P.F. Candle Co. Talks Turning a Creative Passion into a Successful Business
Kristen Pumphrey turned her passion of creating, crafting, and DIY into P.F. Candle Co. How? In Part 2 of a 4-part series, we’re speaking with Pumphrey, the founder, as she shares how she got her company off the ground, how she got her brand noticed by West Elm, how scents are crafted, and more.
You poured your first candle at the age of 12. What prompted you to then start your business in 2008?
Kristen Pumphrey: I’ve always made things—I knit, sewed, made candles, and refurnished furniture for as long as I can remember. When Etsy started to take off, I was inspired by the makers that quit their day jobs. I started working at a craft magazine and one of my duties was to write about these makers. When the magazine folded, I lost my job, and took it as a sign it was time for me to start a business.
What were the first big steps you took to set up P.F. Candle Co. as your company? How did you turn it from an idea into a physical product to sell?
Kristen Pumphrey: Before there was P.F. Candle Co, there was Pommes Frites. Pommes Frites started as a blog, and then I started selling handmade products. I sold hollow book safes, pins, handmade pillows, and candles—basically whatever DIY project I learned, I sold. Having the DIY spirit allowed me to take product creation into my own hands, literally.
How did you manage making and storing your products in your first few years in business? How do you manage this now?
Kristen Pumphrey: In the first few years, I would make a lot of items and put them up on Etsy. My operation was extremely small—I was not making ends meet, and carried very little inventory. Now, we have a 13,000 square foot warehouse where we manufacture, store, and ship our items. Every day in production we are making 1000-2000 units of candles, diffusers, room sprays, and incense. These items are passed to post-production, packaged, and QC'ed, and then are stored on our giant shelves. We manage all this production and inventory using copious amounts of spreadsheets and calendars, as well as QuickBooks. We’ve tried tons of software to manage inventory and production, but nothing works as well as our Production Sheet we started three years ago.
How did you advertise P.F. Candle Co. in the beginning and get the word out?
Kristen Pumphrey: Word of mouth. I got in front of people at craft fairs and sold them the product directly. We also have always used photos, specifically instagram, to promote our items. In 2013, we had our big break when the VP of merchandising for West Elm saw us on the local West Elm page and reached out to us, asking us if we’d like to be sold at West Elm Stores. Obviously, that was a yes! I hustled the buyer at West Elm until they picked up about 4000 units in September of 2013.
How do you craft and choose the scents that you use?
Kristen Pumphrey: Our scents are inspired by travel and memory. We come up with the concepts based on our memories and work with a master perfumer at our fragrance house to create a bespoke fragrance. Sometimes it will take up to a year to develop a scent until it’s good enough to release. Whenever we do a Limited Edition, we blend those in house with oils we have on hand.
There are obviously lots of candle and diffuser companies out there. What did you do to make P.F. Candle Co. stand out?
Kristen Pumphrey: We were one of the first candle companies of our ilk—before it became a trend—so it wasn’t an uphill battle for us. When I started, candles were still a grandma craft. The well-designed candles were expensive, and not handmade. I bridged that gap by offering a well-designed, handmade candle at an accessible price point—that’s how we stood out. Now we stand out for our quality, design, and price point.