Stars of our TV advert: Lucy and The London Refinery
Lucy Heale is the Founder and CEO of The London Refinery.
(Re) watch our Instagram Live with Lucy here.
👋🏼 Hello Lucy! What does The London Refinery do?
We make natural candles and fragrances.
We also design experiences around candle-making and fragrances.
When did you start The London Refinery?
In 2015. I’ve been working full-time for the company since 2018. Before that, I was a full-time art director for an agency, designing experiences.
Do you employ anyone?
Yes – I have people who help me pack and send orders, and I’m currently training people to teach our courses. Some of them came to our classes, loved it and wanted to join us. Others messaged me directly to ask to come on board!
What a great way to get a job: directly ask a company you love! What motivated you to start this business?
For a long time I’ve had a passion for natural products. ‘Natural’ means without synthetic ingredients. I’m obsessed with what goes into things I use in my home and the products I use on my skin. I prefer to use natural ingredients and many more people are choosing natural products too.
Years ago, I did a fascinating course on how to make natural fragrances. As well as making our own fragrances, we looked at the effects on the body and mind.
Because I was using natural ingredients in fragrances, I realised I could do the same with candles. The kitchen table became my laboratory and I experimented with ingredients distilled from plants: flowers, fruits, herbs.
Your suppliers must be very important…
Yes – for example, it’s vital to use good quality essential oils. The ingredients you choose will be determined by what you’re making. To learn more about how to choose ingredients, book for a virtual class with us!
To help the participants at our classes, I give them links to websites I trust where they can buy supplies to start making their own candles. And to make it even easier, we now sell candle-making supplies on our website: wax, wicks, glasses and more.
You’re making it so simple for people to make their own candles. At Tide, we’re making finance admin simple – how did you hear about Tide? And why did you choose us?
I kept seeing Tide adverts and my partner had a Tide account! I’d started the business and knew I needed to keep the money separate from my own. It was so quick to open my account and there’s no monthly fee.
I use Quickbooks so it’s very handy that Tide syncs with that. And I love that the app is so easy to use. To make a payment, I just log in using my face [facial recognition, via your phone’s camera], make the payment and that’s it. It couldn’t be easier.
What’s your favourite aspect of the work you do at The London Refinery?
I love meeting people and sharing knowledge. It’s no longer about selling candles, I love designing experiences that delight our customers. And we’re on something of a mission to pass on our skills and encourage more people to make their own candles!
What’s one thing you wish customers knew about candle-making?
That you can make them yourself! And it’s easier than you think.
Actually, there are a couple of important steps people often miss when they have a go at making their own candles:
Firstly, it’s important to glue down your wick! You must secure it to the bottom of the container before you fill the candle!
Secondly, don’t light your candle straight after you’ve poured it. You need to ‘cure’ a candle from two days to a week. This allows the wax to rest. If you don’t let it cure, it might not burn properly – or at all.
Good to know. In the world of candle-making and fragrance, whose work do you most admire?
Chrissie Wildwood – I must have spent years reading her inspiring books about natural fragrances and blending. I love how powerful the experience of fragrances and making things yourself can be. I think this why the candle kits are currently outselling our candles on the website.
Who would be your dream customer, and why?
Rather than one special customer, my dream is that more people from all kinds of backgrounds come to us to try candle-making. I want everyone to know it’s possible and straightforward to make your own natural products.
In fact, some of our current customers are dreamy! Recently, we’ve been lucky enough to be commissioned by some amazing organisations. Some are still top secret but I can reveal we’re creating a candle for This Morning, the TV show, which they’ll use as a competition prize. The brief was to create a candle that smells like the This Morning studio…
What?! Like coffee and sweaty camera-operators??
Haaha, no! The wood the set is made from, cosmetics and powder, the freshly prepared food they feature on the show, that sort of thing. What a challenge!
I’m excited that we might even go on the show to talk about how we made the candle. They have cookery on the show, so why not candle-making?
Good point! Let us know if that happens and we’ll let Tide members know.
How has your business been affected by the coronavirus crisis?
I was planning to spend this year doing more development: experimenting with new products, creating new courses etc. Instead, orders for candle-making kits took off so we’ve been very busy packing and improving those. The kits have all the ingredients, instructions and a film inside to guide you on how to make a candle at home.
I think the increased demand for kits is because of the lockdown trend for craft and making things at home. I had to hire help to fulfil the orders and make sure the kits were all perfect.
Sales of kits have levelled out now and we’re seeing an increase in bookings for virtual workshops. We think this is because organisations are finding new ways to get their staff together for team building activities. Groups of friends are also finding new ways to celebrate a special occasion or just get together remotely.
There’s so much demand that I’m training other people to be teachers for our courses. If anyone’s interested in training, they can get in touch with me!
Do you have a business mentor or someone who helps you with your business decisions?
No but I’d love to have a mentor. I have an accountant who’s been great for making sure I’m complying with my obligations as a business owner and being tax efficient. I also talk over ideas and decisions with my partner Tim – he’s a freelance film and app maker. But he must be fed up of me asking for his advice!
I sell via Shopify and their website has some useful tips about how to market and sell effectively. I also look at the Design Trust website which has great resources for creative businesses. For example, I found their advice about pricing very useful.
We’d love to! It’s on our to-do list.
Great, I’ll sign up! Actually, I really should investigate finding a mentor… I have a few ideas of people I could contact to ask about how they grew their business. Maybe I’ll ask to meet them for a virtual coffee and chat…
Good plan. Do you have a tip for people who are thinking about starting their own business?
Yes – rather than going all-in, start up your business while you have a steady income. Test your ideas and see how it goes. Keep tweaking what you offer according to what people want – move with the market. My business has evolved like this – I started out selling candles and we now offer candle-making experiences.
How are you feeling about your business’s prospects for the next year?
I can only be positive – our virtual workshops are doing well, we always seem to be busy. I do take time to consider how to move the business forward. I like to regularly check in that we’re all happy doing what we’re doing, and that we’re doing the right things. Because we enjoy our work and it’s sustainable and ethical, it gives us lots of energy to keep going.
Thanks for talking to us, Lucy! Lots of luck for 2021 – we look forward to following your company’s progress. 💙
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Photos by Rupert Mason