Mumpreneur profile: Sarah of Candleby Events #mumsinbiz #mumpreneurs

Sarah Ditchfield Your Name and Age: Sarah Ditchfield, age 47

Tell us about your family: I am married to Philip and have two wonderful children; Louise age 12 and Christopher age 9.  We also have a very bouncy Welsh Springer Spaniel, called Amber!

What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition?

I had a career in HR for about 20 years and held a number of senior HR roles – specialising in training and development.  When I had my first child I decided to take a career break.  The transition to coming up with my own business was gradual and grew organically.

How did you get started?

For Christmas 2008 my husband Philip, bought me a candle-making kit.  Over the Christmas period in the evenings, while the children slept, my husband and I (over a glass of wine!) practiced the different techniques in the kit. I discovered I really enjoyed the candle-making (it’s similar to cooking, which I love) so I started to read around the subject and practiced making other candles.  Initially I gave my creations to friends, who quickly started to buy from me. The business grew and I sold at markets, into local hotels and restaurants including “The Cheerful Soul” in Marlow (the winners of the Raymond Blanc’s BBC TV programme “The Restaurant”).  At craft markets customers would ask me how I made candles.  Knowing from my own experience how difficult it was to find workshops, I decided to run one myself.  This went really well and so I started to offer more workshops.   By now my daughter was nine years old so I had an idea that candle-making would be a fun idea for children’s birthday parties, so I tested my idea on Louise and her friends – they loved it.  So I started to offer parties and workshops for children and adults!

About 18 months ago I had an idea that I could incorporate my former profession of training and development with candle-making and started to offer team building workshops for businesses.  The best way to describe these workshops is Generation Game meets Dragons Den!

candlebyDuring strategically aligned sessions, candle-making techniques are demonstrated to staff, who are then split into groups and set the challenge of creating a new product range and a brand concept – that’s the Generation Game bit!

Then, in Dragons’ Den style, teams calculate the costs, revenues and profit margins; they create a marketing plan and sales pitch, which they deliver to the Dragons and other team members.

Today the business today is split into two parts.

  •  Candle by Events – team building events, workshops, parties, activity days and family fun days
  •  Candle by Parties – parties for children and adults, such as hen nights

When did you launch?

Our first craft fair was in May 2008

What’s your favourite thing about running your own business

Being my own boss, setting my own agenda, the wonderful feedback from customers and seeing the business grow!

What’s the thing you least enjoy about running your own business

Doing my accounts!

What has worked well about your business?

Moving to running workshops, rather than just manufacturing candles.  This allows me to concentrate on what I like doing best. Making candles at home is for fun and to develop new candle-making techniques, which I later share with my customers.

What’s been your biggest business mistake?  How did you deal with it?

The biggest mistake was when I was producing candles for sale. I bought a new type of wax, which required a different amount of fragrance oil. I produced several hundred candles for the Christmas market and shortly afterwards one of my good customers told me the fragrance was much weaker than normal! I had to inform all my customers of the mistake and make new ones! At the time my business was called Candle by Night – and literally through the night with additional staff we had to manufacture all the Christmas range again! I did sell some of the less fragranced candles at cost and called them “hint of range”, which actually appealed to some customers, who wanted a more subtle fragrance.

How do you fit in work with the family? Is your partner supportive of your business?

Now my children are at school and becoming more independent it’s a lot easier, sometimes I have events that run into the evening or at weekends, but fortunately my husband who also runs his own business can cover – we call it daddy day care!

Are you working towards a financial goal for your business?

I like the fact the businesses has grown organically, but I have also been asked by a number of mums if they could buy a franchise, so I’m now working on that and would be happy to speak to others who would like to buy a franchise.

Would you ever give up your business to do somethingelse?

I don’t plan to but you never know what life can throw your way!

Do you have an exit strategy?

No, but it would be great to sell the businesses one day and spend my retirement sailing around the world.

Have you had your ‘I’ve made it’ moment?  Tell us about it.  If not when do you think it will come

I would say I have had a couple.  The first was when I was asked to co-author a book by Dorling Kindersley called “Craft” – it was such a great experience from writing the text to the photo shoot – the book was showcased at the Frankfurt Book Fair and they produced a UK and US edition.

The next was after our first team building workshop – it went incredibly well and was a lovely feeling that my old career and new career had come together!

In November I am presenting at the Country Living Christmas Fair demonstrating candle-making to hundreds of attendees – it’s marvelous to be now considered to be an expert candle-maker!

Where do you hope to be in five years time?

Running 2 successful and profitable businesses and employing staff full-time.

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