A Scottish family-run business that’s been making and selling candles for more than a century is perhaps unlikely territory for a pioneering approach to digital retail but – like a growing number of forward-thinking local businesses across the UK – Shearer Candles is exactly that.
Shearer Candles was established in 1897 in a suburb of Glasgow. The business was owned by the Shearer and Harvey families, descendants of the founders, until the 1970s when it was taken over by the Barnet family. Ian Barnet is now managing director of the business.
While Shearer Candles may seem like any other traditional craft business, the reality is different. It’s both a traditional and a thoroughly modern business with aspirations – and plans in place – for expansion.
Today, Shearer Candles has an annual turnover of £2.4 million. Of that, around £300,000 is generated through the firm’s use of Amazon Marketplace, which enables independent businesses to sell products through the Amazon website to millions of potential customers around the world.
In addition to using Amazon Marketplace to find new audiences and make sales, Shearer Candles uses Fulfilment by Amazon, where a business hands over warehousing and logistics to Amazon, which stores, packs and delivers products on their behalf.
For Ian, the move online has played a crucial role in keeping his business moving forward.
“I was always interested in introducing electronics and information technology into the workplace, so as the internet rapidly grew it was natural for us to move towards it,” he says.
“Like many businesses, the process started with building our own website. Now we use quite a few of Amazon’s services such as Marketplace and it’s contributing a big part to a year-on-year online sales growth of between 30 and 40 per cent.”
Moving online, then expanding to sell through Amazon Marketplace, was a big change for Shearer Candles, but has proved to be very rewarding for the business. “Trading online is completely different to selling from a physical location,” says Ian. “You’re still selling products, but how you do it is so different and there’s a lot to learn.
“Our biggest challenge was getting everything up to the standard it needed to be at. Bigger companies can throw money at it and have an amazing website, but we didn’t have that sort of budget, so it was a learning process. Amazon helped hugely with that and now we’re taking real steps forward.”
Aside from bringing in additional revenue and widening its customer base, the move online has contributed to Shearer Candles’ high-street expansion: the company is about to open its fourth shop.
“You can never entirely know where sales come from,” says Ian. “Someone might see our shop in the street and look us up online, or see us online and realise we have a store near them and come in person to see what we can offer.
“The important thing is that we have those opportunities for people to see us and, by being on Amazon, customers know that buying from us is a safe process. These days you can buy anything online, but by going through Amazon you know you’re working with a reputable brand, and that really inspires confidence in customers.”