Meet Your Maker- Drop Dead Candles

GUYS!!! I am SOOOOOOO excited for this weeks MYM feature Drop Dead Candles. I am a huge fan of this company. Mel make the most amazing candles. I actually have one (a pink skull of course) that I bought at an outdoor festival a few summers ago here in Toronto. I saw them on instagram and went to the street festival (I legit cannot remember which one..I wanna dundas west? maybe) just to get one of their candles. I of course will never actually burn mine as to me it is a piece of art and part of my ever growing skull collection (yes I collect skulls lol) If you are looking for a unique candle or piece of art you need to check this company out asap! I was so honored when Mel agreed to do this MYM feature with me. I really am a huge fan of this company and I hope you enjoy reading Mel's responses as much as I did :)

Introduce yourself and your business.

My name is Mel and I am the profesh business woman in charge at Drop Dead Candles!

Drop Dead Candles is a collection of handmade candles and housewares created with weirdos and oddballs in mind.  Each item is casted from a found object (usually from a thrift store or vintage item from Etsy ) -  so we guarantee you won’t be able to get your hands on candles like these anywhere else. A mould of the found object is created from scratch (a process that involves a lot of swearing and glue gun burns) and then each candle and vessel is hand poured in small batches in Oshawa Ontario under feline supervision.  Drop Dead Candles are sure to grab the attention of anyone who happens to pass by them and they also make memorable gifts for the eccentric in your life.

How did you launch your business & what made you want to start a small business?

I had absolutely no intention of starting a business, it was just something that kinda happened … a “happy accident” if you will. I wanted a skull candle for myself and everywhere I looked they were either fugly and cartoon-y or overpriced. I researched mould and candle making online and decided to take a crack at it myself. I posted my little arts n’ crafts project on my personal facebook and before I knew it I had my friends and family willing to pay me actual money to make them one.

I’m actually Registered Nurse - which is a career I love but doesn’t require a lot of being artsy fartsy. Drop Dead allows an outlet for me to be creative and artsy which is why I’ve stuck with it despite having a pretty comfortable day job. I feel like having this business has been really beneficial to my mental health; instead of coming home after work and being couch locked for the evening I feel excited about heading to my studio, putting on tunes or a podcast and making some wacky shit for other people to enjoy.   

Having a small business has also allowed me the opportunity to experience roles I would never have never know I would enjoy. Drop Dead is a one woman operation so I’m the marketing department, accountant, photographer, general manager, brand ambassador etc etc. I didn’t even know half the shit I know now about business, marketing, branding, money, yadda yadda - and I’m still learning constantly. I was also shocked to find out that I have a decent head for business and the marketing and branding that comes with it. That’s given me a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities.  Whenever I had to choose electives in school I would cringe at the business and accounting type courses.  Just goes to show ya that you never know until you try.
What are some struggles you had starting your business and how did you over come them?

A couple things …

Firstly, a  huge struggle I have encountered is knowing when and how to ask for help. I try my darndest but I can’t do everything (this sort of goes hand-in-hand with small business owners wearing many (read: all) the hats). This year I took the plunge and hired a brand/consulting agency to create a website and line sheet (amongst other things) for Drop Dead. Until this point I had done all of these types of things myself and I was finally like, “dude, enough is enough. Pay people to do this shit for you … you’ve done well on your own but these things are beyond you abilities so help yourself by allowing someone to help you.” Initially I struggled with relinquishing control but working through that has reaped massive rewards. These women knocked these projects out of the park and did about a zillion times the job I could have accomplished alone. I saved a huge amount of time, effort and anxiety by finally letting other people assist me and this experience has encouraged me to invest in knowing my limits asking for help.

The struggle that causes me the most grief to this day and on an ongoing basis is other businesses/people copying my work. Just typing that makes my eye twitch.

Social media has been pivotal in the success of Drop Dead yet allowing my work to be so easily accessible has spurred all types of copy cats and rip offs. In the short time this business has been active I’ve been copied more times than I care to keep track of. People have attempted to steal my business name and taglines, copy my item descriptions and instructions from Etsy word-for-word, use my product photos (literally using the photos themselves or posing their products in the exact same way with the same props) as well as emulate my product designs themselves as well as their names. And that’s just the short list.

I’m not the first person to make a skull candle and I certainly won’t be the last. Ultimately I don’t have any ownership on specific shapes and therefore what shapes other people choose to make candles in …

But I do pride myself on making 95% of my own moulds and searching high and low to find the perfect items to cast… so to see someone deliberately buy a cheap mould off amazon or Etsy or wherever and make a candle similar to mine (especially right after I release a new shape) … it’s pretty disheartening. 

People see success and they want a piece of it without respecting or being willing to do the work that’s gone into getting there. People don’t see you crying over spilling hundreds of dollars of mould making supplies on your kitchen floor, they don’t see the hours and hours of online research you’ve done, or the failure after failure of working with new supplies and techniques.  No one thinks about the money (your own money, your savings) that you put into everything you purchase and how more often than not you’re saying no to spending time with loved ones because you’re too busy with your business. 

The most painful part of being copied is being basically powerless to make people stop doing it or to receive any retribution. Small businesses don’t often have the resources (namely money and time) to take any action against people who steal their intellectual property. I know it makes me feel pretty frustrated and discouraged. 

There a sort of unwritten rule in the maker community that we should just let these instances pass and not bring attention to it as to not seem “unprofessional”.  This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and talking to other makers about. 

Generally I no longer take the time to reach out to the business that has copied me. The majority of the time they’re already are aware (i.e. it was done intentionally) and they don’t care to remedy their behavior.  Even when being polite I find the person will just read my message and then block my account.   

I’ve been criticised harshly for this but I’m of the opinion that that I have the right to bring these instances to light, not only in a personal capacity but in the professional realm as well. I do often post about instances of other businesses copying me on my personal Facebook account in hopes of blowing off some steam and getting some supportive encouragement from my friends and family. Over time I have learned to do this in what I feel is a respectful way. Every so often I encounter a copy-cat that is so blatant that I will share the issue on the Drop Dead business account. I am always overwhelmed by the support I receive from the maker community and my followers.  My aim in doing this is not to have my supporters attack the offending party but to make them aware that these things occur and with that knowledge, help them choose what businesses they support (for the sake of my own business and other businesses).

I admittedly have made some mistakes in the past dealing with these situations. I have been aggressive and nasty. Getting copied happens so often to me now that I have become a little desensitized to it (which is a blessing in disguise).  80% of the time I don’t even give it a second thought, which is  a big improvement from spending the better part of a week stewing about it. I have come to realize that I only have control over myself, and if I allow my frustration to consume me, I am far less productive. The energy I spend being upset is energy I am taking away from production and from serving my customers. 

My advice to other makers who find themselves being copied is to blow off steam by speaking with loved one you trust to support you through your feelings of frustration. Let a little time pass. Then, if you still feel strongly about it and you choose to speak publicly (i.e. on social media), do so in the most respectful way you can.       

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I create items that I myself would want in my home. I’m draw to cheeky shapes that make me want to take a second look but aren’t weird enough to freak out my dinner guests. I spend a lot of time at thrift stores and the vintage section of Etsy browsing for objects that “speak” to me.   

What is your favorite part of being a maker?

Hundo p meeting my ride or die fans at events. I also get a kick out of seeing Drop Dead items in the wild. People do really neat stuff with my products and I love getting tagged in photos. Some of the neatest thing I’ve seen are skull candles on a birthday cake and a custie that painted and glued industrial stuff her planter and then made it into a steampunk style lamp. 

Do you have any tips for new makers/ small business owners?

Any product or service that comes to you organically and that you can infuse yourself into will always be more successful than a business someone creates by looking to see what’s trendy and making an attempt to emulate an already established item.  You can still put a spin on something that’s already “been done” but I guarantee once that trend has fallen out of favour, you’ll be left with nothing to go on.

I would also advise new makers to do their research. Invest time in reading forums and watching podcasts or youtube tutorials. All the information you could ever need is out there. Almost nothing irks me more than when new makers send me messages or emails saying “I really love your stuff! I want to start my own candle business! How do you make your candles? Where do you get your supplies? Etc etc”.  I didn’t spend hours and hours of time and effort researching and failing over and over again to hand you my trade secrets out of the kindness of my heart. I am not google.  I’m all for community over competition but I have to draw the line somewhere. Put the time in and do the work - trust me, you’ll be much more knowledgeable and much further ahead of the competition.

Lastly, and most importantly: Be persistent. Owning your own business is no cake walk. You will fail. Miserably. Over and over. You will cry and want to give up. DON’T. Learn from what’s not working for you and adjust accordingly. Do that again one zillion times. You will get there and you will have a breakthrough or start making traction. Developing a successful business takes time and you can’t rush the natural progression of time. You likely won’t be successful overnight and that’s okay. Everyone loves an underdog story. So keep at it.               

What are some hobbies or interests you have outside of your small business?

I’m mostly a reclusive grandmother but when I do leave my place I play roller derby for Durham Region Roller Derby’s charter team the Atom Smashers. I am the proud mother of two (they also happen to be my employees and quality control department); Stella the tuxedo cat and Citra the Shiba. 

Share a fun fact about yourself.

I’m almost 6 feet tall and when people first meet me they often say “wow, I didn’t realize how tall you were”. 

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