Team Stern: Finding Community in Charleston at Candlefish

2015 Summer Tour, Stern Team Comments (0)

City: Charleston, SC

Entrepreneur: Molly Keeler and Jason Richards

And so concludes our last week of MBAx2. In our five weeks on the road, we have had the privilege of meeting Americans across the Southeast and helping solve some of the big-picture strategic problems facing small businesses that make a difference in their communities. But no business models or strategy compare to the many conversations we have had on this adventure outside the offices and conferences rooms where we have worked over the last few weeks.

We feel remarkably fortunate to have been able to share this journey with the amazing Americans and entrepreneurs we have met, who gave us the opportunity to discuss some of the most pressing issues and opportunities in our nation. In Cleveland, how neighborhood gentrification is contributing to the problem of social inclusion within growing areas. We visited Nashville and talked about how economics challenge the entrepreneurial spirit of small businesses as they crave growth in size and scale. In Birmingham, we witnessed accessibility in action as the Bike Share program aimed to offer memberships that could be attained by all residents no matter their economic circumstance. So, as we headed into our final city greeted with a “Welcome to Charleston” sign, it seemed poetic that we would end our journey in a town that recently has been thrust onto the national stage for the larger issues it represents.

To say many eyeballs are on Charleston these days would be an understatement. After the attack on the town’s Emmanuel AME church just a few short weeks ago, news about Charleston seems to be everywhere. Not only was the story featured prominently in our national newspapers but it was also on the cable news stations we watched as well as featured in the internationally produced podcasts we listened to on the road. There was nothing more sobering than journeying through the South during this time—seeing Confederate Flags, visiting the Civil Rights Institute, and talking to local citizens while this tragic event blasted across headlines everywhere.

Within our first few hours of being in Charleston, the story was omnipresent. Cab drivers recounted the news as they shared their disbelief. Members of the community openly discussed how Charleston united behind the church in spite of the assailant’s intentions to tear the city apart. Even one of the entrepreneurs with whom we worked shared how her next-door neighbor was supposed to be at the bible study that very night but couldn’t make it. It was clear that the city of Charleston was shocked, surprised and saddened by the events and it was impossible not to feel it in your gut.

We came to Charleston to work with Candlefish, a candle retail and eCommerce company founded in the heart of this fine Southern city. With an address right off of the iconic King Street, Candlefish offers consumers the chance to discover a scent and candle that speaks to them from a library of 100 different fragrances.

We worked with Molly Keeler, Director of Buying and Operations, and Jason Richards, Director of Marketing, to identify ways for the company to break down the invisible walls that exist between their physical store and the digital eCommerce site. The challenge was to create a mechanism that would extend the store’s unique experience to the delivery of every online order—a common business issue that many retail companies are struggling with today. We scoured the Internet for case studies of brands that have successfully translated experiential shopping into a successful digital empire and vice versa. We were then able to take many best practices and use them to help redefine the candle shopping experience. We talked with consumers and identified their shopping patterns in candle stores and began brainstorming, developing and refining ideas for this brand experience to permeate beyond consumer’s computer screens.

As we worked to break down the walls between physical and digital commerce, it became clear that Candlefish, along with its parent company Day Dreamer Concepts, was known for breaking down the walls of social constructs as well. Many of the workers across the factories and operations of Day Dreamer LLC were part of a South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation program. The South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation program helps workers with disabilities obtain skills to succeed in the workforce through hands-on training. Day Dreamer has been able to participate in this program and has even employed twenty-five employees full-time as a result. The company continues to break down walls of social stigmas through this partnership and as a result consumers support this work with every purchase.

In witnessing this effort, in being in this amazing city, and in encountering this strong community, our team was able to discuss how we can do our part to continue breaking down the walls within our society- the very walls Dylann Roof tried to create in vain. The four of us felt that by crossing the chasm of social divide, America could continue its stride towards the progress of tolerance and acceptance of its citizens.

But we also know as a team that it is up to us to maintain this mindset as Chelsea, Kiko, and I return to New York and Jake heads to Seattle. If we do, we will be able to continue our MBAs Across America journey beyond this last stop and help our communities by setting an example, rather than watching our country with complacency. In being gifted with our MBA knowledge and this experience, we are excited to step back into our own working worlds and begin making a difference with the perspective and appreciation we have for America today.

This journey was an adventure and an experience like no other. We’d like to thank the MBAx team for this opportunity and our friends and family for their support. We had a blast and hope to have made an impact on each business we touched, as well as the friends we met.


Dan & Team Stern

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On July 8, 2015

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