Pauline Sylvain-Lewis, Max Candle Co.
Aromatherapy Candles, Chicago, IL
Organizations: Far South Community Development Corporation
After spending twenty years working in social services, Pauline Sylvain-Lewis didn’t expect to start a candle company. After the unexpected passing of her brother Maxime, who her business is named after, Pauline discovered aromatherapy candles. She found that the candles gave her a sense of energy and a clear mind. Inspired by the healing energy of candles, Pauline thought they might be able to help other people coping with a difficult time in their lives.
Pauline and her family are from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They came together to create “Candles for a Purpose” to raise money for the continued rebuilding efforts in Haiti almost a decade after the 2010 earthquake. What began as a fundraiser and way to spread healing grew into Max Candle Co., a family-owned business Pauline co-founded with her son Markell with a mission “to provide holistic healing through affordable aromatherapy products and services.”
A key part of Max Candle Co.’s growth has been their connection with Far South CDC’s “Marketplace,” which is made up of ten women-owned businesses in one retail location. The program is supported by a grant from the City of Chicago’s Small Business Storefront Activation program. The program focused on bringing retail vendors and artwork to 30 previously vacant storefronts in neighborhoods across the city. Far South CDC Marketplace is the first storefront location for a majority of participating businesses, including Max Candle Co., and gives entrepreneurs a chance to run a retail storefront without having to handle the operating costs.
With the help of her family, Far South CDC, friends, and community members, Max Candle Co. has rebounded from the pandemic with their most successful year of sales yet, selling almost 1000 candles in 2022. The company provides candles for shelters, community organizations, and provides workplace experiences to those that are looking to gain employment skills. “We’re teaching them customer service, the basic retail needs, how to check out, how to open the store, how to open a cash register,” Pauline said. “We’re helping them get the skills to get connected to permanent employment and more.”
Pauline has bigger plans for her business and the West Pullman community on the South Side of Chicago. “Our ultimate goal is to have a retail space where people are making the candles and a shared community space,” Pauline said. The space will serve as a place to host community meetings, training, and distribute things like feminine products and teach entrepreneurship.
Pauline also has a larger vision for retail spaces on the South Side of Chicago. She purchased a lot from Cook County Land Bank Authority and commissioned plans to turn a shipping container into a retail store and community center. She wants to use her shipping container model as a way for other business owners to create retail spaces and revitalize South Side communities. “Our idea for the shipping container project is to reactivate the Far South,” Pauline said. “We want to share our knowledge with others to help drive interest in rebuilding their community while growing their businesses. We want to start something that’s disrupting the narrative.”
Develop Your Idea – Max Candle Co.
- Identify the Problem
What problem am I trying to solve?
The problem we were trying to solve was trying to bring a product to help folks heal. We were trying to solve this problem ourselves – to heal from the death of a loved one. We wanted [my brother’s] legacy to live beyond his name. When he passed, he had no assets, and now the lot [for our retail space] is in Max Candle’s name. We also want to help grow the candle business community by helping others start their own candle business.
What is my product?
We sell aromatherapy products. Our main brand is focused on candles. We have sprays, diffusers, candle melts, candle accessories, and candle-making kits that you can make in your own home. We also have candle-making experiences. You come to us or we come to you, and you and your friends have the experience of making your own scented candle.
How will I price it?
Our vendor that we use has a lot of guides about starting your own business. I also used to teach entrepreneurs. I had some notes about price margins and templates that I was also able to use. We take our cost of goods and multiply it by three with the hopes of investing in staff.
- Define Your Ideal Customer
How would I describe my customer?
Our customer base is limitless, we serve a variety of age groups and industries.
- Prepare to Sell Your Product
How will I market my new idea?
We’ve been marketing our new ideas on social media. Through our POS (point-of-sale) system, we’ve been able to send out emails to our customers. We send out emails twice a month. We do have a loyalty program; when you get 100 points you can get 20 dollars off your purchase. Around Christmas we have a raffle, so that’s another way we market, through giving.
How will I make my first sale?
In September 2017, I called my entire network and invited them over to my house. And I launched the business. And they were my first customers. I had the front room set up like a retail space. And they made purchases. I thought “If they don’t buy anything, nobody else will! But they actually bought some stuff!”