Valerie Wray and Joy Fennell are friends who love candles, pop culture, home décor and self-expression. With backgrounds in beauty and fashion industries, the two friends founded The 125 Collection in 2015.
"We're an urban luxury candle brand," said co-founder Wray. "We created our products to empower and inspire and to make people laugh.
They create and sell candles with motivational, inspiration and sometimes sassy quotes on them. They believed that putting quotes on candles would be the easiest way for people to have their own mantra statement in their homes or offices.
"People can either buy it for themselves for their own mantra or buy it for someone else who may need it," Wray added. "We really wanted [the quotes] to resonate with our customers."
From "sweet quotes" to "spicy quotes," almost anyone can find a mantra statement that fits. The 125 Collection has been in business for three years, and they've faced their share of obstacles and challenges. Here's how the two co-founders have found a way to stay successful in a busy market and self-fund their own business all while sharing motivation and inspiration.
Learning and growing from challenges.
In the three years they've been in business, Fennell and Wray have endured their fair share of challenges.
"You name it, we've overcome it," said co-founder Fennell. "Valerie and I are the type of people [who], if we do get some challenges, we just find a way to make it happen."
Most of their challenges come from being a small, self-funded company that's trying to grow.
"Some of the obstacles or challenges that we have encountered have been vendor obstacles, boxes, candles, [etc.]," said Fennell. "It's been a learning experience for both of us."
"I think a lot of it really comes down to trying to scale a business," added Wray. "It has been challenging ... but we always find a way. We start with a 'plan A' and that never seems to be the way, and we really just have to be agile and flexible."
When the first plan doesn't work, they shift to plan B. Wray says it's really about "having a backup for the backup for the backup."
"Because if we stuck with what our original plan was, we'd be in really deep trouble," Wray added.
Bootstrapping the business.
While investors and equity funding have its perks, Wray and Fennell decided to self-fund The 125 Collection and maintain complete control of the company.
When asked if the they have faced any challenges because they're two women entrepreneurs, they said no. In fact, they're asked that a lot.
"I wouldn't say we have challenges because we are a female business," Wray said. "I would say the biggest challenges we have are because we are a small business that's self-funded."
Because of this, they don't have as much cash on hand as other companies. Both Wray and Fennell still work other jobs along with working full-time as co-owners. They've had to come up with creative solutions to stay in business.
"We had to look into how we can get stuff into more people's hands even if we don't have the marketing budget for it," said Fennell. "For instance ... we'll do ... collaborations with other artists [who] might have a similar following."
For example, if a poet has the same target demographic, they'll put their poem on a candle or put an artist's artwork on a candle. Then the poet or artist will share the candles with their followers.
They've also found ways to stand out in the busy candle market.
"I think that because [our candles] are semi-customizable, [it] helps us stand out," Fennel said. "People ... aren't stuck with a scent they don't want to go with the quote. I think that a lot of people like that experience."
Fennell and Gray have worked hard to overcome challenges and are proud of the company they've created and their accomplishments.
"I'm really proud of the fact that we're still here and we're still going," said Fennell. "I think one of the accomplishments for me is being able to show my mom if we get a write up in a magazine, she goes out and buys three magazines."
Fennell is also proud that most of their vendors come back because their candles have flown off the shelves.
"That is definitely a big accomplishment, and I feel very proud," she said.