Magazine article Working Mother

Burning Ambition

Magazine article Working Mother

Burning Ambition

Article excerpt

Entrepreneur mom Mei Xu, 41, mother of Alex, 8, and Michael, 7; cofounder and owner, with husband, David Wang, 46, of Chesapeake Bay Candle, Rockville, MD. Number of employees: 50.

My story: I'm not exactly what you'd call spontaneous. Passionate, yes, but anything unplanned, ad-libbed or off-the-cuff isn't for me. I plan. I research. And then I plan some more. So even before I had children, I sketched a detailed blueprint for a career that would offer flexibility. Realizing that being my own boss was my best bet, I traveled to China - where my husband, David, and I were born and educated - to find a product that would launch our business. After much debate and testing, David and I decided to start a candle company, where I could apply my passion for art and design. Then the research began: I studied the home departments in major retailers and boutiques for home and gift products. I learned all I could about the players in the market. Stores were awash with crisp, hip, stylish fashions. But the selection for home products, including candles, was decidedly unhipthink vanilla and pumpkin spice. In 1994, armed with reams of research, we launched Chesapeake Bay Candle, a company that would produce clean, contemporary candles with fresh, bold colors and exotic botanical scents. And that's when all my detailed planning went awry - thank goodness! You see, the detail that made us a hit with retail buyers was actually an accident. I was experimenting in my basement and forgot to add a very crucial chemical to the wax. So the first batch came out mottled - and gorgeous. The mistake led to a new candle look, which further differentiated my product.

We realized that fast-tracking our business was all about distribution. One of the first companies I approached was Bloomingdale's because I knew one of their buyers. The chain ordered several hundred units that first year, and I was thrilled to see my lime-green candles displayed near the store's entrance. But to turbocharge our company, I set my sights on something bigger. That's when I went to Target.

Naturally, I researched my would-be partner and knew its customer bases and market positioning cold. But I couldn't get past the buyer, who just wouldn't return my calls. I continued leaving messages for months, and then, finally, I heard a new voice on the voicemail. A new buyer! It wasn't until she took over that I got a shot at making my pitch. …

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