Kristen Bell The Copper Bell
Credit: Courtesy of The Copper Bell.

Katrina Bell was burnt out at her day job and searching for a more creative endeavor. What started as a side hustle making candles and wreaths has now, three years later, turned into a full scale six figure business, The Copper Bell. Bell’s soy candles combine unique scents with punny names, often including pop culture references designed for the, “Millennial mom with a dry sense of humor.” The Guelph, Canada-based entrepreneur, like so many business owners, has faced financial setbacks during the pandemic. But Bell remains positive, acknowledging the huge milestones she’s achieved so far; like moving her business out of her home and hitting the six figure revenue mark. Today she’s focused on continuing to scale while remaining adaptable to a changing consumer landscape.

Bells’ story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:

What was your reason for starting your business?

I started my business in the fall of 2019 around the time I was also looking to make a huge career shift with my day job. I was burnt out and wanting something more. I had been trying to break out of a mold with my employer and get into a totally different kind of role. I felt pigeon-holed and unsupported and thought I would never get where I wanted to be if I didn’t leave that employer. I ended up taking a sales role with a tech company in late October 2019 and started making candles and wreaths as a side hustle around the same time. I wanted a creative outlet, I wanted to go to artisan markets and meet people face to face.

Years before this I had developed a sensitivity to scents while pregnant and would get instant headaches when burning candles. Through experimenting and learning about candle ingredients I was able to make better candles for myself and my friends that didn’t leave me feeling nauseous. When I started applying to markets it was a no brainer to also include the candles I had been developing over the months. I quickly found market validation for candles and saw the wreaths were getting me nowhere! So I ditched wreaths and focused on making great quality candles that anyone would be able to enjoy.

How do you define success?

My success is my ability to spend time out of work with my family and friends, my ability to pay my bills, inspiring others, and spreading a little joy in the world. I think the last two years have been especially difficult and isolating so finding a spark of light in the darkness and having that to hold on to feels the most successful.

Tell us about your biggest success to date

My biggest success to date is scaling my business out of my home and into its own dedicated production space. Creating a product-based business from home is all encompassing. It can be extremely overwhelming and creep into all aspects of your life. Looking back at photos and videos from that time now it is astonishing to me how much my business was in every nook and cranny of my family’s lives. It feels much more balanced now and I’m able to separate my home life from work which is so refreshing.

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

I think that scaling up is the best umbrella term for where I am struggling the most right now. I have scaled from zero to six figures, moved my business out of my house and am now faced with new challenges. I am finding that right now, customers are wary of shopping. Inflation is starting to really take hold, cost of living is rising drastically, and most people are in a bit of a funk. Scaling up for me means addressing other challenges like sales and marketing, cash-flow management, and building leadership skills so that I can grow my team.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

Like most families during the pandemic, my family struggled with balance and uncertainty. It’s incredibly difficult to find yourself unemployed and trying to carve out a place for yourself as a new business. My husband also recently had an injury and had to take time off work. We’re currently in a period of financial struggle but have an amazing support system that allows us to keep going.

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?

I want other start up entrepreneurs to know that it’s okay to change your original idea. I think many people get really set on the vision they have for their business or product and are reluctant to shift gears when they don’t get the market validation they are looking for. One of my best strengths is my willingness to drop something that isn’t working the way I thought it would.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

My current best source of inspiration is a kids movie, Sing 2. I realize this sounds ridiculous but it’s ultimately a story about persevering in the face of setbacks, people not believing in you, and insurmountable odds. I find myself watching it often when I’m at work, or even just listening to some of the songs.

Who is your most important role model?

I have a competitor in my area who is a dear friend that I look at as my most important role model. She and I have an incredibly respectful relationship and she understands the struggles I face better than anyone else I know because she’s gone through the same hardships. She has an unmatchable work ethic and drive and has rapidly scaled her own candle business to places I strive for.

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