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No matter what corner of Canada you're from or have been, Toronto-based Smells Like Canada has candles, soaps and salves to help bring you back to a moment in time. From Saskatoon Wheat, to Calgary Rawhide, Toronto Smoke and Up North S'Mores, Natalie Gluic, the founder of SLC, has worked hard to perfect a scent that encapsulates the most beautiful places Canada-wide for your sniffing pleasure. Photos by Natalie Gluic and A.J. Leitch.
Where do you sell your products?
I have an online store through Etsy, where customers can see the entire product line as well as read detailed scent descriptions. They’re also available through Brika, a curated handmade site with fantastic products and local stories. Finally, the product is carried at a handful of small locally owned retail locations in Toronto, including North Standard Trading Post, Crywolf, Kid Icarus, Labour of Love, and Scout. In Hamilton, the candles are available at Canoe, and in Saskatoon, at Luna + Hill.
In 2015 we will be expanding to more retailers throughout Canada. I’ve also done promotions with Indigo Books & Music and have been sold as part of Brika’s pop-up shop at The Bay Queen Street.
Candles, soaps and salves are traditional products. What innovative features do you bring to the table?
Connecting scent to place isn’t necessarily a new thing, but I feel that we’ve put the concept together in an innovative way; and I haven’t seen it a cleanly branded and targeted way like this. By selecting scents that represent different cities, places or things that are Canadian, then using names and packaging that is simple and clean, I feel we are creating a product that has wide appeal but local customization… perfect for someone looking for a nostalgic piece of Canada that isn’t kitschy and that also serves a purpose in the home.
What is your design philosophy?
I’m drawn to branding and conceptual identities that are clean and simple, yet still have something really unique and well defined. I find product design is often over-done – too much “stuff” cluttering up the essence of the product. My candles go in customers’ home, and since people have a variety of personal taste, it was important to me to have something very simple and clean that would fit in a lot of design environments – hence the strong typography and simple icons to represent the different scents. However, the real wood labeling and the tongue-in-cheek names is what people seem to gravitate to most – it’s unique and provides something personal in an industry where so much is interchangeable.
What is your biggest challenge as a small business?
The most difficult part of running a business is knowing how and when to grow the business, There’s a tension between staying true to the vision, concept and branding of the company, and just simply, ‘selling more stuff’. I’ve been contacted by national retailers and each time it’s a big decision – although I’m guaranteed to increase exposure and sales, I’m automatically associating my brand with the positive and negative aspects of that national retailer, and sometimes those things would limit my growth in the future as it changes the overall perception of SLC.
Each time a retailer reaches out to carry my product, or I get asked to work on a collaboration or promotion, I have to take an educated guess on whether it will work for the brand in the long term – and there is always inherent risk in accepting or declining a partnership.
Similarly, I’m at a point right now regarding my production model. Currently I make all the products myself in my free time, and unfortunately that is simply not sustainable if I want to grow the business. I think customers love that I make everything myself but they also want to buy the product in more locations, and those two things are unfortunately incompatible. I’m trying, again, to find a model that will support growth while still allowing me to stay true to the concept and brand, and it’s a big decision with risk.
What’s something most people don’t know about your company?
I make everything myself. If you have one of my candles, I made it with my own two hands.
Any advice for entrepreneurs in this business?
Make some decisions early on about what you want your brand to be, who is your target customer and what does that person want (and not want). Having a razor sharp understanding of your customer base helps hone in on branding and retailing decisions – it helps guide some of the more difficult decisions later on. Also, don’t underestimate the power of good design. Having a great product will be useless if you can’t draw people to it with your design and brand concept. I’ve seen so many fantastic products that end up being overlooked because the visual concept is not very well thought out.
Finally – get help and advice from anyone and everyone you can. Growing a small business is multi-faceted and complex, and you simply won’t be good at all aspects of it. If I didn’t have help and support from my friends and family my business simply would not exist.