Sustaining Small Shoutout

Sustaining Small is a monthly series for artisans, creatives, designers, writers, retail owners, service providers and other micro-business owners presented in partnership with Candelaria

This month, get to know Kat Thayer, founder of Candelaria and fellow micro-business owner in Denver’s Highlands neighborhood.

Who are you?

My name is Kristina Thayer, but all who know me just call me KAT. I’m Kat, I own Candelaria and I make candles. 

In one sentence, what does your company do?

Candelaria is a candle & lifestyle boutique with modern sensibility celebrating handmade and artisanal goods for the home.

How did you get started? 

Somewhere in the middle of moonlighting as retail management for years, antique appraising and non-profit work, I had formulated a really unique blend of entrepreneurial energy under the guise of structured and corporate training.

Candelaria is an evolution, or extension, of a previous business that I created immediately following an exit from working stints at other jobs. Jobs I was good at, but had little passion for. 

About 8 years ago, I founded Flicker Box; a subscription box company for artisanal candles. And then, 4 years into that, I had become the self-proclaimed authority on candles with far-reaching accolades and decided to give candle making a try of my own. About a year into joining the world of chandlery, I was inspired to take Flicker Box’s mission of curating a box of healthy candles made by female-owned businesses further and put together a brick and mortar. Using those same principles, I curated a selection of artisanal home goods created by American women and pushed Flicker Box into Candelaria. Now we make our products in our store and showcase our products alongside beautiful products made by women around the country. From there, our motto was born ‘Incubating independent makers, one candle at a time’.

What’s one thing that you would’ve done differently from the start?

I’m not sure I have an answer for that! I feel very confident in all the business decisions I’ve made thus far and am a true believer in no regrets. 

What’s your secret weapon?   

Honesty and patience. 

I feel that I’ve entered a time and place in my life that I can be comfortably honest with myself and others. I’m honest about how our business operates and use honesty in my selling techniques. I’m not interested in pushing products for the sake of selling products. I sell products that I’ve used; with a story, I love and believe in; that I can speak to when in the company of others. Transparency is key and I attribute it to much of my success. We even make our candles in-store with all our tools and supplies out for all to see! 

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience”. This is a quality that I’m committed to in my creativity as well as my business practices. I’ll never do something premature or force something to happen. If I’m unable to launch a new product, I’ll just wait until the time is right. I’m proud of the pace that Candelaria has evolved. It feels organic. More honest.

Can you share your career advice for entrepreneurs on the rise?

Patience while simultaneously trusting your gut and taking the leap! You may want your business to launch or to thrive, but if the time isn’t right, you’ll know it. Don’t force it. Conversely, if deep down you know you’re ready for the move but are afraid of all the what if’s, just go for it. Intuition and fear are two very different things. You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try. It breaks my heart to think of all the people out there who are unhappy with their situations, wishing and hoping that one day they can do what they love. Make it happen! 

What’s the funniest thing you’ve learned since opening your business?

Psychology or sociology stuff — like, consumer habits. Being in a business that is so heavily related to fragrances, which is already incredibly subjective and personal, is SO fun to observe and be a part of. It’s interesting to see and listen to what fragrances people get excited about, what they request, what they think smells good, or even what they think is too strong or not strong enough. It varies so much! And while there really is no wrong answer, some of the things I hear feel like they should be wrong…. A combination of campfire, whiskey and pumpkin spice?! Ouch.

As a small business owner, what’s been your biggest challenge?

I struggle with the idea that our customer(s) holds small business to the same level of accountability and expectation that big business is held. I’m speaking to the amount of time and concierge we can offer customers; the rapid speed to which customers expect us to follow through; and more importantly the availability that we offer. There’s an expectation for us to be open the same hours as larger big-box retail chains. Or an expectation to answer emails within an hour or sometimes minutes, or to fulfill online orders in less than an hour. It’s unrealistic to assume we can; that we are able to; and that we want to. That’s why we are a small business. I’m more than content remaining a small (micro) business and I have no aspirations to be open 24/7 or be available via a chat box at the bottom of the screen. But our customers expect (and sometimes demand) that we offer that level of service that we are simply unable and unwilling to provide. Having this conversation with our customers where their expectations don’t align with our own small business abilities is definitely the biggest challenge for me.

What is one random thing that you know about now that you would never know about prior to opening your business?

I’m really an introvert with extrovert tendencies. And it may have been something I knew about myself prior, but it’s been made abundantly clear to me since opening a brick and mortar. I talk a lot in moments where there is silence or where I feel there is space, but it’s only because I prefer to control the conversation rather than deal with the awkwardness. And when the attention is focused on me, I struggle. It makes me nervous and I suddenly feel the need to perform in some way. I end up using sarcasm or humor to get through the moment, even if it is draining.

Who has been your most memorable customer to date?

I’ve had A LOT! But I recently had an interaction that, for many reasons, I will remember forever. 

I had posted an unassuming photo of brass taper holders with taper candles on Instagram. The photo wasn’t much and neither was the caption. But the photo caught the eye of a follower who was scrolling through IG one morning while laying in bed. She shared her admiration for the styling of the photo with her boyfriend (who was also laying in bed) and thought it would be a beautiful vignette to recreate at home, or a restaurant…or even a wedding. As they talked more, the boyfriend just said “You want to get married today, like tonight?” And together they decided, in the midst of a pandemic and a very uncertain time, to just elope. She came to the store to purchase all the brass taper holders I had on hand and use my expertise to pick out candles and recreate the ‘vibe’ I had previously shared on Instagram just hours before. They got married that night at 9 pm, in a park close to their home with 19 of their friends. That one photo on Instagram set the tone for their entire nuptials. It was really beautiful to be a part of their story. 

Do you have a million notifications on your phone apps or are you the type of person who has none?

I’m an elder millennial and my technological knowledge and use reflects that! I figured out how to disable all notifications on my phone once when I traveled abroad and I never switched it back. The only thing my phone tells me now is the date, time and weather. I don’t think I can handle a device beckoning me when it sees fit. I look to it when I can give it my full attention. It does me no good to grab my phone and check my emails with no intention of reading the emails but leaving the weight of the procrastination on my shoulders. My phone is also on silent; so I never hear a text or phone call. I don’t use my phone for that anyway. We don’t even have a phone at our store.

Currently reading/watching/listening to: 

Unfortunately, I do not get to read as much as I’d like to. I do have a small pile of books I have yet to finish, including Michelle Obama’s Becoming, an environmental philosophy book, On Trails, by Robert Moor, and a book on the National Parks visitor center architecture.

I rewatch and relisten to everything. I will watch the same movies or TV show over and over again.  It’s rare that I find any interest in discovering new television shows or movies. I think that extends to my music choices too.

But this time of year, I’m definitely listening to Bruce Springsteen, U2, Stevie Nicks, and lots of 70’s easy listening, like Ambrosia. For TV, I’m really a documentary fan but I also catch up on The Great British Baking Show or other shows like Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Schitt’s Creek, Outlander, or anything on PBS.

Share your small business shoutouts:

Food/Booze: Renegade Brewery, Linger, Torchy’s, Pizzeria Locale

Fashion: Strut, Vouna, Shop Seventy West

Artisan: Achillea Design Co., Laser Lab

Retail: Miller Lane Mercantile, Wordshop, Modern Nomad

Home Design: Guesthouse