Premium gourmet candles that you custom mix come with the little details that make you never want to go back to candles off the shelf – superior pens to decorate the label, premium-grade tissue that wrap the candles, even the apron of the store attendants and the way they do their greeting. Every one of those things reflects on the overall brand and the product quality. Steve Weaver, the owner of Candle Lab, makes sure they’re not just selling $21 candles but also creating a unique customer experience and a quality natural product. Steve shares their journey and how they’re always finding ways to continuously and relentlessly audit that experience which has been incredibly valuable to get them where they are now.
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Candle Lab’s Unique Customer Experience with Steve Weaver
Our guest is Steve Weaver, the owner of The Candle Lab with seven locations and 25 partner locations. I met Steve at MMT, one of the best conferences in the world. I was blown away by him during the skeet shooting competition, which not only did he dominate, he won the competition. I finished dead last. I missed every single skeet that I was trying to shoot. I was wondering, “Who is this guy?” Later that day, I heard Steve on a panel about creating amazing customer experiences and I was like, “This guy gets it.” The way he does mystery shoppers films his employees and has a certification program, I was hooked. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and I see him and his entire leadership team at the Customer Service Revolution and they were all rocking their Candle Lab shirts as well. Steve isn’t your typical candle maker, which I don’t even know what that is. He is doing something dramatically different with the experience of Candle Lab and I am pumped to have you on the show, Steve.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
First off, candles? Who in their right mind says, “Let’s start a candle shop?”
It has been a winding journey to get here to be sure. It was certainly not part of the plan. From kindergarten on, I only wanted to go into politics. It’s the only thing I ever remembered wanting to do growing up and I never wavered from it. I went to college for it in Washington, DC. I worked for the first several years of my professional life in every corner of the political world. It reached a point where I was running out of people that I wanted to help get elected and I was surrounded by some pretty shifty characters when you’re running in the political world. I reached a point where I closed down my political business. I gave myself a couple of months to be open to the world and try to figure out what I was going to do next. My whole life had been politics to that point so I had no frame of reference for what was coming next.
My girlfriend at the time burned an unbelievable number of candles. Every time I would go to her apartment, she’d have at least two or three candles burning non-stop. They never seemed to burn all the way down. They never seemed to smell true to scent or burned clean. It slowly dawned on me that if this is the typical candle buyer and this is the candles that they were buying, it feels to me this is a market that is ripe for disruption. If we could come in with a little better option and give people some control over the scents that surrounded them, that there might be a viable business here. I convinced her while we were still dating, before we got married, to quit her job and start a candle store with me. It’s grown from there. We got married a few years later. It’s been many years and I have never found a time to jump off the candle train. It’s been a lot of fun.
I’m intrigued on how you built this because you have the big ones like Yankee Candle. How did you say, “We’re going to disrupt this?” Disruption is my language. What was your decision to start that?
I’m fascinated by businesses and business owners who take what amounts to a commodity product or a pedestrian experience and turn it into something truly unique. You’re certainly a perfect example of that. Lots of people enjoy an afternoon at a baseball game, but when you can turn into something that is truly a remarkable experience. You get tremendous real estate in that person’s brain in terms of coming back and bringing the family, bringing friends, talking about it and posting on social media. That’s always the entrepreneurs and the business opportunities that I’m drawn to. Candles are about as commodity a product as you can get. They’re available everywhere. It’s not a big decision point for them. It’s something that they grab on a whim. They might be brand loyal to a certain store they go to once in a while. There’s a certain scent that they enjoy and they’ll buy wherever they see it. It’s not something that people build much of their discretionary budget around or they certainly don’t give it a lot of thought.
As I was watching my girlfriend’s candles and how she picked them and how it seemed to be an important part of her for making her apartment into a home. It was the way in which she was nesting there and the way in which she was creating the spaces where she wanted to spend time. We started to look at like, “Where are the places where the current candle companies are falling short? Where are the pain points in selecting the fragrances that surround people that we could fix?” One of them was getting a natural and cleaner-burning candle. There are a lot of impurities in most production candles. It puts a lot of black soot up in the air. Can we get a candle that burns clean that you’re happy to put in your house? It doesn’t put black soot all over your walls and your lampshades and then gets in your furnace filter. The second piece where we felt there was room for differentiation is scent is such a personal thing. Everybody’s nose is different. It smells good to you. It’s going to smell awful to somebody else. We gave people the chance to customize their own fragrances then they could get something that was truly unique.
It’s an almost impossible mission to come up with a perfect apple pie candle. You might love your apple pie with lots of caramel and vanilla and sweetness to it. I might like a lot of nutmeg and cinnamon and a lot of spice to it. Neither one of us are wrong, it’s based on the apple pie we ate growing up and what our palate is now. Instead of trying to come up with a perfect apple pie candle, I’d rather give our customers an apple, cinnamon and a caramel brown sugar and whipped cream. I said, “Let them mix it,” so that when they walk out the door, they put their nose in the candle, they get home and they say, “This is exactly what apple pie is supposed to smell like.” When people come over and say, “Your place smells good.” “It’s the apple pie candle that I made at the Candle Lab. I created this using my own expertise.” It’s created a unique experience and a quality natural product. It’s given us a chance to take a chunk out of some of those big production candle companies.Nobody is ever in a bad mood mixing scents together. Click To Tweet
It’s what I call is the mirror moment. You put yourself in your customers’ shoes and you look in the mirror and say, “What’s frustrating from the industry you’re in?” I’ve shared that I’ve always believed that to many, baseball was long, slow and boring and we had to change that. You looked at the candle industry and said, “How do we not make it better but how do we make it into an experience?” When you buy candles, you glance over and you grab a candle. Tell me about the Candle Lab experience?
When you walk in our stores, we’ve got a wall of 108 different fragrances. These are premade candles but they’re in single scents. If you’re in a hurry or if there is a particular scent that you love by itself, you could certainly buy that ready to go off the shelf. The real fun, the unique experience is we’re going to give you a clipboard and you’re going to smell through those candles and you’re going to use them as a scent lab. You’re going to use them to discover some new scents that maybe you’ve never smelled before, maybe some old ones that you haven’t smelled in a while. You’re going to make a list of your favorite scents on a clipboard. We have a rack of glassware and other containers. You’re going to pick a container that matches your style. This was another one of the pain points that we identified in the beginning. Maybe you might like the scent of the candle but the color doesn’t match the room you want to put it in or the container is a little too country for your tastes. Come up with your list of favorite scents and you go over and pick a container that you’re going to be excited to put on your mantle or on your desk or on your table at home.
Then you have a seat at the bar and our scent stylists are going to take a look at that list and they’re going to talk you through your favorite scents, what goes together, what might not go together as well. What mood are you trying to create? What room are you going to be burning this in? We’ll come up with a blend that is unique to your nose and will stop you from making a horrible scent mistake that you’ll regret. You’re going to blend those oils a drop at a time. Let’s say we’re doing your apple pie example. If you get out apple and cinnamon and caramel, you’re going to mix those three oils together in the ratio that you want. You stir together in your candle and the candle takes about an hour to set up. Once you make your candle, you can go grab dinner, drinks or do some other shopping. Go get a pedicure or go see a baseball game. You can do whatever is around us. An hour later, your candles are set up to come back and pick up or we’ll even deliver to you wherever you are. It makes for a great night out. It’s a fun date night. It’s fun girls’ night out. We do kids birthday parties so it’s all ages. It’s a fun experience and it’s a chance to craft the scents that surround you.
As the candles became more popular as part of that experience, people started asking like, “If I can make my own candle, why can’t I also make my own soap or lotion?” We’ve expanded to about 26 products you can make in our stores. We’re called the Candle Lab but we are a scent lab that will let you come up with a scent for all of the scented products in your home or for the gifts that you want to give. You can create a custom scent for somebody with scents to remind you of them. We get to see many people with unique stories and unique reasons that they’re coming in. These remarkable scent memories they’re trying to capture in these products. Nobody is ever in a bad mood mixing scents together.
It is an experience it sounds like. A kid’s birthday party, what does that look like? Do you serve drinks? A group come over and makes candles and have wine. What do these experiences look like?
Some of our stores have liquor licenses where you can grab a cocktail or a glass of wine while you’re making the candle. Most of them don’t because we put our stores in the middle of business districts that have a lot of restaurants or wine bars or other retail options around there. We are fantastic at the scent part of the experience but we don’t have kitchens to serve food. We offer limited drink menus. We’re going to put our store right in the middle of the best collection of restaurants in the city. We’ve got stores in Columbus and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. If you think of where the best restaurants are clustered in the cities, that’s exactly where we’ve got stores right the middle of all of those. You’re going to pour your candle then you’re going to head out to dinner. You’re going to have a fantastic meal. As your dinner is ending and the check is arriving, your candles are going to be delivered to your table.
We could certainly have expanded and put liquor licenses in all the stores and added small plates of food. We do our experience well and then we want to send you out and have other people do their experience well. When we’re thinking about opening a new store in a new neighborhood, the first thing we do is we’re having lunch and dinner in all the restaurants. Usually, multiple times saying, “Can these places take care of our customers in the same way that we want to take care of our customers?” If so, then we’ll go ahead and sign a lease and we’ll drop a store right in there. If not, we can’t sign a lease there because what you do in that hour while you’re waiting for your candle set up gets compressed in your mind with the with the candle making experience. We’ve had to close a store before because we didn’t do that due diligence on the frontend with the restaurants. Customers would have a great time in our store and they’d head out and have a horrible time at the restaurants around us. They come back. It didn’t matter how good the candle was, they were never coming back. We are extra careful about scouting out a neighborhood and saying, “Are we comfortable trapping somebody here for an hour? Are there people here who will create the same experience in their restaurant or wine bar that we’ll create in our stores?
Everything’s about speed but you’re building the experience because an hour is sometimes. It sounds like a process but people are lining up for it. How are you noticing how these people are able to handle the wait time for this? You’re telling them to go out the doors and go to restaurants. I’m fascinated by this because everyone is in the speed business now but you’re like, “This is an experience. It’s going to take time but it’s going to be worth it.”
There’s certainly a good bit of customer education at the front end. We think of our staff almost like a hotel concierge. If you wanted to come in either for a date night or you wanted to bring in a group, we’ve avoided all of the technology pieces of online booking that works well for a lot of other businesses. For us, we want you to call and say, “I’m coming in this Friday night. I’m letting you know it’s going to be a date night. This is what we’re thinking. I was going to grab some dinner and then we’re going to pour a candle and then explore that.” We’re like, “If you come first here, we’re going to get your candle poured first. When you’re done with dinner, your candle is waiting for you and you don’t have to wait around any longer. Can I help you make any restaurant decisions? I can help make some good recommendations.” We make sure our staff has eaten at all the restaurants that surround their store so they can speak intelligently.
Our ability to help you pick the best restaurant for you and your wife is directly linked to your happiness for the whole night out as part of our brand experience. We have to get knowledgeable and sometimes we’ll have to say, “I’m not sure that restaurant’s going to give you the experience you want. Can I give you some other suggestions that you might have an even better experience?” We’re actively choreographing your evening to make sure that from where you’re going to park to when you going to get to our store to how much time it takes. We’re going to go next and how the rest of that evening comes together. We take full responsibility for that whole evening because that’s how we’re going to ensure you’re going to have a great time.
Every business should look at their staff as being a concierge to answer questions to help with everything. Even if it isn’t, you’re sending them out the doors. As you’re knowledgeable and helping them. It’s not necessarily about them driving revenue and you, it’s them having an amazing night. What if every business thought of, “We’re a small stop in your night. How can we make your experience amazing?” I want to get into how you train the staff because that’s some of the things I was blown away by. This message you go by and it was an ice cream shop. It was like, “Does this place look like a place that serves the best ice cream in the world?” That’s the mentality you take on how the Candle Lab is presented.
Jeni’s Ice Cream is probably our biggest most successful Columbus company. Jeni started here a single stand in our food market. Now she’s got ice cream shops all over the country. She is constantly mystery shopping her stores and the mystery shopping form only has one question on it says, “Does this seem like the store that was serving the best ice cream in the world?” What it does is gives whoever is doing that mystery shopping for them and they’ve got a range of people that that will do this. It gives them room to answer whatever it is that they are bringing to that experience. One person might say, “The trash cans were overflowing. If this was the best ice cream in the world, you guys would be more on top of your trash cans. Maybe not because I didn’t get a friendly greeting.” A lot of those mystery shopping forms are a 50-point checklist, “Was this thing clean? Was there enough of this thing on the shelf, which is fine but I always want to leave it open?” They were smart to leave it open for a customer to bring their particular view of the world and say, “Yes, this was perfect or no, here’s the thing that I was missing.” Now they get to see it through every fresh set of eyes.
We’ve adopted that same approach. We’re consciously auditing each step of that process. If we say that these are the most natural, gourmet, fantastic candles that you can buy. Once you custom mix this, you’re never going to go back to candles off the shelf. We have to make sure that every part of the experience, all the little details are helping with that story, that there’s nothing undermining that story. We’ve done all kinds of things over the years to audit each step. We’ve upgraded the pens that the customers would use to decorate their labels. If our candles are premium candles and we can’t be giving them cheap markers to be coloring the labels with. We’ve upgraded the tissue that we wrap the candles in because if we’re going to sell somebody a $21 candle, we can’t wrap it in the cheapest tissue we can find. It’s the aprons that our employees wear. It’s the way in which we do our greeting. It’s the skill to which we can make those restaurant recommendations. Every one of those things reflects on the overall brand and the product quality. Finding ways to continuously and relentlessly audit that experience has been incredibly valuable for us to get where we are now.The effort that you put into a relationship is either going to make it a long-term relationship or a one-night stand. Click To Tweet
I took that home with us because our ballpark’s 1926 and I’m like, “Does this look like a place of the best sports and entertainment or puts on the best show in the world?” It’s a challenge with a 1926 ballpark but you mentioned the attention to detail and it’s something that we looked at. The first year we were shipping merchandise all over the world and it was going in a regular package. We end up buying yellow custom packages, getting a stamp that said, “Delivered fresh,” with a banana’s logo on it and then we package it with yellow tissue paper. Have a letter from our director of merchandise and decals and magnets and try to package it in that cost, $2 to $4 more. We didn’t increase our prices but we said, “Does this look like merchandise that we’d be proud of?” and it has paid off. It’s one of those things we have people take pictures of opening their box like Apple. It’s part of that experience. It looks like you now look at that with every single detail in your store.
The other thing that does is it sets the expectations for what the experience is going to be when they finally get to the ballpark. I bought some Savannah Banana tickets for a friend. They’re going to receive the same package that you’re talking about. I want them to know that I didn’t buy them some baseball tickets out of the blue. I bought them what’s going to be an incredibly unique experience for them to take their family. They’re going to know right from the first time that box opens that, “This is a little different thing. This is something where we’re in for a completely different experience.” It sets the expectation and says, “If these people care this much about the banana stickers in here and the yellow packaging when we get to the ballpark, we can expect the same level of care for the day.” It puts them on a whole other level. It essentially a relationship. You are dating your customers whether you like it or not. The effort that you put into that relationship is either going to be a long-term relationship or it’s going to be a one-night stand.
The mystery shoppers, what have you seen or learned from that? Any things have stood out? As an owner, one of the best feelings you can have is pride in your people and the experiences that they’re providing. Have there been some things that stood out that you’ve noticed or heard from on this mystery shopper program?
There is nothing more gratifying than somebody stopping me on the street to see the logo on your shirt. I’ve got this candle van that we drive around so people will stop me all the time and tell me stories of coming into the store and how our staff took care of them. That is such a validation not just in the brand they’re creating but in the people that we’re curating in the way we have attracted those people to come and work here. The fact they’re excited every day to deliver that piece of it. The stories bubble up organically. Some of them are posted on social media but I appreciate the people grabbing me on street one-on-one and sharing a story. My daughter’s in second grade and she had a new student who moved into this school district this year. Reagan, my daughter, is conscientious. She’s like, “Halley’s new to the school this year. I thought it would be nice to have her over for a playdate to let her know that this is a great community she’s moved into and she’s got good friends here.” She came over right when school started and they had a great time playing.
When the mother came to pick her up, she shared one of the first things that they did when they arrived here in the town was visit one of our stores. A neighbor had mentioned it to them as a great place to go. She wanted to give something fun for kids since they’re in a new city. She came in and they got a couple of candles. When they came back to take up the candles they had made, the employees at work said, “I stuck an extra couple of candles in the bag to make sure that your house feels like a home. We’re excited to have you here in this community. Thank you for coming in and making us a part of your time here in Worthington. Our employees know that they’re empowered anytime to give discounts, give free candles and give special touches.
When that happened, Kristen, our employee who did that experience, had no idea that woman’s daughter would end up being in my daughter’s class or that they would end up going on to be friends. She saw an opportunity to welcome somebody new to town and say, “If you’re part of this Worthington community, you’re going to be a part of our family here at the Candle Lab because this is where we had a store for many years. We’re excited to have you here and have you experiencing our products and coming into our store and bringing your children in with you. That you can come back and we hope your home feels like a place where you and your kids are excited to settle here.” Those little moments, none of them are Earth-shattering by themselves but it’s the sum total of all of those little interactions that add up to the word of mouth that power small businesses. Social media mentions are great and certainly, advertising is effective if done correctly. One person turning to another person and say, “Welcome to town. You’ve got to make sure you go check out the Candle Lab if one of the first things you do here,” that is gold. All of our success so far I attribute to the incredible staff we have delivering those experiences each day.
It’s powerful and I could tell from the first time I met your leadership team. I came over and immediately all stepped up out of their chairs, came over and introduced themselves all smiling. It was obvious that they felt purpose in what they’re doing. It’s crazy to think like, “You’re selling candles,” but you and your wife don’t talk about that. It’s bigger than that. It’s a purpose. You’re trying to provide something to help them feel home. How do you share that purpose that it’s a little bigger than selling candles?
Your focus on stories here is spot on because this is where the training comes from with our staff, is that scent has such a powerful effect on mood and memory. It’s such a great way of telling those stories. If we keep emphasizing to our staff the core of what we’re doing. We’re not trying to make money by selling candles. We’re trying to create the scents that people are going to surround themselves with. They’re going to scent the spaces where they spend their time and help them create the mood and effect that they want in these spaces. We have couples that will come in that are in a long-distance relationship. They’re in different cities and they’ll each make a candle with the same scents. When they get on Skype or FaceTime in the evening and they’re having a conversation many miles apart. They’re not only seeing one another through the screen, which is tremendous technology that has made that experience better. Now they smell the same scent they created together. While it seems like a little thing, it does take on a lot of meaning to these couples.
Somebody comes back from vacation and they had such a fantastic vacation that they come straight into Candle Lab and they are trying to capture the scent of that vacation in a jar before it goes away. They got back from Hawaii or they got back from the Pacific Northwest. The couple that came from the Pacific Northwest, they’re blending salty sea air with the pine trees scent. Those two things together are going to capture this getaway vacation they had. It was romantic and relaxing. Whenever they light that candle, it’s going to take them right back to this special week. We’re not selling candles, we’re selling the ability to come in and consciously capture a scent. It’s going to create a specific reaction, you or the people you care about. As long as we keep focusing on those stories and it’s easy to remember that this is more than a candle store. This is a scent bar that is going to teach people how to use scent as an interior design element.
If I’m coming over to your house to watch a football game in your new man cave and you put a big screen TV on the wall and you’ve got this big leather furniture and all these bookcases. It can’t smell like summer meadow Glade PlugIn. You can’t just throw something in there and try to kill off the scent in there. That room has a scent that if you saw a picture of it, you’re expecting when you come over it should smell like Ron Burgundy, which should be Scotch and old books here. If we can teach you that there’s this scent to this design and there’s a mood you’re trying to create and we can work with you to figure out what that is. When your friends come over they’re like, “This room is awesome plus it smells good. It smells like a bourbon distillery in here.” That’s going to tie that room together in a way that the paint color or some sports memorabilia on the wall won’t do by themselves. It is educating customers and helping them capture the moods and the stories they want to create. We keep finding those stories and we keep piling them up to the staff to remind them, “This is what we’re doing every day and not just the collecting of money for candles.”
The sharing over and over again and the stories and what it means. I immediately started going back to trips to Disney World when I was a kid. I’m big into craft beer and breweries and I can picture the smell as I go in there and the way it makes you feel. The big thing is how it makes you feel. It goes back. Those scents have such a powerful thing. Does every business have a way to describe how your product makes people feel? That’s what’s easy to share with your group because everyone has favorite smells that they can think about and you’re providing that, which is providing something much deeper than the smell itself.Social media mentions are great and advertising is effective if done correctly. Click To Tweet
It’s one of the basic tenets of marketing but it’s one that not a lot of small businesses have thought all the way through. That is, “What is the before and after of the customer’s life and experience before they discover your business and afterward?” If you have something that you can offer to them of value, then that is the story you need to be telling them. Before people find the Candle Lab, they are buying a blueberry Cobbler Candle off the shelf at Target on clearance because that’s better than whatever the place smells now. They need to drown out the smell of dirty laundry and takeout food. After they find us, each room has a custom fragrance that is crafted by them to match their style and the mood they’re trying to create there. Their friends come over and they’re like, “Your place smells great.” They’ve got pride of ownership and they’ve consciously thought through the scents that surround them in the same way that they thought about the paint color or the art on the wall.
We’re always talking about the before and after like, “What can we offer to people? What is their life going to look after we’ve taught them about the power of custom fragrance?” Most small businesses want to tell you what they do or what services they provide. While that’s not only useful for letting your customers know who you are. In your case, there’s a family outing of whatever you’re going to do or you can come to a Savannah Bananas baseball game and have a truly remarkable, truly memorable family experience. It’s going to be the talk of the dinner table for weeks to come. It’s going to be something that when friends come into town you’re like, “We can’t wait to take you here. This is something that we have that you don’t have that we’re going to share with you. This is how our family has fun.” That before and after and that value proposition should be top of mind for every employee because it reminds them of what it is that they’re delivering each customer experience.
We had scratch and sniff banana tickets. They were shaped like bananas. When scratched them, it smelled like bananas. We have old bathrooms. What would it take to have the best smelling bathrooms in the world? How could people say, “I want to go to the bathroom? I don’t need to go to the bathroom. I want to go in there because of the smell.” I may be seeking you out for guidance there. If you think about that, one of the reasons they pay attention to all your senses, the lighting, the smells, the sounds. It’s unbelievable and you have a feeling because of that. Every business should be seeking you out or other people should start paying more attention to the scents that are provided not just what you can see in front of you.
Your home and your car and your office have a scent. The only question is whether or not you’re consciously choosing that or whether it is being chosen for you based on whatever is sitting on the floor of your car or how long it’s been since you’ve done the laundry the last time at home. It’s true for businesses. Every business has a scent of you. If you have a business where you’re seeing customers in person whether that is a doctor’s or dentist’s office, a retail store, a salon, spa, yoga studio, every one of these places has a scent. If you aren’t consciously cultivating that, you’re leaving a major piece, a major tool on the table in terms of telling your story. Think about all the yoga studios in a given city. One might be a relaxing Zen yoga, another one’s hot aggressive yoga. Those places should have different scents. There should be a signature scent that you know going into it. That it’s something you’re going to experience when you go there. They should have it in candle form to be able to take home. When you’re doing your yoga practice, it’s extending the practice that you get in your studio. It’s another way of reminding customers about your brand when you’re at home.
We do a lot of scents for breweries and distilleries and bakeries. There’s a famous bakery here that has an apple pie that was featured in Food & Wine Magazine. People were making a pilgrimage to this to this bakery in order to pick up these apple pies. We made a line of apple pie candles that had her picture holding an apple pie on the side of it. Now, they’re leaving with both an apple pie and then a candle that’s going to last 80 hours. Long after that pie is gone, they’re still enjoying that. It’s reminding them, “It’s about time for me to order another one of AJ’s pies.” That storytelling through brand and through scent, that creating of the customer experience through scent is another one of those details that a lot of businesses don’t always focus on. It’s a chance to get such a home run with minimal effort.
You are writing a book called Grab Customers By The Nose.
It is written specifically for business owners that have physical brick and mortar businesses. It’s going to be how to use scent as a marketing and branding tool to grow your business.
You have your employees certified and go through a system. Can you explain that briefly?
We have a training passport that we use. When somebody gets hired, everybody gets hired at the same initial dollar per hour basis in their position. The passport is clearly laid out as they assemble the skills and certifications that they need. Their pay will go up as they get these stamps in their passport. It creates a clear way forward. We never have to have conversations with employees of like, “I’m due for a raise. I’m doing a good job.” For us, the utility of those employees is their ability to offer all of these great experiences that we can. The sooner they can get to be able to offer all these things, the more valuable they are to us. As a result, the more they’re going to get paid. It lets each employee decide, “How fast or slow do I want to move through this certification process? Remember to not just increase the amount of money I’m making but increase the number of things that I can do.” If somebody comes in and they want to scent their wedding and they want to do some custom-scented wedding favors, is this employee qualified to sit down one on one with that customer? Create a custom scent for their wedding that either captures their wedding cake or the scent of the flowers and the bride’s bouquet. Get that special order placed, take payment and get that order in process. Is it something they haven’t quite learned yet?
As they assemble these individual skills, they become more useful to us. They make more money and they are making progress towards finishing off their entire passport. It gives a pretty clear direction forward and it also gives us some pretty concrete things to test on. We do a lot of video mystery shopping. This is where we send somebody and usually a customer with some video recording device. They’re going to record the entire interaction from the time they get out of their car. Walking up to the front door all the way through they’re done pouring their candle or whatever the product they’re making and heading back out to their car. These videos have been invaluable in us doing that auditing screens. Sometimes we think we’ve got it squared away but then when we see it through a customer’s eyes, we’re going to show it to our employees, it’s a completely different thing. They see like, “I thought I was doing this. I thought I was being attentive,” but this is what it looks from their perspective.
If you want to do this, it’s easy. There are professional companies you can pay to do this that are pretty pricey. Amazon has a tremendous selection of these spy gadgets. You can put a spy camera in a water bottle, in a set of glasses, in a pen that you put in your pocket or on a key fob. You get a range of these things so employees don’t catch on. They go in, they record the whole interaction. We can chop it up afterward. We can share with the staff and say, “Here’s what an enthusiastic reading looks when done well. We greet them within a few steps of getting in your way. You seem excited that they’re here. We share with them the key points you want to get out in that greeting. Here’s what it looks when we’re able to deliver that fantastic greeting.” That employee may have felt they had paused what they were doing and thrown a greeting their way. When you see it from that customer perspective you say, “That does not feel like them walking in the door was the most important part of my day.” It gives us a chance to get better with that.Scent has such a powerful effect on mood and memory. Click To Tweet
The combination of the passport where we’ve documented the things that is necessary for them to move up in terms of responsibility and earning potential, coupled with the video of them implementing those things gives them a picture of what we expect of them and what it takes to succeed. The people who we want to hire, who we want to keep around love the fact that they’ve got a passport to earning more money and they also love that they get the feedback of, “This is when I did well and when I fell short. I can learn from it. I can keep moving forward.”
If you’re not using film in your business, you’re behind the times now. When I played baseball, we filmed every bullpen. We filmed every game. We’d break down our pitch and we’d break down our hitting. Yet in business, “We don’t use film anymore,” and so we started filming our show. We film our on-field host. We film the promotions and we watch it. How was your tone? How was your voice? Where were you positioned? We’ve never filmed the game day staff and we have 150 here. That’s brilliant because hopefully, people understand that you’re not only trying to help them grow with the business but help them grow as people as well.
If you cut that together, you send somebody in and they’re going to visit the ticket taker. They’re going to go and hit the refreshment stand. They’re going to go with the information stand and the gift shop. If they hit all these places and you slice that together in a video like, “This is a day in the life of one of our customers. Do we think this set of interactions made them more or less likely to recommend us? More or less likely come back and bring friends or become a season ticket holder?” It’s pretty clear right from the beginning where we are winning and where we’re falling short. Some business owners are worried that it’s like putting your staff on the spot or spying on them or they don’t trust their staff that they use video. It’s been invaluable to bring that over to the small business world.
We watch tape afterward like you watch tape after the game. You’re going to see some things you did well that we need to celebrate. We’re going to see some things that we fell short on that we’re going to figure out how we can do that consistently well each time. As long as it’s a good mix of good and bad, then people know it comes from a place of wanting to get better and not like, “I’m videotaping and trying to catch you doing things wrong.” They know right away where the intentions come from. Use it to celebrate the wins. There are days where we do video recordings and we didn’t miss a single beat. That’s a day to celebrate when you didn’t know you were being filmed. You didn’t have any idea this wasn’t a normal customer and we still knocked it out of the park.
Is there any story or a big lesson you’d share that you’ve put together in the book so far?
I’m trying to make a practical guide. There are a lot of ethereal business books out there. I’m trying not to add to the stack here. I want to make this something that you’d give to every person you know who owns a business. Even before the book comes out, your place smells like something. Your store smells like something. Your house smells like something. Always my first advice is to think a little bit more critically about the senses around you. You spend lots of time thinking about the music that you play in your earbuds while you walk around. You think a lot about the food that you eat. You think about touch wearing comfortable clothes and thread count on sheets and the way your place looks. You spend a lot of time buying art and throw pillows and lamps to tie all that together. Your four senses get a lot of attention but your sense of smell is the disregarded scent for a lot of people. You have a chance to plug into that part of your brain that processes mood memory. If you think a little bit more about the senses around you, spend some time thinking about that. If it’s a business, your customers are going to thank you for as well.
I want to go to marketing minute. If you were to say what’s one of the best things you’ve done to grow your brand, what would it be?
From a marketing standpoint, it’s to empower our customers to tell their story. It’s one thing to toot your own horn and to run social media ads and to send email newsletters. All of our best work has come whenever we give the story to our customers to tell their friends. Whether that is bringing a friend, bring your mom on Mother’s Day or a chance to round up a group. Your kennels are free if you bring us a group. Every time we give our best customers the chance to tell our story for us, we get the best results. That’s always better than whatever advertising money you’re putting into now.
How do you do that? If you have 100 people that love you, it’s better than a million people that like you. Love goes so far. How do you get your best customers to share your story?
There are a couple of things to do. First is our email list is segmented out into our true raving fans and then the people who visit us a couple of times a year and then the people who’ve come in once or twice but haven’t come back. We don’t try to build a giant email list and ping them all the same. We try to segment them out so the people who love what we are doing, we’re giving them the most love back and the most chance to turn around. We’ll give them promotions and live events that other people won’t get. They’ll know that they’re celebrated and then they know that they are empowered to come and to help us spread the word. They’re going to get perks as a result of that.
The second thing we do is we educate our staff on these stories that we want our customers to be telling. Our customers were posting some pictures when they checked in our business. We didn’t feel it was the best version of the story they had to tell. It was just the easiest picture for the customer to take given the way our process was set up. We’ve gone through a lot of training to say, “What pictures do we want our customers to be posting on their social media to talk about us? How can we help them get those shots?” Our staff is trained to say, “While you’re making your candle, can I take a picture of you guys making your candles together?” We’ll craft that photo for them on their phone to give them something to post rather than leaving up to chance whatever picture they’re going to take when they do it. When you know what story you want to be told, you can find ways to help make that easier for customers to do it.If you have something of value that you can offer to people, then that is the story you need to be telling them. Click To Tweet
I’ll let you be the host of the show. I’ve been grilling you with questions. You can grill me with any question you want.
You have taken what amounts to a commodity product, an afternoon in the ballpark and transformed it over. I’m wondering with all of the possible crazy ideas that you and your team can come up with, how that giant board of ideas gets sorted into, “These are the couple of things we’re going to implement and these are things we’re going to get to down the road or that maybe are a step too crazy for even us.”
We have an Ideapalooza every month or every two months and we go over which areas that we are going to discuss but which ones are going to be implemented. We have a Fans First Director Marie. She implements a lot of our fan experience stuff. We have our on-field host, our Director of Fun that makes sure some of the crazy on-field promotions happen. What we do is we designate into what needs to be implemented and what is a crazy idea, but that has been a challenge. As an owner, we’ve got hundreds of ideas but we can’t do it all. You need the people to put it out. We make sure on our Ideapalooza we assign who does it, who’s in charge of that, who can own it and we make sure it happens. You’ve got to have the implementers. They are as valuable as the idea makers. Fortunately, we’ve developed a great group who implements it. They’re crazy ideas. I do ten ideas every single day and most of them are ridiculous. When I started having the list that these ones have to happen, I will usually assign them and get them to take ownership. It’s a challenge for you as well?
Most entrepreneurs I know that’s their special skill are generating ten unworkable ideas a day. “Which one of your staff is willing to take on?” That’s always my top question is how do you take that brain of yours and turn it into the remarkable experiences?
It goes in our core beliefs too, the shared values that we have. One of our big things is whatever is normal, do the exact opposite and be different. Are the things we’re doing, are they the same as everyone else? Are they normal? Are we tackling something that people are going to talk about? The big theme is stories. We talk, “Will this create a story?” We’re okay to fail with something if it creates a story, like a world’s largest ticket, Salute to Underwear Night, Flatulence Fun Night. You name it, they’ve all created stories. As much as they failed, they’ve carried on with the story. What’s one thing you’ve done to stand out in business and in life?
I would say we’ve led with employees and with our staff. A lot of businesses put their customers first and all of the success we’ve had at this point comes from our remarkable team. Every free minute I have, instead of creating a new line of business or trying to dream up the next big idea, we’re trying to figure out how do we take the staff that we have now and make sure that they never want to leave us? Make sure that they show up each day empowered to be able to do remarkable things for our customers. That has been the focus from day one. Any success I’ve had personally comes from our staff and the care we’ve taken in curating that group and empowering them and then rewarding them when they do the fantastic things they do every day.
Finally, how do you want to be remembered?
I’ve got two little girls at home. They’re each a full-time job all on their own. I spend every day thinking about my legacy as a husband and as a father and as a business owner. Mostly I spend my time thinking about how those three legacies are intertwined. I don’t think of them as separate pieces. If I could be remembered for any one thing, it’s that I took all of those various responsibilities and I wove them together into one seamless experience. Where everybody I came in contact with knew that I cared about them and about our community and about the values that we talk about each day. I found a way to live those each day. That is always top of mind for me.
It’s interesting when I ask that question because you get a wide range of answers. I believe you are remembered for who you are and not necessarily what you accomplish. You talked about building those legacies and the type of person you are, which is awesome. Your business has been successful and why you’re doing things differently. How can people find out more and connect with you and see what you’re doing with the Candle Lab?
TheCandleLab.com is our website and @TheCandleLab on every social media platforms. That’s always the best way to interact with the brand. I’m @StevenOWeaver on pretty much every social media outlet. I’m [email protected]. I will take any and all questions, comments, inquiries. I love to hear from people so hit me up, let me know what I can do for you. I’ll help you pick your favorite scent.
Thanks so much. I appreciate you.
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About Steve Weaver
I am a small business entrepreneur, with a strong interest in building viable downtowns within our communities. I have been a part of several start-up businesses, and my current one is The Candle Lab – four retail stores in central Ohio that specialize in custom home fragrance. I co-own it with my wife Katesha, who is the real brains of the operation.