This series was brought to you in paid partnership with Facebook Canada
When the pandemic began, Holly Singer, Founder of Milk Jar Candle Co., was worried about what it would mean for the business that she spent the last four years building. Though she prepared for the worst, her community turned it into the company’s best year yet.
Based in Calgary, Alta., Milk Jar Candle Co. began in 2016 with Singer making candles out of her kitchen and selling them at local markets. Now, it’s a 10-person team working out of a scent-filled factory that sold out of its candle inventory leading up to Christmas.
In a year that’s been plagued with stories of small businesses shutting down, Milk Jar Candle Co. offers an optimistic look at the success that is possible when founders, like Singer, harness the power of passion and community.
The beginning of Milk Jar Candle Co.
When most people buy a candle, the main point of attraction is the scent. However, Singer said that a quick Google search might make you want to think harder about what you decide to light.
“Those cheap paraffin candles are not good to burn in your home,” said Singer. “They have known carcinogens in them and a lot of scholarly articles show that they’re not safe.”
After a friend told her about the harm that common candles can cause, she took it upon herself to learn how to make clean-burning soy candles. Singer never envisioned the hobby turning into a full-blown business, rather it was a way for her to make some extra cash while staying connected to her true passion: helping children with disabilities.
She decided that for every candle sold, $1 would be donated to a nonprofit that helped children with disabilities—an initiative that Milk Jar Candle Co. still practices to this day.
Singer mastered the craft of candle making and began selling them while simultaneously studying to become a nurse. To attend her first-ever maker’s market, she had to leave a nursing lab early (which her teacher wasn’t too pleased with) but it was at that first market that Singer realized the possibility of turning Milk Jar Candle Co. into something more.
She arrived at the market on a Friday night with 100 candles, all of which sold out on the very first day. After a long night of wax melting over her stovetop, Singer was back at the market the next day, where she sold out again. She went home that night and repeated the process for the third and final day. In total, she sold 260 candles.
“After that weekend, through my website, my Instagram and creating a Facebook, I was able to use the free tools available, and more and more people started to find me,” said Singer.
As the company began to grow, so did the pressures of nursing school. She decided to defer from the program for a year to give the company all of her attention. With her mom as a physician and her dad as a pharmacist, she said leaving nursing school was one of the hardest decisions she’s ever had to make, but she’s never looked back.
“I knew that this was going to be something where, if I put everything into it, it could turn into a career path for me,” said Singer.
The rise in shopping local
While shopping local is more prominent than ever, it wasn’t always that way. Back when it was founded, being a locally made product set Milk Jar Candle Co. apart in Singer’s oil and gas-focused province. She said the distinction helped make people eager to support the business, “You don’t see ‘Made in Calgary’ very often.”
The company became so well known, that it created a whole new noun. While people are familiar with milk cartons, milk jugs and for us Canadians, milk bags, milk jars aren’t a real thing. However, for fans of Singer’s candle company, it sure is.
“Once people knew about Milk Jar, they started calling the candles ‘milk jars,’ not candles,” she said. “It was like a Q-tip. People would come by saying, ‘I’m here to get more milk jars!’”
With their white soy wax in clear glass jars, Singer said that she likes to think the candles look like a glass of milk, adding to the fun of the name.
Beyond the business
Given the fact that she never planned on being an entrepreneur, Singer had lots of learning lessons throughout the last four years, from getting the business incorporated to hiring a staff of 10. Despite not having a business background, she emphasizes that it’s not about what you know, but what you’re willing to learn.
“I see a lot of new entrepreneurs get really stressed about not being at a certain level right at the beginning, but you have to take that time of learning,” said “Don’t stress out about what you don’t know. You don’t need to know everything right now.”
A defining moment for Singer came when she was able to hire people to work for the company. Not only was the fact that people wanted to work for her super exciting, but it also meant that she could be an inclusive employer, bringing her mission and purpose for creating Milk Jar Candle Co. full circle.
“I started to see that there are all of these wonderful programs for kids with disabilities, but there are not as many opportunities for adults to feel included,” said Singer. “When you’re 19 or 20, how do you begin to feel like a functioning member of society? You go to university or you get a job—there are not a lot of opportunities for the disabled community to find work.”
How Milk Jar Candle Co. survived the pandemic
When the pandemic began, Singer was at risk of seeing all her hard work disappear. Then, something interesting happened, her online sales started increasing. She credits people sharing the Milk Jar Candle Co. Instagram page on their stories and urging their friends to support small businesses as a reason for the surge. She suspects that since people were home more, they probably wanted to make the scent of their homes more inviting too.
Seeing the support from the Milk Jar Candle Co. community reminded Singer of how powerful social media can be. She said that while it can get a bad reputation from the inauthenticity of some influencers, for small businesses, social media is a place where entrepreneurs can define what they want their business to be.
“It’s basically advertising and it feels really authentic too. The person who runs the business is the person behind the Instagram and the Facebook—you’re the one choosing the text and the photos,” said Singer. “You have full reign to make it you.”
For Milk Jar Candle Co., Singer has been able to build a strong online community behind its product and those customers have helped the local business thrive this year. Unfortunately, not all small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can say the same.
The state of small businesses
According to the latest Global State of Small Business Report, 46 percent of operational SMBs in October on Facebook reported that their sales in the past month were lower than the same month last year. More so, 38 percent of operational SMBs in October on Facebook expected cash flow to be a challenge in the next few months.
Consumers have the power to change these stats. With the holiday season in full swing, you can help create another SMB success story by shopping locally wherever you are, whenever possible.
For those who are in lockdown and can’t go to local shops, look online! According to the report, 30 percent of operational SMBs on Facebook reported in October that the proportion of sales they made digitally has increased compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. And although the world continues to change day by day, SMBs remain positive: 65 percent of owners and managers of operational SMBs in October on Facebook felt optimistic about the future of their business.
The success of Milk Jar Candle Co. is an example of what can happen when a small business founder not only creates a product they are passionate about but an online community that supports their vision. For Singer, she realized that showcasing the truth of being a small business online helped customers fall in love with more than the product: the business itself.
“I used to think that people wanted to see big companies that look really successful,” said Singers. “But then I realized that people want to see Cinderella stories. People want to see stories of a girl who went to nursing school then dropped out to make candles and now she’s hired 10 Calgarians.”
Additional findings from the Global State of Small Business Report
The Global State of Small Business Report is an ongoing effort by Facebook, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Bank to survey SMBs around the world and how they’ve fared during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through tracking timely insights on the impact that COVID-19 has on business operations, challenges SMBs face, and the pivots that they’re using to adapt and survive, this research hopes to support and amplify SMBs.
The most recent survey included data from at least 386 respondents in Canada and was taken between Oct 23-31, 2020. To participate, businesses were required to be an administrator of an active Facebook Business Page. Here are some additional findings from the report:
- 42 percent of operational SMBs in October on Facebook reported 25 percent or more of their sales were made digitally in the past month.
- 26 percent of operational SMBs in October on Facebook reported they had reduced the number of employees/workers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 90 percent of SMBs in October on Facebook reported that they were operational or engaging in any revenue-generating activities. (Up from 78 percent in May)
- 90 percent of SMBs in October on Facebook reported that they were operational or engaging in any revenue-generating activities. (Up from 67 percent in May)
For Singer, she remains grateful for the support of Milk Jar Candle Co. throughout this difficult time and looks forward to what’s to come. She is especially excited to give back to the company’s featured charity this year, G.R.I.T (Get Ready for Inclusion Today) Calgary Society, as it will be Milk Jar Candle Co.’s biggest donation yet.
Learn more about the Milk Jar Candle Co.’s previous charity partners here.