Season 2 // Episode 5

The Dark Side of Product Business

November 14, 2018

Okay, so if you think building a product-based business sounds super dreamy, we’re here to get real and talk about the darker side of product and retail business. In this episode of Making a Business, we’re digging into consumerism, waste, and the ever-lurking copycat.

Learn More about the Topics Discussed in this Episode
"We have to balance what consumers want with what consumers will pay for."
- Emily Thompson

Discussed in this Episode

  • Balancing being a minimalist with asking other people to buy more of your stuff
  • Finding packaging as a product/retail business and managing packaging waste
  • Balancing what a customer asks for with what a customer will pay for
  • Consumer education
  • Dealing with copy-cats in product business

More from Kathleen

Braid Creative

More from Emily

Almanac Supply Co.


Emily Thompson 0:00
And from Being Boss, this is Making a Business.

Kathleen Shannon 0:05
A podcast about starting a business from scratch and overcoming the obstacles face when pursuing your dreams. I'm Kathleen Shannon.

Emily Thompson 0:13
And I'm Emily Thompson.

Kathleen Shannon 0:22
In this miniseries, we're following Emily's journey as she jumps into life as a maker and retailer with her new creative endeavor Almanac Supply Company.

Kathleen Shannon 0:38
In our last episode, Emily laid out some insider info into how she sources and stocks not only her retail products, but the products she makes as well. In this episode, we're diving into the darker sides of running a maker and retail business. We're exploring topics like consumerism, waste, and the ever lurking copycat.

Kathleen Shannon 1:02
Okay, let's talk about the darker side of making a business, especially a retail business. Because, as you know, a couple of bosses who, I wouldn't say that were minimalists, but minimalist leaning, right?

Emily Thompson 1:18
We like to get rid of shit.

Kathleen Shannon 1:19
Yeah. And so then how do you balance that with then trying to convince people with buying more stuff. And that stuff being yours.

Emily Thompson 1:29
It's hard. And all the topics we're about to cover has weighed on me a ton. And it's one of those things like, I wonder if I'm just overthinking things, but like, I think the world may need a little more overthinking in realms like this to like help us get through. Um, and I'm still working on it. So I don't actually have an answer to that question. But one of the things that David keeps telling me is that whether or not we're doing it, they're buying it from somewhere, we may as well do it as sustainably as we can. And we're consistently trying to get better because we know that there are things that that we're cutting short on at the moment to do the thing that we can improve as time goes by. And as we have more resources to do it. But in a way, we can see it as our responsibility to create the thing in a more sustainable, responsible way. That gives people the opportunity to buy it with that sort of intention behind it, as opposed to buying it from some big box that doesn't give a shit. If it's, you know, using too much plastic or if it's recycled, recyclable at all, or if it's post consumer or any of those things. So the current way that I am dealing with this is by reminding myself that, if not from me, they would be buying things from someone else. So I might as well do it in a way that I think more things should be created, knowing that I'm putting a little bit more good into the world. And that I'm helping people in that way.

Kathleen Shannon 3:09
Right. And so whenever it comes to just consuming, right buying things that you don't even necessarily need, like a candle.

Emily Thompson 3:18
Or a rock.

Kathleen Shannon 3:18
A candle or a rock, right? I think this is where a very strong sense of mission and purpose comes into your business.

Emily Thompson 3:27
Yes, and knowing what those things support. So you know, for me, you're supporting a legit family, me and David and our kid Lily. But we're also being very adamant about making sure that a portion of our proceeds go to a local Land Trust, which is a place that's preserving like 17,000 acres here on the Tennessee River. It's a place in an organization that we've met with and you know, had chats with several of them and have really enjoyed engaging with and for purposes that we hardcore believe in. And we are trying to source all of our things as sustainably and as responsibly as possible. So, yes, we have had to really hunker down on our mission in a way that's still accessible. And where we absolutely know that we have places where we can and will improve so that we can make sense of creating and selling more things like candles in glass containers or rocks that are pulled from the earth in a way that makes sense. And that we feel good about and that hopefully that will add some extra like good Juju to other people who are buying them as well.

Kathleen Shannon 4:40
Yeah, that's what I'm going to point out is that as much as I love you and your family of course and if I'm going to be buying candles and rocks, it's certainly going to be from you. But even more than that, I like smelling a beautiful candle and I like lighting it before I work or before I you know do something special or even just setting it on my kitchen countertop. While I'm cooking some dinner though I actually don't like burning candles while I cook dinner. Okay?

Emily Thompson 5:11
That's one of my rules to Lily's always like, oh, let me like, like the smell good candle while we eat and I'm like, Look, I'm gonna smell my chicken.

Kathleen Shannon 5:17

Emily Thompson 5:19
And my brussel sprouts, maybe not brussel sprouts, those can smell weird.

Emily Thompson 5:22
No, they're delicious.

Emily Thompson 5:23
Not summer, I don't even know summer right now.

Kathleen Shannon 5:28
Right. But I think that whenever you have that mission and purpose of Okay, this thing is going to help me feel more connected to myself or to the season or to the earth. I think that's where your strong sense of mission and purpose really come into play. As far as what you're contributing, right?

Emily Thompson 5:47

Kathleen Shannon 5:48
So then I want to get more into the packaging of it. Because I think that this part is kind of stressing you out a little bit.

Emily Thompson 5:55
You are right, this part is stressing me the hell out. Um, and this really comes around or comes to the amount of waste that is created in product business. And something again, I've experienced before, but it's I'm so far removed from that previous experience, I think I'd like glossed over and like made myself forget. So just to give an example of this, I want to talk about our tins, our gold candle tins that we pour our seven ounce candles, and we sourced them and they come in boxes of almost 300. So every time we order them, we get about 300 of them, then they come in boxes, they come in boxes in boxes, which cardboard is fine, you can recycle cardboard just fine. But what drives me nuts is that every single tin is in its own plastic bag.

Kathleen Shannon 6:50
And then can you email them and say, Hey, for mine, don't put them in a plastic bag.

Emily Thompson 6:56
I'm pretty sure that the place we sourced them it from sources them from somewhere else. So it would be even further down the chain, that they would not be putting them in plastic bags. And yes, I can absolutely do that. But I think it's relatively unlikely that my order will just come not in plastic bags. And those plastic bags are still being produced. So even if let's say the company that I ordered them from takes all of my out of plastic bags for me. They're still 300 plastic bags sitting there with no candle tins in them.

Kathleen Shannon 7:28
Right, I guess what I'm saying is, is there a way to start to bring awareness to it. So I mean, think about even just organic food, for example, nobody, just a normal grocery store used to not carry it, you'd have to go to a weird health food store. And then it became a little more mainstream, and people are demanding that their grocery store down the street carries organic food. And so I mean, I know that it can feel like you're speaking into a void or that it's useless. But I do wonder if just starting that conversation, and if enough other people who were using and sourcing those tins said, Hey, this feels a little unnecessary if they might, I don't know, maybe stop.

Emily Thompson 8:09
Right maybe and I love that idea. I will I absolutely will email them and but that's also just like one example of multiple things that we either source or really just sourcing, and it's getting them from someone else and someone else not taking the kind of environmental care that we want to take that drives me absolutely insane. So I think about you know, how much waste is created or knowing you know, that the rocks that I get are mined and countries on the other side of the world, most of our containers do originally come from China. You know, is that necessary is that like as sustainable and responsible as we can be? No, really, we could all be more sustainable, we can definitely all be more responsible. But if I were to go with a really hard line right there at responsible and sustainable, can't run a business, not one that you're going to make profit on and that's something that we've experienced several times, especially with our candles, where you know people say they want you know, organic wax and cotton wicks and those are all things that we hold very important to us like we have cotton wicks. Our wax is a soy wax or soy based wax. But then our scents our fragrance and essential oils and most people get all bent out of shape, about things not being purely essential oils, but essential oil candles don't sell because they don't smell as much as Fragrance Oil and essential oil blends. So it's one of those things where we have to balance what consumers want and what consumers will pay for with what is available. And how it is that we can you know make money doing the thing I have heard a story of a relatively local company that tried to make some candles that people were asking for that were 100%, beeswax, all natural, all essential oils, you know, responsibly sourced containers, all of these things, they were small, like five, six ounce candles, and they were selling for 45, 50 bucks. And so if you can imagine, imagine a candle like smaller than the size of your fist, basically, and then buying it for $50, I don't think it would be surprising to say that they didn't do very well, no one bought those candles because they didn't smell as much. Beeswax has their own smell that most people don't super love. And they were super small candles for the price that they were. So it's a balance between customer demand, and what you can provide and what they'll actually pay for because oftentimes, what they demand and what they're willing to pay for are two completely different things, which is kind of crazy. So we've tried to go at all of these things, at combating these things with in a couple of ways. And one is really trying to be as sustainable and responsible as we can be. But then following it up with some things that we hope just isn't adding to the mess, as it were. So making sure that all of our packaging is compostable, or pre recycled. So post consumer recycled material. And then we also plan on adding some education either to some sort of card though, there's something about creating more waste that drives me nuts, or having something on our website where we explain to people how it is that they can compost and reuse their packaging materials. So that even if we can't get it to us in a very responsible way, we will get it to you in a really responsible way. And if we can do that to combat some of the nonsense, then we've done as much as we can do, at least on the level that we're currently aware of.

Kathleen Shannon 11:52
Yeah, I mean, I think whenever it comes down to it, it's a lot of just picking your battles, right, and really having the most positive impact where you can, and then growing from there. And so we all have room for growth and being better. But we have to start somewhere.

Emily Thompson 12:11
Absolutely. And we're also I also think it's partly education, again, going back to that consumer demand and consume, like what they're actually willing to pay for being two separate things. One of the things that we've been playing around with doing is you know, we have our candles now, which are in a glass container, which we certainly want you to reuse, or a tin, which is recyclable. We have them in those sorts of containers. But what we want to do in the future or thinking about doing is creating a completely like responsible sustainable candle at a price point that it has to be for people to see the difference. Like if you actually want to buy a you know, all natural everything essential oil, like compostable container candle, here's what it's gonna cost. Or if you just want to buy this other candle you can and we're doing the best job we can, at least also until there are better sources available because that's one of the things that we've learned in sourcing is that you think sometimes I think you can get anything in the world. Like, it's like we live in America, like we have. And we have access to the internet. I live in Chattanooga, where I literally have the fastest internet in the world, like I have access to anything at any time no matter what. That's so not true. So not true. We don't have access to we don't have access to a lot of things that we want and whether that be certain types of wicks or certain types of wax. Definitely certain types of containers. It's not as easy as I think everyone thinks to get the kinds of things that people want.

Emily Thompson 13:54
And now I'm here to tell you what putting some more extra effort into your product sourcing can do for your business. After eight months of searching and searching for candle containers that are more responsible and sustainable. We found them. You have heard us mention many times about issues finding a dependable candle jar supplier because our initial supplier not only sourced our jars from China, with each coming in their own plastic bags, but they were based in California hundreds of miles from us here in Tennessee and with spotty availability and deplorable customer service skills. I've almost thrown in the towel on finding dreamy containers many times in the past couple of months until after a final episode with a supplier that had me looking one last time for a container that would fit my desired aesthetic and sourcing once. I found one beautiful black and white jars made in the USA using less glass and no plastic shipped it from a warehouse on the east coast to source a cool lid to hold in the scent and keep out the dust we stumbled upon another US based provider for lids that are sustainable, and recyclable. So we're proud to say that our candles officially make less impact than ever before. Without having to give up style or cost to you in order to do it. This is just proof that if you don't give up and you put in the time and effort, you can absolutely find solutions that fit your needs. It took us eight months of searching and it finally all fell into place.

Kathleen Shannon 15:35
All right, so that's kind of a dark side of business is the amount of waste, you're doing what you can. Are there any other sides of making a business that feel icky? Or

Emily Thompson 15:48
One of the things that I'm reminded of that, again, whose dark places I feel I had glossed over never to think of again, is just how much copycatting happens in product business. It is rampant.

Kathleen Shannon 16:05

Emily Thompson 16:06
Rampant. Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's one of those things where, you know, post launching Almanac, I started seeing things pop up that were quite similar to Almanac, whether that be like, what our candles were, or the name of our business and those sorts of things. One of the ways that I most like to work is with blinders on. So whenever we started creating Almanac, I went through my Instagram feed, and I unfollowed everyone who was doing things even remotely related to candles, maybe not crystals, because those are not set like I'm not going to steal anyone's crystals. And I like looking at them. But in terms of like building similar products, I removed everyone from my feed, so that I could create with blinders on so that my creations could be my creations not influenced by anyone else's creations. And that's not so reflected and everyone else's actions. So I have seen, so that's sort of been a really gross place for me to be reminded, or a really gross thing for me to be reminded of is how, how hard it seems to be for some other product creators to just create their own things. And how important it is for you to do that. So that's also and it's funny, anyone who's been in product business for any amount of time is going to be shaking their head right now like a hardcore Yes, because I think we've all experienced, experienced it. And you know, I remember feeling it in graphic design for sure, like designing websites and having people rip off my sites and things. But there is there's something different about product. And I think it's a little bit more rampant in the product world for people to just steal your label ideas or your containers or your names of things and then call them their own.

Kathleen Shannon 17:56
How do you deal with that?

Emily Thompson 17:59
Blinders put the blinders back on. I mean, there's not really much you can do, obviously, if there's something that's like, explicit copyright infringement or whatever else sic my lawyer on them, or whatever I need to do. But for the most part, it's harmless enough. And I just have to pretend it doesn't exist. There's not a whole lot again, keep your blinders on. Keep creating, regardless.

Kathleen Shannon 18:26
On the next episode of Making a Business.

Emily Thompson 18:30
Yeah, I mean, I absolutely credit Almanac's, sort of initial success with the community or me having built the community that I've built. So you know, our first month, I think, January, our website went live on like the 28th, like one of the very last days of January. And I think we hit a

Kathleen Shannon 18:55
Good time to start a retail business right?

Emily Thompson 18:58
Girl right?

Emily Thompson 18:58
So I could spend a whole year getting ready for Christmas. Before I had to deal with my first Christmas, for sure. So no, I absolutely credit my initial success to having built a community of people who wanted to support me and to buy the things that I was creating. And it's something that continues to show up for me and whether that be you know, bosses coming to my pop up shops, or just friends locally coming out to you know, show their support, and to come hang out whenever we're doing local things or continuing to see you know, bosses who have been the Being Boss Clubhouse, or that we've gone on vacation with like people that I've met in person or not in person. Watching those orders come through on my email account is so amazing. And so I know that if I had not been building the community that I've been building over the past couple of years, Almanac would be nowhere near where it is now. For sure so I can absolutely like do a nice little bow and high five or whatever I need to do to all of the people who are my friends, who continue to show up and buy candles for every season and add to their rock collections with things that I've curated, who send me emails and high fives and all of these things like those people are the reason that Almanac has been off to such a healthy start.

Emily Thompson 20:26
Mindset, boundaries, habits and routines. These are what turn a creative into a boss. These foundations and more makeup our new book Being Boss, Take control of your work and live life on your own terms. A guide slash workbook slash sleep have it under your pillow book filled with what we've learned over the years as working, thriving creative entrepreneurs. Plus what we've picked up from the hundreds of conversations with industry leaders and experts on the Being Boss podcast.

Kathleen Shannon 20:59
And it's all so that you can cultivate confidence in your work, make good money doing what you're best at and live a life you'd love. To learn more about our book and order one for yourself go to

Emily Thompson 21:12
And to check out Almanac Supply Company head on over to get 15% off of your first order with discount code being boss at checkout.

Kathleen Shannon 21:24
Do the work.

Emily Thompson 21:25
Be boss.