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Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With ... Jenny Straub

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Tell us about your company.
I would describe our business as a very unique boutique. My husband, Marc, and I hand-pour all of our candles ourselves (and) I really try to search for small-businesspeople who handcraft their own goods, too. We have a lot of handcrafted jewelry from local artists – things like that. 2008 was when we opened the store, and I have three employees. … We have a separate location for making candles. We sell candles wholesale and retail. We make an average of 500 candles a month. When we first started … there was a lot of home décor stuff, and not as much clothes. We honestly weren’t real sure how clothes would do, with the mall right there, other boutiques in town, we felt like clothes wouldn’t be that big. We were wrong. We now have a lot of clothes, and they are our second best-selling product (behind) candles. I think we’re up to 34 (wholesale clients with) one in Kansas, two in Oklahoma, and a couple in Arkansas.

Why did you decide to open a boutique?
We started making candles in 2006. I was an accountant … and I just really did not like it. … The candle thing just kind of fell in my lap, and I started doing it. So in 2007, I just kind of looked at my husband and said, “OK, let’s make a go of this. Let’s make this a business.” By the end of 2007, we had a client list of more than 450 people, just with selling the candles out of our home.

Though your inventory isn’t limited to local product, why are those important to you?
Starting my own business really made me aware of the challenges that are out there. It’s amazing how you start to feel nickel-and-dimed so that you can’t get the business going. You get to a certain point (where) you feel you have to go big or go home, and there are all these roadblocks. So, if I can provide an avenue for people to get their product (and) brand name out there, and maybe open a door for them (it) makes me feel good.

What advice do you have for would-be business owners?
Before you jump off, if you’re manufacturing a product like we are, make sure that you have a really loyal customer following before you do it. It will help put your name out there. Try to (get started) out of your house. If you’ve got a friend who’s got a business where you can maybe take a corner, try to do that first and iron out the quirks. The other thing is, really understand that the business is going to change, and you have to change with it. Like with clothes, we went into it thinking, “Who’s going to buy clothes from us?” (and found) that’s what our customer base wants.

What is your biggest challenge?
Our biggest obstacle is that people think we’re going to be really expensive, and people don’t know how diverse our product lines are. We are a boutique, and yes, we have some things that are $200, but we also have things that are $5.

How much sales volume do you have online?
It’s not big. What I’ve discovered is that with candles, people want to smell them. If you could have a scratch-and-sniff screen, that would be great. People who know our brand will buy our candles on the Internet. Most of us women do not buy clothes (via) the Internet, because we want to try them on. We get a lot of traffic on our Web site (www.flameandflair.com), but it’s perusing, pre-shopping.

Is social media an effective tool for your business?
Facebook is huge. We do all kinds of things with Facebook. Anytime we have an event, it’s on Facebook. Any time we get new merchandise, we post pictures on Facebook. … Working with nonprofits … with Killuminati Foundation, I’ll donate 50 cents for every person who becomes a fan of our Facebook page. It doesn’t mean they’re going to come in here and buy something, but they’ve now heard of Flame & Flair.
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