I'll Have What I'm Having
Watershed Distillery co-founder, Greg Lehman, sat down with Torrance Powell of Spirited Wax to find out what it takes to source local ingredients, and bottles, for use in high-quality candle making.
Greg: So let’s start at the beginning, how did Spirited Wax get started?
Torrance: Probably in 2013, or so, my wife and I had dinner with some friends from college. We went over and they made me a drink; Jameson and ginger. I typically hadn’t had whiskey or bourbon before that, and it wound up becoming my favorite drink. So on Sunday nights that’s what I would pour myself. I started collecting the bottles. I like the green glass and making stuff. I started to see people doing something similar to what I do now, but I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to figure out the process. I like to solve problems, and I’ve always kind of had an entrepreneurial spirit, so that’s kind of where it got started. I did it as a hobby originally, from there it kind of just picked up steam, and now I do it pretty regularly. It’s a nice little side business, and I’m looking to maybe grow it, and see what I can do with it from here.
Greg: I understand that part of it where it’s like you see so many opportunities once you start going, now finding the time to pursue all those, I think that’s the challenge. For us, when we started Watershed there wasn’t a road map necessarily to say here’s where you begin, here’s where you go out and do it. There were bits and pieces that we pulled together on. We took some courses on distilling and we read a lot about it, but it wasn’t like you could go find a business plan on starting a distillery, probably similar with you. How did you actually learn what to do, and dig in to that side of it?
Torrance: Lots of research. I did some reading. I didn’t know anything about candle making or different kinds of wax. I think you quickly learn about the products that go in to what you make, and all the different reasons why people do or don’t use certain kinds of things. It was important to me to find out where I sourced my materials from. I love the Columbus area and I wanted to use Ohio based products. I started to look for Ohio made soy wax, obviously that’s the most important part of what I do. Our family is also really interested in recycling, so that’s where the bottles came in. Instead of just throwing them away. That inspired me to start reaching out to folks like you to see about reusing bottles from the tasting room.
Greg: It’s really a great product, whatever you’ve learned, it’s working.
Torrance: It’s taken a long time to get here, it’s been about two years.
Greg: Talk to me a little bit about sourcing, I know with Watershed, as we get to know more people in the industry it sounds like we found people through different connections, and you mentioned local. There’s something great about local, but I think one of the coolest things about local for me is you’re talking to the makers, to the growers, to the people that are actually physically touching, building, or growing the product. Almost more important than “local” is being able to connect with that person and find someone that you like doing business with. Now nine times out of ten those people end up being local, because it’s hard to connect with people that are way far away.
Torrance: Soy is really expensive to ship because you buy it in these massive cases, 50lb cases usually. You can buy pallets of it if you want to, and that’s really expensive to ship and shipping is an expense you can’t just get around. I spent a lot of time out of necessity, just trying to find a local source, and Ohio produces a lot of soy. So I actually found a provider that’s close enough that I can drive and pick it up on my own and save money that way. Local was out of necessity, but then you get to know those people who do what they do and also help your business at the same time. So that’s the wax part of it, but the glass part of it is a bottleneck to some extent because a lot of what I use comes from pubs, restaurants, distilleries - and it requires a little extra of them to save the materials. Thankfully, most everyone at this point has been willing to just give me their throwaways that they weren’t going to do anything with anyhow. Asking them to set aside, and once a week I’ll come in and pick it up.
Greg: That’s hyper local, the glass part. You have to go physically get it.
Torrance: Yeah, I do, but I get to meet some pretty cool people throughout that process. I’ve made some good connections.
"I don’t have a business background - actually my background is in science and philosophy, but I’ve always had this entrepreneurial spirit. It’s kind of scientific … you have to play with those temperatures, measurements, blends. So it’s got a little bit of my background to it, but I’ve enjoyed learning the business process, because right now I do everything."
Greg: What about your work inspires you?
Torrance: I like when people bring me their bottles, and they’re excited about it. That’s what gets me excited about making it. When people bring me their wine or champagne bottle from their wedding, you know. It’s about the connection that people have to their drink, and they want to feature that in a way in their home that. Once they finish their bottle how can they keep it around without looking cluttered? The candle is a really natural connection. Its what people think of when they see the candle, they think man that’s really awesome. They think it’s cool that they can have something that is deeply personal. That gives me excitement in my product. I like to hear the stories of where it came from, I like to get it to them as fast as possible so they can enjoy it as soon as possible.
Greg: From your perspective, do you think you discovered an existing market, or do you think you created one?
Torrance: I think I discovered it, because I found the idea through other people, but I think I’m taking it in a new direction by trying to partner directly with the distilleries that produce their own products that they are proud of.
Greg: Did you know you wanted to start a business, or is it one of those things you kind of fell in to it?
Torrance: I kind of fell into it. I don’t have a business background - actually my background is in science and philosophy, but I’ve always had this entrepreneurial spirit. It’s kind of scientific … you have to play with those temperatures, measurements, blends. So it’s got a little bit of my background to it, but I’ve enjoyed learning the business process, because right now I do everything. I source it and I make them. I do my own photography. I post to the web site. It’s a one-man shop.
Greg: You’re never bored right?
Torrance: No, there’s something to do every day, and my kids will tell you that too. What I like about this right now, is that I can do it inside of my home, and I’m going to grow and have to look for other opportunities for spaces, and that’ll take me out of the house, but I think they get excited about it too.
Greg: How old are your kids?
Torrance: 12, 10, and 7, so we’re pretty busy with soccer and school activities, but I get to help them with their homework while I’m melting wax. I get to be present.
Greg: There’s something of a common thread that I see in a lot of entrepreneurs - that passion for learning. I know Dave and I fall into that … there is always something new, and we want to go out and learn it.
Torrance: If I’m going to move or grow anymore, there’s a lot more I’ve yet to learn. As I reflect on where I’ve come from I’ve realized how much I’ve learned about commerce and expenses and tracking and taxes.
Greg: It’s not just cutting glass.
Torrance: No, there’s so much more to it. It’s been a good education.
Greg: Still like every day, I’m like how do we not know this stuff, what do we need to figure out next, there’s always a lot of that.
Greg: Let’s talk for a little bit about community. How has the community helped you?
Torrance: I would say right now I kind of fall in to that crafting community that’s really big in Columbus. There’s all types of craft markets that you can be a part of or sell your products through – Not Your Mama’s Craft Market or Ohio Made - and they host shows all over the place. You have to apply and be accepted in to those, but I think you learn as much through being accepted and selling, as you do from the rejection of not always being able to go somewhere. You wonder what could I do better, so it pushes you to improve your presentation, because they’re looking for eye catching presentation. In a way they help me without knowing they are giving me an education on how to do this business, on how to run a business.
Greg: Talking with some of these other entrepreneurs it seems like that common thread comes back to the idea that no matter what is thrown at you, you’re learning from it, and there’s this other thread of optimism or an “I can do it” attitude that sits in conjunction with that learning, that like you mentioned even if you get rejected, even if you don’t make a show you learn from it, and if you do make a show you learn from it. But it’s all part of this big process that we’re trying to figure out, and I see that too. It’s definitely fun for us to be a part of that community in Ohio, so it’s good to see someone else passionate about it too.
Torrance: I think looking for inspiration in industries that aren’t your industry can give you ideas. Columbus is fantastic - ideas, and inspiration all over the place. I like to get out there and just observe who’s around, and what they’re doing … not that I want to copy what they’re doing, but I think it’s a piece of inspiration for me.
Greg: Who is out there in Columbus inspiring you right now?
Torrance: I’ve followed you guys since I became familiar with you. I love what you’ve done with growing the restaurant, growing the distillery…you guys have learned a lot about the legislative process, that was a place I think you guys didn’t know you were getting into. That inspires me. Looking for things that you may not know are coming, but might impact what you do, so you can make it bigger or better.
Greg: So what is next, what’s your next step?
Torrance: Possibly buying a large industrial wax melter that sounds not so exciting to people who don’t make candles.
"We love living in Columbus because it’s so accessible, and even as it continues to grow, as we bring in the tech industry, as it grows all of the immediate communities outside of downtown, everything remains so accessible, and that’s one of the reasons I think we are going to stay here for a long time. "
Greg: Hey, it sounds exciting to me!
Torrance: I know when you bought the new stills, and things like that it was probably really exciting for you, and the same thing for me, like that is going to be, if I go through with it, a pretty major purchase. It really means that I’m committing to this long term, I really think it’s in me, and I really want to do that.
Greg: That doesn’t sound like something that sits in your living room.
Torrance: It doesn’t. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a dedicated space in our home that it could possibly still occupy, but we will probably outgrow that, because I also have to maintain an inventory of glass all over the place, and that’s not something you want to have with three kids under the age of 13 running around.
Greg: How do you see Columbus growing?
Torrance: We love living in Columbus because it’s so accessible, and even as it continues to grow, as we bring in the tech industry, as it grows all of the immediate communities outside of downtown, everything remains so accessible, and that’s one of the reasons I think we are going to stay here for a long time. I think I see Columbus growing the most in popularity with being able to attract bigger and better things without becoming a major metropolitan area that is difficult to navigate, inaccessible, unaffordable, I don’t see that happening.
Greg: I would agree with you, I love how big city it is, but accessible at the same time, I think you nailed that.
Torrance: There’s something for everyone, there truly is.
Greg: The other thing that I love that I think we forget about, because we are here in Columbus every day, is it seems like people here are genuinely really nice, thoughtful people. I feel like there is hospitality here, and great people here.
Torrance: I think that’s what makes it popular for people to try things, is there’s a sense of mutual benefit, if we can both do what we’re doing, and thrive, that only improves the conditions for everyone else and ourselves.
Greg: So who else is doing cool things here in Columbus?
Torrance: Some of the vendors I’ve seen at some of the craft shows are just really creative. Just a lot of really cool artists out there. There’s this guy who does something similar to Re:work Furnishings for pubs and restaurants, over on the east side, his name is DJ Kelly and he owns a graphic design company. They do a lot of print materials, but his passion seems to be doing woodwork on his own. For Local Cantina he did a bunch of their giant tables, he stamps them and kind of chars the wood in a really unique way. I love seeing that sort of stuff, he’s always thinking like what gets me excited and he’s always looking for other opportunities, it’s people like that who take their passions and learn something new.
Greg: We like what you’re doing, that’s part of the theme of what we’re doing with this campaign, we’re trying to find these people in Columbus, and figure out how to celebrate them, and tell that story of Columbus as a whole, through the individual stories.
Torrance: It’s been quite a process, really getting to this point, in just a years’ time, I’ve really learned a lot like I said. I would tell anyone who is considering getting in to something like this, don’t stop at your frankenstein product, move on and keep trying, because I was so excited even when those things were terrible. And I already knew I could do better, I would say just keep trying .
Greg: That sounds like us making gin, you bury yourself in your work, and you do so many iterations you think this is it, and you go share it with somebody and they’re seeing it for the first time, and they have no context, they think it’s terrible, alright, back to the still.
Torrance: Did you find that people wanted to give you advice who had no idea what it actually took?
Greg: Absolutely, I still get advice all the time.