Craft to Career: How Three Maine Women Turned Hobbies Into Dollars

Craft to Career: How Three Maine Women Turned Hobbies Into Dollars

Craft to Career

How three Maine women turned hobbies into dollars

By Sarah Holman

 

Abby Perkins

El Maple Farm Candle Co.

Gorham

Abby Perkins grew up in a house where candles were a big deal. Her mother, Denise, loved making them herself and would hold open houses to sell her creations. Abby is one of four daughters, and eventually family life became too busy to leave much time for Denise’s hobby. 

“After my grandmother passed away last February, my mom mentioned she’d like to make candles again,” Abby says. “It seemed like a great thing to bring us together as a family.” Abby inherited her mother’s love and respect for candles and the craft of making them, and she was excited to bond with Denise over their shared interest. It also seemed like a good way to make some ‘fun money’ during tough financial times. “We said, ‘Let’s try this’,” Abby says. “If it doesn’t work, we know we’ll have fun anyway.”

Denise took on the role of ‘maker’ while Abby started managing marketing, mostly through social media outlets and a website she created herself using a template on GoDaddy. They named their venture El Maple Farm Candle Co. in honor of Abby’s grandmother. Although, she admits, the El was meant to be Elm, but a typo ended up being too funny to change. “My grandmother would have laughed so hard at us,” Abby says. “There was no going back.”

Both Denise and Abby have full time jobs in healthcare, so their candle work happens in the evenings and on the weekends. They use soy wax, which burns longer than other types, and scents they purchase online from suppliers committed to safe, clean ingredients. Abby launched El Maple Farm Candle Co’s first online pop up sale just two months after they started working together. Denise had produced 50 candles and 10 wax melts. They sold out in one day. “I was just blown away,” Abby says. 

Abby put together another online sale during the summer with significantly more merchandise available. They didn’t sell out in one day, but the sale was still incredibly successful. Summer is a slower season for candles, and Abby is looking forward to the fall and winter seasons. Their most popular scents so far have been Iced Lemon Pound Cake and Sweet Orange Chili Pepper, but they’re looking for new, seasonal smells for cooler weather. So far, they have at least fifteen scents in the works for fall. Abby regularly engages followers on social media to get feedback on favorite scents, and she hopes to expand their customer base by attending craft shows and farmer’s markets as the business grows. 

This fall, Abby and Denise also plan to become an official business. “Our goal right now is to sell enough products to make the LLC worth it.” She also hopes to increase sales to justify buying bigger volumes of jars and other supplies, which would cost less. “I’d love to sell online and ship,” Abby says. Ultimately, both women are hoping to make El Maple Farm Candle Co. a larger part of their income. “It would be really cool to be able to go part time,” Abby says, and Denise would love to have more time to spend with her grandkids. The business has grown gradually and without loans, so they’re well-positioned to keep up the good work. “We’ve made a very good profit so far,” Abby says. “And it’s been really fun!”

 

Heather Schultz

Hope Learning Toys

Hope, Maine

As an elementary school teacher, Heather Schultz found herself frequently researching the best way to engage children and making her own materials to fit her needs. After teaching for ten years, Heather left her job to stay home with her infant son. “I missed the classroom immediately,” she says. She decided to combine her love of teaching with a need she saw for high quality sensory learning materials.  

“I began by making alphabet and number sets on rocks, shells, and wood, and I saw how engaging the combination of nature and learning was to my little one.” As soon as Heather realized her ideas worked well, she started thinking about how she could get them into classrooms. It was a slow process. She was making products in her living room and selling them locally, on Etsy, and often giving them away to people she thought would enjoy them. Moms and homeschoolers were particularly enthusiastic, which further validated the need for the items Heather was creating. 

Heather doesn’t have a business or marketing background, so she invested most of her early earnings into educating herself in those areas. She also purchased more equipment and tools and grew her business steadily by adding new products each season. Her early investments paid off, supporting her overall growth and boosting her confidence. Increasing her social media presence has also helped sales tremendously. “The revenue has never been as important to me as the mission,” Heather says, “but it’s a wonderful perk, and I am thankful to be contributing to my family finances.”

After participating in a few craft fairs early on, Heather found sales were most successful online. Now she sells on her own website, Etsy, and through wholesale accounts. As orders increased, she found that hand making large quantities of products was becoming less enjoyable. While she still makes most things herself, she has also incorporated items that can be manufactured elsewhere. “The Hope Learning Tray is a silicone sensory bin that I designed over the course of a year and is now a top seller in my shop,” Heather says. The process of seeing something through from idea to product keeps the work fresh and exciting for her. “It is a constant creative outlet.”

Six years after her first craft fairs, Hope Learning Toys has become a known name among learning and play professionals. “I’m so proud to say that,” Heather says. “I have an amazing community of trusting parents and educators who purchase from me again and again.” 

As an involved mother and a successful business owner, Heather also loves the flexibility of her career. “It can be whatever I want or need it to be on any particular day,” she says. During the summer, Heather closes her online shops and helps run a summer camp. During the school year, her business is a full time job. 

In the future, Heather hopes to open a sensory play studio in Camden. She envisions a place where kids can explore and create using the types of toys Hope Learning Toys is known for while caregivers connect and recharge. “The pandemic has been so detrimental to young children and their social emotional health,” she says. “I believe thoughtful play in an environment where kids can be free to imagine, create, and flourish will be healing.”

In the meantime, Heather plans to continue designing new products and spreading the word about the importance of sensory learning. 

 

Taylor Whitcomb

Village Baking Co.

Raymond, Maine

Even when she was working full time in Portland’s bustling restaurant industry, Taylor Whitcomb was making cakes and treats on the side for her family and friends. “I always had a sweet tooth,” she says. As a child, she was known for sneaking candy and ice cream at all hours of the day and night. “I guess if I look back on my childhood, it was the future I was destined for,” Taylor says. 

A graduate of Southern New Hampshire University, Taylor earned an associates degree in Baking and Pastry Arts and a bachelors in Culinary Management. She put her skills to work in restaurants and bakeries around Maine, but eventually, it wasn’t enough. “I wasn’t fulfilled working in a restaurant on the dessert line anymore,” Taylor says. 

Taylor knew she wanted to bake and decorate cakes going forward, but she couldn’t find an established business that gave her the creative freedom she craved. “I decided to build my own business around the things I enjoy creating.”

In 2017, while working full time at Gorham House of Pizza, Taylor started Village Baking Co., specializing in custom cakes, unique desserts, and baked treats. Gorham House of Pizza gave her the opportunity to sell her products there, and she was able to launch and test out her baked goods. She cut back her hours as she got busier, and in March, just shy of 5 years after she started her business, Taylor left the pizza shop to pursue her business full time. Now she sells at Carters Green Market in Gorham, The Fisherman’s Catch in Raymond, Wormell Farms in Gorham where she works and bakes, and Gorham House of Pizza.

Taylor has seen fast growth; she’s already outgrowing her current space. During the busy season, she says the job feels like a lot of work and not as fun as when it was a hobby. But she knows it won’t always be like this. “I would love to have my own studio space and employees to help keep up with the high demand,” she says. Right now, her mom and her fiance pitch in to help with dishes, deliveries, and packaging.

Ideally, Taylor would like to hand off the more monotonous tasks to a team of paid staff members and get back to what she enjoys most: the actual creation and design of the cakes. Even when the work feels overwhelming, she knows how to keep things in perspective. “I look at how far I have come and the positive outlook on what I’ve created for myself.” Taylor hopes to someday own an event and wedding venue where she can oversee all aspects of the planning process. And, of course, create sweet treats for every special occasion. 

 

Author profile
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Sarah Holman

Sarah Holman is a writer living in Portland. She is enthusiastic about cheese plates, thrift shop treasures and old houses in need of saving.

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