University alumna lights up FGCU with homemade candles at Farmer’s Market
FGCU alumna Elizabeth Gilliard founded her homemade candle business on one small motto with a huge meaning: nice and simple.
Gilliard started making candles as a hobby, giving them as favors for a baby shower, then a wedding. Almost by accident, Lizzie’s Lights has turned into a thriving booth that Gilliard totes from market to market.
“As a woman, candles were always on my list of things I had to have,” Gilliard said. “A big part of wanting to make my own candles was that all the candles I bought in stores burned badly and had a terrible to nonexistent scent.”
It seemed like a natural progression for Gilliard to turn her pastime crafting into a business, starting with research on how to make candles on a larger scale. She pours each candle by hand, making small batches of just 12 to 13 at a time. In addition to producing her product, Gilliard uses 100 percent soy wax and lead-free wicks.
“We don’t want lead in paint because it makes you sick, so why would you want to burn lead in your candles?” Gilliard said.
Buyers can rest assured that they are purchasing a quality product that is as clean as it sounds. With just three ingredients — wax, fragrance oil and dye, if colored — and a clean burn, Gilliard’s candles set her apart from other candle companies.
“There is no machine to measure ingredients or to stir wax. Just me,” Gilliard said. Gilliard does it all, booking all of her own shows and markets as well as taking care of all the financial obligations of being an entrepreneur.
“Being a small business owner really takes a lot,” Gilliard said. “I do all the marketing and advertising. I do the books. I send the invoices and pay the bills. I make the inventory. I run the booth.” The hardest part, Gilliard explains, is finding the right balance while her business grows.
“I’ve surpassed some goals I set for myself when I began this endeavor,” Gilliard said. “Helen Keller said, ‘Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.’ I love that quote and run my business by it.”
Gilliard has been bringing her candles to the FGCU Fresh Market since the fall semester, which has allowed her to put her product into the hands of more people than she thought possible. Gilliard graduated FGCU in 2006 and wishes that there would have been a market in place back then.
“Farmer’s markets are the wave of the future, in my opinion,” Gilliard said. “These days, people are more health conscious than ever and can really appreciate handmade, locally grown and produced items.”
Gilliard offers her products at markets across SWFL, traveling to Health Park, Florida SouthWestern, Koreshan State Park, Fort Myers Beach and St. John.
The candles sell in three sizes, 7.5, 14 and 22 ounces. Depending on inventory, Lizzie’s Lights will run specials based on what is selling and what isn’t making the cut.
Gilliard wants her customers to know they’re valued by offering a $1 off deal for those that bring back their empty candle jars. She also runs a ‘buy 11 candles, get the 12th free’ loyalty program for buyers that frequent her booth.
The list of scents that Lizzie’s Lights offers has grown to more than 30 on any given day, ranging from vanilla bean and pink grapefruit to Grandpa’s Study and Florida Christmas. Gilliard prides herself on nostalgia candles that transport people with their scents and calls them “memories in a jar.”
“My favorite — peony — brings me back to my wedding,” Gilliard said. “I carried them in my bouquet. The gardenia I pour for my mother; it’s her favorite flower and reminds me of the gardenias that grew next to the house I grew up in.”
Lizzie’s Lights’ bestselling candle is Sea Salt & Beach Wood, and Gilliard describes it as “the epitome of Southwest Florida.” With a beachy and clean scent, it reminds customers of a cottage on the water’s edge, with all the windows and doors open and the sea breeze winding throughout the house.
In time for Valentine’s Day, Lizzie’s Lights has created limited edition heart- shaped Sweetheart Candles, with scents such as mulberry and Sweet Valentine. On the Lizzie’s Lights Instagram, Gilliard captioned a picture of the specialty scent, “Think candies and sweets.”
Lizzie’s Candles also offers candle gift boxes with scent collections such as S’mores, Fall Fresh and Wine Down.
“I get inspired by our beautiful state and the fact that I live where other people vacation,” Gilliard said. “I sit next to my pool and brainstorm scents and ideas for hours. That’s how I originally started doing the custom boxes. Not only do our customers get a variety of scents, but they make an amazing gift.”
With market season soon coming to a close, Gilliard will be focusing more on wholesale opportunities and craft shows, as well as launching both an Etsy store and a retail website. She offers free local pickup at any of her markets instead of paying shipping. Gilliard also ships all over the country for customers who aren’t a short drive away.
If you had asked Gilliard years ago if she would be creating and selling candles as a full- time job, she would have laughed. Since then, she has realized that she wanted to be her own boss and call the shots. Her advice to future entrepreneurs is to “trust your gut and follow your heart.”
“(That) is when you know you need a change,” Gilliard said. “I watched my husband leave corporate America and start a very successful, local commercial floor care company. I knew that spending more time at home with my family really exploring my passions and doing something that I loved was exactly what I needed to do. That was last September, and I haven’t looked back since.”