Nicole Winters is the Sydney-based entrepreneur and candle maker behind the company, Winter & Co. Over the past three years, Nicole has transformed her passion for candles into a thriving business that keeps her busy almost seven days a week.
Launching her business in her forties, Nicole knows it can take a while to find what you love but when you do – it can transform your life. We sat down with Nicole to find out more about her life as an entrepreneur and candle maker.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
It wasn’t until I hit my 40’s that I started a career that I truly loved. All my life I can honestly say that I have never been really drawn to any particular career. I was one of those people who worked only to earn an income.
I worked for many years, even after having my first two children, but was then blessed to be able to work from home helping my husband with his business. I’m now a mother of four who runs two businesses myself and assists my husband with his two business – yes, we’re a crazy busy family.
I started doing martial arts with my boys in my mid 30’s and eventually became an instructor after achieving my black belt. I started my own training centre some six years ago.
Soon after, I began dabbling in candle making which eventually became my second, full time business as Winter & Co. was born. This was the first time I was actually in charge of my own business. I was completely responsible for everything – the triumphs and pitfalls – and I loved every stressful moment.
Tell us more about Winter & Co
I’ve always had an obsession with candles. I love the way they look, their delicious scents and I’ve always found a burning candle to be soothing and calming. There’s nothing more relaxing than coming home at the end of a day and lighting a candle.
I remember very vividly the day I decided to start making my own candles. My husband was away on a golf weekend and suddenly I realised I had no candles in the house, not one, as I’d finished burning them all in the days prior. I got in my car and drove to a florist that I knew stocked my favourite brand of candles. I spent a small ransom on three candles. As soon as I walked in the door, I lit those little jars of joy and in a moment of clarity ordered my first starter kit for candle making.
After months of trial and error I started to have some success. Soon, friends were asking me to make candles for them, then gifts for family and friends and then Winter & Co was born. I literally haven’t looked back since.
We started out with candles, then diffusers were introduced due to demand. We now carry six different ranges and some of these include hand and body wash, room & linen sprays and bath salts. We also recently introduced a men’s range which has been a big hit.
What was one of the hurdles you faced when starting your own business?
When I started Winter & Co. I was very conscious about how I was going to fund it. Taking money from the family budget did not sit well with me but it had to happen. I was very fortunate that ultimately, candle supplies are not overly expensive and you do have the option of purchasing small amounts of stock to start off, so the risk financially was minimal.
Most of the tools required to make a candle I could source from my kitchen. As the business grew, I needed to order in larger quantities and found that using the microwave to melt the wax or a double boiler was both time consuming and messy.
I’ve been able to purchase the equipment needed that would allow me to pour larger quantities in a more time efficient manner. Again, for me it’s been about making these bigger purchases as the business can afford it.
Winter & Co. is not the only business I run. As Winter & Co. began to grow, I also needed to be very mindful of how I was going to be able to run both business (and be a mum to four children and a wife to my (very patient) husband who was also self-employed), without compromising the standard of any of the other roles I played.
I will admit, it’s been quite a struggle and time, quite often, is not my friend. But, I’ve learnt to delegate, trust other people and accept that sometimes my house isn’t going to look perfect. I make it my priority not to let people down and neither business can be affected by the other. I’m very, very fortunate that my family is extremely supportive and has encouraged my journey.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
I believe my branding sets Winter & Co. apart from many other competitors. It’s a flooded market. There are candles everywhere, but are they all good? Absolutely not. I’ve bought candles that have literally turned my bathroom black, I’ve had candles that have exploded, I’ve had candles that have smelt like rubbish, I’ve had candles that have had no smell at all.
Candles are a decorator item. Before someone even picks them up to smell them, they have to look good. It was important to me to make sure people wanted a Winter & Co. Candle on display in their home, not only because it smells amazing but because it looks good too.
Why do you use QuickBooks to manage your business finances?
I’m quite clueless when it comes to bookkeeping and accounting. We’ve always relied heavily on our bookkeeper to steer us in the right direction. I’ve always trusted her ability and the choices of software that she has made to make sure our business runs efficiently. From the moment the business took flight we have used QuickBooks. It is far superior and supports small business better than any other bookkeeping software.
It’s important to me that I have a full financial understanding of how Winter & Co. is growing and evolving and if I want to be serious about the growth of my business, I need to be across it on all levels. QuickBooks makes it simple and it is a very effective business tool.
What features of QuickBooks do you enjoy the most?
Being able to simply photograph my receipts and the simplicity of inputting all my financial information using an app is very appealing. I work mostly from my iPad rather than desktop so the convenience of bookkeeping is very important. Having all of my business financials in the one place just makes sense, it saves me time and makes it easier to manage.
What’s next for Winter & Co?
We’re about to launch an online store in the very near future. I would also like to continue to grow the custom side of the business and also venture in to weddings and other occasions, providing beautiful wedding favours and gifts for events. There are a few other products I have been working on and my range is constantly evolving. It’s such an exciting time.
It’s tough starting your own business. What advice would you give fellow entrepreneurs hoping to start their own venture?
Follow your dream and give it a red hot go but, be patient and allow it to grow organically. Don’t take your mistakes or other’s criticism as a failure – it’s a tool to help you improve your business and/or product.