You can’t hold a candle to this immigrant success story
Friday, January 6, 2017
As the Washington Post recently noted, Mei Xu, along with her then-husband, David Wang, started a business worth $60 million with inspiration from the household goods department at Bloomingdale’s flagship store in Manhattan.
Xu and Wang, both Chinese immigrants, left their jobs in 1994 to launch Pacific Trade International, which is now the company behind one of the best-selling candle brands in the world: Chesapeake Bay Candle. While the company is a global marketer of home décor and fragrance products, as well, candles are by far its biggest seller.
To get started, the couple relied on their existing network of contacts in China to source their products and supplies. After several trips to China, they landed on a selection of home products to offer to customers. Xu and Wang had their first exhibition at the Charlotte Gift Fair. The exhibition was successful for the couple, and one product clearly stood out among the rest: their candles.
From the gift show, Xu and Wang gained a list of new customers and $90,000 in new orders. By the end of 1994, more than 100 stores carried the company’s products. The couple had another “Eureka” moment when they attended the Ambiente Show in Frankfurt – the largest gift fair in the world – and saw bright colors and contemporary styles that contrasted starkly with the products they’d encountered in the United States.
Armed with a customer base and a market niche to fill, Xu and Wang went to work. Their first candles were made in the basement of their home, using soup cans for molds. Failing to use and additive to create a smooth satiny finish on the exterior of the candles, the couple stumbled upon the mottled texture that defines the signature look of a Chesapeake Bay Candle. From there, the brand – and the company – took off. By 2001, the company was recognized as a one the fastest-growing, privately-held companies in the U.S.
In 2002, the company established manufacturing operations in China, and subsequently in Vietnam, to meet the increasing demand for its product. However, Xu and Wang wished to make their business as a true American company. After working through years of red tape, the couple finally realized this goal when it opened its first domestic factory in Glen Burnie, Maryland.
Today, the company employs scores of U.S. workers and serves as an example of the effect that immigrant entrepreneurship has on the American economy.