From Victorian Glasgow to Black Friday: The 121-year-old candle business making a success of selling on Amazon

From Victorian Glasgow to Black Friday: The 121-year-old candle business making a success of selling on Amazon
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation

Posted: Tue 13th Mar 2018

Shearer Candles is one of Britain's oldest candle companies. Founded in 1897, it sells products from its two Glasgow stores and also to customers around the world on Amazon.

Ahead of the Amazon Academy in Glasgow, a free event on 17 April providing advice and practical support to help SMEs succeed in the digital economy, Stephanie Barnet, who runs the company with her mother, father and sister, tells the history of the brand and how they sell products online.

Tell us about the history of Shearer Candles and how your family got involved.

Established in 1897, Shearer Candles is a leading creator and purveyor of artisan candles and scented products. Everything we do is underpinned by a long tradition of Scottish candle making.

Our founders, Mr Shearer and Mr Harvey, initially worked in the Candleriggs area (one of Glasgow's oldest streets and the historic home of candle making in Glasgow) before opening their own factory on the city outskirts over 120 years ago.

Today, our founders would be astonished to see our factory full of cutting-edge candle making technology, and to know that Shearer Candles are popular the world over.

Whilst much has changed, Shearer Candles are still recognised for our artisanal approach, attention to detail and craftsmanship.

Throughout our long history, Shearer Candles has always been family run. The Barnet family has been at the helm of Shearer Candles since the early 1970s.

Ronald Turner Barnet ran a hotel in Glasgow and approached Shearer to purchase candles.

Seeing the potential in Shearer, Ronald and his son Ian, today the managing director and my father, purchased the company, a move that coincided with the miner's strike. Just as the demand for candles increased, Shearer was given a new lease of life.

Together with his wife Rosey (my mother), Ian acquired sole ownership of Shearer in the early 1990s.

Having trained as a textile designer, Rosey has helped steer Shearer Candles in a new direction, focussing on the high-end lifestyle candles that account for 80% of sales.

The family connection continues to this day with the third generation of Barnets now involved day to day in the company. I head up marketing and product development and my sister Victoria runs the retail side of the business.

How do you use the history and heritage of Shearer in your marketing and to engage customers?

Our history and heritage is such a key part of our story. We are the UK's longest established producer of candles, and that's something we're really proud of.

That message is carried throughout our marketing material as it inspires confidence and trust in our products.

We regularly feature content from our extensive photo and news archives across our social media channels and blog, and we find our followers, particularly those in Glasgow, are fascinated by our story and want to support a local family business.

Why did you decide to sell your products on Amazon Marketplace? What benefits does it bring your business?

The key to success in business is moving with current trends.

We figured our products would be on there either way if our retail customers were selling on Amazon, and by listing ourselves we have more autonomy over how our products are displayed and our brand is perceived.

What techniques do you use to make sales on Amazon and what tips would you offer other entrepreneurs wanting to make a success of it?

There are a whole range of things we try and test to see what works best for us.

Getting the basics right is crucial; professional photography, clear, keyword-optimised descriptions, a good variety of products and of course setting your price.

We learn a lot through the analytics on our own website to understand how people search to find our products, and that knowledge extends to successfully using Amazon. We also make the most of the different advertising channels available.

How has se****ling on Amazon boosted the growth of your physical retail stores?

Our retail presence is currently only in Glasgow; for now! So websites like Amazon are brilliant for Shearer Candle fans in other locations.

We find people will buy their first candle in store, and then purchase replacements online when they're familiar - and hooked - on a particular fragrance.

But perhaps they'll see something they haven't experienced yet on Amazon, and if they can, they want to smell that scent in store before purchasing it. That's when the in-store experience champions!

You took part in Black Friday for the first time in 2017. What results did you achieve and what advice would you offer entrepreneurs for taking part in Black Friday?

I guess until quite recently, Black Friday was perceived as an American phenomenon, and it's only really the past couple of years that it's become so popular in the UK.

Now our customers expect us to take part and as other SMEs have stated it was the most important trading day of their year, it seemed like something we should be doing.

We're really pleased we tried it! It was such a huge success, with 51% uplift in unit sales compared to November 2016, and 55% uplift in revenue generated.

As a small business, we simply wouldn't have been able to cope with the level of stock going out without Fulfilment by Amazon, so our advice is to be realistic about what can be achieved in house.

Also consider the huge opportunity presented with increased exposure and traffic to your listings and website. Whilst a discount across the board is fine, limited editions and gift packs are a great way to upsell during the promotional period.

Following the success of the Amazon Academy events throughout the UK in 2017, the first Amazon Academy of 2018 will take place in Glasgow. The Amazon Academy will provide free advice and practical support to help SMEs succeed in the digital economy. Book your ticket here.

Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation
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