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Shining bright

James and Fiona Long have run a successful boutique candle business in a quiet corner of the Lake District for more than 20 years. James tells Gift Focus how they did it.

How did it all start?

After leaving school, I started working with a small candle company called Colonial Candles UK, later to become Colony, and which at that time employed a production team of just three people. Nearly 10 years later, as the Production Manager, I was managing a workforce of over 100 and the company had become the UK's biggest fragranced candle manufacturer. But I always wanted to start my own business and wanted to develop a new range of candles.
With a huge leap of faith I set up Pintail Candles in 1993, at a time when big manufacturers dominated the candle market and the number of small boutique candle makers could be counted on one hand. With no capital investment, but with the support of my wife, Fiona and using my mother-in-law's basement as a workshop, I started making pillar and taper candles.

How did the business grow from there?

After a couple of years I was able to move the workshop to a converted milking parlour in a small hamlet in the Lake District National Park and I took on my first employee. I also expanded our range of candles.
It was at this time that Pintail Candles became one of the first candle makers in the UK to produce candle tins, a product which we've been associated with ever since.
With a growing business, Fiona joined the firm full-time and Pintail Candles moved to its current location in Flookburgh, a small fishing village in South Lakeland where cockles, mussels and the famous Morecambe Bay shrimps are harvested.

Where did the name Pintail come from?

The Morecambe Bay area is also home to a wide variety of wildfowl. As a keen nature enthusiast, I decided to name the business after the beautiful Pintail duck, which nests in the surrounding wetlands and marshes.

What are you most proud of?

A commitment to the local area is at the heart of what we do and the beautiful scenery and nature of Cumbria and the Lake District are a constant source of inspiration to us and over the years, creating jobs for local people has been one of our proudest achievements, including providing family-friendly flexible working hours.

What are you best known for?

Pintail Candles is now firmly established as one of the UK's premium candle makers specialising in candle tins. Our best-selling products include the iconic small filled tins in 40 fragrances, the three wicked large filled tins in striking seasonal colours and the festive Merry Christmas range. Recently we've included reed diffusers in beautiful presentation packaging and our cosmopolitan No 20 glass candle range is fast becoming a corporate gift favourite.

What is your appeal to retailers?

Leading the customer service team, Fiona speaks to retailers every day and we offer a personal service, supplying retailers over many years. Our very first retailer was Clive Wilson of Yew Tree Barn and Clive is still a customer today, over twenty years later.
Now our candles are stocked across the UK from the Shetland Isles to the Channel Islands.
In recent years we have supplied a growing own label market and exporting has become increasingly important with retailers and distributers focusing on the quality of the range and a product not only designed in Britain, but also made in Britain.
Being a British maker has been integral to our success allowing us to react quickly to seasonal trends and to be more flexible in how we supply retailers.
Those retailers in return have often been the strongest promoters of Pintail Candles by making personal recommendations and by encouraging other retailers with their fantastic shop displays.

How important are trade fairs to your business?

It's clear that exhibiting at trade fairs has been key to Pintail Candles growing our customer base. It's a shop window to reach new retailers but also puts new fragrances under the noses of our existing customers.
Central to our exhibition calendar is the Harrogate Gift Fair, where we always launch our new product ranges and this year is no exception.
We're inviting everyone along to our stand in Hall A to celebrate the introduction of Happy Hour, a cocktail-inspired drinks range.

Tell us more about your new product range?

We've had great fun developing the Happy Hour range, creating a fusion of both funky and sophisticated cocktails - it's like Sex and the City meets Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Our opening collection features six fabulous fragrances presented in cocktail fantastic styling. Mojito and Moscow Mule are in the mix along with the evocative Sloegasm, a delicious combination of sloe gin and champagne.
We will soon be tweeting and posting about the new brand to get the party started for our autumn/winter collection.

What has been the toughest struggle with the business so far?

It was probably toughest in the early days, struggling to get the business established with no financial backing, but in recent years it has been trying to find suitable local premises to house a growing business.
Operating out of six different buildings has had its difficulties, including dashing outside between the office and the warehouse in the cold winter rain!

What's next for Pintail Candles?

Last year we made plans to buy and convert a storage unit next to our existing factory to increase production space and create an integrated office.
With support from Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills' Regional Growth Fund, building is now underway and it will be up and running for the autumn season.
So with a new product launch, new fragrances in development and a new building to paint, decorate and move into, it continues to be all go at Pintail Candles, in a not so quiet corner of Cumbria.

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