As a teenage entrepreneur, 17-year-old Hart Main, founder of the Central Ohio-based candle company ManCans, has enjoyed some perks — from constant media attention and industry recognition to financial success and scholarship opportunities. “I’m most grateful for everything owning a business has taught me and how it has helped prepare me for a successful future,” says the recent New Philadelphia High School graduate.
Cigars and Dirt
Main was inspired to launch ManCans, a line of “manly” scented candles sold in soup cans (think cigars, bacon, sawdust, fresh-cut grass, new baseball mitts and dirt), at age 13 in an effort to earn money for a $1,200 bike. His plan was to buy the bike, and then end things. He never expected the candles to take off the way they did. Instead, ManCans candles quickly expanded from a customer base of close family and friends to distribution in nearly 150 stores across the country. Annual sales rocketed to $200,000.
Main says that he doesn’t measure success these days with dollar signs. As he plans to head off this fall for his freshman year at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, his experience with entrepreneurship has prepared him in different ways for life after high school. “
In the past few years, Main has dedicated a large part of his business to giving back. To date, ManCans has donated 100,000 cans of soup and $35,000 to 25 soup kitchens located in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan. Plus, through a partnership with Beaver Creek Candle Company, based in Lisbon, Ohio, he supports the employment of individuals with developmental disabilities who make the candles. Beaver Creek now handles ManCans’ production.
Main also discovered a passion for teaching kids about entrepreneurship and business – and learned to let his voice be heard along the way. He and his father Craig wrote the book One Candle, One Meal (Total Fusion Press), which features business lessons that Main learned as an entrepreneur.
“One of my favorite lessons I enjoy sharing with other kids is to not limit yourself or think you’re too young to make a difference,” Main says, adding that before he started ManCans he could barely talk to a group of two or three people. Now he regularly speaks to school audiences of 400 or 500 students. “
When it came time for the college search, Main realized that managing a business had also helped him to appreciate the value of a dollar. The $25,000-a-year price tag on two of the colleges he was considering was no small investment. “Many kids might not think about how long that could take them to pay off,” says Main, who ended up choosing Kent State where his mother works because it was the most affordable option. “Now,
‘Figuring Out How It All Works’
Main, who plans to study economics and pursue a career as a sports agent, was recently named the 2015 National Federation of Independent Business’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year and was awarded a $15,000 scholarship that will help pay for room, board and books.
He is grateful to be entering college, he says, with a skill set that prepares him for just about anything – and has helped him get a firmer grasp of his own strengths and weaknesses. “Having a better understanding of how a business works will allow me to offer valuable input while also bringing my passion for giving back to the table,” he notes. Main plans to continue running the sales and customer service side of his business while Beaver Creek maintains the production and shipping.
No longer the shy observer, Main is eager to tackle the next challenge: “I can’t wait to be living on my own, having more responsibilities and figuring out how it all works.”
Hart Main has said that you should never put off any idea as too crazy, which is a mistake that he almost made with ManCans. Why do you think his candles that smell of bacon and grandpa’s pipe are so successful? What does that say about the market for these kinds of products?
What are three life lessons that Main is taking with him to college?
What does it mean to “find your voice?” Why is this so valuable?