The Story of Owen Drew - From the Kitchen Table to Dragons' Den

The Story of Owen Drew - From the Kitchen Table to Dragons' Den
by Drew Cockton, founder and managing director
 

Back in the summer of 2016, I was a frustrated financial service manager hating life in the corporate world. I tried various ways to relax and unwind, including colouring books, jigsaws and even knitting! But it was candle making which I enjoyed the most, for it combined my love of fragrance with my love of crafts. The idea came to me to start making candles after I noticed the damage that cheap, mass produced candles were doing to the interior of my home. My sitting / dining room was painted brilliant white and I noticed sooty deposits on the walls and ceilings near to the candles. I learned that cheap candles (and some expensive ones, too!) are made from paraffin which is a by-product of the petroleum oil industry and this was the cause of the soot and smoke. 

The first ever Owen Drew candle - Summer 2016

A slightly improved candle - Autumn 2016

Candle & Wax Melt making in the kitchen - Spring 2017

I began making my own in my kitchen with the help of a friend after we had watched a few tutorials on YouTube and sourced ingredients on Amazon. Rather than paraffin wax, we used natural soy wax which is plant based and vegan friendly and instead of cheap fragrances, we used expensive essential oils. I had sourced pretty vintage china cups from various charity shops which we used as the vessels and to make them stand out from the crowd, we used a wooden wick.

 

I gifted these to my friends and family and received positive feedback, with comments on the clean burn of the candles and the superior fragrance throw. I decided to put it ‘out there’ on social media that my candles would be available for anybody wanting to purchase them and that my little business was going to be called ‘Owen Drew’, after my grandmother Margaret Owen and my grandfather, Edmund Drew.

Much to my delight, the orders came flooding in via Facebook and Instagram and I used the funds to buy more supplies and create a website which in turn generated more orders. Before I knew it, the festive season was approaching which further fuelled demand as people needed early Christmas presents. My then partner, Mike, was also working in the corporate world with a demanding job in investment banking but he supported me on the late nights as we melted wax in our domestic microwave and lovingly prepared customer orders. We even opened up our home to strangers and turned our front room into a mini Christmas market, serving mulled wine and mince pies to guests who had seen the event advertised on Facebook.

Owen Drew display at a craft fair, 2016

 

Original branding of Owen Drew

People were extremely supportive and I formed close friendships with many of these people I had connected with through my little cottage industry. Sadly, my family was not as supportive and behind the scenes, some members were sniggering about my latest ‘hare-brained’ idea. It seemed incredulous to them that I was devoting my efforts to ‘hawking my wares’ at craft fayres and on social media when I ought to be focussing my efforts on progressing the corporate ladder. I knew deep down, that world was not for me and dreamed of being able to leave my job to focus on the business full time.

A friend sent me an article about a Virgin Trains ‘Business Clinic’ and I applied for a place. Amazingly, I was given a first class ticket from London St Pancras to Edinburgh and the opportunity to spend the day gleaning advice from successful entrepreneurs including Levi Roots (founder of Reggae Reggae Sauce) and Maria Hatzistefanis, CEO of the skincare brand Rodial. I furiously made notes and asked questions and left really believing that I had an idea for what could be a successful business offering luxurious but affordably priced candles. Following a very successful Christmas, I returned to work in the January and felt thoroughly depressed. Meetings about meetings and passive aggressive emails from middle managers beckoned and I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I quit.

Working from home - Early 2017

It felt really strange to start my working day at the dining room table and be able to focus solely on Owen Drew but I absolutely loved it. January was gloomy in every sense of the word but I devoted my efforts into marketing our products ahead of Valentine’s Day and planned another ‘open house’ which I invited friends and supporters to. It was a great success and we planned another for Mother’s Day the following month. My next door neighbour, Shirley, helped out when she could and whilst I poured the candles in the kitchen and replied to customer enquiries, she shuffled up and down the cellar steps to bring me the materials I needed.

Display in our first ever stockist

I was approached by a few businesses wanting to sell Owen Drew candles and like a ripple effect, more and more joined the list wanting to be stockists. It was around this stage that I knew I could not manage the business on my own, so my partner Mike also handed in his notice at work. Whilst I was rather scatty, he was organised and disciplined and together, we made a great team.

Another photoshoot at home

Quite quickly, our home was taken over by the business with our hallway becoming a dumping ground for sacks of orders to be taken to the post office and the living and sitting room floor covered in packaging materials. We knew it couldn’t continue so began making enquiries about acquiring a premises. We eventually signed a lease for a 750sqm warehouse in industrial Birkenhead and it was at this point that it felt as though Owen Drew was a real, bona fide business.

 

Drew in the first workshop

Our apprentices busy at work - Christmas 2017

 

Our first ever boutique in Birkenhead

Our second boutique at Pacific Road

Our boutique in the Albert Dock - Christmas 2018

The past four years have flown by since then and whilst we have had difficult and worrying times, times when we have almost been unable to pay our bills, success has followed Owen Drew. We have been nominated for and won several awards and been featured in lots of national and international press, including an article in French Forbes magazine about ‘The World’s Most Expensive Candle’ which we designed to celebrate the Royal Wedding in 2018. The culmination of all our hard work came in October 2020 when I successfully pitched the business to five multimillionaire investors on the set of BBC One’s Dragons’ Den and received an offer from Touker Suleyman in exchange for a 30% slice of the company.

Drew and Mike celebrating the first year in business, with friends - 2017

Drew and Mike receiving an award - 2018

 

Drew securing an investment on BBC One's Dragons' Den - Aired May 2021

We are set for some exciting times ahead and remain ever thankful to the people who were there at the very beginning, supporting us and encouraging us.