In 2017, Collin, Ryan, and Austin Gill decided to launch D.C.-based candle company Frères Branchiaux Candle Co. in order to earn money for toys and games. With much practice and training, these brothers became experts in candle making, crafting lovely scents to fill the homes of their customers. But what started as a way to earn income, developed into a bigger mission to help the community around them. In addition to creating candles, Frères Branchiaux donates 10% of its profits to local area homeless organizations.
As part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Young Entrepreneur Series, we spoke with 13-year-old Collin, 11-year-old Ryan, and 8-year-old Austin to discuss how they launched their business, the lessons they have learned as young entrepreneurs, and the positive impact Frères Branchiaux is having on their community.
Q: Tell us a bit about Frères Branchiaux and why you started it.
A: We started our business in October, 2017. We wanted more allowance to buy Nerf guns and video games. Mom and Dad told us that we had enough allowance already and to either “get a job or start a business” if we wanted more money. We decided to start a business. We researched successful kid businesses and they ended up being candles, bath bombs, and soap. We learned to make all three, but decided to start with candles.
Q: What is Frères Branchiaux’s mission?
A: Our mission is to provide great scents and inspiration through candles! We also have a goal to help people who are experiencing homelessness. We donate 10% of our profits to D.C.-area homeless organizations. We believe that community is important, so we made sure that our business also supported the community.
Q: Did you all ever picture yourselves running your own company?
A: Collin: We knew that we wanted to own our own company one day – we just really didn't know what we would end up doing.
Ryan: I always knew I would make my own money.
Austin: I have always wanted to be my own boss!
Q: Have you had any mentorship or a business network to help you start your company?
A: Our mom's friend, Danita Brooks, first taught us how to make candles. She also helped us learn about fragrance and wax. We also talked to other young entrepreneurs and experienced vendors to learn as much as we can.
Q: What are the biggest challenges to starting a business at a younger age?
A: Our mom has to do most of the paperwork and management. Even though we run our business, she has to be our voice. People don't take you seriously when you are a kid. We just prove that we know what we are doing by being successful.
Q: Were there any new skills you all had to learn to launch and grow Frères Branchiaux?
A: We had to become expert candle makers. Candle making is a real science. You want the candles to smell good, burn even, and NOT burn up anybody's house. We also had to learn how to sell to strangers! It was weird at first, but the more we did it, the easier it was to do. Additionally, we had to learn about profit margins, retail value, wholesale cost, sunk cost, cost of goods sold – all of the economics of the business.
Q: What are some of the standout lessons you all learned from building a business at your age?
A: We learned that customer service is important. We learned that honesty is always the best policy in business. We have learned about supply and demand. We learned how to create nice looking displays. We also learned that you have to take breaks to rest – you can't work all of the time!
Q: What impact has running your own business had on your life thus far?
A: We have opportunities that we didn't have before. We travel more. We can pay for our own toys, help people, and save money. We are creating a business that we can pass down to our kids. We are creating a legacy.
Q: What are some of the biggest achievements Frères Branchiaux has had so far?
A: We won the 2019 DC Chamber of Commerce Youth Entrepreneur of the Year Award, 2019 Best of DC, our candles have been sold in Macy's, we have been featured in The Washington Post and Ebony magazine, and we appeared on "Good Morning America."
Q: What are the long-term goals you have for your company? Where do you hope to see the business grow?
A: Our long-term goals include: multiple candle franchise stores, selling our products in over 1,000 retail locations, and building a trucking or transportation operation to ship our candles. We also want to teach other kids how to start and run their own businesses.
Q: What advice would you give to any other younger entrepreneurs who are considering starting their own business?
Study your industry. Know how to sell yourself and your products. Network with other “kid” makers and business owners. Have a good attitude. If you don't know something, ask. Try to have fun. Find a way to give back to others. Make sure you take breaks so that you don't get worn out. Keep trying – failure isn't a complete loss – you are just learning from your mistakes.
Despite their young ages, these brothers have proven their commitment and dedication to their business and to giving back to the community. Their success and continual growth as candle makers is a testament to the fact that entrepreneurship is possible at any age and that business can be a force for good.
The U.S. Chamber’s Young Entrepreneur Series will continue to highlight businesses, like Frères Branchiaux, that are harnessing creative solutions to positively impact their communities. Check out other young entrepreneurs in the series, here.