Kristen Pumphrey is the mastermind behind the handmade candle and home fragrance goods company, P.F. Candle Co. In 2008, she set the company in motion and has since turned it into a successful brand featured in stores such as Target, West Elm, Urban Outfitters, and many others. Utilizing Instagram to connect with their customers and to tell a story through their brand makes them extraordinary. In this edition of Behind the Brand, Kristen shares her story and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Hi, Kristen! Please tell us about yourself and what led you to create P.F. Candle Co.!
Hi! I’m the co-owner, Founder, and Creative Director, for P.F. Candle Co., a home fragrance goods company based out of Los Angeles. I founded P.F. in 2008, inspired by the burgeoning maker movement. Before P.F., I worked as an Editorial Assistant at a publishing company. I live in Los Angeles now, but I crisscrossed the country to get here, from Austin to Brooklyn. I grew up on the East Coast, outside DC, and went to NYU in New York, so I consider myself a California girl with an East Coast soul (which probably means I’m a hippie that curses too much).
I was working at a craft magazine after graduating from college – this was when Etsy first started. One of my tasks was writing about artisans and makers, and I thought “I want to do this.” When the magazine folded in 2008, I took it as a sign to relocate to Austin and try my hand at making things for a living. Tom, my husband and other co-owner, came on board in 2013 after we got married.
Tell us about your journey and how you made a small business so successful and fruitful. What obstacles did you overcome in the beginning? What was your proudest career moment?
P.F. just took off in 2013. Before that, it was me throwing a bunch of handmade items at the wall to see what would stick. P.F. took off thanks to an Etsy pop-up at West Elm – the VP of Merchandising discovered our brand through an Instagram post that West Elm LA shared. How crazy is that? They ended up picking us up, and that was the PO that allowed P.F. to expand. In the beginning, we were constantly underestimating the materials and people we needed to grow a business. There were a lot of rush orders (terrible for our COGs) and long nights worked. We also had to learn how to be managers overnight.
One of my proudest career moments personally was writing a column for one of my favorite blogs, Design Sponge – one of the blogs that that inspired me to pursue my dreams. When it comes to the business, one of my proudest career moments is when we pitched our products to Target (for a shop local project) and were picked out of over 300 vendors to be featured in an end-cap display at Southern California stores. From the second bedroom to a huge store like that – crazy!
How has social media and visual storytelling played a part in making your company successful?
We use Instagram to create an instant brand story through color, living spaces, and “editorial” shots. We want people to feel connected to our DIY, Californian vibe. Even from the beginning, I was particular about what I posted, making sure each picture furthered the story of our brand in some way. I think of it like screenwriting – everything you post and put out there should have a purpose. People will click “follow” when they look at your feed at a glance, so it has to look good. Before Planoly, I was using a combination of VSCO, iPhone photo stream, and iCal reminders to organize and post. Planoly makes it insanely easy to set your feed up, both visually and for promotional purposes.
“We use Instagram to create
an instant brand story
through color, living spaces
and “editorial” shots.”
“Planoly makes it
insanely easy to set your
feed up, both visually &
for promotional purposes.”
You and your husband work together in this business – what is the secret to working with your significant other?
Separate roles. It’s funny because we have completely different work styles. I’m sure if I was just his co-worker, I’d drive him nuts! But we complement each other: I’m the vision, he makes it happen. Also, separate work and home if you can. Meaning, when you go home, don’t talk about the business for hours (well, talk about exciting things, not the things that stress you out. That just leads to tension).
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Act like a bigger business than you are – no one needs to know it’s just you in your second bedroom, working in your pajamas. Create systems for yourself that a larger company would use – this will allow you to scale. Try to answer every email within 24 hours, even if it’s just “I’ll get back to you” – this goes a long way.
“Create systems for yourself
that a larger company would use
– this will allow you to scale.”
What is your favorite scent right now and what do you love to do when you’re not working?
I love our scent Copal. It’s based on the incense of the same name, which we discovered in Mexico in 2015. The incense can be pretty smoky, and we couldn’t find a candle version, so of course, we had to make one. It takes me back to that trip to Tulum.
I had a baby about six months ago. When I’m not working, you can find me laying on the floor in her room, listening to records, and playing. I also do ballet, hike, tend to my indoor garden, and cook.
Lastly, what is your spirit animal?
A California black bear – or I guess now, a mama bear.