Candlemaker Pumphrey from Pommes Frites
When I first opened Boston General Store I knew that I wanted a candle line that I could be really excited about. I spent time testing different products and scouring the web for really great companies. My requirements were: having natural beautiful smelling scents, simple and clean packaging, affordable and a great company to work with. I found that I could only find 3 out of the 4 criteria in one maker. I took my research to Pinterest and that is where I found Pommes Frites. They are dominating blogs and have a strong presence on social media. After testing samples I knew I found my match. In addition to an exceptional and affordable product then are one of the best companies to work with. Kristen answered a few of my questions and I was pleasantly surprised to find out she used to be a fellow Texas resident, I knew there was a reason why I liked her so much :)
BGS: What made you decide to start P.F Candle Co.? Was there a single "ahaa" moment that turned you down this road?
Kristen: I started Pommes Frites in 2008 after I was laid off when the craft magazine I was working for folded. I moved from Brooklyn to Austin in hopes of finding a cheaper place to start my business. Originally, I made lot of different items, but the “aha” moment came for me when I realized that one-of-a-kind items, while awesome, were not going to grow a sustainable business. We had relocated to California at this point, where the job market was tough and I was forced to hunker down on P.F. In 2013, I stopped selling all other items and focused on candles alone - a handmade item that could be created and scaled.
BGS: Why do you feel this work is important/beneficial?Kristen: We really wanted to create a nice, handmade candle at an affordable price point - a price that allowed for the craftsmanship but one that wouldn’t make the customer scared to burn it. I burn candles every day at the office or home, and I grew up in a house where my mom burned candles all the time. I love them as an everyday luxury. Beyond that, we love that our business and our products are built by hand - we, and our employees, are creating the type of company we want to see in the world.
BGS: Tell us a little bit about your workshop and what makes it unique?
Kristen: We make hand poured soy candles - all of our candles are poured, labeled, packaged and shipped in our 2000 sq ft facility in downtown Los Angeles. Our approach is just to keep it simple - nothing fussy or pretentious, just a great smelling, well-made candle at a good price.
BGS: What is a typical day for you?
Kristen: I usually get in around 9:30 or 10, and hit up my emails to see if there are any urgent matters. I coordinate all of our national account orders, which can require a decent amount of logistics because of the scale. Every day, our crew has a meeting to go over the day - what’s being made, what’s being shipped, any important notes from customers. From there, I might be working on new product development (smelling and mixing new scents or candles), marketing, or do some boring-but-important administrative work like payroll or bookkeeping. I work closely with Diane, our Wholesale Account Coordinator, to see what stores are ordering and what scents are being ordered so that we can communicate to the production team and set our pouring schedule up. Our office doubles right now as the employee break/lunch room, so a highlight of my day is chatting with the crew when they come down for lunch. I eat lunch with my husband/the other half of P.F., Tom, every day.
BGS: Could you give cradle to cradle description of your products? I.E- product design to customers homes?
Kristen: The scent portion is the first component. We approach this two ways: either we have a specific inspiration in mind (our newest scent, Hill Country, was inspired by the hill country around Austin, TX), or we discover something by accident when doing scent exploration. A couple times a month we sit down and smell through a bunch of fragrance oils - this with that, etc - to make new scents. From there, I make a very small batch for testing. These go out to our employees, and we all test the candle at home for throw and to see how we like it on the burn. Sometimes it might take a couple rounds, other times it’s good to go out the gate. From there, the scent gets put in to production and we make a larger batch. We create the label by hand stamping the scent name and scanning it, then ordering labels (we used to print them all ourselves!) Most of our candles are made to order, so scents are made usually a week or two before they are shipped out to customers or some of our awesome stockists.
BGS: Do you have guiding principles when it comes to product quality?
Kristen: First and foremost, we always have visual inspections that are followed - to make sure the label is straight, in the right place, the candle top looks smooth, and the lid looks good. Even though it is an item that is being burned, we know that our customers love the design as well, and may re-use the jar. I used to be crazy about the labels, back when we hand labeled (we now have a small machine that rolls the labels on). This sounds ridiculous, but there was a certain millimeter that I liked it to fall between - a near impossible feat, haha! I let go of that notion for sure, when I realized that only *I* was noticing that, and on a handmade product, that is part of the charm. It can be challenging with a product like a candle - we do visual inspections to make sure everything looks good, but short of burning every one, we can’t know for sure how it will perform. That’s why we’ve focused so much on having a high standard for our pouring and labeling process - we are always looking for ways to improve and become the best at our craft.
BGS: Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Kristen: I always say, work hard and say yes to every opportunity you can when you are starting out - even if it doesn’t seem like a good fit. You never know where your customers may be hiding. Also, don’t wait for your product to be perfect to release it. It’s not the end of the world to change something a little once it’s on the market - in fact, that’s how your product can become even stronger!
BGS: Could you tell me a little about you? Who is the person behind P.F Candle Co.?
Kristen: I’m 29, I live in downtown Los Angeles. When I’m not working or daydreaming about the business (which definitely occupies a LOT of my time), I love to go camping, explore California or even just downtown LA. I love plants and have a few little indoor gardens that I tend to. I grew up dancing and studied theater - although I don’t do that anymore I still make room in my life to take the occasional ballet class (or just obsess over it via the internet). I’m originally from the East Coast, but always wanted to end up in California (sorry, Mom!). And this is a little cheesy, but my favorite thing to do is hang out with my husband, Tom. I feel lucky that we are able to work together - nothing has been as rewarding as building this business together.
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