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Inspiring Conversations with Erin Berger of Bookend Candle

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erin Berger.

Hi Erin, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Candle-making started as a hobby for me. It was something I’d do once or twice a year. Gather a bunch of mason jars or old store-bought candle containers and make a few for me. Fast forward many years, I started to get more interested in scent blends I couldn’t find being sold anywhere. They’d be inspired by a scene in a book or a specific location. At the time, I was unhappy with my job (customer service is a terrible fit for my personality). So, I threw myself into finding the right jars, labels, and core scents. I learned through trial and error, many nights spent in deep dives on candle-making forums, and eventually started an Etsy page. It was not an overnight hit, but sales did trickle in, and I received interest from local stores (to my complete and utter shock). Having this side gig allowed me to reevaluate my career, and I was able to take a part-time job doing something I cared about and enjoyed. I straddled both my part-time job and my business for about three years when I decided to dive into doing Bookend full time. It felt like a huge risk and was a very scary step for me. One year in, it’s still scary if I’m being honest. But I love what I do, and I love the life this business allows. “Business Owner,” is also the longest position I’ve ever held, which is telling.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Starting a business and selling a product you made is not easy and can make you feel vulnerable. However, since Candle making was already a hobby and I went in with zero expectations, my business growth was very organic. There have definitely been some bumps along the way, especially with the pandemic and supply shortages. And it was a big learning curve when it comes to operating and maintaining a business. Being the sole employee (managing production, shipping, branding, social media content, a website, etc.) can feel incredibly overwhelming at times. But I’ve been learning to pace myself, plan monthly/yearly goals, and be forgiving with myself when I don’t meet those goals. Living in such a great community as Ypsilanti and having constant support from family and friends cannot be overstated. Ypsilanti cherishes its small businesses, and knowing you have people cheering you on helps give that little push or boost when it’s needed most.

As you know, we’re big fans of Bookend Candle Co. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Bookend Candle Co. is a home fragrance business offering soy wax candles, wax melts, diffusers, and candle accessories. It started with just candles and is slowly expanding to include other home and body products.

Bookend’s motto is “ethically made and realistically scented.”

Ethically Made

This is at the center of how I operate my business and what goes into my products. Ethically made means I take into consideration my impact on people, animals, the environment, and my business’s sustainability. This means I buy as locally as possible so I can support other local businesses and limit the need for shipping. I limit my use of plastics in terms of shipping, production, and the products themselves. None of my products will come with unnecessary packaging. and I’m even working on replacing my packing tape with recyclable kraft tape. I do my due diligence on my vendors; their values cannot be in direct conflict with mine. For example, I nor any of my direct vendors test on animals. I am careful about the ingredients I choose to use in my products. The soy wax I use is grown and produced in the US. I specifically avoid using any soy wax produced in a way that leads to deforestation. The fragrance oils I use are phthalate-free and require no prop 65 warning. I know this because I check the SDSs for every fragrance oil I use. Bookend has no other employees, yet. But if I get to that point, they will be offered a living wage, benefits, and health insurance.

Realistically Scented

I don’t want my scents to just have a cool name and smell pretty. My goal is for them to mimic real life as much as possible. It is said that our sense of smell is more closely linked to memory than any other sense. This is why I try so hard for accuracy. I want to spark that emotional response. Rare Book Room is reminiscent of an old school library filled with dusty leatherbound books on built-in bookcases lining the walls from floor to ceiling. Kitchen Garden takes me to my backyard vegetable/herb garden. Digging around for that perfectly sun-ripened tomato, plucking a handful of fresh basil leaves, and cutting a sprig of rosemary to make dinner with. It’s that scent that lingers on your hands after a good summer harvest. I want my scents to bring about a reaction and feel like an experience.

The Bookend brand is me. My candle studio is in my basement, so my work life and personal life are intertwined. If you follow me on social media, you will likely be on a first-name basis with all my pets and get an in-depth glimpse into my home reno projects.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
Google. I googled everything!

But really, there’s no secret to quick success. Don’t compare yourself to other businesses you think are doing better or growing quicker. We all put our best faces and moments on social media. But in reality, most of us are still fumbling our way through and figuring it out as we go. I still struggle with this myself.

My favorite part about owning my own business and being self-employed is that I get to work the way I want to work. Which has been beneficial to my mental and physical health. If I start to wake up regularly dreading my to-do list or having anxiety about the tasks I’m forcing myself to accomplish, I know it’s time to take a step back and reassess. My goals are more about offering an ethically made product and creating a business that reflects my values than being the biggest candle company with the largest profits.

Bookend is the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. Because at the end of the day, it was all me, no one else. My hands made each and every candle.

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