Posted on May 19 2021
We are so excited to be featuring an AAPI Female Founder and serial entrepreneur - Mei Xu, Founder of Chesapeake Bay Candle Company and recently Yes She May. Mei also just released her first book - Burn: How Grit, Innovation, and a Dash of Luck Ignited a Multi-Million Dollar Success Story.
Yes She May is elevating how women shop - an online boutique dedicated to curating products designed by women for women. ALLY Shoes is thrilled to be collaborating with Yes She May as one of its inaugural brands, and had the opportunity to speak with the incredible Mei Xu.
ALLY: We'd love to find out about why you started Chesapeake Bay Candle Company? And what was your greatest accomplishment with the business.
Mei: In the early 90s, I was working at an entry job in NYC when I first graduated with my MA in Journalism and I was commuting between the City and Washington DC where my then-husband was working. But the company put me in a hotel near Bloomingdale’s and every night when I finished dinner I would wander into this amazing marvel of paradise. Pretty soon, my well-trained journalistic eyes found something: the fashion floor is a lot more modern and sharper than the home goods floor. And that is where we decided that we could go into business to bring fashion into a home! We stumbled upon candles, of all things. And Chesapeake Bay Candle became a household brand a few years later and was sold at places like Target, Bloomingdale’s, Kohl’s, etc.
After building the business for more than 24 years and setting up three factories and development centers in China, Vietnam, and outside Baltimore, Maryland, I sold the business to Newell Brands, a global conglomerate with over 50 household brands.
ALLY: What was the biggest lesson that you learned while being the CEO at Chesapeake Bay Candle Company?
Mei: I was trying really hard to reach out to the buyer at Target in 1995 as Chesapeake Bay Candle became more prominent. After failing to get callbacks from her for more than 4 months, I called the receptionist and wondered what else I could do. She gave me the supervisor’s phone and said I could try that. I did. And not more than 5 minutes later, I got a call back from the buyer herself, and she said: “This is not the way to start a relationship”! Just like that, I knew I angered her.
So, in the next few months I tried to call each week, and every time her voice mail came up I would hang up. Until one day in early March of 1996, a cheerful new voice mail came up. I was so excited I left a long message and mailed a brochure to this new buyer. Not even two weeks later she called me and invited me to meet her at Target Store’s headquarters in Minneapolis. That meeting changed everything! We became Target’s number 1 candle vendor for many years to come!
The lesson I learned is that you have to be patient, and persistent. With patience I eventually met the right buyer at the right time. She was looking to make a mark by introducing new brands and I was there to bring an innovative line that no other retailers have highlighted. And our partnership was born!
ALLY: Why did you start Yes She May and where do you see it evolving.
Mei: It all started in 2019 when I consulted women-owned businesses to help them succeed in the cut-throat consumer industry. The statistics are jarring – while US women make more than 80% of household purchase decisions including fashion, food, healthcare, and vacations, less than 10% of the products available for consumers to purchase are produced by women-owned businesses. These already existing women-owned businesses are also often so small that they lack the access, finance, and logistical ability to supply large national retailers. Despite all this, women-owned businesses often have superior designs as they better understand consumer pain points and have more unique solutions than already established brands. And it is my belief that growing their business will also benefit consumers, which is why I started YesSheMay.com.
Our hopes and dreams for Yes She May are no different than those start-ups that come before us, or after us: we want a fair shot in the idea that if we search the world and find well-designed products designed by women, that we can give consumers a meaningful purchase.ALLY: What is your biggest joy in life? Why?
Mei: For me, one of the biggest joys in life is using my own experience to help more women businesses thrive, educating our young girls to be more entrepreneurial, and to encourage design thinking and a creative economy here in the US that can also be more inclusive!ALLY: What does your typical work day/week look like?
Mei: Running a business is a long game so it is easy to work day and night, weekends and holidays, especially with my new book launch. What I’ve learned is to set aside time to relax, exercise and spend time with family: this time allows for inspiration and deep thinking that only comes when our body is truly at peace! In between meetings, interviews and work, I spend time cooking with family and friends, and relaxing with yoga.
ALLY: Tell us more about your book Burn and why you decided to write a book.
Mei: What I have accomplished over the last 20 years is a result of many great things: timing, innovation, my background and training, but also the partnerships I was able to build with the likes of Target, Kohl’s etc.
What prompted me to eventually write my book was when I started to work with some women owned businesses in 2019 and started interviewing them each week. Over the course of a year, I met over 300 women here and in countries such as South Korea, China and Italy and I realized that if I don’t tell my stories, many who are searching for answers about many challenges in their lives would miss the lessons I learned: How to find more opportunities economically when all doors slam shut in front of you; how do you let passion and drive guide you towards a life of meaning and purpose: what do you do when you graduate and the whole world has been on pause and therefore you have to figure out a whole new way to fight a path forward?
I wrote this memoir not for myself; but for those coming after me. I highly recommend any retired CEOs, leaders of for profit and nonprofit, to give writing a memoir a chance, the benefit is that you would enjoy discovering yourself all over again!
ALLY: Who is your Ally?Mei: My friends are my biggest ally. They show support by buying products, sending me feedbacks, and showing me how delayed my order to them is. Truth is always humbling and helpful when one starts a business