Inside the INCubator with The Rustic House

1. How would you describe your company?

The Rustic House, LLC unites the best of the traditional and the new, with a classic candle designed to complement virtually any decor. We've worked with the industry's finest perfumers to create exclusive candle fragrances with each candle being hand poured to ensure the finest quality. 

The Company was founded in August 2013 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by Emily Warr and Chelsea Cash. With over 15 years of shared candle-making and related industry experience between the management team, the Company has developed a competitive advantage with the use of carefully tuned and tested soy candle formulations. The company currently offers luxury soy candle products which include 10-ounce container candles, 4-ounce travel tins, and 6-piece candle warmers. In addition to the current candle product lines, the Company plans to expand the brand to include bath and body products, home décor and furniture and other home-related goods and services. With all product lines and services, the Company seeks to place special emphasis on producing “rustic” and minimalistic-looking products.

The Company sells products primarily through retail and wholesale channels with special focus on city markets, personal care shops and large chain stores. As of July 11, 2016, the Company operated in 67 retail locations across 5 states (Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee). In addition to its retail presence, the Company also participates regularly in various local and regional markets such as the Chattanooga Market in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

2. What is your distribution model? Where can people buy your products?

We currently sell our products through the following five channels: farmer’s markets (such as the Chattanooga Market), retail (our online store,, and our offices and production space at the SBDC), wholesale (small boutiques, clothing stores, spas & salons, grocery stores, etc.), fundraising, and house parties. Our website will have more information on each of our sales channels within the next couple of months.

3. Candles are a crowded market. What is your target market and what differentiates you from your competitors?

One of our primary concerns before starting this company was this, “How can we sell candles when seemingly everybody else already does?” What we came to realize through our industry and market research, however, was that a simplistic, luxury soy candle line had more room to grow in the industry than the typical paraffin-based and colored candles currently crowding the market. Upon this realization, we decided to create The Rustic House brand, with the purpose of filling in this growing niche of the $2 billion U.S. candle industry.

4. What kind of growth are you striving for? Is The Rustic House a “lifestyle” startup or are you trying to scale beyond that?

One of the best things about our brand is that it is “The Rustic House” versus “The Rustic House Candles”. In other words, our company and brand name does not limit us to producing candles. As such, we are aggressively exploring new ways to enter new markets such as home decor and cosmetics with the unifying purpose of providing and delivering world-class products to the marketplace. Our long-term vision is to continue to grow the company to become a player on the national (and eventually international) stage in every industry we compete in. Put differently, we have no intention on staying small.

5. Are you currently seeking investors or have you in the past; or has the company been bootstrapped? Describe how The Rustic House is capitalized and why.

The Rustic House has been bootstrapped from day one, with resources invested by the two co-owners, Emily and Chelsea. Each owns a 50% stake in the company. We currently have no debt and we are not currently looking for potential investors, however, we may be open to outside investors depending on future growth prospects within the next 18-24 months.

6. Why do people love candles SO much?

People love candles for a variety of reasons. We have found that candles are strongly associated with the following: they make great gifts for friends, family, and co-workers; they provide a relaxing atmosphere after a stressful day; they add value to the interior aesthetic and design of shared living spaces; they have the ability to trigger memories through fragrance association; and last but not least, they just smell so good!

About the Founders, with Emily Warr

1. Why did you start The Rustic House?

Chelsea and I have always dreamed of owning our own company. Since childhood, we both had one goal, “be my own boss.” My experience in the candle industry ultimately lead us to making and selling candles. We both love creating a product that allows us to become creative, successful entrepreneurs. Candles are just the beginning. The sky is the limit!

2. Have you started any other businesses? What’s your background?

This is our first for business for both of us. We both have business backgrounds and degrees. I specialize in Entrepreneurship and Chelsea in Accounting. We were immersed in Entrepreneurship and various business experience through our parents and jobs. 

3. What do you love about running a startup? What’s been the most difficult thing?

Every day is something new and a lesson learned. We love that we are in control of our success. As a startup, it is rewarding to actually see the growth and success thus far from starting at ground zero. We have read the books and done our research on starting a business, but in actuality it is a lot more difficult and time consuming to put everything into play. The most difficult challenge we face as owners is decision making. We make the best decisions we can, then wait for the results. Whether they are good or bad, it is always a learning experience. 

4. Why Chattanooga?

After visiting a friend in Chattanooga, I fell in love with the city. I moved here to finish my bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship at UTC. After Chelsea graduated from UAB, she made the move to begin our journey as entrepreneurs. Chattanooga is such a friendly and welcoming city. Our company would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for the support of the Chattanooga community.

About the Team

1. Who comprises your team?

We currently have five full-time employees: Emily Warr (Co-Founder), Chelsea Cash (Co-Founder), Daniel Koukol (CEO), Kelly Turner, and Ashley Nielsen. In addition to our full-time staff, we have several interns through our partnerships with UTC and Lee University. 

Chelsea Cash (Co-Founder, Accounting & Administration)

Chelsea completed her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2012. Chelsea’s experience in the candle industry came, when business partner, Emily Warr, left The Yucatan Trading Company they both worked for. Chelsea replaced Emily’s job of sales, and also took on the responsibilities of handling the books and processes in order to streamline the company. Her aptitude for accounting came from previous experience in book keeping for small businesses which included a local carwash and national medical supplies company. After finishing school, Chelsea moved to Chattanooga, where her and co-founder Emily began their dream of The Rustic House in August of 2013.

Emily Warr (Co-Founder, Sales & Marketing)

Emily moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Entrepreneurship from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2013, with a dream to one day start her own candle company. Previous experience in the candle industry came from a privately owned store called the Yucatan Trading Company. This store specialized in Mexican imported rustic exterior and interior design. For five years, Emily gained experience in the home design industry and started college at a local community college in interior design studies. In 2008, the owners switch gears and decided to sell smaller gift items including hand poured candles. Through this, Emily learned alongside experienced small business owners. Not only did she learn the trade of candle making, but also the ups and downs of a startup. This path led her to new aspirations of starting her own business in luxury soy candles, with bigger dreams to expand one day to world imports of all home furnishings.

Dan Koukol (Chief Executive Officer)

Dan graduated Summa Cum Laude from Lee University in 2014 with three business degrees in Finance, Management, and Management Information Systems. With over five years of business consulting experience, Dan has been involved in several high-priority projects with the following organizations: Brown Stove Works, Chattem, Check Into Cash, Mayne Pharma, MedMaps, Millennium Health, NCR, Olin, and Volkswagen, among others. In addition, Dan has studied entrepreneurship and small business for over eight years, focusing specifically on scaling and streamlining startups.

Kelly Turner (Production & Sales)

Kelly grew up in Birmingham and eventually went on to Boone, North Carolina, to study English at Appalachian State University. Upon graduation in 2011, Kelly began traveling to Central America annually for various volunteer and teaching trips. Eventually, Kelly connected with The Rustic House through his lifetime friends, Emily and Chelsea, and moved to Chattanooga to join the startup. Kelly enjoys mountain biking, traveling, playing music, and of course, making candles!

Ashley Nielsen (Administration)

Ashley graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Her love of adventure led her to Chattanooga in 2013 where she eagerly jumped on board with her childhood friends at The Rustic House to help turn their dreams into a candle empire. Ashley loves traveling, reading, and animals.

2. What are five words that describe your company culture?

Five words that describe our culture include: Family, Driven, Committed, Passionate, and Encouraging.

3 .What’s the best and worst advice you’ve been given as a startup?

Best Advice

The best advice we have been given has been to join the Small Business Development Center. With a plethora of small business resources and reduced rent, the SBDC has been dedicated to our success from day one. We are huge advocates of small businesses joining the SBDC!

Worst Advice

The worst advice we have gotten is that we should be happy with how much we have grown and settle for where we are at now. We believe we have a world-class product and vision and are at the perfect stage to grow into a national brand. Our customers love our product and we love our customers, so why stop now!?

4. Any recommended reading for other startups? For humans in general?

Our CEO, Dan Koukol, is an avid reader and student of entrepreneurship and business. He recommends the following reading for other startups:

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
  • Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
  • The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
  • Elon Musk: Inventing the Future
  • The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
  • The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don't
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
  • Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don't
  • Steve Jobs
  • Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Stay in touch through the Rustic House website, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest

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