Darceys Candles: The Scottish candle business that went down in flames only to rise from the ashes

Jackie Dalziel is the founder of Darceys Online, a handmade candle business based in Scotland. A graduate of the Entrepreneurial Spark programme, she saw her venture go down in flames during the summer, but the fire ignited an inner determination to rebuild and her company is now even stronger than before.

What makes Darceys Candles special?

What sets Darceys apart from many others in its field is the use of soy wax, rather than paraffin, which means scented ambience without blackened walls. It’s also safer and healthier, according to Dalziel.

“I’ve used soy wax since the beginning but 90 per cent of candles in the UK are made from paraffin wax. The difference is health. The paraffin, which builds up black soot, can be bad for people with asthma, trigger headaches and cause a lot of health issues,” she explained.

“There’s a huge fire risk with paraffin products too. People think that the black soot is normal candle behaviour – they don’t know they need to wipe it off. You light it up and then it can go up in flames.”

Despite her expertise, Dalziel hasn’t always been in the craft industry though. Before starting her homemade venture, she had a 17-year career in the NHS. After refining her art on the weekends, she saw the chance to make it a business on Twitter through a promotion from startup accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark.

She recalled: “I applied to Entrepreneurial Spark in May 2012. At the beginning of the process the only problem was I was still in the NHS and I realised I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t make the product myself and still be employed, so I resigned.

“I thought that Entrepreneurial Spark was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Had I not resigned I’d have been giving up on something that could have been quite good,” she said.

That quite good something has resulted in what’s set to be a £120,000 turnover this year, rising up to £400,000 in 2016.

How Darceys wax melts helped Jackie’s business grow

The company’s growth is being generated with a mail order model, rather than relying solely on high street trading.

“When I worked in the NHS, I noticed people would bring Avon books in and you’d then have a look on a tea break. I thought the way life is, what with people being so busy, rather than take sales up the high street you can do it through the desk with mail order,” Dalziel said.

“There’s 90 per cent more chance of them going through with a sale directly in that respect, rather than waiting for customers to come to you in a store. And I had a desire to have my own brochure.

“We did try retail, we were in shops but then other products were on the shelf – bigger brands like Yankee right next to us. But given that there’s this difference between soy and paraffin, we’re going direct and providing more information.”

Dalziel’s children were still young and after working in the NHS for almost two decades, she was well aware that launching a business was new ground, which is why she sought the help of Entrepreneurial Spark.

“The initial benefit was someone believing in you and the product, and saying ‘yes, you can make this into a business’. I could have easily knocked my head into brick wall working alone at at home to then realise it could never work. Entrepreneurial Spark saw through that – if they felt the idea couldn’t work then they would tell you there and then,” she said.

That approval helped Dalziel change her mindset into a positive – something she admitted was difficult in the beginning, particularly after having people telling her the venture was a risk, effectively creating doubt. She admitted that one part of her was saying go for it and the other side was full of caution.

“It was great to have the support of all the mentors and other entrepreneurs, so if there was a crap day or problem, you have support rather than being on your own struggling,” she said.

The growth stages of Entrepreneurial Spark are chiclet, nest and then community member – the latter of which Dalziel and Darceys have now entered after three and a half years with the accelerator.

“We still get all the support and access to everything I had when I first started. Once we decided a route to market in December 2014, things just accelerated so quickly.

“We’ve now got independent reps across the UK, so social media is huge for us. We actually had a social media event, which amounted to over £28,000 worth of sales. The support from Entrepreneurial Spark has been phenomenal,” Dalziel said.

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Disaster struck in June this year, however, when a fault resulted in the business complex Darceys shared with other firms going up in flames overnight. Dalziel lost everything – stock and machines all gone, which would have been bad at any time of the year, let alone in the approach to Christmas.

She confessed that without the accelerator, which works in partnership with RBS, she would have faltered and been unable to continue.

“I thought to myself, ‘there’s nothing that can’t be done, let’s keep going’. We got a lot of social media exposure with the fire and even picked up by Vogue,” Dalziel revealed.

“Entrepreneurial Spark was great and within 24 hours the support we had was immense. They contacted to see if anything could be done, whether that was RBS stopping direct debits or providing a temporary overdraft or loan to get back on my feet. There was also support from other entrepreneurs as we picked through all the debris.”

Darceys moved into a new unit on 1 August, but she said it was the end of August until the business was operating again because the stock supply had to be rebuilt. For context on just how behind the company was, Christmas stock was due to begin production on the second week of July.

As a result, Dalziel had to adapt and bring in more staff, something Entrepreneurial Spark assisted with to make sure they were the right fit. Additionally, she used the opportunity to change things from a manufacturing standpoint, considering the fire as the chance to have a blank canvas.

“Originally, we just kind of managed with what we had. A lot of things weren’t right, like the height of tables for making products, so I spoke to RBS about that. The new unit now is two and a half times bigger,” she said.

With bespoke tables and moulds now in place, the business is able to produce ten times the amount of products that it was previously, so it was a risk that paid off – a necessary one that can now support sales, manufacturing and storage without worry.

“The Christmas candles I made in a two-week period would have taken six months,” Dalziel said.

She admitted that she is still the sole creator of all of the products and will eventually need to bring herself away from that by training up new staff members, which she’ll revisit once the festive frenzy has passed.

Looking to the future, Dalziel said: “We will be increasing our independent reps and we’re hoping to do recruitment drives – they’ll be based up and down UK, and there are even areas in Scotland like Aberdeen and Dundee to expand across. We’ll talk with reps about their sales to boost our turnover.”

Finding recruits shouldn’t be challenging. Dalziel explained that the way reps choose to generate sales is flexible and essentially up to their own innovation. Able to operate off their own steam, some reps turn to their Facebook accounts to plug products, some knock on doors and others kill two birds with one stone at the gym or nursery.

“They’re working, but not going out of the way to do it,” she said.

And in order to keep buyers interested, the annual brochure has an exclusive set of offers to reps to keep customers interested as the months change, whether that’s a discount or new scent.

Closing, Dalziel said: “I guess, the biggest thing for me is that none of it could have been done without E Spark. I’ve had access to mentors that can open doors, which I’d maybe have struggled with.

“It’s not been an easy process though – you still have to put in the hard work and drive. As much as I’m a hard worker, without that mindset I wouldn’t be here.”

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