The success story of business owner Usha Sohan and her international candle brand, Pramila Candles
It’s been 12 years since I became an entrepreneur, having quit my office work after marriage because my husband pushed me to study. Being a 26-year-old science graduate then, the immediate thing that came to mind was to fulfill my long-cherished dream of learning French. As I mastered the basics, I conceived and took a break for my son.
With a burning desire to do something in life that was not mundane, I enrolled at a fashion school and started designing kids’ garments. My designs received appreciation, and neighbors suggested I open a boutique. Taking three friends as partners, I started designing ethnic garments and unexpectedly, steady orders from retail stores kept us on our toes. Within two years when the boutique business was flourishing, a partner’s husband died in Dubai. Because we wanted to help, we handed over the boutique to her, unknowingly charting our own paths.
At that time, I had around US$ 23 on me. As I was contemplating my next move, I saw an advertisement in the newspaper from an institute offering short-term training in candle-making. I decided to test the waters.
Experimenting with designs and colors, I fell in love with the art. Soon I had accumulated dozens of designer, scented and gel candles at home. I started giving them as gifts to friends and relatives who loved them. This was the beginning of the dozen years of candle making and on the way, I realized that it was not just about making quality products but also marketing them well that was also equally important.
Persistence in the face of struggle
I remember the day when I went to a local supermarket to market my candles, the merchandise officer said they only used branded products and my candles could not compete with international brands. The name I used for the candles was my mother’s name Pramila, so I was quite determined to make it big.
Not discouraged by the initial response, I sought an appointment with the managing director of the supermarket. Refused appointment initially, I made rounds of the office for three days, waiting from morning till evening when finally, he called me. He allowed me to showcase my candles in two outlets and after the stocks got exhausted within a month, my candles were on the shelves in 68 outlets across the country.
A couple of years later when I was almost ready with the bulk Diwali stocks for the supermarket as usual, I saw that Malaysian candles had replaced my candles. I was aghast and after much debate, my candles were also displayed alongside them. As Malaysian candles were cheaper, they were vanishing off the shelves. Taking suggestions from my husband who had an MBA, I compared the burning time, fragrance quality among others and realized my candles lasted longer and had the fragrance that the Malaysian product did not have. I published fliers and vigilantly stood by my products and quite soon, my candles became popular among the buyers.
All thanks to my determination and experiences along the way, in 2009 I was selected for the “10,000 Women,” a global initiative supported by The Goldman Sachs Foundation that provides women entrepreneurs around the world with practical business education, business advising and networking.
I also trained 15 women in the art of candle-making, including how to blend colors and fragrances. My motive is to help the poor and needy. Around 30 percent of my income goes to the poor. A few years ago, I roped in a partner who is now helping me with the production work, since I have taken over the designing and marketing side of the business.
So far, while my candles are largely available in the domestic market, they have also been exported to Australia, Canada and the Middle East. My aim is to expand my business globally. I am hoping that my association with Hinrich Foundation will help me achieve my goals faster and will also make things slightly easier.
About the Supplier