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A Moment with EDTP Graduate: Meet Monique Howard

Posted on 9/21/2016 by EDTP Coordinator in LAEDA News

Monique Howard is the owner and operator of Monique Décor, and a graduate of LAEDA’s Entrepreneurial Development Training Program (EDTP). We had a chance to sit down with her to ask about her experience with entrepreneurship and LAEDA’s training program. Entrepreneurship is a very challenging path to take, with many different possible directions. What made you decide to become an entrepreneur? Why did you choose your industry?

I have always wanted to own my own store and create handcrafted items. So, in 2011 I opened a boutique soy candle and bath/body products company in Southern New Jersey. Monic Décor provides stress-relieving products for the everyday person. Starting my own business happened by accident. I initially started making jewelry, but the market is very saturated, and I wasn’t creative enough to have a specialty. My work was common, but the spirit to own something was still there. Around 2009, I took a family trip to a beach and I saw a woman who made soy candles in glass mason jars. I was intrigued, as I had never heard of soy candles before. My interest was sparked and I began the research on the comparison between soy wax and paraffin wax. I started making soy candles for stress relief and relaxation. A friend thought they smelled good enough to buy and the rest is history. I began to do some research on the cost of candles and whether or not a soy candle company was possible. I found out that it was doable and off I went. I have never looked back, I have no interest in producing paraffin wax candles; the benefits of soy are much greater. I use a wooden wick in my candles that make a crackling sound when they are burned; also I use soy because it burns longer and cleaner than regular paraffin wax. My professional background is in public health and producing soy candles meets my life/professional philosophy of taking care of self. 

Tell me about your experience while attending EDTP. What have the major takeaways been from the program? Have you had any “Ah-hah!” moments? How did the program help you?

EDTP was a wonderful experience as it helped me move my company from a hobby to an actual business. It helped me to think more strategically about operating Monique Décor. The program provided much needed information about how to strategically grow and market the business. My Ah-hah moment was realizing that ‘everyone’ could not be my target population regarding marketing and product. During the creation of my business plan I kept going back to ‘everyone buys my candles’. That is well and good but the target has to be narrowed down so that I can develop a targeted marketing plan. I worked on a better marketing plan that is specific to my target population. I now have to put it to work.

Tell me about your journey on the road to business startup. What have been some of the challenges, successes, failures, etc.?

There are been many challenges, successes and failures on the road to starting business. I would say that one of the biggest obstacles was getting buy-in from the important people in your life. Your business is an actual business. If family and friends are used to you being available all of the time this is going to change. Your new business needs a great deal of your attention, time, energy, and focus. Sometimes our network of friends and family do not understand that.

Another obstacle was packaging the candles so that they are attractive and pleasing to the eye. This means I have to put thought into the candle jar, type of wick, packaging box, product label, logo, everything. Since 2011 I have had 3 logos, 2 different types of packaging, and a variety of jars. I have finally settled on a jar that I really like and have decided to keep it for a few years. I have decided that every few years I will change the candle jar and perhaps packaging to keep things fresh. The other obstacle is being a vendor at fairs, conferences, corporate meetings, etc. I vended at several events from Connecticut to North Carolina, and I have had great success where I have made a great deal of money. I have also tabled at events where I did not make any money. It became increasing important for me to ask specific questions to vending/tabling organizers so that I can be sure that my target population would be in attendance at the event. If not, I do not attend. Knowing whom your target is and how to find them is very important. This is something that I still struggle with, but the important thing is to keep trying.

Could you tell me a little about where your business is today?

Right now, I am working on revising the e-commerce website. The website is something that has to be revised often in order to keep it fresh and appealing. I have one customer who has purchased a year subscription to the candle of the month club. I am still seeking out vending opportunities where it can easily identify if my target population will be present.

Do you have any advice for future (or existing) entrepreneurs?

It is very hard work. Every day, every moment, you have to think about your business and how a situation serves it. Make a reasonable weekly to do list; get through as much of it as possible each week. The overall, long-term goal is success (as defined by only you). Keep doing the research to see if your product is the best product or if it needs some tweaking. Surround yourself with other individuals who are trying to succeed at their own business.

Congratulations to Monique Howard for completing EDTP and recommitting to her journey on the path of entrepreneurship. If you’d like to learn more about Monique Howard and her business, please visit her on www.moniquedecor.com

The Entrepreneurial Development Training Program (EDTP) is a free, nine-week business skills training course offered in Camden, NJ in the Winter, Spring, and Fall each year. Qualified entrepreneurs receive 72+ hours of training from industry professionals, business planning, and one year of technical assistance. Apply online at www.LAEDA.com