We don't know what we don't know and oftentimes in business we can beat ourselves up for mistakes. We can fail to see each mistake as an opportunity to expand our knowledge base. But if we build into our business the expectation that mistakes happen because we are ALWAYS learning, then it's less of a huge mental setback when they happen.
That's why I love today's post from #ahasmember D'Shawn of of Southern Elegance. Her mistake not only taught her a valuable lesson, it opened her up to new avenues and opportunities!
Q: Please, tell us a little about yourself and your business.
My name is D'Shawn Russell and I make candles. My business, Southern Elegance Candle Company, creates small batch, hand crafted, soy candles that celebrate everything there is to love about the South: the aromas, the flavors, the traditions and the storied cities. Our candles focus on the commonality that bring us together in a shared history. Each candle is named after a Southern city with a fragrance that is reflective of its Southern Roots and tells the city’s unique history through fragrance.
Q: What was your first experience with a wholesale order like?
I finally had my boxes professionally printed, excited about how they turned out and ready to step into the big leagues. I sent out the first very large wholesale order and the entire order arrived shattered. It was in excess of 100 candles.
The buyer was very angry with me and dropped me as a supplier. Although the boxes were beautifully designed and professionally printed, they were not suitable for shipping candles. I was embarrassed and my confidence was shaken.
Q: What effect did this have on you and your business?
The immediate affect was that I put everything on hold. I had to hit pause to figure out if I wanted to move forward or just go back to my old job. My confidence as a business owner was in as many pieces as those candles. I really began to wonder if I was cut out to have a candle business (or any business).
Q: How were you able to overcome this situation? What changed?
I was able to overcome the debacle because one purchaser offered to help and I eagerly accepted. The business was owned by two female entrepreneurs and their business was just really beginning to grow. They recognized I needed assistance, and gave me the name of a local company who was their shipping box supplier.
This one act of support changed the entire mission of my company, working with a local business was much easier and it felt right keeping the money in the local economy. The personal touch of meeting one-on-one with my sales person was invaluable. He provided solutions and options I didn't know existed.
Q: Looking back, what was your biggest takeaway from that negative experience?
First and foremost, never give up. But, my biggest take away was to look closer to home for services and products. Supporting local businesses became a part of our mission statement. Now, we source all materials and services from other Southern businesses. Sometimes it is a challenge to find exactly what we are looking for, but I have found that businesses really will help us once they know that working with them is part of our company mission. (And, there really is a silver lining in every cloud, just look for it)
Q: How do you use what you learned to address other aspects of your business today?
First, I don't view mistakes as failures. What I first viewed as an incident that could destroy my business and reputation actually revitalized the company by helping me re-define Southern Elegance Candle Co within a very crowded market. I really try to view every challenge as a learning opportunity; it sounds cliche but adversity has taught me what to avoid in the future. I am open for help and look for people who are willing to provide meaningful assistance and advice.
Q: What advice would you give a fellow small business owner and maker who finds themselves in a similar situation?
In the infamous words of Dory, "Just keep swimming." Sometimes I have to dog paddle because I can barely keep my head above water, other times I feel like Simone Manuel winning Olympic gold. But, I don't quit. It is the daily strokes that will move your business forward, regardless of how slow the progress or how deep the ocean.