Loren Lewin: Founder of Companion Candles

Episode 558

On this episode of The Kara Goldin Show, Loren Lewin, the Founder of Companion Candles, shares all about her journey building a company focused on changing an industry. She discussed how the idea came about after realizing the detrimental effects traditional candles had on her health and her dog’s well-being. Loren was driven to innovate a safer alternative, revolutionizing the candle industry by offering products that are safe for both humans and pets. Companion Candles has not only expanded into hundreds of stores nationwide, but also supports animal welfare with each sale. This episode dives deep into Loren’s entrepreneurial journey from concept to a thriving business that does well by doing good. Don’t miss this enlightening conversation about entrepreneurship, health, and making a real difference! Now on this episode of The Kara Goldin Show.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the Kara Goldin show. So, so excited to have our next guest with us here today. So we have Loren Lewin, who is the founder and CEO of the incredible brand Companion Candles. And if you aren’t familiar with Companion Candles, you need to listen up because this is a product that is so near and dear to my heart. Anyone who is interested in pets health, welfare, definitely should be paying attention. But it’s a lot more than that. the harmful effects of some of the conventional candles that many of us burn in our houses are not so good for us, but also not so good for our pets. And so to actually know that there’s a company that has been developed and focused on this plus, they’re just terrific candles as well, is just super, super wonderful. So under Loren’s leadership, the company has just flourished as well, we’ll definitely get into that. But she’s now secured spots and hundreds of stores nationwide, obviously available on direct to consumer as well, but promises a toxin free environment with her products, and also supports animal welfare organizations with each sale. So who wouldn’t feel good about purchasing these candles and plus Loren is just a total badass founder and definitely hustling I met her a while ago and really, really appreciated her energy and her Spark and Hustle. So really excited to have her here to talk a little bit more about her journey. So welcome, Loren. So excited to have you here.

Loren Lewin 2:30
Oh, my gosh, I am so thrilled. And thank you for that intro, I’m going to have to like copy and paste it and put it on my husband’s nightstand or something.

Kara Goldin 2:36
Yes, so so, so excited. So can you talk to us a little bit about how did this all come about?

Loren Lewin 2:44
Yeah, absolutely. So over COVID, when you know, all of our homes became our hotels, our restaurants, our offices, and we were all spending way more time at home, I was lighting candles all the time to lift my mood, or transport my mood, whatever, I just wanted the Fung Shui in my apartment to be uplifting. But what I actually didn’t realize is how many toxins can be in one candle, especially when you obviously burn something. So my rescue dog actually ended up having asthma and digestive issues from a candle. So I went to the vet, I said, I’m probably easily your dumbest customer. But could he be getting sick from a candle? You know, nothing else has changed in his environment? Who does not change? You know, he’s going for walks, we’re good. And she said, yeah, do you know what’s in a candle? And I said, No, I mean, I assume everything’s regulated. You know, I have no clue. And she said there can be over 250 toxins in one candle. So yeah, crazy. Crazy. So I’m just like probably everyone, I had probably a little too much time on my hands over COVID And I started making my own. And I worked with actually one of the top fragrance houses in the world to take out those toxins. So no, none of our candles contain endocrine disrupters, acute toxins, reproductive toxins, or actually any sense that animals are sensitive to certain things like eucalyptus or lavender things in that realm. And I ended up coding website pitching to the press. And our first customer was Macy’s and it sort of all started from there.

Kara Goldin 4:28
Wow, that is so crazy. So what are the like, if you look at a candle I’ve heard of LED being in candles and burning, burning led, it seems like more and more people are more and more companies I should say have been sensitive to that. But in terms of actual sense and how that relates to your pet. What are some of the ones you mentioned eucalyptus and lavender, but what are some of the other ones that people might not be aware of? Yeah, so

Loren Lewin 4:58
another one On a citrus, we actually have a citrus candle but the citrus is scented with orange peel. So rather than, you know, a fragrance that’s essentially made in the lab or anything like that, we sent it with real foods or you know, things like that, that aren’t so harmful to our pets. You know, I think another thing to note is that animals actually their scent receptors are can be up to 100,000 to 300,000 times better than ours can be. So if you are smelling it, they’re smelling it big time think you’re getting a headache from a candle. What are they experiencing? So that’s that’s a lot of research I did as well when formulating our line. Hmm,

Kara Goldin 5:43
that’s so so so interesting. So fragrance, that fragrance and burning fragrances not so good for you. I mean, I’ve had a lot of skincare companies talk about this but obviously you’re not burning skincare but it’s fascinating to kind of think about how that relates to your pet and certainly you wouldn’t want to want to because of allergies but something that’s you know even more harmful to your pet so once you stopped with your with your pet what’s your what’s your pet’s name,

Loren Lewin 6:15
my low we I love your old Yeah, we have a 12 year old rescue dog and his name is Milo. So

Kara Goldin 6:21
cute. So did my leg then get better? Once you stop

Loren Lewin 6:27
creating? Yeah, so you know there’s so many just like skincare there’s so many elements and another element to the candle is obviously the wax you use. So majority of candles on market are using paraffin wax. paraffin wax was used for the first candle ever made in the 1850s. So talk about like disruption, like things have not changed for a very long time. So paraffin, for those who don’t know is a byproduct of petroleum petroleum is gasoline, you’re then burning that in your home. Another thing that we change in our candles is we use an FSC. That means for a certified wooden wick, so there’s no spray on our wigs, you’ll notice that when you like them, there’s no suit coming out like from a common cotton lick. So so it’s really interesting.

Kara Goldin 7:14
Wow, that’s so so interesting. And so what do you use instead? What is the wax that you guys use in yours,

Loren Lewin 7:20
we use a coconut oil wax blend, so it is the cleanest and longest burning that you can get right now.

Kara Goldin 7:25
And besides coconut, is there something else that we should look out for in terms of a wax, that would also be a good alternative.

Loren Lewin 7:33
So coconut suede line wax is the best. Beeswax is great. I actually prefer to keep our candles vegan, obviously, beeswax is not vegan. I would say truthfully, do your research, ask the questions you are not going to see on a candle label what’s in it because it’s not required. You know, the beauty industry as well as just being disrupted in this way. And you should know what is in your home and what is burning and what you’re breathing in. So

Kara Goldin 8:04
interesting. So what were you doing before Companion Candles? Candles?

Loren Lewin 8:08
Yeah. So I was actually working in this startup space. I worked at GrubHub seamless in New York City for those that know it. And I was on their growth marketing teams. So I have always been around startups and entrepreneurs and things like that. But that was obviously a huge scale. So

Kara Goldin 8:27
you’re this is during COVID Milo’s feeling better, and you say, Okay, I want to purchase these candles. I’ve been doing all my research and you can’t find the candles. So you decide I’m gonna develop them. How in the world? Did you start this?

Loren Lewin 8:48
Well, I’m not a scientist. So this honestly, it was a lot of talking to that’s a lot of talking to funny enough animal dermatologists? That is real. A lot of just a ton of research on what is safe, what animals are reacting to honestly, I like to say that our candles are good for you better for your pet. So just tons and tons of research tons of iterations. I mean, the first candles I made, were in our basement. I you know, bought a wax melter. I was trying all these iterations, I was trying all the different fragrances and you know, making candles is a science and I’m not a scientist. So it took probably a little longer than it should have. And

Kara Goldin 9:36
so how long was the process before you actually got your first product that you could sell?

Loren Lewin 9:43
Probably about 90 days, 90 days. That’s

Kara Goldin 9:47
pretty fast, though. Yeah,

Loren Lewin 9:49
it is fast in the grand scheme of things, but I think in the day to day and iterating and all that stuff. It felt slow.

Kara Goldin 9:58
Yeah, definitely. So Direct to consumer was your first you launch your own site, you had worked for companies that were dealing with physical goods. So you had knew a little bit about how to find customers, you worked on the growth side of things, but you didn’t really good never run a company before you had never founded a company. You certainly didn’t know that much about the candle industry overall. So what gave you the courage to actually think that you could go and do this?

Loren Lewin 10:34
That is such a good question. And yes, you’re exactly right. I come from a startup, I come from a growth background. But I do not come from CPG consumer packaged goods for those who don’t know, the iteration. And I had to learn everything. I mean, yes, I came from a startup background, but I did not come from this specific background. I think you have to be a little crazy baby to go forward and start but honestly, once I started making the prototypes, and giving them to friends as gifts, and then making the website and sending to editor’s, that really gave me the courage to then go ahead and pitch to stores and you know, do different iterations and things like that. So I think it all just, it all builds on itself. And at the end of the day, I really wanted to make something better for us and for our pets, you know, there’s this movement, I’m 31 years old, you know, people are waiting to have children, and my child is my fur baby, you know, that’s a real thing. It’s a real movement. And I want him to live a healthy, long life. And you know, you see all these iterations of dog food coming out, you know, think, Ollie and farmer’s dog and smalls for cats. And I was sort of like, well, shouldn’t there be something for the air we breathe? Um, so yeah, that’s sort of how it all came about.

Kara Goldin 11:59
So you launch your website, you’ve developed your product, how many different scents did you actually launch with? Or I should say, not just scents, but also just products overall? What did you start off with?

Loren Lewin 12:13
So I started off with about 40 skews. And among that there were about 10 different scents.

Kara Goldin 12:22
That that’s it and just in different sizes. Exactly.

Loren Lewin 12:25
Exactly. So like small so or mini candles, or larger candles, or wax smells, things like that.

Kara Goldin 12:31
Is there one SKU that’s kind of the runaway go to that people just absolutely love and, and you know, hard to keep in stock? Yes,

Loren Lewin 12:44
I would say there’s two. So you and me by the sea, it is a sea salt and narrowly one I also, the names are also different sort of like puns. So you and me by the sea is I think it’s saltwater on the dog’s nose, sand and our toes. So people are loving that one. I mean, I really can barely keep that and stuff. And then the other one that people are really loving is you got this. It’s the citrus and tropical florals one that is actually a play on everyone’s favorite candle volcano. From anthropology.

Kara Goldin 13:20
That one is so so good. So how do you connect with your customers and build community around your brand you had, as you mentioned, worked for a startup and really focused on growth. But when people are thinking about, you know, it’s one thing to start a company and have great products. But now you actually have to sell the product, right? I mean, that’s the I remember when we were launching hint, years ago, and I got it on the shelf at Whole Foods, and then got a phone call that the product was gone. And I had to replenish it. And I’m like, wait, what, who I have to actually replenish product. Now I just wanted to actually sell it now I actually have to, you know, handle the next part of it. So it’s, you know, the next step, but I’m sure you have sort of a variation of that. But how did you? How did you like, get that initial community to actually know that? I’m selling products now that are really, you know, valuable to you, and especially if you have pets in the house, but I think you’re more than just pets. People want a healthy environment? Just overall so but how did you think about that and community and building?

Loren Lewin 14:38
Yeah, definitely. So I think truthfully, that businesses of today should be doing good and doing well. So with each candle purchased, we also donate a portion of proceeds to animal welfare organizations. So people really connect I think not just to my story, but also to what we stand for. You know, we are not just selling candles, we also are donating back to this community so that overall, animals really can live healthier and longer lives. So whether that is on, you know, our Instagram and social media and obviously connecting there, whether that’s literally me going on LinkedIn and finding these specific stores that I know, our girls and our customers in, and you know, making sure I’m connecting with the buyer, making sure I’m following up with samples and getting those POS I think exactly like you said, Kara, like, half the battle is getting on the shelf, the other half is getting off the shelf as in selling and replenishing and all those things. And that, you know, your customer is going to get you off the shelf and those replenishment. So that’s sort of how I how I think through it. Do

Kara Goldin 15:51
you feel like having those partnerships, whether they’re the animal partnerships, and you I love your give back strategy, that’s incredible. But how do you keep those consumers continuing to come back? Do you have you mentioned a blog? I mean, do you have an email that you’re constantly reminding them to be able to come back?

Loren Lewin 16:13
Yeah, so we are actually just starting to run Facebook ads. Funny enough, we’ve been two years in business, and we have not run Facebook ads. So we are targeting them exactly our blog or email list. Now we’ll get into Facebook ads. So hopefully, you know, you’ll be seeing us repeating thinking of us when you see us in store. And that will be triggering the purchase as well.

Kara Goldin 16:38
That’s awesome. So when you were first starting, and you had 40 skews, when you were starting, how much did you need to actually be able to launch your company, when you think about like that initial funding that you had to have in the bank in order to launch? What do you think, is the right amount? Obviously, it depends on the product and the margins and everything. But if you have, you know, X, you could probably go do it. I think people think they need to have hundreds of 1000s of dollars or millions of dollars in order to go and launch something they need to have enough for Facebook ads. You know, there’s all this misconception about launching something. So what would you say to that?

Loren Lewin 17:21
So true. And this is really a passion of mine, because I think a lot of people get taken advantage of you know, especially when you need to buy inventory in the CPG universe, test, test, test and take feedback. really seriously, you know, I did not do a co manufacture until we were selling 1000s of candles, I was I was making them in my basement, you know, I was ordering the jars, I was ordering the labels directly to my home, all that stuff. It depends on what you know, you are producing, I would say I have bootstrapped the business thus far just started raising money. Two and a half, three years in, it has cost me probably just start the business $20,000 That includes you know, like, Shopify is what $30 A month, that includes, you know, inventory that includes a wax, melter all these things, but I also think something to realize as an entrepreneur, too, is every penny counts, and they had. And there are definitely things even with my co manufacturer, even today, I will go back and say, Hey, is this negotiable? You know, are these terms negotiable? Can we go down by a few pennies if we go up by, you know, a few orders or whatever? And I think it’s always worth ask. Always.

Kara Goldin 18:45
Yeah, what’s the worst that can happen? They say no. So. Okay. Yeah, I think that that’s, I think that that is so so key. So sustainability is such a significant aspect of Companion Candles? And can you elaborate on how you maintain the integrity of the products? Because I think especially when you have a co manufacturer or a co Packer or whatever, depending on the industry, I think so many people are counting on the fact that it’s all getting done. Right. But how do you actually know that? It is getting done? Right? I mean, how much do you think you need to make sure as a founder, that, you know, the specs are real, like, I’ve had people say, Oh, I’ve never been to my co Packer or manufacturer, and I’m like, wait, what I mean, it’s just it’s a very it’s so so critical. I think

Loren Lewin 19:40
it is and I think another piece of this is in the contracts you put together and also in the testing is testing for every industry everything you can find. So there are you know quite a few candle testers out there. Essentially you send the candles in from you know, X amount of batches and then I am able from this third party to hold my call man liable. So not just you know, because anyone can say anything in a contract. And you also and my, you know, as business owner, it’s my butt on the line, it’s my integrity on the line. It’s not this koloman, you know, or anything like that. So, all this third party testing is super crucial and super important.

Kara Goldin 20:23
Yeah, so much so. So consumer feedback, I think is is gold, especially to founders. I mean, it’s sometimes the comments back from these various consumers that are the things that really kind of keep founders going right on those hard days when I don’t know, the, something’s gone wrong. None of your candles had wicks in them or something, something happened, it’s, it all happens, right. And it all like happens, you know, boom, boom, boom, are on the same day, or whatever it is, but those consumer comments, feedback that comes back. So can you share any consumer feedback that has come back? Obviously, you have such a special consumer base that is mostly focused on animal welfare as well, but But what? What was one of those letters that came back that really kind of hit you in the heart?

Loren Lewin 21:21
Yeah. And, you know, I’m smiling now honestly, just thinking about it. There was one woman who wrote to me and said, This is really crazy. You know, my dog has had severe asthma for years, I picked up on ear candles at the vet, you know, obviously, the vet was recommending it. And she was like, My dog has not had his asthma since we have used this candle. You know, she was like, I’ve burned candles I’ve had for breeze in my house, all this stuff, just like I just never thought about it. And why would you? You know, honestly, why would you the first day, it’s not necessarily the first thing you think about. And when she told me her and her fiance O’Brien candles all the time, and they bought ours and the dog genuinely got better. No asthma, no lethargy, anything like that. That was just amazing. That was amazing. And so exciting. You have so

Kara Goldin 22:13
many you just mentioned veterinarians, suggesting your product. I mean, you have so many different opportunities for people to really influence your sales, right? I mean, there’s tons of opportunities, not just Facebook ads, and have you think about just channels of growth overall, and kind of what has been the most successful, but also, you know, what else is out there that you’re really excited about four, kind of the growth of the brand overall.

Loren Lewin 22:45
Yeah, so we really sit at the intersection of pet and home goods. So we can live in your local pet shop, or you know, your local boutique, or you know, your earth fare or your natural grocers, whatever. So the customer is seeing us, not just in one specific store, so not just in grocery, but they’re seeing us in grocery and boutiques, and they’re at their vet at their pet store. So we’re able to hit across so many categories, which is great, because you need you know, people are not just going to pick up your product and buy it, they want to see it a few times they want to talk to their vet about it, or they want to talk to someone in the store aisle about it, or something like that. So we’ve been really, really lucky in that way. And we’ve been really lucky in the sense that everyone that has tried our product and promotes us uses it themselves. So these dots, or you know, these animal dermatologists or anything like that, which seems silly, really believe in us. So that’s

Kara Goldin 23:47
great. That’s amazing. So when you think about the challenging times when things have have just been, you know, unexpected challenges that I’ve hit, I talked about, you know, wicks not making it in or whatever I mean, it’s you name it, I mean, we’ve had products of hint that you know, they forgot to put the cherry flavors in, I mean things happen along the way and you hear about it what are some of those unexpected challenges that you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur that you know, you had to get over? Obviously, you’re sitting here today so you did get over them but it’s tough being a founder and an entrepreneur and I think people focus on the good which they should but some days you’re gonna have really challenging days and and what has been one of the more memorable ones. So

Loren Lewin 24:41
the first thing that comes to mind is actually one of the second runs we did that we were going to send to Macy’s was over fragrance. I don’t expect anyone to know what that means. But when you over fragrance a candle and you light it it lights on fire. So this was a Huge hazard. This was my, I had just proven to Macy’s that we could sell with them. And this was our second Pio with them. And I always actually test a candle before we send it out. So we’ll do runs, you know, now we’re constantly doing runs. But in the early days, I was, you know, testing each candle before I went out, and one of them lit on fire. This was probably 20,000 candles that we had. So we were not only in the hole, but we were out candles. And, you know, I, I went to our manufacturer, and I was just like, essentially, this is not, you know, we can’t use these, you know, we’re not only not going to use you anymore, but I expect the refund. But this was over months and months and months of process. You know, it’s not like they came back from like, oh, yeah, no prob, here’s your money back. So I had to find a whole new manufacturer and all this stuff. And that was just a nightmare. But again, you come out on the other side, and you come out better for it, you know, now, I’m testing all the time I am testing every time I bring on a new manufacturer and not just blindly trusting. So if that hadn’t happened, who knows where I’d be today. So,

Kara Goldin 26:11
so interesting. So I feel like you’re not just launching a company in a mission driven company, and one that is, is doing good. But you’re also really disrupting an industry and you’re calling out the industry overall and sharing, not just you’re doing something wrong, but here’s how you can do it better. Which is, you know, incredible on on many, many levels, what do you hope to be able to change in this industry? I mean, you talked a little bit about the regulations that you realized weren’t there. But what kind of impact do you believe, just by showing up and creating great products? And, you know, having a positive impact on the industry? What, what do you hope that you could change in this industry?

Loren Lewin 27:06
I really hope for transparency and honesty, I hope that you know, it sounds really silly, but I hope that you can pick up a candle someday and see, okay, coconut, soy wax, citrus woodwick. You know, that is not today. And I think that consumers have a right to know, we have a right to know what we are putting in our bodies, you know, with makeup, or what we’re putting on our bodies. And with sense what we are breathing in like that, at the very basics is what I really hope for and what I truly, really hope to change. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 27:40
and I think that that’s, that is, I think most consumers would agree with you. And it is it’s very, very challenging to read ingredients. And there’s so many different marketing terms that are out there, too. And then products also change. And they’re, they’re not, they’ll add things in they’ll, they’ll kind of be the consumer, and then they’ll go and change it. If a company has been sold. I always tell people, you know, they’ll often reformulate and do things cheaper by the purchaser anyway. It’s just it’s such a crazy world out there for consumers to try and really dissect more than anything. So what motivates you to keep pushing forward, especially during those super challenging days? I know you just also are in the process, although you just received your first couple of checks, you finally decided to go and raise money. You know, good for you. That’s It’s never easy to raise, no matter how much money you’re raising or which round you’re in. It’s just it’s never that fun to do it. So congratulations, for sure. And you continue to motivate and keep pushing forward. But what motivates you to keep pushing forward, especially during super hard and challenging times? Yeah,

Loren Lewin 29:06
I think honestly, every day is a new day. And I really mean that every day is a day for opportunity. I am happy and I am healthy. I have no complaints. You know, I’m able to build a company of my dreams for what I feel is a better world. And even on my hardest days, I’m lucky to be able to do that and to be able to be spreading this message and to have wonderful consumers who believe in us and I think at the end of the day, our mission of really making this world a healthier world not just for humans but for pets as well. And seeing how well the world has responded to this. How could I not keep going even on you know, the millions of noes I receive on probably a weekly basis. The yeses are what matter and the yeses are the milestones So I would say that even though I’m really tired most of the time,

Kara Goldin 30:04
I love it. So Loren Lewin, founder of Companion Candles, thank you so much for joining us. We’ll have all the info in the show notes as well. But really appreciate you coming on and talking to us about your journey but also about just giving it giving us much more awareness of what’s going on in different industries and how you are doing good and, and changing the status quo. So really appreciate it. So best of luck with everything, Loren, thank you so much. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and good bye for now.