Teenpreneur Cashes in with Manly Candle Business

by Susan Johnston on July 28, 2011
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When 13-year-old Hart Main joked with his sister that the candles she sold for a school fundraiser were too girly, it sparked a business idea. Why not create candles with manlier scents like a baseball mitt or freshly cut grass? At first, Main dismissed the concept as a joke but his parents encouraged him to pursue it. He started ManCans by making candles out of his home with an initial investment of $100. Now his candles are available online and in dozens of stores across the country.

Here’s how the teen entrepreneur has handled growing pains, marketing challenges, and more.

ISBB: What was your biggest challenge in getting started and how did you overcome it?

Main: It was going into stores and trying to get them to sell my candles. When I walked into a store in Columbus, Ohio, which is about 30 minutes away, my Dad drove me, and when he came into the store with me they thought that my dad was the one with the candle company. They would say, “No, sorry, we already have a candle line that we carry.” It was challenging to make people believe that I had a business.

I started with a couple of local stores. People there knew me better. My parents stayed outside while I went in. That way they would know that it was my company. I explained how it was made in our kitchen and explained the interesting story of how we get the soup cans. Then once we got media coverage, places contacted us wanting to sell the candles. We have about 60 stores now.

So, how do you get soup cans and why did you choose that material?

All the candles are in recycled soup cans. We buy the soup from our local grocery store, then we send it to Akron, Ohio, where they have a big soup kitchen. They use the soup, then send the cans back to us empty and clean. We wanted a container that would stand out, unlike a glass jar. It’s less sophisticated — the whole point of the product was to look simple. We thought it would be easy to get a hold of cans and eat the soup but once we had so many orders that we couldn’t eat all the soup, we gave it to soup kitchens.

Do you still make all the candles yourselves or has demand exceeded your available time?

We stopped making them in our house in April because we just had way too many orders. It was very stressful. I was up at 12:30 on a school night making candles. We have someone in central Ohio who has his own candle company and he sells to a couple of local stores. He ships the candles for us. One of the reporters that did the initial story on us had told that guy about us and had him contact us.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from having your own business?

What I’ve learned is you have to have a good relationship with your customers. You can’t just not answer their emails if they’re angry.

Very true. So, how do you resolve customer service issues?

We’ve had a lot of shipping issues. We have the right address, but we’ve had some packages go missing. And people don’t let us know that until three weeks later and they’re mad because they needed it for a Father’s Day gift or a birthday gift and it wasn’t there in time. We reship it for free or if it’s for a birthday present, we can refund their money. A lot of times people will give the person a receipt to let them know that it’s coming.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to keep growing the business. There are a lot of things in the candle business that you have to get established: how you make the candles, your labels, your materials. We’re still working out how to get the cans more easily, but once we figure that out, it should be easier to try to grow the business and focus on business instead of production.

Any advice for other young entrepreneurs?

If you have an idea, then write it down and think about it more. Don’t just let a good idea pass you by. You never know what people are going to like or need. At first I thought of this as a joke, but my parents encouraged me to stick with it and they thought it would be a good business experience.

And has it been a good experience? What do your friends think about ManCans?

Kids at school are pretty jealous. I was on Lopez Tonight. It’s a late night talk show. They thought it was coolest thing ever.

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