I started my natural-candle brand on Amazon with just $500. I became a top seller and now save 15 hours a week with ad tools.

  • Mikey Kim is the founder of Hemlock Park, a natural-candle brand that started on Amazon.
  • Kim and his small team make 20,000 candles a month by hand.
  • He shared how he got started and how he now manages his time as a business owner.

This essay is based on a conversation with Mikey Kim, a Nevada entrepreneur. The following has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns in Los Angeles, my brand, Hemlock Park, was born. My full-time job as the CMO of a rug startup that hadn’t yet launched had been cut. It seemed like a good time to try my hand at starting a new business from home.

I had previously made some natural bath and body products for myself, so I decided to give candle-making a try. I didn’t have access to in-person selling opportunities for small brands, such as farmer’s markets, because it was early in the pandemic. But I chose to see the situation as a creative opportunity rather than a constraint.

I began with $500, making candles out of all-natural coconut wax and selling them on Amazon and Etsy. With everyone staying at home, I expected many people to buy more home decor and splurge on things like aromatherapy.

The company expanded steadily. I barely broke even in the first year, but then I received offers from Amazon Lending and Goldman Sachs’ Marcus lending program, which helped me grow the business. I also began using Faire, an online wholesale marketplace, which allowed me to sell my candles in the stores of independent retailers. Hemlock Park candles are now available in over 2,000 stores across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

I launched a Shopify store in my first month of business, which has taken a little longer to develop because it lacks Amazon’s traffic and exposure. I also decided to close the Etsy store in order to focus on our highest-performing channels.

I soon realized that I needed more space to make candles. Because real estate in Los Angeles is so expensive, I began looking for property in northern Nevada, near where I grew up. I now have two warehouses and a team of six people pouring and packaging candles there. We handcraft approximately 20,000 candles per month.

Making the product and selling it

Balancing both sides of the business — making and selling candles — can be difficult. You must order supplies, manufacture the products, package them, ship them to Amazon’s fulfillment centers, ensure that your inventory is always at a sufficient level to meet demand, and plan marketing and advertising.

You could spend an indefinite amount of time on Amazon poring over ads, analytics, and data. I used to spend about 20 hours per week managing Amazon Fulfillment inventory and ads. Over time, I realized that running the Amazon business and overseeing sourcing, manufacturing, production, and shipping would not be sustainable.

I’ve recently discovered other ways to save time, such as using Amazon’s strategic-account services, which provide you with access to an account manager who can pull reports and make recommendations about which areas of your business to focus on.

We also have a dedicated ads manager who is responsible for our ads and ad spend, and we use some third-party automation tools to adjust ad bidding on Amazon for key-word ads. That alone has saved me approximately 15 hours per week, as I used to manually adjust our bids on a daily basis, and we have over 1,000 ads. I now spend about five hours per week on Amazon alone.

Hemlock Park now gets roughly 60% of its sales from Amazon, 30% from wholesale channels, and 10% from its Shopify store.

So far, I’ve returned all of our profits to the company. I haven’t paid myself, but that’s the cost of expanding the business quickly. When I first started, Amazon told me that there were over 5,000 candle sellers on the platform and that breaking through would be difficult. But I was determined to make the top 10, which we did this year. We’re now an eight-figure brand, Amazon’s top natural-candle seller, and seeing 200% year-over-year sales growth.

Give your company enough time to succeed.

My most important piece of advice to new sellers is to be patient. I believe that many sellers give up in the first year, and I only made a profit in the first year. I would not have the brand I have today if I had given up after that. Get through the first — and most difficult — year and stick with it.

I would also advise you to use every tool available on Amazon. If you can, hire an account manager and use the platform’s ads, even if they are only $10 per day.

Also, if possible, provide a gift back on purchases. We collaborate with One Tree Planted to plant trees with every purchase — I believe customers who value our natural ingredients also value efforts to give back and care for the environment. I believe it also emphasizes that customers are purchasing from a small business.

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