By Brenlee Coates
Amanda Buhse and Tom Jansen greet me as a friend visiting their cozy and well-decorated candle-making studio in the Exchange District.
After introductions and relaying some background on their business, they share that their dream customer to covet their candles would be Beyonce, though Tom politically correctly acknowledges the lesser known “entirety of Destiny’s Child.”
Shortly thereafter, I find out that the latest addition to their production line, an industrial melter, is named Whitney Houston. “Because her legacy will live on forever – and it changed our lives,” deadpans Tom.
These are exactly the kinds of things that can happen when you get into business with your best friend. Meeting about eight years ago through the Prairie Voices choir, Amanda says Coal and Canary “is the best excuse to hang out every day.”
Tom was previously a hobbyist candle-maker, which began as an extension of his furniture refinishing craft. “I had a really great product, but without marketing and graphics, I could only go so far,” explains Tom.
This is when he reached out to Amanda, a longtime professional graphic designer, and Coal and Canary was born.
Their success has been immediate and unpredictable – picking up retailers across Canada and interest in the U.S. and Hong Kong, and recently being approved for the celebrity swag bags for both the Oscars and Grammys – an uncommon feat for even the most established company.
Starting up in September of last year, the pair belaboured over research together, and came up with a product and brand they felt would stand out and appeal to a younger demographic.
“We really wanted to make a product that appeals to us,” says Amanda. “No one ever targets toward younger people for candles.
While millennials aren’t always the source of the most wealth, “the nice thing about a candle is that it’s an affordable luxury,” she says.
They made every decision about the product consciously – the use of a bold, wooden wick means the candle burns cleaner without smoke or soot, and creates a gentle, soothing crackle for ambience.
They use high-quality soy and vegetable wax (so the candles are vegan), true-to-scent fragrance oils (in creative flavour combinations), and the 8 oz. candles can burn up to 45 to 50 hours.
Each candle is handpoured by the duo, though their mothers and Amanda’s husband have started pitching in to help with their imminent award show deadline – and everything thus far has been paid out of pocket.
The response has been just what they’d hoped: their Instagram activity attracted all the right retailers and customers, and their customers enthusiastically share photos of the candles adding to their home.
“They’ve all approached us and it’s all been through Instagram,” says Amanda, of the retailers. With a background working with ad agencies, she observes: “There has never been as powerful as a tool as Instagram.”
“And it’s free,” adds Tom.
With demanding full-time jobs (Tom is a nurse, Amanda a graphic designer), the pair are devoting grueling hours to their side business. The latest they’ve stayed at the studio is 4 a.m. on a weeknight.
Their hard work ethic and attention to detail can’t be overstated – but morale is high working late nights with their esteemed partner, Whitney Houston, and enjoying each other’s company.
While the success they’ve found has completely exceeded their expectations – “I think my biggest goal was to sell five to my friends at Christmas,” laughs Amanda – they hope to make the business their full-time gig.
“This is the dream, but we weren’t really expecting this to happen,” says Amanda, of the response. “We never expected that it would turn into this so fast.”
“We got into our first retail shop; they bought 12 candles, and we were over the moon,” remembers Tom. “We had champagne and everything.”
The duo now spreads its stock throughout four retailers locally, as well as making it available online, and will have the limited edition box set for the awards shows on shelves soon.
With an initiative to have part of the proceeds go to a children’s charity if they can rouse celebrities (Beyonce, fingers crossed) to share a photo with the candles, they are taking their best shot at exploding their market.
“After these awards shows, everything could happen or nothing could happen,” says Tom.
The way their business has taken on a life of its own, they’re right to believe anything’s possible.
Where to pick them up in Winnipeg
Café Postal (202 Provencher Blvd.)
Tonic Spa & Hair (598 Corydon Ave.)
Lacoste Garden Centre (2787 St. Mary’s Rd.)
G Is For Glasses (3-1176 Taylor Ave.)
Coal and Canary giveaway!
Share a photo of this issue of Smart Biz, mention where you picked it up, tag us and use the hashtag #CoalAndCanaryIsSmart for your chance to win the Chunky Knit Sweater candle!
Twitter: @SmartBizWpg | Facebook: Smart Biz | Instagram: @smart_biz
We will pick a winner before next month’s issue – good luck!