Small Business Interviews

Take a Trip with Wary Meyers

Updated: March 27th, 2020

Take a Trip with Wary Meyers

John and Linda MeyersCo-founders

John and Linda Meyers are co-founders of Wary Meyers, an avant garde soap and candle company based in Maine.

Employees

4

Founded

2013

LOCATION

Maine

Industry

Social

Doubtless a venerated fashion publication like Vogue has never gone out of its way to publish an article on a bar of Dove or Dial soap. So when such a magazine puts a spotlight on your suds, you know you’re doing something right–or, at the very least, something exceedingly interesting. Wary Meyer, a soap and candle company based in Maine, is a faithful reflection of its founders. Husband-and-wife team John and Linda Meyers, once New York City residents, started the company to reconcile their needs as both artists and entrepreneurs. With Linda working as a graphic designer/ art director and John working as an artist, the two came upon that age old question posed to creatives: how to blend art with commerce… and blend with integrity. Their solution was Wary Meyers.

Unsurprising given their former career experiences, Wary Meyers offers products that do not fit the usual mold. Design is paramount, from the packaging to the product itself. (If you want to dip into the myriad influences the couple pulls from, just scroll through their inspired Instagram feed.) Their signature soap design is a vibrant graphic stripe, something you don’t see terribly often likely because it is so difficult to execute. Their aesthetic is decidedly Big Sur circa 1973. They make products with names like Cosmic Yuzu and Astral Shower. Their typography has all the signature swirls of a more psychedelic era. To be sure, their client demographic isn’t simply the type that enjoys camping in Joshua Tree. In addition to nods in Vogue, they’ve earned the attention of fashion influencer Garance Doré, Glamour, Elle, Dwell, and more.

Determined to marry their past experience as artists with their desire to make an accessible product, the two arrived at soap and candles by process of elimination. They didn’t want to produce overseas, which removed the option for anything sewn. Soap was what they could create in Maine with the materials available, and deliver the product at a price people can afford. The resulting offerings are so nicely made and designed, it’s difficult to bring yourself to use it. Water to the soap or a match to the wick seem almost sacrilege. But John and Linda don’t want these pieces to be too precious. It’s art you can use, and enjoy while you’re using it. When you’re done, just order another.

We spoke with John and Linda about finding stability in entrepreneurship, their many design influencers, and the value of balancing boundary-pushing esotericism with sales.

Funding Circle

Both of you had experience in the creative spaces. What inspired you to get into soap and candles?

John and Linda Meyers

We had a son, and we were doing projects that were kind of esoteric. We loved them, but they weren’t going to support a family the way we needed to. Not to sound like it was just a money thing. I [John] was doing these creative things and trying to convince Laura with “Let’s do this, it’ll be great!” and we’d be greeted with crickets when we launched the thing. It was just too esoteric. Linda always wanted to make beauty products, so we thought we’d try our hand at making a candle. It took a year to figure out how to do it–if it burns properly, if it smells nice. They started taking off. Then Linda wanted to make soap. I said, “Let’s make striped soap. That’d be kinda cool.” So that’s where that came from.

Funding Circle

That striped pattern is pretty iconic for the brand. How far into running the company did you come up with that design?

John and Linda Meyers

We made the candles first, but when we were going to make soap, we wanted it to be very graphic. The idea for the stripe came from our love of graphic design. We wanted this to be a little more special–to make an object, not just a bar of soap. Design for your home. A little object.

Funding Circle

Did the move from New York to Maine coincide with having your son and starting the company?

John and Linda Meyers

No, we moved here about twelve years ago. Six years ago, we had our son. We were in New York and we wanted to get out. We didn’t really know much past Fairfield County, Connecticut. We knew a little bit about Maine; Linda’s parents live on an island up here. It seemed nice and creative, a good change.

Funding Circle

Do you think that you could have launched the business in New York in the same way?

John and Linda Meyers

Not with the space we need. In New York, the space that we had was kind of tiny. It was a pretty big apartment. But you need a big kitchen, you need room to store. It would have been financially more taxing.

Funding Circle

I read that Linda is in charge of soaps and you’re in change of candles, is that right?

John and Linda Meyers

Right. Linda started the candles first and then she was doing soaps. At that point, the candles had illustrations painted on each jar, so I was doing that and packing. Then Linda taught me how to make candles so I took over the candle thing which freed her up to make soap. We changed the packaging to be slightly easier.

Funding Circle

How long does it take to typically develop scents?

John and Linda Meyers

Oh, for a candle it takes forever. I mean, I don’t understand–there are so many candle companies out there with so many scents. There’s so much testing involved. Because we don’t work with another company that presents us with scents, we’re still making all of our own. The process takes a lot longer because we’re sitting here doing it all. We’re testing it and we’re going “this isn’t working, this one’s not burning right” so it’s back to the drawing board. That can take six months. I think it’s also very subjective. It’s just the two of us.

Funding Circle

Do you kind of enlist the help of friends?

John and Linda Meyers

We have three girls working, not full-time, but they help with the packaging, putting the stickers on the jars, cleaning the candle jars. We’ll ask their opinion and we’ll ask our friends’ opinions, but it all basically comes down to us. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. [Laughing] It’s completely our own opinion. Someone might not like something but we’ll still do it anyway. I guess we’re confident enough that someone’s going to enjoy it.

Funding Circle

How many products do you plan on introducing each year? Or is that something that varies?

John and Linda Meyers

We drew up a business plan where we plan on introducing, for instance, soap dishes. The idea is to keep building on our line of products. It’s just a matter of time. This year, we introduced two new soaps. In the fall, we plan on introducing a few more scents. Hopefully by next spring we’ll introduce a new line of products, as well as some accessories. We have plans on keeping the core of what we’re doing. Own the stripes, keep coming out with new cool color combinations, introduce new candle scents. Building the brand as much as we can handle.

Funding Circle

Looking at the packaging, it seems like it’s such an important part of the customer experience. How did you approach that? Was that a really important thing to you both?

John and Linda Meyers

I’m [Lisa] a former graphic designer–I guess you’re always a graphic designer–that’s what I did in New York. Obviously packaging was quite a big deal. John drew the Wary Meyers logo since he knew typography very well. We print all of our packaging on a hot foil stamp printer, kind of like a letterpress using foil. We really wanted to keep the packaging really carbon neutral and not ship it overseas, shall we say. We wanted to keep it made here in America and use recycled packaging but still have an interesting look to it. I don’t even know how many months it took to perfect.

Funding Circle

There’s something about the brand that feels very much like California in the ‘70s. Is that an era that influences you?

John and Linda Meyers

Definitely. I would say California and the ‘70s are two of our favorite things. Actually, our new candle is called “California Trip.”

Funding Circle

What’s the scent?

John and Linda Meyers

We tried redwood but it didn’t really smell right. Originally, it was going to be desert cactus with a little marijuana, but it just really didn’t smell good. We’re trying to get the essence of California in what will hopefully be our fall candle.

Funding Circle

Do you do all of that testing in your studio so you have all those scents on hand?

John and Linda Meyers

Yeah, we have probably 1,000 or so–a lot of samples and different fragrances just to have on hand to mix and blend. When you’re making a scent you’ll figure out which ones you have, you’ll order more, you’ll put it in a candle, it won’t work, you’ll put in a different one in, it won’t work. After four months of not working, you might luck out and get one thing you’re really happy with and then you’ll have a candle. Or you might love it but it won’t burn right because each oil has its own characteristics. There’s no guarantee how anything’s going to smell or burn. It depends on your wick, your wax. There are so many variables. You want it to smell nice, you want it to burn the right amount of hours, you want it to fill the room. It’s such a science; it’s pretty mind blowing. I had no idea what we were getting into when we first started.

Funding Circle

There must be a lot of learning on the go, but what provided that base of knowledge for you?

John and Linda Meyers

I [Linda] took a year off of everything and made it my full-time job. I thought it would take maybe two or three months to make a successful candle. There are a bunch of professional groups you can join online and ask questions but people are pretty tightlipped because it’s a very competitive industry.

Also, it’s all very scientific. Even if someone told you all their secrets, it may not work for how you’re going to make the candle–where you live, the climate, what wax you’re using. After three or four months, I said, “This is going to take longer than I thought.” It ended up taking over a year of me working full-time, as in a 40-hour plus workweek, on learning how to make the candles. For the soaps, I’d say another year. The stripes are so difficult, especially on a larger scale when you’re doing wholesale. You have to scale up. It’s a whole new process. We definitely invested a lot of time into getting this ready to sell and really not having any guarantee that anyone would buy them. It was scary a little bit.

Funding Circle

Talking about wholesale and online, do you tend to sell more wholesale or online?

John and Linda Meyers

Wholesale is the majority of the business. We do get good sales online and as our business grows we keep getting better and better sales online, but we could not depend on online sales to support the business.

Funding Circle

I’ve read about the balance of art and commerce–between what you want to design and what you think people will buy. How important is that to what you decide to produce?

John and Linda Meyers

It’s 100-percent the most important part. Before we did this, we had a lot of other projects that were great. You see them and think “Oh, that’s really cool.” However they weren’t very saleable, they weren’t very marketable. They wouldn’t have reached a more mainstream audience that our soaps and candles have. It took working maybe eight years before we started the soaps and candles to figure out through trial and error that the balance means everything. It’s the most important thing to having your business work.

I think also, for instance, our new soaps are kind of based on Shiro Kuramata terrazzo. People might not even know that. We keep things esoteric for us, yet people don’t have to understand that. Like the stripes. We love supergraphics and the ‘70s and Superstudio and all that. But someone else sees blue and white stripes, and it might remind them of the sea. That’s okay, too. It’s that equal balance. I think it’s so hard to get, but that’s what you want. It certainly isn’t easy. If it was easy we would have figured it out seven years before we started this.

Funding Circle

Do you have one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to start their own business?

John and Linda Meyers

I would say don’t give up! Don’t get discouraged. I am a firm believer that if there is love behind a great idea or a great business plan, you just have to stick with it–maybe forget about vacations for a few years–and realize that it will be hard. I’ve never heard of anyone in business having it easy. It’s going to be a challenge. Just stick with it and don’t give up.

And also, based on our experience, maybe don’t be so esoteric. Design for yourself but think of who your audience is–always have the two in the back of your head. I remember with one of our products, someone asked us “So who’s going to buy this?” and we couldn’t clearly answer that. Right then, my gut said this isn’t going to work. Always know who your target market is and keep true to that and keep true to yourself. If you can somehow mesh the two of those, then you’ve got a good thing. Just keep trying. Not giving up is half the battle. Keep on keepin’ on.

Quick fire:

Funding Circle

Book every artist should own:

John and Linda Meyers

The Museum of Modern Art, Abrams, 1984.

Funding Circle

Album currently playing in the studio:

John and Linda Meyers

RAC on Soundcloud

Funding Circle

Tool you couldn’t live without:

John and Linda Meyers

Instagram. I feel like 95% of our business comes through Instagram, either directly or indirectly.

Funding Circle

5 favorite small businesses:

John and Linda Meyers

  1. Book/Shop (Oakland, CA)
  2. Papabubble  (New York, NY)
  3. Micucci’s (Portland, MN)
  4. Placewares (Gualala CA)
  5. Truck Furniture (Osaka, Japan)

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