By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO
When three of Celena Gill’s sons asked her to buy them a Nerf gun and more than $500 in video games, she told them to get a job or start a business.
She was only kidding.
But her sons, Collin, 14, Ryan, 11, and Austin, 8, they took her words to heart and launched Frères Branchiaux Candle Co. in October 2017 to make soy and vegetable wax candles, room sprays, diffusers, soaps and bath bombs out of the home they share with their parents in Prince George’s County.
Young entrepreneurs Ryan Gill, Collin Gill and Austin Gill with their candles. (Courtesy Photo)
Frères Branchiaux means “Gill Brothers” in French — Collin is already fluent in the language while his younger brothers are studying it.
“We wanted to do Gill Brothers Candle Company, but there’s Gill Brothers’ Trucking, Gill Brothers Air Support,” Ryan Gill explains.
In the 22 months since they started their company, the boys have sold more than 10,000 units — candles are their top-selling product and range between $18 and $36.
“It’s really all word of mouth,” Celena Gill told the AFRO. “Like, I rarely reach out to people.”
They’re already selling their products in more than 30 stores and they’re looking to expand.
Starting in November, their products will be sold on The Workshop at Macy’s alumni e-commerce site, confirms Katelyn Yannie, Macy’s manager of Northeast Relations.
And the brothers are raising $20,000 on gofundme.com to buy a truck that’ll serve as a mobile store for their business. This will make it easier for them to sell their wares at various events.
“It’s easier than a van and we … don’t have to pack the candle stuff in it,” Ryan Gill explained.
The truck would also double as a mobile training center where the boys could help coordinate job training for homeless trying to get back on their feet or as a hub for the brothers to pass on their entrepreneurial skills to various youth groups and schools.
As it is, they donate 10 percent of their profits to the homeless.
The boys settled on making candles not only because their mother loves burning in the house, but also because her research found candles are the most successful kiddie business, Celena Gill said.
They started out experimenting with candle making using formulas their mother brought back from a candle class that her friend and soror Danita Nikki Brooks, founder of Zen in a Jar, a home and body care line, ran. Then Celena Gill went to a pro candle maker workshop to learn more techniques that helped her boys learn little tweaks.
“Making candles is purely science,” Celena Gill said. “Everything matters, whether your candle cannot burn or (if) it’ll blow up. It’s a very deliberate product because you can burn someone’s house down.”
The boys made candles as a lesson in school — Celena Gill homeschools her younger sons and Collin Gill will soon begin his freshman year at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C.
After about two weeks, they were ready to start selling, Celena Gill said. The boys have made more than enough to buy all the things they wanted and then some.
They earned six figures for their work last year and are on pace to double that in 2019, their mother says.
At the time the boys launched their business, their mother was already selling inspirational T-shirts, mugs, lapel pins and pillows through her website, Celena Gill Design and she did pop-ups as well. Meanwhile, her husband, Patrick Gill sells personal care and beard products for men through his company, Black Oak Grooming.
“All of us do something,” she told the AFRO.
In those early days, the boys relied on their family members, as well as their parents’ friends, school and business contacts, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters.
Looking to the future, the boys plan to focus more on the retail end of their business and training other kids to become entrepreneurs.
“If they don’t want to do it, you can’t make them if the effort isn’t there,” Celena Gill said of kids thinking about opening their own business. “Some people love working nine to five and there’s nothing wrong with that.”