A Q&A with Entrepreneur Melissa Horvath of Sweet Water Decor

A Q&A with Entrepreneur Melissa Horvath of Sweet Water Decor

There’s never been a better time for modern women to start their own businesses. Whether they have families to look after or no background in business, selling online makes it easier than ever for women to ditch their 9-5s and successfully become their own bosses.

Amazon makes it easy to reach millions of potential customers worldwide and offers affordable warehousing and shipping making it easier than ever before to get products to customers quickly. Who doesn’t want free two-day shipping? 

We can’t wait to introduce you to an inspiring woman who is building her e-commerce empire with the help of Amazon. Sweet Water Decor, owned by Melissa Horvath, is an online candle and home decor store. Read more about Meliss’s business journey below!

Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us. Can you start by telling us how you got to where you are today? 

I started Sweet Water Decor in 2014 as a hobby in my basement. I always loved designing and I needed a creative outlet outside of my corporate job, so I made custom mugs and wedding invitations. Within 9 months my products took off on Etsy, and I knew it was time to leave corporate America and go all in on my side business. 

A little over a year after starting Sweet Water Decor, I hired our first employee, launched our website, and began selling on Amazon Handmade. In 2017 I had a calling to start my own candle line. Since then, we’ve sold over 1 million candles. 

Having an eye for design and a background in corporate retail, I create products that are thoughtfully made and designed, but also affordable. Our customers quickly fell in love with our home decor, giftable items, and candles, and we thank them for being on this journey with us for the past 9+ years. 

How did you market your business when it was brand new? 

When I first launched Sweet Water Decor, I wanted to stand out from the other home decor and gift sellers out there. I positioned my brand as elevated essentials that make every day a little more special. We are a “feel good home goods” company, selling high quality, sustainable products, and many of them are made right here in the USA. 

We are still the elevated essentials brand, but as I continue to grow and evolve, so does my company. When I started Sweet Water Decor, I was in my colorful, hustling girl boss phase. Since then, I have become more neutral and grounded. As my style and trends change, I change my products, website, and social media to reflect that. 

How do you leverage technology and innovation (like digital tools, AI, social media, etc.) to stay ahead in the rapidly evolving business landscape? 

We are very much a technology-driven company. When I started Sweet Water Decor, I knew the best way to reach people and grow a business was by selling online. We started with a web store and on Etsy, but Amazon took us to a new level. We didn’t have a huge marketing budget, but just listing our items on Amazon put us in front of millions of shoppers.

We also use Google search ads to advertise our website and Etsy, and Amazon ads to promote our products on the platform. They’re easy to use and highly effective, and we can see in real-time whether or not they work. 

Social media helps us connect and deliver that “feel good home goods” mission. We interact with shoppers on social media to establish a relationship and give them a deeper look into my brand’s identity. 

While we aren’t using many AI-powered tools yet, I am interested in their potential to help us with marketing, customer service, and social media content. 

Across the board, technology helps me run and grow my business, but it’s hard to stay ahead of new regulations. I hope policymakers understand how valuable technology is to not only my business but to all the other small businesses out there. New rules or regulations could disrupt e-commerce, making digital advertising or selling online more expensive. 

How do you prioritize self-care and life outside of work while managing the demands of your business? 

I leverage time-saving tools to juggle being a mom, wife, and business owner. In fact, my husband runs the warehouse and production side of the business. We send a majority of products directly to Amazon warehouses, which saves me countless hours because they handle all the inventory, packing, and shipping. When I use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), we sell 3-4x more products than if we fulfill the orders ourselves. If our team had to pick, pack, and ship every order, our margins would drop, we’d lose sales, and we’d have to hire more team members. Thankfully, Amazon takes care of a lot of that for us, which puts less of a strain on my husband so we can have a better work-life balance. It’s hard to achieve a perfect work-life balance, but leveraging digital tools makes it easier. 

What advice would you give to a new business owner? Or to your younger self? 

I advise new business owners to take advantage of all the free and low-cost tools and resources available to them. Saving every dollar is critical when first launching a business, and digital tools can save you money and time. Our society does almost everything online, so it only makes sense to run your business that way too. 

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment and why? 

I would say my biggest accomplishment is not only having a successful business where we provide jobs locally, (growing to almost 40 team members!) but also the light that we bring to so many people. We get countless messages, whether online or in our mailboxes, of how our products were gifted to someone who needed a pick-me-up. Being able to be that light for so many people that we’ll never meet is just honoring. I followed the calling I had and that’s my biggest testimony; to not start a business to just make a living, but to do it justly and if you’re called to do it.

We all face challenges, but looking back, what have been some of the biggest challenges and pitfalls you’ve had to navigate? 

2020 was the biggest challenge for us but in a good way. We shut down and weren’t able to have all our team members at work, so it was mostly run by me and my husband. I didn’t see him much at all during that time – he’d get in at 4:00 am to ship products and help with production, and we would switch at 4:00 pm. I’d take over for the evening shift just to keep up with demand. I had taken off my shipping hat years prior but had to put it back on to fulfill the demand we had in 2020. We learned to pivot, shift, and put in double overtime to get our product to our customers. 

Can you share any specific examples of how you have successfully built and maintained strategic partnerships or collaborations? 

My relationship with Amazon is a very strategic partnership. From their shipping and logistics services that help me sell three to four times more products or featuring my business in articles or media that get me media exposure, I benefit greatly from collaborating with Amazon. We create a great product and it shows. 

Most of our additional press exposure is organic. We don’t pay for press or certain ads, and a lot of our influencers even come to us. When you have a good product and stand out from the crowd, others notice. I like this quote from the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” 

What inspires you? Do you have a favorite quote or motto that inspires you? 

I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I live by Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” My business was a calling He placed on my heart years before it happened. I followed that calling and He nudged me along the way, to make candles and more products. 

The market is saturated, but I am a big believer that those looking to have small businesses need to do it for the right reasons. It’s not enough to look at someone with a small business and copy them. Do it with true intentions, not for greed, and for the right and good things.

Want more inspiring interviews?

Learn how Lisa Bradley & Cameron Cruse of R. Riveter are on a mission to empower military spouses and support service members. Read a Q&A With Lorie Spence Co-Founder of Bridge Medical Communications. Find out how CEO Elyse Dickerson pays it forward by helping other women succeed. All of these and more are part of our interview series spotlighting successful women in business.

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