… Yeah the house was being taken over and we were all struggling to live in the mess.
During this time a friend of many years Owen, dropped a text to say he was back in town visiting his family. He asked if I was free to catch up and I responded that, whilst I’d love to chat, I couldn’t leave the house due to the number of orders I needed to complete. Owen popped over and saw the state I and the house were in, so he offered to lend a hand for the next few days. Long story short he hasn’t left! He was my first full time member of staff and helped through some very stressful weeks where it was literally just the two of us on a mad rush to get orders out the door.
It was around this point my family and myself were really at breaking point as the mess was really starting to affect us all. My parents sat down with me one morning and brought up the daunting topic of finding a workshop/unit which terrified me. We’d discussed this as being a possibility in the new year, not after 2 months…. In my head that meant the frightening prospect of many overheads I hadn’t needed to consider from the safety of home. Rent…. being the scariest prospect, followed by bills, wages, staff – all costs my little business would have to soak up, whilst keeping the prices the same. Of course volumes would need to go through the roof to cover this, but what if they didn’t? What if they just stopped? It’s easy to panic and frighten yourself when you get to this stage.
However, I’m extremely lucky to have an extremely encouraging father, who is also my business partner with 30+ years experience. We both knew at this point with expansion happening so rapidly that I was going to need him to be far more involved. Within two days he’d found the perfect workshop space – he’s pretty good I suppose… 😉 We really did get lucky finding our little spot in Andover, which is a 40 minute drive from home. 1200 sq foot seemed massive when we first moved in. If you watch the highlights reel on my Instagram profile and click on the Workshop file you’ll see that it was just an empty shell!
Trying to summarise how quickly things expanded is difficult, but suddenly 2 cookers became 6… 2 staff grew to 6, and lots of shelving units began to appear. Poor old dad once again putting them all together. My mum, sister and boyfriend would also come along in their spare time/weekends to lend a hand whenever they could. The biggest relief was without doubt suddenly having spare hands to make and pack more. As much as taking on staff was a terrifying thing to do, it was exactly what we needed. When your production is limited, so are your orders and of course this has a knock on effect. I was still spending 7 days a week in the workshop at this point, and would often be there until 8/9/10pm, BUT it was an improvement from having it all in the house. Being able to mentally separate work and home is so important.
I think it was around this point my other amazing reps came onto the scene! It was so hard choosing from so many entries, but oh my goodness I could not have been luckier. Roisin, Deanna, Carly and Holly have all been utterly amazing. Together with Sophie these ladies have been a huge part of my brands growth through their stories, posts and wonderful comments – I could not be more grateful for them. We also had the FAB-U-LOUS Mario join us recently – I watched a few of his stories and that was it. Had to have him as a rep, safe to say he has well and truly fitted in with my little team. Could go on forever, but I have found 6 amazing people I hope to continue working with long into the future. Thank you for everything guys!
The changes the workshop went through in this stage were insane. The staff will tell you they’d go home for a weekend, come back and suddenly everything had moved/changed. We had to get the floor sealed, switch to Hermes tracking/courier service, upgrade the website, increase our melting capacity, buy more packaging, find somewhere to store it all….. The list was endless.
Despite having a wonderful team, Owen, Maia, Laura, Becky, Charlie, Diane it still wasn’t enough and so we began to look for Xmas temps to join us. Along came Wendy, Ann, Lesley, Sam, Jade & Sophie. Suddenly 1200 sq ft went from feeling spacious to pretty cosy. With the product range expanding to include room sprays, reed diffuser refills, and the space needed for labelling clams etc finding a work space in between the wax being melted & poured, plus orders being packed became a challenge. This is the point where the unit next door became available and temporarily answered our prayers. If you check my workshop highlights reel you’ll see when we knocked a hole through the wall expand.
This extra space gave us a vital room for a ‘prep area’ and more packing storage. You never consider just much how much space boxes and packaging take up. Next came the french doors we fitted to the front of the unit so goods can flow out when Hermes collect each day, plus the new heating units just in time for the winter. All huge expenses, but worthwhile investments to get the workshop to its current state. Which more or less brings us to the present day – 5th Dec 2018.
We now have a 1700sq ft workshop space (which is already feeling a little tight), a wax melting capacity of 240 litres/day and we’ve just passed 10,000 sales on our Shopify store, which we’ve had since late August/early October. We’re averaging about 1,000 orders a week, which I’m so proud of. Not bad for a hobby that could never be a full time job or a girl who was told she didn’t know her industry. I’m so grateful for all my staff, my family and insta family that support us daily and have helped this dream become a reality.
All photographic credit to Melissa Megan Photography: