Talking Small Biz: Self-starters' business burns bright

Posted: February 07, 2013

S UJI MESWANI, 43, and her husband, graphic designer Geoff Weiser, 42, of Fairmount, own Skeem Design, a candle company they launched in 2004. Meswani, a Drexel grad and former retail buyer for Anthropologie, handles the business end.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Skeem?

A: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I knew I wanted to work for myself.

My last job was at Anthropologie, developing product, and I knew I could be doing that for myself. I'm married to a brilliant designer, so it was perfect for us to get together on this.

Q: How has the business grown?

A: In the first year, we had sales reps in every state, and now we have distributors in Europe, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. They're contractors who work on commission.

Q: The name Skeem is a play on words - you and Geoff schemed to escape the corporate world?

A: I believe that time, not money, is the new currency. When you work for Anthropologie, it is very demanding. I'd do trips around the world two, three times a year, sometimes for a month straight, working every day. I wanted a healthy lifestyle as well as a job.

Q: And how has that worked out?

A: Today, you can work from anywhere. We've been all over - Thailand, India, New Zealand, Buenos Aires, Mexico - so it's a good life. We're looking for antique fabrics, color inspiration, trend inspiration. When we're abroad, we're not on vacation. We design and run the business.

Q: How many employees?

A: We only have one besides Geoff and myself, an office manager who fulfills orders and does all the paperwork associated with that. We have 85 sales reps, all independent contractors. We subcontract the factory work, including the packaging and shipping.

Q: What makes your candles special?

A: We have incredible designs and don't use any extraneous packaging. There are a lot of candles that are just plain ivory, and the box they're in is very beautiful. Our candles are beautiful in and of themselves. All vessels we sell are reusable once the wax has burned down. We have a line of pillar candles that are actually silkscreen glasses, and once they're empty they can be used for drinking.

Q: The candles are manufactured in Minnesota. Why?

A: It just happens that the manufacturer who's the best fit for us lives there. We email and talk daily, and there's overnighting of samples.

Q: So how do you and Geoff share job responsibilities?

A: Geoff designs all the products and images, the catalog and website, and I'm creative director. I was a buyer, so I have a good sense of what will sell and what won't. I also manage sales reps, office manager, inventory and pay the bills.

Q: So how big a business is this?

A: I would be uncomfortable putting out a specific number. Let's just say it's over $1 million.



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