Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.
What started in 2014 as a way for friends Tom Jansen and Amanda Buhse to get together for a glass of wine and work on something creative quickly turned into a company with a product line available across Canada and in gift bags for the Grammys and Academy Awards. Coal and Canary candles are both beautiful to see and to smell, and they’ve just opened up a shop in the Exchange District with the help of the PUSH program, an initiative from CentreVenture and the Manitoba government.
“I had been making candles for about four years, and I asked Amanda to team up with me because she was experienced in graphic design and marketing,” Jansen says. “We didn’t really think that we would sell anything and it just kind of exploded.”
“We’re both passionate about the brand and the company, and we approached it from such a non-traditional way, not starting a business to make money,” Buhse adds. “We were just best friends wanting to hang out, and that’s what helped sell the product.”
After uploading some professional pics to Instagram, the pair received a message from Cafe Postal offering to sell the candles.
“We were so excited, we didn’t think we’d ever get in a store,” Jansen says with a laugh. “We spent all our money from that sale on champagne and celebrated. That was the moment we knew we maybe had a product people were interested in.”
But when the Grammys and Academy Awards came calling, things really took off.
“It was kind of our 10 year goal to get into a gift bag for a local award show, we were thinking maybe the JUNO Awards,” Jansen says. “But we thought, why not reach out to the company that does it for the Grammys and the Oscars and ask what we need to do in 10 years to make this happen. They said, ‘You know what, this is a great product and we feel like it would be a great fit now, why don’t you do both bags?’ Sure, why not. That was three months after we came up with the concept of this company. We had no idea what we were doing at this point. We didn’t really come from traditional business backgrounds, which is why I think we have been successful, because we’ve been able to think outside the box and take risks.”
The duo, who met while performing in a choir together, had day jobs and school to handle when all of this happened. Jansen was in nursing school and re-finishing furniture, while Buhse, a graduate of Red River College’s Graphic Design program, paid her dues with advertising agencies and working with companies both small and large.
“I kinda knew the gist of how to take a product and market it to the masses, but obviously it’s different when it’s your own product and you don’t have a big team of people working for you,” Buhse says. “We did a bunch of market research locally and internationally, and we found this niche market of 25 to 35-year-old females that weren’t being targeted, so we came up with a business plan that would target them and a plan of action on how to best get their attention.”
What sets the Coal and Canary candles apart from the rest, aside from the fact that they look and smell incredible, is that they come in collections of three specific scents.
“We found that grouping them in collections was something that other people weren’t doing. They released a mass amount of scents that didn’t really fit together, so that helps us stand out,” Jansen says. “Our first one was a fall/winter collection, so those were warmer, cozier scents. Then we did a coffee shop line, so there was like a chai tea, a coffee, and a biscotti. We have customers that literally own every single candle, and as soon as we release something new they have to have it immediately. We do a lot of one-offs as well, either teaming up with a charity or doing one specific scent for a certain event, then they instantly pick it up because they need to have the whole set.”
Working with charities and companies that align well with Coal and Canary means they have collaborated with the likes of Winnipeg Harvest, Rainbow Resource Centre, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Jenna Rae Cakes.
Having a space in the Exchange allows the duo to collaborate with even more people, as weekly events will be held beginning at the end of August.
“The first one we’re doing is Roses and Rosé, so flower arranging and wine tasting,” Jansen says. “Then we’re doing jewelry making, yoga, a bunch of them.”
“It’s fun, and encourages people of our generation to see what Winnipeg has to offer,” Buhse says. “You don’t have to go home at 5pm, you can stay here, there’s cool things to do. A big part of why we’re doing them is not only to bring people down, but also to collaborate with other young entrepreneurs in the city that we’ve met and want to support. We are huge believers in collaboration and helping each other cross promote. It’s fun for us, fun for them, and we can share an experience together.”
Coal and Canary is at 73 Princess Street until October 31, and if things go well, there’s an opportunity to renew their lease through PUSH, a program which helps new businesses by subsidizing rent. It’s a space Jansen and Buhse had been eyeing for years, and they’re happy to be up and running in the Exchange.
“One of our first studios was actually in the Exchange, and we made all our product here,” Jansen says. “The energy here is amazing, it’s unlike anything else in the city, for sure.”
“We’ve always talked about opening up a storefront and where would be the right fit in the city,” Buhse adds. “We’ve had offers from shopping centres, which is exciting and an honour, but it was never really right. We knew from day one that the Exchange was right for us.”
Visit coalandcanary.com for more information.