The essence of a county
With a passion for scented candles, the pair thought they would create their own. 'We just needed to learn how to do it!’ laughs Hannah.
But after ordering a candle-making kit, initial attempts did not turn out well. ‘The first ones were terrible. The scent wasn’t great. But we thought we could practise with these and learn.’
So began a process of ‘lots and lots’ of research online and testing 'endless' products. Their one-bed house in Tring became a cottage industry, then everything was packed away for dinner.
‘Trying to keep it all separate was crazy but it was our only focus,' Hannah says.
In the kitchen, they began with a simple bain-marie to melt wax, making five candles at a time. Hannah sighs when she remembers how time consuming it was, but says 'it helped us to not have so many disasters as we were doing it on such a small scale.'
Hannah and Oliver met while working at Batchworth Park Golf Club in Rickmansworth. After leaving and joining the corporate world, Oli quickly found his heart wasn’t in it and in 2018 they began looking at start-up ideas. ‘We knew we worked well together and could run a business well,’ explains Hannah.
Their breakthrough came when they landed on the idea of scented soy candles named after British counties, using scents that would resonate with people living in the area.
‘At that point I was still working on the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border,' says Hannah, 'and I remember thinking it's really nice that as you go from one county to another the countryside changes. Each county has its own unique story, which makes the people that live there proud of it.'
With a background in marketing, Hannah quickly defined what would become the Home County Candle Co.
'Oli grew up in Bedfordshire, I grew up in Buckinghamshire and we now both live in Hertfordshire. Lots of people keep bees in Bedfordshire and Oli’s grandad is a beekeeper so we thought it would be a homage to him if we did a candle scented with honey. We live just down the road from the Ashridge Estate, so it had to be bluebells for Hertfordshire. And in Buckinghamshire, one of my main childhood memories is picking blackberries with my nan, so that candle is cedar and wild berries which takes me back to Wendover Woods.’
With the idea in place and the cottage industry up and running, the couple began to attend craft shows and even secured big accounts with the likes of the National Trust, while still based in their kitchen.
'I find it funny to think that outwardly we were this growing candle brand stocked in shops throughout the country - fulfilling orders must have taken us ages looking back.’
Hannah is passionate about the ingredients used and the sustainability of the products. ‘You can’t take inspiration from nature like Ashridge Forest and the bumble bees in Bedfordshire and then make products that could damage that environment. As a brand it's really important all of our packaging is 100 per cent recyclable and we don't use plastic. We didn’t want our products travelling miles to get to us, so where we can we use suppliers as close to us as possible.’
The business received a boost when it caught the attention of Theo Paphitis of BBC One's Dragons’ Den. The mentor invites owners to tweet about their business before selecting six to retweet to his followers each Sunday.
‘We tweeted every week from February and it was in the October that we got the retweet.'
During the pandemic the couple took the opportunity to focus on on the digital side of the business. ‘The support from the local community and further afield has been amazing. With consumers really focussing on making their homes a sanctuary over the last year, being home more, and so burning candles more often, our business has been able to grow.’
Home County Candle Co has expanded to offer diffusers, hand washes and lotions, going beyond counties to include such scents as 'The Coast', 'The Orchards' and 'The Meadows', and products are now stocked by the National Trust, English Heritage and in Notcutts garden centres across the UK.
The day I speak to Hannah they are preparing to finally move the business out of the house and into a unit at Mentmore Park Farms, just north of Tring. Oli is busy drilling in the background, putting up shelves.
‘It would be a push to make 100 candles a day at the start and we'd have to wait for them to set, so now we can pour a lot more,' Hannah says.
I ask if everyone they know was given a candle or diffuser for Christmas. Hannah laughs. ‘Absolutely. My friends and family are used to it now. But our families have been really supportive, we wouldn't have been able to do it without them. And it's great to have some free labour sometimes.’