Sunbeam Candles is a local company making hand-crafted candles. They’re leading the way in sustainable business: they’re solar- and wind-powered, use high-quality ingredients, take many measures to minimize their carbon footprint, provide their employees with a living wage, a voice at the company, and excellent benefits, and support humanitarian and environmental efforts among many other awesome sustainable practices. Their “about” page says that each candle is filled with laugher, love, and dedication, and that rang very true in our visit to the shop last month.
A Q&A with David Gould, owner of Sunbeam candles.
What is Sunbeam Candles?
We’re a solar-powered, hand-crafted candle making company with a focus on employees’ well-being as well as our customers’ well-being. We have a lot of green business practices that are our foundation.
Who is it good for?
Sunbeam Candles is good for the people that are a part of working here, and it’s good to and for the customers that purchase our products. And also, I think, purveyors of good vibes in the community! That comes through our softball team presence in the community… we even get press for our softball team because we have the most kids and the most drums and the most dancing on the sidelines of any team. But anyway, our candles are wholesome and are crafted from wholesome ingredients and they’re really great candles to burn.
What kind of change are you trying to make?
I dont know if I’m trying to make a change as much as represent a business model and approach that others could reflect on. It’s an earth- and people-friendly foundation, as well as profit. It’s not just about the profit, it’s about the experience of Sunbeam Candles being a positive one for everyone involved in it.
How did it start?
I was in college and I was studying economics and the business of the recording industry but I really just wanted to play the bass. I was figuring out how to support myself without having to work for someone else so I got into crafts, including candles. Eventually, I went on the road for 5 years with John Brown’s Body and when I got off I decided to start a candle business and get back to it and do it in an environmentally sound way. So, I started Sunbeam and this is our 11th year!
What impact does Sunbeam have on our community?
A very positive one, as far as I can tell from what’s reflected back to me. Again, we have our softball team. We donate candles. We also give away a portion of the profits from our Candle for Peace to a couple different charities including Love Knows No Bounds.
But I also like to think that the people who work here are in the community… there’s 13 people working here and so we’re supporting local folks that hopefully feel good working here.
How has the community supported you?
We sell a lot of candles in Ithaca, that’s one direct way. When people approach me for work here, when they’re looking for employment, I hear “I heard this is a great place to work”. Word gets out that this is a positive environment here!
What struggles have you encountered?
The first three years of the business I worked 12-18 hours a day every single day for 3 years straight without taking a day off. That was a struggle to get this off the ground and be able to pay my bills and make this happen. There’s a learning curve.
I also struggle with the business model of bigger is better versus doing something that more fits my personality and lifestyle. There’s definitely a business model in this kind of manufacturing where people will represent at trade shows and have sales reps… I don’t deal with a lot of the mainstream business stuff but we still sell to the same stores as companies that participate in these kinds of things. I don’t want to put on a suit and play that game… I learned that I can do this my own way. But it’s been a struggle to be responsible for our own sales in a world where big companies want to work with distributors instead of individual companies.
What should we be celebrating?
Peace. I pay attention to current events… the war and peace report is really the war report. There’s so many bombs dropping and people being murdered and so much nasty stuff that’s happening around the world, so we should celebrate the fact that there’s a general peace here in Ithaca, that we can feel comfortable walking outside and walking down the street. That basic fact is something to be celebrated. We should also be celebrating and preserving and protecting the beautiful natural world that we have here.
How can we participate?
There’s the product end of things, but for those of you doing business out there, ask yourself how you can be more green in your business. How can you impact the earth less and still accomplish what you need to do? And what can you do to make your business environment what you’d want it to be if you weren’t the boss? I feel like those kinds of things are really important for business owners to think about.
Or, pick up a Candle for Peace (or any other Sunbeam products) at Greenstar, Home Green Home, and a bunch of other local retailers.4
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