Over the years I worked in radio advertising sales. That really opened my eyes to small business in Milwaukee- I hated cold calling businesses on the phone (I still do) so I pounded the pavement and walked into every business I could get to and tried to convince them to buy advertising. The best part of that job was seeing people doing work they were passionate about- it was all so much more interesting than sitting in a cubicle or working in an office.
And then I ended up working in hospitality and traveled all around the country facilitating training to hotel staff. After several years of being on the road most weekdays and only home on the weekends, I was really craving a way to spend more time at home in Milwaukee with my family so I took a job working for a nonprofit as an instructional designer while not so quietly growing Big White Yeti as my side hustle.
When it comes to business, I ascribe to “look and look and look before you leap”. I wanted to be very sure that when I took the leap to making Big White Yeti my full time job that the business would be there to catch me. It wasn’t until September of 2018 when I finally stopped working for someone else. It was a graduate dénouement from full time to part time to gracefully stepping away completely about a month before the birth of our son.
Olson House: "Big White Yeti" You've probably been asked this a million times, but for our readers, where did the brand name come from?
Katie: I spent some time researching the names of candle companies- and on the whole, most are pretty austere serious names. We are not austere serious people. And I knew if this was something I was going to sink my teeth into and talk about all the time, it had to be something that would make me laugh.
Through a lot of brainstorming and talking about this obsessively, we kept coming back to the fact that both Cody, my partner, and I think yetis are funny. (Yetis- the Himalayan cousin to the North American Big Foot or Sasquatch). We’ve never dyed or colored our candles- so they are a natural white color, presumably like Yeti fur. And the mental image of a Big White Yeti is just a delightfully silly idea.
Olson House: Why did you start a candle business?
Katie: In late 2012, I took a staycation. And after a few days, I ran out of projects to keep me busy. So I went to Pinterest and started searching for something to make. And just by chance I came across a pin about making soy candles in mason jars. We went to a local craft store and bought the ingredients and went back to the apartment and made our first two batches of candles on our gas stove in our tiny kitchen. And I was hooked as soon as I realized we had crafted something that actually did what it was supposed to- it burned reasonably well and it smells kind of nice. The research nerd in me took over and over the next few weeks I fell down the Google rabbit hole researching better types of soy wax, higher quality fragrances to use, the best type of wicks, and different containers to use. It was a really interesting blend of science, and research, and creativity that hooked me.
Big White Yeti truly started from a place of curiosity and happiness rather than finding our niche in the market. We really try to honor those emotions as we grow- it’s about making an exceptional product and taking care of our team. And if we can do that, I know the business will take care of itself.
Olson House: How is it working as a pair? Do you each take on certain roles in the business?
Katie: We had been dating only a few years before BWY started, so we’ve grown into our relationship at the same time we’ve grown into this business. Some of our most spectacular disagreements have occurred in the candle studio- and some of our biggest successes as a couple have been because of our business collaborations.
I oversee the day-to-day operation of the business and manage client relationships. In-between grading spelling tests and designing course curriculum as a 2nd grade teacher, Cody does whatever needs to be done for BWY- from breaking down pallets of wax to deliveries to brainstorming new scent concepts for the next season, he’s our “get it done” guy. We also have two candlemakers that now assist with production and studio work that frees us up to spend more time working on the business such as our rebranding that we completed earlier this year.
Olson House: Personally, do you have a favorite scent from your line or is it too hard to chose?
Katie: This is a great question because there isn’t a single fragrance we make that I don’t like. That’s one of the beautiful facets of leading your own business- I have the latitude to explore scent profiles that are personally appealing. But with that said- there are certainly scents I like better than others depending on the time of year and my mood. Right now I’m burning Whiskey Ginger in our living room, a Birds and the Bees in our kitchen, and I had Cosmic Cactus burning in the studio earlier today.
I just asked Cody what his favorite scent is and he says; “I have to be cliché, but Night Swimming smells really really good. And I also love Shave and a Haircut”.
Olson House: You are so active in the community and with store partnerships! Was that always part of your dream in owning a product business?
Katie: Being part of the Milwaukee community is extremely important to me. I love the people here. I am an effusive extrovert and get my energy from being around other people. And specifically other people doing cool things.
It’s my curiosity that has opened every single door to store partnerships all over the country, not just in Milwaukee. It’s never been an overt part of our business plan, but when I find a business that is interesting to me, I ask questions and see if there’s a way what we make can fit in with what that person does. And it’s proven to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Olson House: What are your top candle burning tips?
Katie: When you buy a handmade artisan candle, you are likely spending more than you would on a mass produced candle from a big box retailer. And you should get every bit of value out of that candle that you can. So here's some helpful information about maximizing the life of your Big White Yeti soy candle:
- Soy wax burns at a lower temperature than paraffin. What this means for you is- it takes a while for a soy candle's melt pool (the liquefied wax) to reach the edge of the container. It could take anywhere from an hour to three hours to achieve. In other words, don't light your Yeti when you know you're going to have to leave your home in the next 15 minutes. Make time for it.
- Trim your wick! Yes, we've all heard this expression but do you actually know what it means? Lots of stores sell wick trimmers and if you are into unitasker accessories, pick one up. We have one, and have never actually used it. Between burns when a candle is completely cool, we take two fingers an gently pinch the cold blackened wick. Whatever comes off between the fingers is enough to bring your wick to the proper length. Make sure you throw the excess blackened wick away rather than dropping it into the candle.
Olson House: What's next for Big White Yeti?
Katie: 2019 is a unique year for us- our workflow has been completely changed by the addition of the littlest yeti- our baby boy, Archer, who was born last fall. So not only am I settling into Big White Yeti being my full-time job this year, but we are also learning how to run a business while having a baby. This year’s goal is to make it through this year still smelling like a Yeti.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Katie. We know this year is going to be your best year yet!