Michelle Wilson, Executive Director at TriVillage Chamber Partnership and host of Business Inspires, welcomes Steve Weaver, owner of The Candle Lab, to the podcast.
Michelle: This is Michelle Wilson with the TriVillage Chamber Partnership. And today I’m very excited to be speaking with my friend Steven Weaver owner of The Candle Lab. And Steve thank you for being with us. First of all.
Steven: Thank you for having me.
Michelle: You’ve done a few podcasts around town we were just talking about that before we started this and I want this one to be a little bit different in the fact that I think most people listening will know your product and probably have been into a store or have a candle burning somewhere in their home or office. But we really try to create a little different connection on this show with our business owners in the tri-village area that we want to know why you do what you do and what got you here. So we typically always start with the first question of this being, when you we’re little what did you want to be when you grew up?
Steven: Well I am unusual in that I knew from kindergarten on and never wavered that I wanted to go into politics. It’s something that I can’t ever remember wanting to do something different. And I mean I was exposed to lots of different things but I never really wavered my career choice. Politics was always fascinating to me that there was a group that people would just elect representatives to head off and make the rules that would govern their lives. And just the whole process was fascinating to me. And so I ended up going to college in D.C. and worked the first 10 years of my professional life in politics.
Michelle: I mean you dreamt of what you wanted to do and you did it. I haven’t heard that very often as the answer. Most people say you know I had no idea I was going to be a grocer. But here I am. And you dreamt it and you did it. That’s fascinating.
Steven: It was something I was very passionate about and I’m I’m glad I did it. I was thrilled to leave it behind. You know after 10 years I had seen every dark corner of the of the world of politics and was ready for a new change. But I’m grateful that I had the time in there and that I went to college in D.C. and was kind of immersed in that culture for a while there. I lived there after I graduated so I got my full dose of my first career and was ready for something new.
Michelle: That’s pretty cool. Did you watch House of Cards?
Steven: I did.
Michelle: Did it give you shivers?.
Steven: It brought back a lot of memories. My first two years out of college I worked on Capitol Hill for two different members of Congress and so it was, particularly the part when you know the first couple of seasons when he’s still in Congress. It was a lot of good and bad memories coming back.
Michelle: Yeah I bet. We spoke with Hernando Possata on our last podcast and he also very politically active. I don’t know if you know Hernandez Posada with Mill Street Distillery. And now the new Endeavor Brewing. Great guy but huge political background and so it’s fascinating to me that two podcasts in a row we have that background. But then you both have ventured off into something extremely different from where you started. So while I know some of the story I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how you got from politics to candle making.
Steven: Well my last political gig was, I owned my own political consulting company. It was kind of one half web design firm and one half a consulting firm where we would embed ourselves into campaigns and build their website for them and then teach them how to use it. This was in the early days of the website. So politicians and campaign managers knew they needed a website but they didn’t know anything about it or how much it would cost or how to how to use it or format their message for the web. So we would build the site and then we would stay with the campaign. And basically coach them and how to get how to recruit volunteers and raise money online, before that was a really popular thing. And it reached a point where I was just running out of people that I wanted to help get elected and that I had seen just enough of the dirty side of politics that I knew it didn’t matter how well we conducted our business as long as you are dealing with shady characters, which there are some shady characters in the politics, that eventually you’re going to get sucked into that. And that happened to us a couple of times. So after coming to that realization, I closed on my political company and I gave myself a couple of months to just figure out what I wanted to do next. All of my selling, my experience, all my contacts were in the political world. And so the woman I was dating at the time. Every time I would go to our apartment she would have three or four candles burning nonstop. She was burning Yankee Candles and I couldn’t believe how much of her disposable income she was spending on candles. And they never seem to smell true to scent to me. They always smelled very artificial and syrupy and perfumey. So she had a really strong background in retail. she had been with A&F for ten years in various roles for them. And so I convinced her that it would be a good move. While we were still dating to her job at Abercrombie and we would start a candle store together. And you know what was happening, I think the plan was always I was going to get her set up with her own business. I was going to get her a candle store and get her off and running and then I would go figure out what I really wanted to do. And now 11 years into it we are now married and there’s never been a time when I could go do my own thing so this has been a ride we were on together and I’m going to do it for the foreseeable future.
Michelle: That’s great. And I think what fascinates me about you and your wife, and The Candle Lab is that you’re continuously changing, you’re not remaining the same. You change up your stores, you change up your community partnerships. You have locations in several communities not only in Columbus but Cincinnati. Am I missing one?.
Michelle: Yes. And you’re really good about just trying to stay fresh and be responsive to your customers’ input. And you know I think that’s clearly part of your success.
Steven: It’s been yes. I think, first of all, thank you for that, and I do think that is one of the reasons why we have stuck around and are continuing to grow is because people were starting a business always tell me like can you help me edit my business plan and I always have to chuckle a little bit and say your business plan is not going to survive, you know, two months into your business. It’s a good, it’s an important intellectual exercise you’ve got to do it in the beginning, you’ve got to kind of flush out all of your ideas, but ultimately your customers are going to tell you who you are and what they want from you. And, you know, the businesses that can listen to that and can adjust and adapt, you know, I think are the ones that are built for long-term success. So all of our moves have come directly from customers saying hey you know have you ever thought about doing this or this is what I really wish I could get from you. And then we just kind of follow that wherever that leads us and it’s led us into many different things.
Michelle: Yeah. And you’ve you’ve not been afraid to look into new options that maybe didn’t pan out. I remember at some point there was going to be a mobile candle lab and you know that’s OK. I mean I think that’s what’s great is that you’re not afraid to try new things and if they don’t work you don’t just jump into them and you make sure that that’s what’s going to fit your business model and fit the community.
Steven: Yes. We keep a core purpose and a core mission and then we are willing to try a lot of different things to see what is the best way of accomplishing that. So you know we have at the heart of it we think that custom fragrance is a great way of improving your life. If you’re putting together a space for your home or your office. You know you spend lots of time thinking about the paint color that you’re going to use in the art that you can hang on the wall and the lamps and the pillows the tile that space together. We were trying to get fragrance added to that list. If you’re going to create, if you’re going to build out your man cave it can’t smell like summer meadow Glade Plugin. It’s got to smell like, you know, like Ron Burgundy. It’s got to smell like bourbon and old books. And so we’re on a mission to convince people that like thinking about scent as a way to tie together the spaces where they spend their time, is time well spent. It’s a good investment. And so we are we’re going to deliver that message of custom fragrance as you know and any different in all different ways and in different places and in different contexts so that people begin to experience it. You know every year, for example, we go out to the Parade Of Homes and we pick a couple of home builders and we scent each room as their house. As you’re moving through these homes that are so beautifully decorated so beautifully built as you walk in each room there’s a scent. If you’re looking at a picture in a magazine and you imagine what that room would smell like we’re trying to create the scent that is exactly like that. And as you move through these homes and you’re looking at the visual design and then you’re seeing how the scent really ties it together and people leave there and you know they’ll sometimes leave the homes come straight to our store and say OK I was just at your Parade Of Homes’ house and now I want to do this for my home. So that’s you know that’s an example of where we will go out and find ways to tell our story to our customers wherever they are.
Michelle: So as far as marketing I mean one of the things I tell my friends and colleagues or associates is that you’re really one of the smartest marketers I know. You really are. I mean you’re incredibly smart. And I you know I love the way you think. And so with that are you the marketing team? I mean even while you’ve grown and expanded you’ve stayed relatively small as far as staffing.
Steven: Right. We spend our payroll dollars on frontline employees. The staff that is dealing with customers is where we spend most of our money and then our corporate offices are very lean, in fact are just three of us. It’s funny you mentioned that. I have done the marketing for the first 11 years and we just hired our first Director of Marketing. She starts December 1st so I am excited to be passing off some of this and to have somebody who can help me with this. But, to me, I’ve always been able to hire out all the other parts but at the core of it is storytelling. And because marketing to me is just storytelling. If you can tell your story to the right people who hear it and think it’s a value that’s better than trying to force yourself into places where you’re going to have to work hard and spend money to try to overwhelm people with you know with brand impression. So you know marketing done correctly is presenting the right opportunity the right person at the right time where they say like I’m so glad I found out about this company that can help me do this thing that I’m trying to do. So that’s always been our marketing approach and it’s one that’s served us very well.
Michelle: So that’s been very deliberate. My next question then is you hire this person and I’m sure he or she will be great. But how do you hire somebody to think like Steve?
Steven: Yes well that’s going to be a challenge but we’re hiring partly because she comes with a whole set of skills that are different from mine so I think we’re going to be very complimentary. I’m certainly not going to drop all of this stuff and walk away. It’s going to be I think we’re going to be very complimentary to one another. I’m trying to get somebody to spend more time on the day to day stuff that sometimes, you know, being a business owner and being the marketing person, when we get busy some of those, the ongoing market things like social media and your e-mail newsletter that’s got to go out, those things will sometimes suffer if my “owner hat” is taking over and so that has been probably our number one weakness is that our marketing plan is great as long as I’ve got the time to do it. So I’m excited to have some of that can come in and be somewhat insulated from that so that every day, talking to our customers and listening to what they have to say back, is something that will happen every day regardless of how busy I am. And then I can kind of swoop in when needed and give some guidance some storytelling.
Michelle: That’s good. And I have I’ve heard you say in the past that working with your spouse is a blessing and a curse. Really just because when you have great successes you celebrate simultaneously. But when there’s challenges you have to deal with that together as well. So how, with those challenges, how do you, what’s your philosophy of getting past them and not letting it affect relationship and family?
Steven: Well that is certainly the most difficult part and we’ve had some big bumps in the road. I mean as you know we’ve had a store burned down where our store here in Grandview. So you know when we’ve had other, you know, we’ve had to close a store along the way. And so it’s difficult because if you have you know if you each have different jobs you can kind of lean on one another and you know you share about your bad day and you know your spouse or significant other is there to support you, and you play a different role and they’re having a tough time. When you’re in it together then you’re both in there and you have to just find other ways to cope with that. But the shared successes make that worth it. You know when we open a new store or we get, you know, a big opportunity, it’s great to be able to have somebody that is sharing that same success you are. So probably the toughest thing is, everybody’s got a different idea of success. When you’re going into a business whether it’s with a business partner or with your with your significant other, some people might think like we need to make as much money as possible and that success, there’s other people say look, you know, we need to be really well known and I want to be on covers of magazines, and there’s other people say I want to open up a bunch of locations and then sell this down the road. There’s all sorts of different definitions of success and paths to get to where you want to go. And so getting on the same page with what the plan is and what, you know, five years from now if we’re winning what does that look like. That’s been probably the toughest part but also the most rewarding part is now I know what success looks and feels like my wife and it’s different from mine. But we are able to balance out both of those things and we’re now speaking the same language.
Michelle: Wow, that’s fascinating. I mean I honestly can’t imagine working with my spouse every day just because I do, I do go home at night. You know I share things and I get kind of unbiased feedback and I think I can do that for it for him. So I enjoy that give and take. But I think that having similar vision could be challenging. So I applaud you both.
Steven: It helps that we’ve got different skills and different strengths and weaknesses so we were very complimentary so that I think if we are similar personalities it would probably be even more difficult. But everything to me looks like a million dollar opportunity that we just absolutely have to do and everything looks to her like the possible risk that might derail the success that we’ve built. And so if I was running the company without her we’d have 100 locations and we’d be bankrupt. And if she was running the company we’d have one absolutely perfect location. But that would be as far as it would go and so. So the way we balance out each other that way and we know when we’re in agreement on an opportunity and we’re both on the same page then that’s how it moves forward otherwise we both have veto power over the other so it works very well.
Michelle: That’s good. So speaking of locations we can talk about that. Thankfully you are back in Grandview after the fire and then moving. You’re right on Grandview Avenue where you should be. And that seems to be going well?
Steven: It’s great. So we started our business in Worthington 11 years ago and then almost immediately we opened up our second location. We opened our second location, I think only four or five months after we opened the first one. We realized early on that if we worked in that if we worked in the same store every day that we are going to end up killing one another. So we very quickly signed a lease but we also did it so we could double the rate of experimentation. We had lots of ideas of trying to get this idea of custom fragrance and flush it out. And what products would people want to make and what’s the best way of helping them through this and how many scents should we have to offer any product should we offer. There are so many questions in the beginning. You can do all the market testing an idea spinning you want. At the end of the day, you have to open and you have to listen to what your customers have to say. So we signed the second lease almost immediately. And so we would meet for breakfast every morning and then we would go to our separate stores. We’d open. We didn’t have any employees. So I would work one store from 11 to eight. She’d work the other store from 11 to eight, and we’d meet up for late night dinner and kind of compare notes. So it doubled the rate of our being able to try different things because she would move one display forward and move back and she’d try one set of pricing I’d try a different one. And so it worked out really well. I don’t know that I would recommend that as an approach because whenever we, like, learn a lesson it would be double the cost of going back and fixing it in two stores versus one. But it certainly helped us out. And so we’re ingrained almost right from the beginning and that community has been so great to us and we have a lot of really loyal fans that have helped us over all these years. And so to be back on “the avenue” in the space that we’re in right in the heart of the mix there has been it’s just been great and the community has responded in kind.
Michelle: And the other communities you’re in of course. But I think it’s very interesting the way you choose communities in which to open your stores, and it’s clearly very deliberate and you look for potential partnerships to promote the local business community as a whole. I know of course you want to you know put your brand in there and make that work, but you’re very good about proactively working with others in the community.
Steven: Our business model is more reliant upon our neighbors than most places. If you’re a restaurant or your retail store you know people can park and walk in and eat your meal or buy your product and head back to their car. For us, when you make a candle or you make a soap or one of our other products it takes an hour for it to be ready. So we effectively trap you in these communities for an hour. So it’s really important to us that we have neighbors that can take care of our customers and deliver the kind of experience that we want in our stores while they’re waiting for that. So you know what you do in that hour gets compressed in your mind as part of our brand experience. So when we’re going to a new neighborhood, in fact, next week we open up our second store down in Cincinnati, Anderson Township. So the first thing we do when we find a community is we go and we have lunch and dinner in every restaurant usually twice. And we’re looking around to say, are these our customers or is this a great experience, good food, good services, is something that our customers would enjoy doing while they’re waiting. And if the answer is “No” then, you know, then we really can’t go there because that’s really important to what we’re doing. So the restaurants, then the other experiences, our new Anderson Township store is directly across the street from a Sky Zone trampoline center. So now we’ll be able to bring in kids birthday parties where you can pour a candle and then go bounce on the trampoline for an hour and then we’ll deliver the candles over to them. So the more of those great partners we have around us the more of those kind of packages and experiences we can put together. And it’s really essential for our business.
Michelle: How much is, tying into that and getting back a little bit to your marketing, how much of that business of the birthday parties and bachelorette parties and things like that, how much of that is just coming to you now versus when you started rather than you having to go out and seek those parties and opportunities?.
Steven: In the beginning, the parties were something that we were heavily marketed. We tried to promote. We knew that we had a fun and engaging experience of sitting at the bar and making these products. But it gets even better when you are doing it with friends. And so whether it’s whether it’s a date night or it’s a girls night out or a kid’s birthday party, if you’re experiencing these scents together and you’re talking about your mixes and “Oh smell this,” “No I think I’m in a mix these two together,” and it just sort of it it’s an exponential enjoyment of the situation. So we marketed the parties, in the beginning, we really promoted them, and now we don’t really promote the parties because they just have a momentum of their own. Every time we book a party of eight ladies they come into pour a candle, there’s always one or two people in that group that have their own book club or their own church group or their own you know moms group that they want to assemble, so every party we book usually books two or three more parties after that. So there’s been a viral effect to that. So now, you know, every half hour on Saturdays, you know, and most of our stores it is just party after party after party which is great. It requires a lot of staff and it requires a lot of planning and logistics. But it’s great. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our bars are full and it’s groups of people that are having a great time together and then they’re heading out and are in the districts where we have our stores to support our neighbors. And so, you know, when we deliver our candles, you know, you pour a candle, and you go grab some lunch and then we deliver your candles to your table just as your meal is ending. You know that the restaurants always appreciative that we brought a group there, so it’s been great. To me, to tie back to the beginning, it is the part of the business that I am the most proud of because even though I got out of politics I still haven’t lost that appetite to want to affect change within communities. And so it was important to me we’re building this business, even though it was about candles, to say when we come to district I want to bring not just our business but I want to bring our expertise about how businesses can work together, I want to drive traffic to our neighbors so that their numbers go up and, you know, once we’ve been in a community for a year or two people say like I’m really glad The Candle Lab has come here, it’s really made our downtown look better. So we come not just with our own products but we come with a plan to try to tie everybody together into one cohesive shopping dining experience. And that’s the part I still enjoy the most.
Michelle: And I read people’s comments about that. I do follow you in a couple of different areas. I stalk you.
Steven: Thank you.
Michelle: Because again I admire the way you do business and certainly the way you do really engage the community and you do truly care about your neighbor businesses. And I hope that they all appreciate that. I know that that might be a stretch but, you know, really I think that your staff, not they not only did they know how to guide a customer into you know the perfect scented candle but they know the area. And when my husband and I went in recently to the Worthington store and we had an amazing staff member, just great, and you know, we talked about the places locally that we should maybe try here. There was a really long line at the place we wanted to eat. She says why didn’t she try here have you. Oh, my gosh have you had this at this restaurant. You know I love that there they are having more of a visitor experience than just talking about, you know, what’s right there at their fingertips.
Steven: Yeah I think of them as, you know, the hotel concierge is part of their job description. We take them out to eat in the restaurants that surround us, we make sure that they know about the other retail shops and experiences around us because they need to make the best possible recommendation for you so that you have the best possible time while you’re waiting for your candle. And that’s what brings you back, so we have a good number of staff dinners out to make sure that they can make a very specific recommendation. And you know there’s, I always tell people there’s a cost to this so we don’t spend a lot of money on marketing but we spend an enormous amount of money on payroll in order to get the best possible people who can then deliver not just, like you said, not just the good scent part of the experience, but then also helping you figure out plan your evening. You know if you’re trying to plan a bachelorette party from out of town, you know, we’ll talk you through the neighborhood and where to park and where to eat and those kind of things. So our payroll is off the charts in terms of the typical ranges of retail but we don’t spend very much money on marketing. And so I. you know. I always justify to our account as saying if you just put our marketing in payroll budget together we’ve just put it all on the payroll side because the best marketing is a great experience in the store and that’s going to be what brings you back. And have you bring friends with you when you come. And so that’s how I justify our large payroll as that is our marketing spend so that people will come back.
Michelle: I think it’s hugely justified because it’s working. You know I mean I just told you about an experience that I hadn’t told you about yet and my husband hadn’t been in, he’d been into buy candles, but never make one. And it was just a great evening. We stopped, you know, next door The House Wine, and when you walk over to the next place to eat and you know we did we spent time in the area just because we had that hour and your staff member talked up all the other places so how can we resist, it was really wonderful. So I love to touch on what’s coming up in another month, downtown, what’s going on. Because it’s really quite different from what you’ve done in other places is it not? Or is it just more space?
Steven: No. No this is definitely something different. So in December, we are opening a new store directly across the street from the convention center. This is going to have a first-floor store where it’s going to look very similar to our existing stores, but then we’re gonna have a basement that’s going to be available for big groups to rent out. So in all of our stores groups come in and they pour and then they head out in the community go somewhere else to eat or drink or spend their time. This is going to be our first attempt to see if people will pour candles on the first floor then head down to the basement and have their corporate meeting, their family reunion, their event gathering down there. Being across the street from the convention center we’re looking forward to being a place to have kind of an evening reception, once you finish your meetings for the day, you come across, you pour a candle in and have your cocktail hour or your dinner over there. You know there’s a good number of dance competitions and volleyball tournaments and you know things that bring kids into the convention center. So we’re going to be the place where if you’ve got a volleyball game in the morning and then you’ve got a volleyball game in the afternoon the parents and the kids can come across the street, pour a candle, have lunch there and head back across. So this is really catering to a completely different market. And to see if we can, if we’re successful at bringing in groups not just for candles but for the whole experience there. And so each of our four stores in Columbus are in a little different neighborhood, they cater to a little different group, they’re driven by some different audiences and some different experiences there. So even within our four stores here in town, we have a core story we’re trying to tell. But everything from the design to the people we hire as part of that experience. They’re all slightly different to make sure that they’re taking on the character of the neighborhood and of the people that are that are shopping there. So we’re really excited about it.
Michelle: And when do you plan to move in? Are you on track for December?.
Steven: Well yes let’s say December for now. And there’s there’s a slim chance we’ll be open Black Friday.
Michelle: Oh my goodness.
Steven: However that’s very slim. So let’s say December and then hope for the best.
Michelle: And what is the square footage?
Steven: So it’s 1800 square feet on both floors. 1800 square feet store and another 1800 in the basement. So we should be able to seat 90 to 100 people comfortably for a sit-down meal in the basement which is going to open up a lot of possibilities for all the things going on. The Short North has such an energy and a center of gravity but there’s so much development happening right around the convention center there with the, you know, with the North Market and the development that’s going in there. And there’s six hotels within walking distance and soon to be a seventh, and so with all of the things that they have down there, it’s almost it’s own thing. It’s not downtown, it’s not the Short North, it is, you know, right around the convention district. And we’re excited to be a part of that kind of reinvention of that area.
Michelle: Yeah, it’s going to be an amazing addition. I love hearing it. Very excited. It’s great stuff. So tell me where all four of your stores are in Columbus.
Steven: So we have we have one in downtown Worthington, one on Grandview Avenue, one in The Short North, and then this fourth one will be right across from the convention center.
Michelle: And that’s the old Yankee Trader?.
Steven: The Yankee Trader.
Steven: So most people in Columbus who have been here as long as I have will know what The Yankee Trader is.
Steven: I bought many Halloween costumes the party decorations there.
Michelle: Absolutely, that’s so great. That’s really exciting.
Steven: Yeah the building has great, great bones, it’s, you know, they’ve gutted it down to the kind of the brick, and the shell, and it’s just absolutely beautiful. Triad Architects, they bought the building, and are doing the remodel and Zach and his team have just done a really great job of putting that property together and holding onto the history. But they’re going to make it look beautiful.
Michelle: I can’t wait to see it. That’s really exciting. So I told you earlier that I kind of follow you and read. Some of the things you say are hilarious by the way and just make my day, most times. But tell me who you are your influencers? Who do you follow? At one time when we were talking, this goes back a few years ago, you said you had been to a conference that maybe you go to every year in California, and one of the topics was “if you’re the smartest person in the room you need to be in another room” and that has stuck with me. And I think that’s just sage advice. Just generally. Who are your influencers? Who do you follow?
Steven: So there’s several conferences I attend every year. And I can chart the real growth of the business back to the start of this commitment, and the first the first really five years my wife and I just had our heads, down just grinding away. You know it took three, it was three and a half years into the business before you would have had time to carve out time to get married. You know since we started we were still dating. And then so we got married and we didn’t have time to plan a wedding we just e-mailed everybody and said we’re getting married on this cruise ship. It’s a three-day cruise. We’d love to have you on there we just sent an e-mail to about 250 people. So we took the three-day cruise came right back and then right back to work the very next day. So it’s really the first five years it’s just like head down grinding on the business and just trying to you know through trying to make it succeed through just sheer force of will. And then I went out to a conference in California which I hadn’t been to an event like this before but it was 150 business owners who, they were all a good bit farther down the path than I was in terms of success and just having things figured out. And one of the rules at this conference is you can’t check your phone or your e-mail. You’ve got to be 100 percent present even in the break times. They want you connecting with one another. And so I showed up you know trying to think creatively about how I could sneak away and check in on the stores and see how things are going like get back to this one person who’s waited for me. And I kind of mentioned it to a few people on the first day like you know hey how do you get around this like, “You’ve got to be present,” you know. And none of them even seemed the least bit concerned about it. Their businesses were running without them there, they were there to learn and soak up as much knowledge as possible to meet other people who are on the same journey they were on. And then to take that back and get better what they are doing, and so it was, that is the moment where I point to say I saw it like a different way of owning a business than just in it every day trying to do everything yourself. And so I came back from that and I immediately took the leap of faith of hiring out all of the things that were taking up my time, that were preventing me from either growing the business or spending time with my kids, who’d just been born at that point. I now have five and a six-year-old and they were babies at this point and, so I came back and we hired a full-time nanny who helps me with the kids and does meal prep and grocery shopping. We hired lawn care so that I didn’t have to come home and mow the grass. I limited myself to either want to be growing the business or I want to be playing with my children and everything else, I’m going to hire out. And that really was the switch that flipped. As soon as my time was freed up to be more strategic and thinking about the, you know, what is the best thing I can be doing at this moment. And as soon as I started to focus on that then all sorts of other things go. So my influences are still, I still go out to that group, that conference every year, it’s called Mastermind Talks. And my influences are the people that are in that room that are there. There’s I think there’s no such thing as work-life balance even though that gets talked about a lot. But there is “work-life alignment” where those two things are in service of one another. And so I have my perfect day scripted out and to the extent possible every day matches that model. And as long as I’m sticking to my perfect day format the work is getting done, I’m present for my family and the company keeps moving forward. And if I find that I am getting derailed on other things, I figure out where the source of that derailment is coming, I get that stuff fixed and off my plate and then I go right back to the rhythm of my day. So those people in that conference and that I still could spend a good bit of time with, they’re just my, they’re my ongoing inspiration of where you wake up in the morning and your business and your life seem like effortlessly aligned.
Michelle: I usually ask what piece of advice would you give somebody just starting a business but I think that kind of sums it up, have work, life, this alignment and let go of the things that are bogging you down.
Steven: Yeah, there’s a great exercise called The Perfect Day where you basically, if you go three years out and you say money and there’s no there’s no limitations. You’re obviously, you’re stuck with your family that that part you can’t get rid of. So you keep your family there but the location where you live, and the work you’re doing, and the place where you spend your time, and all those controls are lifted and you say like if I could script my perfect day what would it be, and you know “where are you waking up?”, “what is the room that you’re in?”, “Who are you waking up next to?” “Are you going to get coffee or your coffee made for you?”, “Are you grinding your own beans and make your coffee?” Every minute detail you script out and when you’re released of all of those controls you can you really start to see the things that you want to be working towards. And so then now when I’m making decisions about you know how I get to set of my day I have something that I can check it against. So you know for a while we are building a big team at the corporate office and when I listed out my perfect day it was like after I’ve done my morning routine and got my kids off to school I want to go into an office where there’s a small group of people there who I enjoy spending time with, independent of the work that we’re doing and who are all on the same mission, we’re all passionate about. And so, you know, we kind of hit pause on growing up the big company staff and we’ve shrunk it back down now and so I go in, there’s really five people that I interact with most and I don’t really want the team to get any bigger than that because that’s the number of people who I can really invest in and check in on the work that they’re doing and so then we’ve kind of distributed out the management stuff. So really each aspect of the day is set up to be the work I want to be doing, the work I need to be doing, but done in a way that you know fits perfectly. When we were trying to schedule this, I sent you a link to my calendar to book this, grab whatever slot you want. You probably noticed that you cannot get on my calendar before 9:30 in the morning and that’s because taking my two girls to school in the morning, one goes to preschool and kindergarten, that part is sacred. That is the thing I do each day. I want to get them in the right frame of mind heading off to school. And so you know I get up at 6:00 in the morning and I work from six to seven before they get up and then from seven to nine I am all about getting them out the door. And you know getting their day started successfully. And then I had in the office at 9:00 and I worked from nine to four and then I’m home from four to eight to be present with them. They go to bed at 8:00 and then I work from like 8 to 11 every night. And so if you look at my work day I’m six to seven and then 9:30 to four and then eight to eleven which usually ends up being midnight. So my work day is very spread out. But it fits exactly with the times the day that I’m sharpest and can do my best work. It fits with the rhythm of my children. And so it serves my life perfectly and I love it. So that is probably my number one tip is just, the more time you can spend thinking about how to set that up, set yourself up for success, the better you’ll be.
Michelle: I love hearing that because that’s interestingly exactly what I did when I started with the Chamber several years ago was I just I said, you know, I’ll give you 110 percent at all times but it needs to be around my kids. And so they were kind enough to allow me to work my schedule that way. And I think that’s why, you know, I love coming in every day because I don’t feel that tug of I missing something where I can’t be somewhere that I really want to be, And that was the one thing that was important to me was you know that the family I would say balance but maybe I should say alignment, is really important. So I love it that you’ve made that happen. And as a business owner and as a family that’s fantastic. So, we’ll end with this. What would you like for your children to say about you when they’re adults? What would you like for them to have learned from you?
Steven: I mean, that’s a big one. I would say, you know we, my wife and I, both work every day to make sure that they understand the connection between the company that we’re building and the time we’re able to spend with them, the fact that we can, you know, come to all their concerts in the middle of the day when we’re not every parent can do that. And the fact that we work very hard during parts of the year where they don’t see us as much in the, you know, the grandparents are effectively raising our kids. And then there’s other times the year we can take a month off and we go you know on vacation with them. So I think they’re getting the message that the work that we’re doing is in service of our family to make sure that we can create the life for them that we that we want to do and to be present for them when they know when they need us. And so you know whatever they choose to do I think if they can go into it with that same inspiration you know they’re going to be there and be set up for a happy life. I could not be more grateful for the brand we’ve built, the people we’re able to employ, and the time spent with my family. I look at all three of those as things that I’m incredibly proud of and that have been all conscious decisions. I didn’t happen by accident. They are a choice. And so I hope that they whatever they decide to do that they are in the position to make those same choices.
Michelle: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Steven: My pleasure.
Michelle: Thanks Steve.
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