Creating a truly unique and memorable experience is rare. It takes an exceptional amount of thought, time, business acumen, and maybe a little bit of luck. The Candle Pour, located in Tampa, Florida, has managed to strike the perfect balance. This week you’ll hear from Misty and Dennis Akers, husband and wife co-owners, about their vision for the candle-making business, why it was so important for them to create a true experience (rather than a product), and how they’ve managed to adapt in the days of COVID.
The Candle Pour is all about the atmosphere and giving people a place to create something—not just a product but a memory of a fun activity. And that is exactly what this week’s Yelp reviewer, Michelle M., experienced. Her review clearly shows that Misty and Dennis achieved their vision.
They’ve created a luxury space at an affordable price, and as we’ll learn in the episode, their effective pricing is important. In any industry, if the price isn’t right, finding success will be challenging. Pricing is essential, and it’s important for both business owners and consumers. Michelle talks through how The Candle Pour’s pricing played a role in her decision-making process, and you’ll hear from the co-owners about how they arrived at the model they currently use.
Something else that’s paramount to the success of this business—and why people like Michelle are compelled to let the world know on Yelp—is the staff. It’s something we’ve heard before and we’ll hear again in episodes to come. Choosing the right people is what makes or breaks a business. In Misty’s own words, “It starts with the right people. I learned this very early, and I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you hire slow and fire fast.”
So how does a business that is built around an in-person, tactile experience survive COVID? Misty and Dennis were asking themselves the same thing when the pandemic hit. But instead of resigning to the fact that they weren’t a COVID-friendly business, they innovated and came up with a solution that has found them even more success in some ways.
By the end of this episode, you’ll learn:
The importance of atmosphere: It’s what people will first notice when they enter your business and can impact their entire experience.
The price needs to be right: Finding the right price can be challenging, but it’s one of the most important decisions you will make.
Hire smart: You can’t do it all, so the people you hire should represent your values and your passion.
Think outside the box: COVID is impacting business owners everywhere—some harder than others—but where you can, try to think outside the box and innovate.
Listen to the episode below to hear from them directly, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
Behind the Review, episode 5 transcript Making something memorable
MICHELLE: This is a business that should be in New York or California. It’s very hip. It’s very posh. They make it super cool where you want to be part of it.
EMILY: That’s Michelle, a mom in Tampa, talking about a place called The Candle Pour. It really is a gorgeous space. That’s one of the things that attracted me to their business for this episode. The decor and entire experience seemed to go above and beyond. And I could tell by what people were saying in their reviews that the business owners had created and crafted this space with special intention. It was being felt by the people who went there.
One thing I have to address up front is obviously COVID. Michelle both experienced and reviewed The Candle Pour in a pre-pandemic world, but luckily husband and wife owners Misty and Dennis have been able to safely reopen their doors since the initial shut down in March and were able to join me to not only talk about Michelle’s experience and how they built this incredible business, but also how they’re surviving, and believe it or not, thriving in many ways during COVID. First, let’s hear Michelle’s review.
MICHELLE: The moment I heard The Candle Pour was coming to Hyde Park Village I knew I was going to love it. The ability to create a custom candle in my favorite scents—yes, please. Champagne is officially my favorite fragrance. Surprisingly, I didn’t care for a lot of my usual perfume scents. But that could be because I was pregnant and a lot of smells give me headaches or nausea these days. Once we selected our favorite scents, Dennis, one of the owners helped us narrow down our choices.
He advised us through the candle making process. So we didn’t go too heavy handed with one scent. We enjoyed making the candle so much that we decided to create a room spray. Prices are super reasonable. I believe the cost of a candle and room spray was about $50. We were able to grab lunch in Hyde Park and return an hour later for our finished candle. I couldn’t be more pleased with the finished product. I might have to make a candle for every room in my house.
EMILY: I think you can’t help but visualize the experience while Michelle was sharing. So much of her candle creation involves actions that seem impossible in a COVID world, but later on I think you’ll be incredibly impressed and inspired by the measures Misty and Dennis have taken to not only create comfortability and safety for their customers and staff, but also a full experience for anyone coming into the space to create with them.
Michelle touched on a few important points in her review that we’ll also get a chance to hear about from the dynamic duo: that brick and mortar design and the vibe they’ve created; price and how they can keep it “affordable” while also elevated; staff and how themselves and their team play an important role in the customer experience; and why hiring the right people is so important. Lastly, as always, we’ll talk about reviews.
First I want Michelle to expand a bit on price because it truly does play back into the decor and curated experience that The Candle Pour creates.
MICHELLE: I looked at their website beforehand only so that I didn’t embarrass myself. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t walking into a place where we were making $100 candles because it really does look like a very posh setting. I wanted to prepare myself because there are a couple of really expensive shops in that village, and I didn’t want to walk in and go, oh, okay, I can’t afford any of this. I need to leave.
EMILY: That’s a very real experience. I’ve certainly checked prices for a place online if I was concerned that I may be way off base. And it’s important—as a business owner, when you can be transparent about price, it helps! Also, just a note for all my non-candle lovers, I want to put into perspective that candles are not a “budget item” that you can often get for cheap. Even walking into a Target or Bed Bath & Beyond and picking up a candle or two can run you a nice bill. To Michelle’s point, it’s that baseline knowledge paired with her feeling about the vibe that made her want to price check.
Now let’s hear from Misty and Dennis about how they think of their business, the decisions and inspiration behind the decor, and the ability to price things at a point that makes it accessible to their community while still offering something totally unique and special. It’s our first time having co-owners on the show—and a couple at that! I’ll do my best to balance them. To be honest though, they did it themselves.
MISTY: Michelle really nailed it when she talked about when she walked in, not knowing what to expect, really just that high-end feel. What we told the designers is we want people to come in and want to stay. We ran across a similar concept, and we liked it, but we really wanted to create something that was ours and create something a little less arts-and-craftsy, and we wanted to make it more about the experience, who you’re with, you know, make it a little more heightened where people are coming in on a date night, special occasion. So that was kind of where it started, and then we started looking into the product.
DENNIS: Candles were a nice way to tie that all together because candles are timeless. They’ve been around for a very, very long time. So the beauty about that is we had a product that if we got the process right and the experience right, we had confidence going in that it’s not like something that people need to figure out. It’s a candle. Okay. And then basically we help you just create your own scent. It’s social, it’s tactile. You get to use your hands, you use your senses, you get to have fun. You’re dealing with our staff who’s going to help you throughout the entire process, who really takes time and learns a little bit about you so when you leave, you feel accomplished, you feel proud of what you did.
EMILY: We’re going to circle back on staff in just a minute, but first I want to point out something specific Dennis touched on. When they opened their business last year, they were zoned in on the experience, because the THING, the candle, is something you already know you want. A candle is just what you get to take home but the experience is what you remember, what you review.
This got me thinking—price has got to be sort of hard, right? How much do you charge? Does it matter how long the people take to come up with their scent combinations? It seems kind of complicated.
MISTY: That is one of the things that was really important to us. We wanted to price right. We didn’t want people to feel like they were taken advantage of. Most candles, the sizes that we have, we’re right in line with if you went and bought it off the shelf, but this one’s yours. It’s the only one of its kind. We don’t charge a sitting fee just because it’s almost like you would come in to shop and you’re charged to shop. People are coming in to make candles, and we didn’t want them to feel like there was any obligation. It was really just about the product itself, and we’re providing the experience. So if you’re walking into a bar or you’re not paying to sit down or order a drink, you’re just there to mingle and, you know, enjoy yourself. And we wanted that same feel instead of tacking on extra fees and costs.
EMILY: I really appreciate this perspective because as business owners you know that price is such a crucial factor in your businesses success and growth. I read an Entrepreneur article about pricing products for long-term success, and the first thing it mentioned was the impact of price on everything else in your business. From profit margin to cash flow and even the ability to hire, how you price will impact your bottom line. Improper pricing can lead to poor margins and future failure. Pricing needs to be done appropriately, and then backed up with a product or service. In the case of The Candle Pour, they bring both. Now, let’s move on to the experience. This is a big theme. and that’s in great part because of the work that Misty and Dennis have done to lay the foundation and create a culture in their team that is able to uphold their vision. In the case of Michelle, she was lucky enough to have the Dennis experience, but trust me, their other reviews prove my point that it is reflected in their staff as well.
MICHELLE: With our situation, it really lucked out that we ended up having the owner wait on us. I didn’t even realize that he was the owner at the time. And so he’s just taking out all the steps of how it works and pointing us around the room and showing us how it worked. I had my one-year-old toddler with me so I probably was half listening to him for the whole time, but he was really cool. I really thought, I shouldn’t be in here. Like I’m a mom. I’m not cool. This isn’t my scene. And here I am with my stroller, and he was totally cool about it. He was like, we all have kids. It’s not a big deal. At one point, my husband actually walked in to take him for a popsicle break next door. And so then I really got to do everything hands-on, and it blew my mind.
EMILY: Michelle mentioned how experienced Dennis was in her review, but honestly I thought this moment showcased even better what The Candle Pour staff embodies when it comes to the customer experience. They want everyone to feel welcome and comfortable in their space, regardless of who they are. They want to help people try things for the first time. They’re there to welcome you in and guide you through the process—to create the fun and help ensure the finished product is something you’re happy with.
DENNIS: Sometimes the male in that part, will be like, oh, I’m going to go outside. I’m going to go hang out. I’m like, dude, just go through the scents, smell some things, have some fun. At the end of circling things that you like, if you want to go forward, we will. And I would say nine times out of 10.
MISTY: Yeah. 99 out of a hundred.
DENNIS: They come to the bar ready, more excited than their date. The beauty of our staff being there, if your date or your husband or whoever your significant other does want to do something a little off the wall, we will help kind of create a nice blend with them. It will be very pleasant unless they just want straight bacon, then we can do straight bacon.
EMILY: When I asked Dennis and Misty how they were able to build such an incredible team that they trusted to curate guest experiences and carry out their vision, Misty shared some great advice.
MISTY: It starts with the right people. I learned this very early, and I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you hire slow and fire fast because as soon as you know that somebody’s not a fit or they’re potentially gonna taint something… Our staff and our team is our number one because they’re carrying out our vision, our product, the whole experience. And if you have somebody that doesn’t understand that, it just doesn’t work. So you might have the best candles in the world but people aren’t going to come back. And I talk about this to the team all the time. They’re our family. We’re with them more than, a lot of times, our kids. For them, they’re with us more than their families. So that is, it’s extremely important to not settle, especially in desperate times.
Like over Christmas holiday, we had no idea what to expect, and we just got slammed. It was like a busy bar on St. Patrick’s Day, Monday through Sunday. And I used to bartend, so that’s all I could describe. And at the end of the day one day, Dennis laid on the floor, and he’s just like, what is going on?
We just weren’t ready, but our team stepped up. Hiring for me in the past, it’s always been something that I’ve been extremely picky on. And I think your team appreciates that as well, that you’re not just bringing anyone in. It makes them feel like their job is more valuable, and we always tell everyone, no one here is replaceable. We might be able to find someone else but you’re you, and you bring something special.
EMILY: And they’ve definitely found something special. People like Michelle love it so much, they can’t help but share.
MICHELLE: If I have a place that I love, I want to tell everyone about it. I think The Candle Pour is a little unique where you don’t just walk into a store and grab a candle and pay and leave. It’s really a sit-down, hands-on experience. And so with that, I think that people don’t know what to expect, like, oh, how do we do this?
And I try not to repeat what everybody else has already said so that you’re not reading the same thing over and over again but it’s always very important to me to let people know about these great businesses that are maybe small and maybe something that they haven’t heard of but is something that they definitely have to check out.
EMILY: When it comes to reviews, Dennis and Misty don’t ask for them—which is good! But in many ways, they make them happen. AND they engage with them, which is where you can find great value.
DENNIS: You always appreciate reviews. I mean, someone takes time out of their day to do that, whether it’s positive or negative, you have to appreciate it. When it comes to the positive reviews, that’s just nice to hear. It makes you feel good inside and warm and fuzzy. We’ve only had, I think, two negative reviews, and each one we addressed right away. We looked at all the videos. We make sure we understand because in my opinion, if there is a negative review, it’s a good teaching moment, no matter what it is, even if we didn’t do anything wrong, it’s still a good teaching moment. So we do address that. We try to respond to every single review to say, thank you. That’s important.
EMILY: I think appreciating reviews is a great first step when it comes to connecting and engaging with your business’s online presence. You’ll hear that same sentiment from many of the business owners we feature. But let’s dig a little deeper on the critical in particular. Dennis mentions first and foremost that they addressed them right away. Response time is key and can definitely make a difference when it comes to turning a negative experience around.
The last thing I want to talk about is how COVID has changed and impacted their business. Michelle actually mentioned it first, before I had a chance to connect with Dennis and Misty to see what they were doing
MICHELLE: During COVID, I really was scared for a few businesses, and I thought that this is a business that could easily not come back after COVID. A lot of small businesses were really scared, and I thought, how do you go back to a candle place where you’re touching everything and smelling everything and you would need to take off your mask? And so I know when they said that they had to shut their doors, I thought, this is it. Hyde Park lost another business, and I thought it was such a shame because I really did enjoy it, and I really did want to go back. And so when they made their announcement on Instagram in August that they were open again, I was so thrilled for them because they’re just a really cute couple, and I wanted to see them make it, and I wanted to be able to go back.
EMILY: But it didn’t just POOF! Happen. It took a lot of planning, rearranging, and creation of new systems.
MISTY: We feel like we really took every precaution and are taking every precaution that we possibly can to stay open. You know, we were closed for five months, and that was, being a new business, extremely hard but we just felt with what we do and why we started—we want to bring people together. And then you look at COVID, and that’s exactly what you’re not supposed to do: you don’t touch your face, your nose, touching all the candles. So for now we’ve eliminated the candle scent wall. What we are able to do is we have all the oils under the bar, so similar to a bartender. And we’re able just to waft the oil bottle around enough to where somebody can get an idea of the scent. So we’re still able to give a little bit of a sample but it’s just not the same where you have a hundred and you can take your time. So we’ve had to change our process as well.
We’re reservation-only now. We spread everybody out across the bar so you’re in your group. And then we give about 45 minutes to complete. And then in the next 15 minutes, we Lysol sanitize everything. All utensils, everything that people are touching, the chairs, the counters, and then we get ready for the next group. We really have just taken all precautions that we possibly can to make it safe and minimize traffic.
EMILY: And something I want to really lean into heavy here is the amount of changes and adaptations that they’ve made that are long-term.
DENNIS: I don’t necessarily think the scenario is going to go away very soon. So you almost have to talk about it because as we even design new spaces, it changed our mentality around that. So we were a 100% walk-in based business. Now it’s looking like we could have a private room for private events and then have the front end be open for the walk-in business, which would be monitored differently as we get through this COVID deal, but it really did make us pivot to think, now reservations are a huge part of our business. Let’s make that adjustment. We’ve actually had a lot of really cool concepts come up. So moving forward, you’ll probably see that in all of our spaces. It’d be a little bit bigger but there’ll be private areas.
EMILY: And as I’ve been finding more and more this year, the optimism of these business owners is so incredibly infectious and inspiring. One common similarity between many of the businesses who I’ve seen pivot the best thing year is that they are thinking about long-term solutions instead of short-term changes. Dennis mentioned he doesn’t think this thing is going away soon. I happen to agree. But more importantly, Dennis is making changes that are going to have a positive impact in the long-term, modifying their business model to serve the current situation and safety requirements while also building their business to continue to generate revenue and happy customers no matter how long everyone has to wear masks or stay socially distant. In addition to the physical changes at their brick-and-mortar, The Candle Pour has also had successes in other areas of their business. I’ll let Misty close out with some COVID positivity. MISTY: COVID has been really hard and awful for most small businesses but one of the blessings that we’ve had was last year, [we started online sales where] you’re able to go online and create a candle. So if you’re in a different state, and you come and visit, and you want to remake what you made but you can’t visit the shop, you can actually create it online. So we have all of our products online. You can make anything. Last year, pre-COVID, we had done just 15 sales. We didn’t advertise. We didn’t really push or do any emails just because we were so busy trying to figure out the business. And in about six to seven months, we’ve had 500 sales. So that’s been pretty big for us. We’re still learning some of the benefits of our business, and that was something that really was a blessing in disguise for us.