How Annabelle Grew a $1 Million Business Selling Custom Candles and Personalized Gifts

Annabelle DeGrazio

Annabelle DeGrazio came up with the idea for TAJA Collection while working as a paralegal at a law firm. After putting in the work to turn that idea into a business, Annabelle has grown TAJA to reach $1 million in annual revenue. In this interview, she shares the details of her fascinating journey.

👇 Key Takeaways

  • TAJA prioritizes personal support rather than using AI bots
  • The business grew by sending free personalized gifts to influencers to build aware
  • Wholesale corporate gift orders account for about 40% of the business’s revenue

Overview

Business Name: TAJA Collection
Website URL: https://tajacollection.com/
Founder: Annabelle DeGrazio
Business Location: Miami, FL, US
Year Started: 2017
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 5

How much revenue and profit does the business generate? 

$1M annual revenue

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I graduated from NYU in 2009. After spending a year as a paralegal at a NY law firm, I attended and graduated from the University of Miami Law School in 2013. The idea for TAJA came about when I was working at a big law firm, looking for a gift for my secretary. Once I got the idea in my head, it was impossible to get rid of it. My obsession turned into a product and, eventually, a business!

TAJA Collection is renowned for its custom candles, which are hand-poured in small batches in Miami and made with 100% soy wax and non-toxic fragrances or essential oils. The glass jars are sustainable, and each order comes with instructions on how to repurpose the candle once the wax is done. 

TAJA’s products can be customized beyond a monogram — the possibilities are endless! They can be used for so many different occasions: client appreciation gifts, invitations, hotel amenities, and much more!

TAJA Collection website

How does your business make money?

We sell fully personalized candles, vases, diffusers, and soaps online and in-store. We sell mostly DTC (60%) and wholesale, primarily corporate gifting (40%).

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

While working as a lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, I created TAJA Collection while searching for the perfect gift for my secretary. I wanted something thoughtful and beautiful—in particular, a high-end candle with a photo of my secretary’s cat. With no viable options (besides a sticker on a generic candle) and a few months of R&D, I launched TAJA Collection.

Annabelle DeGrazio
Photo by Annabelle DeGrazio

How and when did you launch the business?

TAJA started with an Instagram page and a self-made website in June 2017. 

How is the business funded? 

Fully bootstrapped! 

How did you find your first few clients or customers?

Word of mouth and Instagram! Since most of our clients are buying gifts, the recipients loved their gifts so much that nine times out of ten, they pay it forward and order TAJA when they need a gift, and so on…

When I first started wholesale, I messaged many people on LinkedIn offering free candles. This led to locking up some sports teams and law firms. Some of TAJA’s trusted corporate customers include Amazon, Amanyara Hotels, American Express, Hilton Hotels, Houston Texans, SoulCycle, Miami Heat, and Neiman Marcus, to name a few.

What was your first year in business like?

The first year was a whirlwind, and I worked out of a garage for most of the year. Whenever I was awake, I was working. 

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

It was always so important to me to make high-quality, clean candles and offer amazing customer service (always A+). Beyond that, we also gifted to influencers to help with growth.

From the start, I made sure to answer every inquiry ASAP and with a human response (no bots or automated replies). Customers constantly ask us for suggestions so it is imperative to walk them through the process. We eventually added a product called “Design Concierge” – where we talk with the customer to help create the perfect candle. We have a very high customer return rate because we’re so responsive and devote a lot of time and resources to our customer service. 

When TAJA started, Instagram was in the palms of everyone’s hands (much like today) and anything that was personalized would go viral. We gifted products to influencers in the home decor, lifestyle, and wellness spaces and boosted our brand awareness. Early influencers who posted their goodies and helped spread brand awareness included Jillian Michaels, Stassi Schroeder, Danielle Bernstein (We Wore What), and Melissa Wood Tepperberg. To this day, we use a similar strategy and it still works! 

Tapping into the community also helped tremendously (and still does). I tried to put TAJA in the hands of Miami’s movers and shakers, including celebrity trainers, wedding planners, stylists, and other business owners.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

Growing is the biggest challenge, especially recently with the changes in the economy and consumer spending. TAJA had so much growth in the first five years that it’s been a challenge to outperform each year. The rise in costs has also affected our margins. 

We constantly adapt and find new ways to generate revenue and cut costs. It’s a work in progress. 

What have been the most significant keys to your business’ success?

My team! It was not easy to find the right fit and it didn’t happen quickly. We work so well together and everyone truly cares. 

Giving the brand a personality. We try to incorporate lifestyle and realness into our social media and email marketing because we found that our customers connect with the people in addition to the product. 

Events have really helped us expand and build loyalty. We love traveling and doing trunk shows to introduce new scents, products, and colors. We also host in-store events with other female-founded brands called “TAJA Markets.” 

Tell us about your team.

We are a small (yet mighty) team of 5 women in Miami!

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time?

I wanted to wait until we had proof of concept. Within a couple of days of launching the website and Instagram, we received a wholesale order from a local boutique and that was enough for me to give my two weeks notice!

What was the turning point when you knew your business was successful?

I knew off the bat that there was something here. When you see people’s reactions to getting a TAJA gift, it’s different, it’s emotional, it’s memorable. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

Slow and steady wins the race. The model works for me, especially because I am self-funded and have to be scrappy. 

Annabelle DeGrazio
Photo by Annabelle DeGrazio

What separates your business from your competitors?

No one does what we do. There are no candles on the market that offer full customization quite like we do—from fragrance to color and top-to-bottom design. You can put lyrics, photos, mantras, and basically any design on the candle. We also infuse so much thought into each and every order. Our customer service is A+ (real people, real-time), and our premium products are clean.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Go with your gut. While making decisions based on empirical data is key, listening to your gut is vital. 

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

Books:

Podcasts:


Founder Reports is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.