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LEARNING CURVE | Gqeberha teacher shines light on dark times

Lockdown provided inspiration for Shelley Hall to start her eco-friendly candle-making business

Grey Primary School teacher Shelley Hall has started a candle-making business Salt + Light Co
LIGHTING THE WAY: Grey Primary School teacher Shelley Hall has started a candle-making business Salt + Light Co

Grey Junior School grade 1 teacher Shelley Hall is  a mom of two girls and has been a primary schoolteacher for 19 years.

She is passionate about teaching and the work she  does in the classroom — but during the lockdown in 2020 she started experimenting with making bath salts and candles.

“Many people struggled during this time with mental health. This lead to a desire to create products that promoted self-care and would bring a sense of calm and wellbeing for people.

“The idea of starting a small side business then became very appealing to me because it combined my love of creating, learning new things and wanting to have a positive impact in the world,” she said.  

What is the name of your business?

Salt + Light Co.

How did you come up with your business name?

The business name has both a literal and figurative meaning. It refers to the products I love to make — bath salt and candles (light) but also makes reference to my faith.

I believe God wants us to live as children of light and not be afraid to shine that light into what can be a very dark world at times. 

Did you have to acquire any skills to start your business? If so, what?

Mastering the art of candle making is one thing, but building a candle business is another.

I first did everything I could to learn about candle design, testing and development.

I read a lot of books and turned to good old Google and YouTube. The business side is new to me but I am up for the challenge and learning as I go.

What is your core service?

I make and sell eco-friendly candles that are beautifully packaged and ready to gift.

What makes your business unique?

I create a premium quality product at an affordable price. My candles are hand-poured in small batches which ensures quality and consistency.

I use a blend of coconut and soy wax for an eco-friendly clean burn and lead-free cotton wicks.

My fragrances are cruelty-free, phthalate free and 100% vegan.

This gives people peace of mind that Salt + Light Co candles are not only good for smelling, but also good for the planet and the people living on it.

I focus closely on plastic-free packaging to reduce waste.

I am proud that Salt + Light Co  is a community-minded business and I provide an opportunity for my customers to partner with me in my Candles Spreading Light campaign to make a difference that matters.

 A portion of each candle sale goes to Heatherbank Primary School, a private non-profit initiative aimed at providing quality education for learners primarily from the Walmer township.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

Currently my business model is to keep things simple and grow slowly.

I sell directly to customers and am preparing to start selling at local markets where I can sell face to face and people can fully experience the aesthetics of my products.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

Time and money. The start-up costs played a role because my business is self-funded.

I also have a full-time job so I had to save and have the patience to build things slowly over time, working on my business on weekends and school holidays.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

It feels strange giving advice for aspiring business owners because my business is still so new.

However, some tips I would give thus far are: Keep taking small consistent actions to move forward and remember that “done” is better than “perfect”.

There are always going to be problems to solve and saying “I don’t know” is just a thought, not a fact. 

I love that Marie Forleo teaches that we need to instil the belief that “Everything is Figure-out-able”.

 Once you have ingrained this belief, the challenges that come with starting a business won’t be any match for your determination, creativity and strength.

Be kind to yourself along the way. Take time to relax, focus on your mental health and rejuvenate your creativity.

You can’t grow a business if you are burnt-out.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?

The challenge in SA is that there are not many companies that supply raw materials, specifically natural waxes, for candle making.

When my main supplier has no stock of a particular item, it becomes stressful because I do not have a wide portfolio of other suppliers to turn to.

It is also a balancing act of knowing when to reorder to allow for delivery without dropping below an emergency stock level.

At times, it is tricky deciding what quantity to reorder to maintain my flow without overwhelming my storage or requiring constant reordering.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

I love Earl Nightingale’s definition of success. He said, “Success is the progressive realisation of a worthy goal or ideal”.

In a nutshell, “Progressive realisation” means that success is a process.

I don’t have to wait until I finally realise my goal before I’m successful — I’m successful if I’m progressing towards it!

How do you measure or define success in your business?

My version of success is running a viable business in a way that stays true to my values and beliefs.

There is so much need in the world everywhere you look and so, for me, success also means being able to use my business as a vehicle to give back and make a difference where I can.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

Goal setting:  Setting 30 to 60-day goals forces me to think past today.

It is tempting for my brain to stay stuck in today and this week — but 30 to 60-day goals keep me moving myself forward.

Delegate: It was tempting to try handle everything on my own to keep costs down.

For example, I know how to make candles but I’m not a graphic designer.

I hired a designer who shares my vision to create my unique box-sleeve designs and bring my packaging ideas to life.

This has added so much value to the product I provide.

Consistency: Putting in consistent effort and doing the little day-to-day things that aren’t always fun and glamorous can be challenging.

You have to keep doing these things for a long time in the beginning when they don’t even pay off and just choose to keep going.

What kind of advertising do you do?

I advertise through social media. This is helping me increase my brand awareness and showcase not only what I sell but also what I stand for.

What is your company’s vision?

To make the best possible candles in a way that’s good for the planet and the people living on it.

What is your target market?

Women who like nice-smelling things and want to create a cozy atmosphere in their home.

What have some of your highlights been in running your business?

The biggest highlight has been getting my products into the hands of my customers and receiving such positive feedback from them.

It’s a very rewarding feeling knowing that something you have created  has made someone else happy or will be gifted to someone to put in their home and bring them joy. 

How does social media contribute to you business?

Social media is here to stay and I think that leveraging the power of online visibility for business success is the way forward for all 21st-century businesses.

Platforms like Facebook and Instagram have been a great way for me to start growing my tribe and connect with them.

How many people do you employ? 

I don’t have any employees.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

I would love to grow and expand my business over time but I don’t know exactly what that would look like yet.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

My business is self-funded.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far? 

Ignore competitors and focus on value.

I try not to compare my new small business to others who are at a higher level or chase others that have been up and running much longer than me.

I’m focusing on creating the best product I can and bringing genuine value to the people who will use it.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like Gqeberha?

Finding suppliers for my candle-making was challenging in Gqeberha and I had to order from suppliers in Gauteng and Cape Town and then pay the courier fee to get everything shipped to me.

The advantage is that I am now part of a community of local creatives and many people in our city see the benefit of shopping local.

When deciding where to spend our hard-earned money on tonight’s dinner or a gift for a friend, many of us are turning to local, independently owned businesses to build a strong and successful community and support our local economy.

What do you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

Curiosity, resilience and hard work. 



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