When I began making fragrance candles 14 years ago I was already 56, not exactly the youngest of entrepreneurs. I tried candle making to lend a hand to someone who wanted to make candles for Christmas presents. He was and is very good looking and my obsession with him was the one driving force that ignited my interest in candles and encouraged me to work overtime. Alas, my obsession/ business partner soon decided candles weren’t for him and so I was left with a broken heart, a wax melter, a business lease and a new obsession…for candles. Now at 70, I look back on my company’s growth and the peaks and valleys of running a business by myself. No, I can’t afford to retire (not that I’d want to) nor do I wish to spend my time on cruise ships doing nothing. I love to work, especially at something I know I excel in and I love doing. But don’t get me wrong, I still get up in the middle of the night worried, my mind is constantly acting like some kind of calculator and sometimes I do wonder if I’ll ever sell another candle. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an incredible reputation; have a client list that reads like a “Who’s Who” and known nationally for not only my fragrances but my design abilities. But in a small business, especially in these economic conditions, you have to be a jack of all trades and worry, worry, worry about the cash flow which is always a major problem.
I once was a copywriter for some of the major ad agencies in New York. I had helped create The Roach Motel, Airwick Stick Ups and Carpet Fresh. I squired Isabella Rossellini around as the Account Supervisor on LanÄ‰ome. I knew how to promote household products, fragrance and skin care. I traveled with a fast social group in NY, always knew the little fork was for salad and burned perfumed candles from France that were all the rage of my high income, NY friends.
Little did I know that my “high class” living and impressive resume would lead me to melting wax in a double boiler in my kitchen. For one who never worried about paychecks I had to change my outlook and my way-of-life. A small business owner must compete in an arena that is totally different than what happens in larger corporations. But I learned to manage the differences and make them work for me. I positioned myself as a small, specialized company that appealed to small high end retailers who also wanted unique products to sell. And, most important, I always presented myself as who I am; TIMOTHY JAY WEST HOLLYWOOD. Most fragrance companies boast Paris, Milan or New York as their origins’. I wanted to make sure that everyone knew my candles were created, hand-poured and hand-packaged in the Los Angeles “gay Mecca.” I also offered a unique concept; private labeling in a category where it was never available. I worked (and still work) six days (sometimes seven) days a week, follow up on every lead and still shamelessly promote my company. I have earned the title of “name dropper” because some of my clients are uber famous. My candles have found themselves in the White House, burned by stars and on Oprah. No, I don’t need these names as friends, but I do want their names on my client list.
As a gay man in the 1950s, I grew up suppressing my talents, lest they expose my sexual preference. I am so pleased that they survived and matured. I believe gays have been more apt to going into business for themselves because discrimination and homophobia forced so many of us into alternative careers. I have learned to use that discrimination to my advantage .The “gay gene” will work to your advantage, too. Find your passion and see if it can support you. To anyone thinking about going into business I have some more advice; develop your ideas on paper or on a screen and translate your daydreaming into action. If your idea is viable then do as much research as possible. Try your ideas on your friends and start out small and economically. Just keep pushing and learn from your mistakes. Most important always consider the “variations on your theme”. Your own head will guide you and lead you to the next step. Then, when you can give back to your community, that’s so important! And, as the saying says, “don’t give up before the miracle.”