Matthew Mewbourne, Rekindle Candle Company
Matthew Mewbourne has been creating things since high school. Starting with ceramics, he transitioned his maker mindset to candles while at the University of Georgia, becoming a regular vendor at the Athens Farmer’s Market. Matthew and his wife started Rekindle Candle Company after graduation and have since focused on high-quality ingredients, environmental sustainability, and prioritizing value in their wooden wicked candles.
Episode 9 – Matthew Mewbourne, Rekindle Candle Company
[00:00:00] Sanjay Parekh: Welcome to the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. I’m your host, Sanjay Parekh. Throughout my career I’ve had side hustles, some of which turned into real businesses, but first and foremost: I’m a serial technology entrepreneur.
In the creator space, we hear plenty of advice on how to hustle harder and why you can “sleep when you’re dead.” On this show, we ask new questions in hopes of getting new answers.
Questions like: How can small businesses work smarter? How do you achieve balance between work and family? How can we redefine success in our businesses so that we don’t burn out after year three?
Every week, I sit down with business founders at various stages of their side hustle to small business journey. These entrepreneurs are pushing the envelope while keeping their values. Keep listening for conversation, context, and camaraderie.
Matthew, welcome to the podcast. Excited to have you with us. Okay. Let's start out. I want to know a little bit about you and your background. Like where are you from? And what was your upbringing like?
[00:01:46] Matthew Mewbourne: So, I was born in Alabama, but a couple years after we shortly moved to Georgia, around the Atlanta area in the suburbs
So, grew up most of the time in the suburbs, we moved suburbs a couple of times. And then, went to college at the University of Georgia in Athens after graduating from high school in Roswell. And when I got into the University of Georgia and ended up deciding to go there, their program was a little different
Their engineering was still getting started. So, I sort of shifted back towards anatomy and started pursuing exercise science. And by the end of college, I graduated with a degree in exercise science and athletic training. So, orthopedic evaluation, physical therapy, emergency medical care, all that sort of stuff
And then, got married right after college. My wife and I decided to kind of jump into the whole small business scene after pursuing some side hustles, but yeah, growing up mostly in Georgia in the Atlanta area.
[00:02:44] Sanjay Parekh: So, let me get this right. You, did you ever use your degree for what it was intended, or did you never do a job related to that?
[00:02:51] Matthew Mewbourne: No, not explicitly. I think I did a lot of important things in my time in school. Like, I remember — this is so funny. But it's funny now, but the last day of my last clinical rotation at UGA, I was working with track and field, and we had an athlete who was warming up on the field and it's standard on the field for the javelin throwers to throw their javelins into the grass. It honestly makes them a little more visible than just lying on the ground. And this particular athlete had gotten to practice late, and I think just lost where he was, had his headphones on, and he was warming up quickly and he actually backed into the javelin. And the back end of the javelin is sharper than the front end
I think it has to do something with aerodynamics and stuff. But anyway, it went straight through him. And this is the last day, we were about to go to a pizza party and celebrate and hang out. And so, we ended up having this whole incident had to take care of him and stuff and wait for the ambulance to get there
And then my mentor, or the athletic trainer at the time, she went to the hospital with them, and he ended up being fine and ended up recovering and actually breaking more records than he was before, which is like really cool. But so, while I didn't do anything explicitly with my stuff after school, stuff like that in school was like, okay, I felt like I did something with it.
[00:04:21] Sanjay Parekh: If that's not going to scare you off from a job in that field, I don't know what is. Holy moly!
I'll tell you, I'm the same as you. I got a degree in electrical engineering. Never did that for a day in my life. I think it's totally fine. I just wanted to understand kind of your basis there. So did you ever do anything entrepreneurial during college or before college?
[00:04:41] Matthew Mewbourne: I had a lemonade stand and then I upgraded it to a slushie stand, when I was a kid, in middle school or whatever, growing up. So, in college, no, I didn't. I didn't do anything entrepreneurial, but I've always been an ideas person. And as our business grows, I've even contemplated like my future role in it and how I want to proceed with it.
And I know I always want to have some sort of connection to the creative aspect, the department of coming up with ideas, generating new stuff, because even as I'm like juggling to take care of our current business, I'm always thinking about like other business ideas
Like, what can I do when I have some free time or can delegate a lot more management to what's going on now? And then when I have free time pursue this other ridiculous idea that I have.
[00:05:32] Sanjay Parekh: Yep, that right there is the curse of the entrepreneur. Short attention spans. We see opportunities everywhere. And we want to keep switching and you got to focus a little bit
Okay. So, was Rekindle kind of the first big thing? Or did you, you said you had some side hustles before that, what were some of those? And how do they go?
[00:05:54] Matthew Mewbourne: Mainly growing up in middle school, doing that lemonade and slushy stuff in the warmer months was the stuff that made me realize okay, this is kind of cool
But I think I fell into the trap of safety and wanting to get a stable job. And I did ceramics in high school for three or four years and would sometimes sell some of the artwork I made from that. And I just got fearful of, you can't make it as an artist or just the honest idea that not a lot of active living artists make a really good wage
There's a lot of posthumous rewards and stuff. And there's some artists that do make it. But I just, I didn't feel at that time in my life, I wasn't the optimist that I am now. And so, I was like, I'll just stick to getting a degree and pursuing that. And so really Rekindle was kind of the first opportunity I had to like risk something and try and gamble for some sort of reward
And it was while I was in school, doing clinicals and working full-time basically. So, it was essentially like giving my little precious amount of time that I had left in school that I could have been spending with people and funneling it towards that. And I don't regret it. I do think that like maybe in hindsight, choosing a different degree might've been nice
I could have enjoyed and soaked up those times with friends that I really cherish. Overall, I don't regret anything. It was all, it's all good. I love where we're at. I'm so happy.
[00:07:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah okay. So, talking about candles, like how did you learn out of make candles? Was this, did somebody teach you or was it YouTube? How did you learn?
[00:07:40] Matthew Mewbourne: This sort of touches on like the inception of the business. I mentioned, I did ceramics for a long time and I really enjoyed that. I loved taking, I guess the idea, again, going back to taking something like just a ball of clay and making something beautiful out of it, like creating.
I got the bug for that again and started thinking about making ceramics again. And at that time, I was locked up a lot in my bedroom studying, and I had been burning a lot of candles, I guess for ambience. And so, I started getting into candles. And it was one night specifically. I remember I was studying for my structural kinesiology class, and we were basically like memorizing all the muscles and bones and ligaments in the body
And I was just losing my mind, looking at diagrams for hours. And I leaned back in my chair, and I was sipping out of this cup, like some coffee cup I made in high school. And it wasn't even that good of a cup. I can totally make something better even now. But it was just like, I kept it because it meant something to me
And then I also looked at the candle on the other side of my book and was like, huh, the sustainability and the environment had just further kind of avalanched into or snowballed into something that was important to me. And so, I was like what if I got back into ceramics? And then I put a candle in that? Most of the time people won't throw away a ceramic
They have a hard enough time throwing away a coffee mug that they bought from some retail store that isn't even handmade. People hoard coffee mugs nowadays. I don't know why. I'm guilty of it too.
[00:09:16] Sanjay Parekh: Because, what if one day, I've run out of all the other cups, and I need this one?
[00:09:18] Matthew Mewbourne: I know. This hoarding mentality. I don't get it. And I was like, man, if I made this candle for somebody or at least gave it to you, you probably wouldn't throw the container away
I could probably tell you to reuse it and make it a coffee mug, further fill up your cabinet.
Or like the kind of thinking about potentially making money, just like an idea, sort of shot off in my head. That was like, what if I said you could get them refilled because we have such a disposable economy, whether it's with plateware or plastics or glass containers from candles, for example.
One thing we know about glass and plastics is that it takes forever to degrade. Or even to turn it back into material that we can really reuse well, and turn it back into material efficiently that we can use well. And was like, oh, I bet I could give them a discount if they wanted to refill it because I'm not having to pay for another container
They're doing something good. It's a win-win all the way around. And so they like, honestly coalesced all there in that one night, studying. And I had, that was, I think, at the beginning of summer, the end of spring, but I was going to Colorado for a couple months. And my birthday was during that trip
And my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, had basically got a bunch of my friends and roommates, together to, for my birthday, pay for a studio membership to the local ceramics studio. And it paid for two or three months and a bunch of clay. It was like several hundred dollars
It was like one of the nicest, most intentional things that somebody has got me. And it basically freed up my mind to just create. When you don't have to worry about money or finances and stuff, you really flourish because there's nothing overhanging that's sort of bearing you down and limiting your fluidity and your creative process
And so, those first few months I was just like slinging stuff out, making a bunch of stuff. It didn't even necessarily relate to candles. I was just like getting back into it, loving creating stuff again
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[00:11:56] Matthew Mewbourne: And then eventually I ordered some materials to make candles because I was like, if I'm going to start a business that has to do candles, I need to learn how to make them
So, the distributor we ended up going with, and that we actually still use to this day, they have a lot of really good resources. There's a lot of YouTube videos. But if you go look up anywhere, from YouTube videos to blogs, like they all have different anecdotal evidence for what works best for their candle making process
So, it was like super annoying at first sifting through everything trying to figure out like, what should I do? And then I'm super hands-on. So, I just started like jumping into it and making it and was like, screw it. I'll figure it out as I go. And so I found out, using a microwave, wasn't great because it accelerated the heating process too much and you couldn't monitor it really well
And you had to bring the temp or wait for the temp to drop, and the double boiler method on the stove was like a lot better because you can slowly monitor it. And I don't even know what a microwave really does to the molecular structure of the wax, if it does anything. So, I just started playing around with it, got a foundation from looking on the internet and I found that even over the past four or five years, there are things that I still do in my practice that aren't necessarily in line with what's recommended, as far as temperature gradients go and stuff. Because I've found where I pour that, pouring at this temperature works best for my environment
And that can be true when you live in Atlanta where there's high humidity and the pressure might be different relative to the sea level versus Colorado where it's low humidity and I think higher pressure. Cause they're above sea level much more. So, it can actually vary a lot based on where you live
There's a ton of chemistry that goes into it.
[00:13:37] Sanjay Parekh: How'd you find your first customers? Like where was your first sale? And how did you figure out the right price too? That's always a big question for people starting, how did you know what to sell it for?
[00:13:50] Matthew Mewbourne: And that's something that I think, the price points are something that I'll touch on with good detail
Because I think it's important for a lot of people who are getting into, whether it's a side hustle or starting a small business, that it's good to know value and how to transmit that. But my first customers were actually all of my friends on that Colorado trip. I went with a group out to serve a community in Colorado, in southwestern Colorado
And I had started telling them about the inception of the idea, had it kind of brewing. They were all super supportive. And said, that sounds like a great idea. So when I actually, finally got around to mixing all that stuff and doing crazy stuff, I made some candles that worked. They were the first people that bought them
And I honestly don't even, I don't even remember if I sold them to them. If it was, it was a small amount or if they were just guinea pigs. And I was like, please test this for me. Cause giving stuff out is free marketing. So it's like, they tell their roommates and stuff. And so eventually there was like a small group of friends and their friends that started buying them
And knew you could get refills. So we had people coming to our duplex, dropping off containers and I would refill it for them. So, we sort of garnered a little bit of a following, doing that until eventually we actually started doing the Athens Farmer's Market. So, I became friends with the market manager at the time for the farmer's market
And one of the farmer's markets in Athens, and was like, if you guys ever have any Saturdays open up, please reach out. Eventually we started our following moved to the farmer's market, but also new people started finding us at the farmer's market. And the Athens Farmer's Market's great
‘Cause they're all people who are like really conscious about the environment. That's honestly, you actually, part of the bylaws is, sustainability is really important in terms of selecting vendors and stuff. And so, a lot of people who attend there really liked the idea of being able to do something positive with their containers and refilling them and getting a discount because a lot of people agree that is sort of a waste to just throw glass into the landfill
That sort of, after college, turned into like full-time. We were doing the market like every Saturday, and we started doing Wednesday markets there as well, and was also doing that while at that point we had gotten a portion of Squarespace, or not Squarespace, but floor space in a store, in a small town called Monroe, which is actually where we are now
So, once I graduated, I was like jumped into the farmer's market and then we started getting the store ready over here. But during that whole farmer's market process, price point was kind of like a thing to figure out. Cause the whole goal is to make money, but we had all these candles priced at $5 and $10
And I don't think people really understand how much value they tie to the monetary value of a product, because I was telling them like we're using all this sustainable soy wax that helps the environment and is better for your health. We’re using wood wicks that crack when they burn, they're sourced sustainably, they help plant trees, and you can get them refilled
And there was just some sort of disconnect there with somebody understanding that was $5 or $10. Like it just, it didn't make sense. And so, we actually raised our prices. And when we've raised our prices to say $10 and $20, it's almost wass like something clicked with them. And they were like, now I understand the value of it
Like it's almost because the price is higher, it makes sense. I tell all of our employees here I don't want you to be a salesperson, at least a traditional salesperson. Don't be hammering people for buying stuff, just educate them and people will make their own decisions. Because at the end of the day, I'm not worried about making money
That's not my goal. So, it frees me up to empower my employees, to say, treat customers with love and respect and educate them. And whether or not they ended up buying our stuff or not, like it doesn't, I don't care. I don't want you guys to care about that. So, I don't know where I was going with that, actually
What was your initial question? Price point, I guess?
[00:18:45] Sanjay Parekh: Price point. How did you decide you were selling it for?
[00:18:47] Matthew Mewbourne: Yeah okay. I felt empowered to be able to, I'll say, market. Because in business that is what we would call it, but to me it is educate the people who were considering buying our stuff at, say, the farmer's market and tell them about all that stuff that was in it
I felt empowered that was worth $20. Versus ceramics, like when I made coffee mugs and stuff, and I was trying to sell those for 35 or 40 bucks, I didn't feel like at peace and empowered to sell that to people. I understand the value of it. If we go to a festival or fair or something, and there's a local artist, like I know the value of the time, the sweat equity that goes into that
But a lot of people, they'll go up to a ceramist and be like, oh that's expensive. And so, I didn't feel like I could be on the other end of that explaining to them really why it was expensive and, in a sense, maybe defending the price point. But I found that sweet spot with the candle business
And I think everybody just has to feel confident in what they have, but also understand there's a huge shift going on now with, people don't want to be sold stuff. Nobody wants to go to a car dealership and the guy immediately walks out and is trying to sell you everything. And it's just people want to be educated and respected. And I think that's important to take, to note with the generations going on now.
[00:19:17] Sanjay Parekh: I'd love to know are there any tools, software things like that, that you use in the business that help you make it easier to manage or more efficient to manage?
[00:19:28] Matthew Mewbourne: Yeah, I actually, I was so frugal. I joke with my wife, I'm more diligent with my business finances than my personal finances. In our relationship, she's really conservative and frugal and I'm the spender, like I love buying stuff. But I didn't have a ton of money in college. So, it was like, I'm not paying for QuickBooks
So, I knew it was important to keep track of stuff. I had Excel because UGA, I think gives it out to students for a period of time. I think a lot of schools do that. And so, I had it and I was like, I'm gonna use this. So I, whenever I would buy stuff, I'd get receipts and stuff and I would manually enter it in Excel, and there was no shortcuts or anything.
I was literally typing everything in. And so I did this, I'm not kidding, for probably three years. I did for two years in college and then one year when we were actually in the store. I was still doing all of it by hand, manually. Because I was like, if I can do it myself and save the money, then I can take other money and reinvest it into our research and development or just buying supplies and stuff
And so eventually, one of our customers is an accountant, we reached out to him and he, I think at that point I had actually started incorporating QuickBooks into it, but I definitely was classifying things wrong. He came through and reorganized a bunch of stuff and actually categorized it correctly
And I would say for the first few months that I was into QuickBooks, it definitely made it a lot easier. Even if it wasn't like categorized as an accountant would categorize it. It still gave me the big picture of what I was spending, what was coming in, where money was going towards, and really empowered me to make better decisions
Because if I was spending $500 on research and development that wasn't going anywhere, I should probably make some decisions there. And, you know, put $200 towards that, and just squeeze the lemon really hard and then take the other $300 and buy wicks or something with it. QuickBooks is a really great platform and it's honestly not that expensive, but you can always use Excel and do it manually
[00:21:38] Sanjay Parekh: Matthew, this has been fascinating. Oh, I had one more question before I let you go. I just realized that. I saw on your website, there's something called the memory burn. And I read through the description of this thing, and I couldn't figure out what you were actually trying to explain. Cause I've probably been doing candles all wrong this whole time
So, explain to me and our listeners, what is the memory burn and how do we need to burn our candles properly, so we don't mess them up?
[00:22:06] Matthew Mewbourne: Okay. I think you just opened Pandora's box. I'll try and be as concise with this as possible.
[00:22:12] Sanjay Parekh: Give me the short version, give me the 60-second version.
[00:22:14] Matthew Mewbourne: The 60-second version. There's a lot of different types of waxes and different types of wicks. Most of the candles you buy from TJ Maxx or Walmart, you probably could not even implement the memory burn and it wouldn't make a difference, because the wax that you're buying that's mass produced is usually more flammable and more resilient and forgiving. The wax we use, which is a hundred percent soy wax, sustainably sourced, and wood wicks that are sustainably sourced, they're both denser and thicker than traditional supplies that you might get from Walmart or TJ Maxx or candles from Walmart or TJ Maxx or whatever.
And so therefore they take longer to burn. So, what a lot of people have started calling the memory burn is essentially the first burn, when you burn your candle, try and let it melt out all the way to the glass and create what's called an even wax pool
That's just basically where the melted wax is like a nice even layer. And it's like a pool, if you will. Because what can happen is, if you light it for five or 10 minutes and blow it out and run to the store, cause you forgot like an ingredient for the dish that you're making for dinner and you do that a few times, it actually like depresses and becomes sort of concave.
And then eventually it creates a tunnel going down through your wax and you get a bunch of wax caked up on the walls and then it occludes the diameter, and the wick gets suffocated for oxygen. So basically, letting your candle melt out to the glass each time, not only makes sure it burns nice and bright, you smell it more and you actually get to utilize and melt all that wax in your candle
[00:23:48] Sanjay Parekh: Got it. I have definitely been burning candles wrong based on that description. Okay. If our listeners want to find candles that they now can burn properly, now that they know to do the memory burn, where can they find your stuff?
[00:24:02] Matthew Mewbourne: Our website and Instagram are probably the best places. It's RekindleCandle.co, not dot com
And you can find us on Instagram, or that is our website URL as well. RekindleCandle.co. We have subscriptions and stuff you can buy online. We have all sorts of products now. It's crazy. Everywhere in the US. If you do wholesale, you can actually find us, like, if you're a retailer yourself, you can find us on a platform called Faire. It's F A I R E. And you can buy bulk there if you want it to, and we ship internationally through that platform.
[00:24:39] Sanjay Parekh: Awesome. Matthew, this has been fascinating. I now know how to burn candles, right? So, if nothing else, that's a win. Thanks for coming on the podcast
[00:24:47] Matthew Mewbourne: Yeah, wish you the best. Thanks Sanjay!
[00:31:15] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit Hiscox.com/shareyourstory. I’m your host, Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter at @sanjay or on my website at sanjayparekh.com
[00:34:15] Sanjay Parekh: Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com.
And, if you have a story that you want to hear on this podcast, please visit Hiscox.com/shareyourstory.
I’m your host, Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter at @sanjay or on my website at sanjayparekh.com.