From Hobby To Hustle: Melissa From Bonita Fierce Candles

From Hobby To Hustle: Melissa From Bonita Fierce Candles

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“Bonita Fierce Candles is a premium heritage-focused home fragrance brand. Our mission is to revolutionize the toxic and generic home fragrance industry and create better-for-you products that cement a space for diverse, nuanced Latine voices and stories.  We believe being Latine and American is not a linear experience and that feeling of belonging, of finding your place, of being home is an experience to be celebrated. We're dedicated to creating fragrances that celebrate, honor and represent the cultural crossroads of being Latine and American like Coquito, Cafecito Con Leche, Lavender Fabulosa, Horchata, and more.

We're changing the face of home fragrance by uprooting the Euro-centric fragrance narrative and introducing multicultural candles to the mass market."

 

 

how it started

"During the pandemic, like so many others trying to entertain ourselves at home, I picked up candle-making as a hobby. I was hooked the minute I poured my first candle. It took 6 months from the first pour to launching the brand out of my childhood home. I took over my kitchen and dining room to bring Bonita Fierce Candles to life.”

 

mass media milestones

“In 2021, we got our very first press feature in Cosmopolitan as ‘33 Best Gifts for People Who Work From Home’ and soon, I realized that if this article can convert to sales, I need to use my skills in my corporate media career to pitch to editors and journalists. And, it worked. By the end of 2022, we were featured in publications like Good Morning America, ABC-7 NY, NBC News, Univision, BeLatina News, and many more.

With people searching for Latina-inspired candles, we connected with major corporations, other journalists, customers and retail buyers. It was the first launchpad to get Bonita Fierce Candles off the ground and into more homes.” 

retail reality

"I was really fortunate and lucky to say that my assistant buyer at Nordstrom was my target customer. She was Latina, in her early-mid 20s, and resonated with our story. She found us over Instagram and DM’ed me to jump on a call. However, getting in was the easy part. The real work begins when you have to fulfill that purchase order. You have to become compliant to retail standards. If you don’t, you get chargebacks. There’s tons of hidden costs that add up quickly. And after launch you have to continue to support and market with the retailer day in and day out.

We can’t rely on the retailers to sell the product themselves. We have to go in and educate them, grab opportunities to market for free, and encourage our customers to go shop IRL. As the first Latina-owned brand at Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble and Urban Outfitters, I have to continue to prove to the retailer that we are worthy to stay on their shelves and that our community has the purchasing power and are buying our products."

 

on acquiring wholesale

"We acquired the majority of our wholesale accounts through trade shows like NYNOW, wholesale platforms like Faire, and on social media. Outside of trade show season, I spend a lot of time fostering retailer relationships through social media. When we find a retailer that’s a great fit, we don’t always immediately pitch. We have to genuinely engage and support them and show that we are fans. We’re more likely to convert after we show them some additional love!

When we do get into a smaller retailer (local boutiques, bookshops, gift shops, spas, etc.), it gives us great insights into their local communities, to amplify their stories, and to get feedback on our products. They are some of the most valuable relationships we have. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for brands to show up for them. They are the heart and soul of our local communities. And in turn, they will come and support us."

 

on making mistakes...or not

“I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but I wasn’t dreaming big enough when I started Bonita Fierce Candles. I believed it was a side-hustle, a way to literally pour creative energy into and make a few extra dollars on the side. I was dead wrong. I ended up finding so much passion and community in what I was building that I made a plan to leave my corporate job. I put my all into Bonita Fierce Candles because I prepared myself to financially take the leap and truly believing I had the potential to build a household name. Plus, when your business is your only source of income, you have to make it work!

 

One year after leaving my corporate job, I was able to reach six-figures in annual revenue."

 

on finding inspiration

“I turn to my friends and family, and most importantly my online community. I’ve had a life-long struggle to navigate language, culture, and heritage as a non-Spanish speaking Latina in my community growing up. I never saw myself mirrored in spaces or included in conversations, which created a deep insecurity in my identity as a Latina, and distorted my feelings of what “home” meant. Eventually, I found a space where I felt at home: an online community of Latinas. There I encountered people with stories and experiences like mine.

I can’t emphasize enough to surround yourself with like-minded people who support and uplift you every step of your journey and life. Don’t be afraid to comment on posts, ask people for coffee, go to networking events IRL and to make entrepreneurial friends in different spaces. This additional support system helps hold me accountable, is a safe space for me to be my most authentic self and gives me the positive support I need on my hardest days."

 

advice for new makers

"I would tell first-time entrepreneurs a few things.

First, don’t let imposter syndrome get the best of you. You are your own worst critic and not everything has to be perfect. You will pivot, you will change and so will your business. The scariest part is the leap of faith - just start!

Second, set your business up for success by making sure your COGS are as low as possible with strong margins, set up an LLC, and get legal and accounting help. At the end of the day, you’re running a business and you want to grow and pay yourself!

And lastly, invest in yourself. The best investment I ever made was hiring a business coach. I did the homework, I showed up, and I was able to take my side hustle full-time. Don’t underestimate how important it is to educate yourself and surround yourself with like minded people who are at the same stage of business as you are or ask questions to those who are one step ahead of you.” 

You can keep up with Melissa and Bonita Fierce Candles on Instagram or via her website!

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