In honor of Independence Day, we sat down with one of our favorite local business owners. Megan Hull celebrates Independence Day everyday as she pours love-filled wax into her business MAME Soy Candles. We chatted with this vivacious, humble lady about the journey to becoming an independent business owner as well as where she hopes to go from here.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who is Megan Hull?
Honestly, that’s a really hard question to answer! I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but working non-stop for the past few years. Once business really picked up, and I started thinking about making MAME my full-time commitment. I am just now finding time to do the things I want to do.
So, what were you doing before MAME? How did it get started?
I am originally from Portland. My husband was a professional skateboarder, so we packed up our cat and moved to Phoenix for better weather and more sponsorship opportunities. I went to school for Social Work but haven’t used it because when I did my senior thesis, I realized I couldn’t handle the thought of not being able to change the system and make an impact on kids. I started working in retail and at restaurants. I then became a studio manager and graphic designer for a fine art photographer. I worked there for 14 years, and the last five were spent running MAME morning and night and sleeping in my free time. In March, I decided to leave the studio and focus solely on MAME.
One of my best friends (the MAria of MAME) worked with me at the studio. She left to pursue another field, but we still regularly met up at Happy Hour. One day, we were trying to figure out a fun hobby to adopt that didn’t involve drinking, eating, or spending a bunch of money, so we made a list of awesome craft projects that we could do together. One of these was candle-making, and when we did that project, I used my graphic design background to design a label and box for our project. When we made a bunch (just for fun) and gave them to people, they started asking for more…which was super surprising! We kept making more, and I roped Maria into starting MAME as a small-scale, local, private label. Megan has since left MAME to pursue other passions, but we are still best friends! I did my first trade show last August and, since then, have candles in 54 stores, started 15 private label accounts, and have products across the globe all the way in Hong Kong and Japan!
Why did you decide to leave your stable career for your “hobby”?
In February 2016, I realized I was ready to leave my job. For the first time, I was more worried about making business for MAME rather than just MAME making it as a business. My dad pointed out to me that I might be hurting MAME by staying at my studio. Leaving took a lot of trust that people are going to continue liking what I do. It was a total leap of faith, but it’s been better than anything I could have ever anticipated. I’ve been with my husband for almost 20 years, and he’s never seen me happier. Something is going on, and I am calmer and happier than I was before.
What attracted you to owning your own small business?
My parents have owned an independent pharmacy my entire life. I worked there since I was 8 years old. Small business is attractive because it’s fueled by passion. Starbucks started as a small business: they made good coffee, they did what they had to do. I think big business (like Starbucks now) is always the goal - you can’t get mad when your product takes off. However, I feel a strong connection through small business that I think is lacking once a business becomes a big corporation. Right now, I know all my vendors; I have a loyalty and incredible thankfulness to them because they have faith in my product, and I want to honor that. The struggle then becomes how to stay connected as business grows. That’s where I’m at. How do I grow a little bit without getting disconnected? That’s what I want to avoid. I don’t want to be disconnected from anyone who spends any of their hard-earned money to buy my candles. I think about that when I’m making the candles. It’s incredibly important to me. In a big business, you may have more potential for growth, but you have a lot less ability to make a direct impact. I have a unique element of freedom now that allows me to work how and when is best for me and my company. Freedom is a huge thing for me because owning a business is a lot of work for something you aren’t initially getting paid for.
What lessons have you learned through this process?
I understand what a gift I have. A lot of my success was a result of luck, timing, and connections. I feel very lucky. I got a fleeting moment in time. It always bothers me when people say they feel blessed - like they were chosen over someone else. I am going to keep working really hard to give back everything I can because I feel so lucky to have this opportunity. Working really hard is a huge part of it, but there is privilege involved. I was in the right place at the right time. Not everybody gets this opportunity, and I try to remind myself of that and find one humbling moment every day. My feet are firmly planted on the ground.
What kind of moments are most humbling for you?
I go to pilates and wear spandex in front of the mirror and a bunch of strangers! That’s humbling. I live in an area where people are struggling to get food. I try to get myself in check and recognize where I’ve come from. I am humbled every day when I engage with people around me. There will always be someone who knows more and does more than me. I’m humbled every time I look around a store and realize my small company is growing. I’m trying to keep it real, but keep it going forward.
What advice do you have for young people looking to start their own business?
I don’t think you need to invest so much to start off. MAME started with just $400. People are now investing a ton of money into an idea before they have a viable product. Test the market first to see what works. When MAME first started, the creative community in Phoenix was much smaller - now it’s exploding! There are so many awesome, creative people willing to collaborate with you and give you feedback. Also, treat it like a business from the beginning: set up your licenses, get your ID #s…do all the things necessary o protect you and your product. These are essentials. Treat it like a business if you want it to be a business; otherwise it will always just be a hobby. You have to do all the not fun things, too. It’s not always a pretty business, but if you like it, it doesn’t feel like work.
What’s the next step?
I want to grow! Of course, I have numbers and stores I want to do. Something important about me is once I can see a vision in my mind, it happens quickly. I’m trying to figure out what that vision is now. Where do I go? How do I expand? I have new lines and collections coming out for Fall, but I am still trying to wrap my head around the end goal. I’d like to introduce a new product next year, but I’m unclear on what that will be. Now that I’ve narrowed my focus, it’s getting clearer, but I’m not quite there yet. What I do know is it will be exciting.
Lastly, we gotta ask about tea. What’s your favorite tea & snack to pair with it?