From Stall to Store

Lauren Jones has gone from North Shore market stall-holder to selling her handmade candles in Queensland's largest shopping centre. IMAGE: Supplied

When Lauren Jones bought herself a candle-making kit for a Sunday afternoon project, she never considered it would lead to her tossing in her full-time job to set up a market stall; much less being wooed by Westfield to set up a store in Queensland’s biggest shopping centre. But that’s exactly what happened – in just three years The Milk Bar Candle Company has evolved through hard work, great branding and strong support from Lauren’s hometown crowd.

Why make your candles in milkbottles?
There are so many candle varieties out there that we needed a point of difference, something that would make our candles stand out and the idea for the milk bottle came from the milk bottle I was using as a pencil cup on my desk. What followed was months of testing to determine correct wick sizing and whether or not the bottle was a suitable vessel for a candle. The testing was a success and soon after that we set up a table at the North Shore Farmers Market.

How did you go from it being a sidehustle to a full time gig for you?
Right out of the gate the business did better than I ever could have imagined. I was working full-time when we launched Milk Bar but after six months I was able to scale back to part time work and focus on building the business.

In January 2016 my husband, Callan, received an exciting opportunity to work for Queensland Rugby League and we made the decision to move to Brisbane. After running the business successfully in Townsville it was a tough transition for Milk Bar. We had to reestablish a customer base in a new city and at times it felt like I was starting it all over again. It didn’t take long for things to pick up and I continued to have market stalls around Brisbane and work part time as a receptionist. It became more of a full time gig when we opened our small shop in Fortitude
Valley due to trading hours and the time it takes to produce the candles.

Things have become even more hectic with the opening of our second store at Chermside but with help and support from my family and friends I am able to manage it.

What has been the most challenging thing for you to overcome as a creative business owner?
Starting and running a small business is a tough gig. There are days when you wonder if its worth it, especially when business is slow or you’re lugging trestle tables through a carpark at 4:30am to set up your market stall. It’s always hard work but fortunately buying handmade and supporting local is a huge movement. Without the popularity of handmade products and support from the community so many small businesses wouldn’t have the success that they do. Milk Bar certainly wouldn’t have a retail store in Westfield Chermside if it wasn’t for the support we received from the Townsville community and the fact they didn’t forget about us after we moved.

How big a role does branding play in your business?
I think the best advice I could give to any small business is that branding is everything. Fortunately for me my talented and very patient husband is a graphic designer so I lucked out in the branding department. Before we set up our first market stall we had a logo and professionally printed product tags. It was important that we launch our business/brand with a professional look.

It represents who we are as a business and our customers recognise it. I have always loved the Milk Bar logo, from the very first draft and my proudest and most emotional moment as a small business owner was watching it sign written, two and half metres high on the back wall of our Chermside store. It represents all the work we have put in and all the support we have received.

How did you come to find yourself with a shop in Chermside?
The Westfield Chermside offer came completely out of the blue. On the drive up to Townsville in November last year for the Renegade Handmade Mega Market we discussed the possibility of opening a retail store in Brisbane. It was a scary prospect as signing a lease was a huge commitment both personally and for the business. Around Christmas we started looking around at retail spaces to gauge what was out there and what might be possible. We stumbled across Winn Lane in Fortitude Valley and decided it was a good fit for our first shot at a retail store. After a week or so
of trading I was contacted by Westfield who were expanding Chermside and wanted me to open a Milk Bar store in the phase two development. It was a daunting offer and there was a lot of conversations about whether or not Milk Bar was ready for a shopping centre, especially one as big as Chermside. My mind was made up when I saw the artist impression for the store.

I wanted it right or wrong and I knew that somehow we could make it happen. With lots of help from my parents, my in laws, friends and the amazing team at Westfield we got there and I still can’t believe it.

Follow Lauren’s journey by liking The Milk Bar Candle Company on Facebook.

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