Tring-based entrepreneur Hannah Goundry talks to Rebecca Pitcairn about how her award-winning Home County Co.’s fragrances have the power to transform your home
Whether it’s the delicious scent of freshly baked bread, salty sea air or soothing lavender, a smell can act like a portal, which transports us back to a place, reviving powerful memories and triggering feelings of emotion.
For Hertfordshire-based couple Hannah and Oliver Goundry, the smells of their individual home counties were so evocative that they decided to bottle them up and pour them into a candle for their home. It was a decision that led the pair to start a home fragrance brand together that is literally sweeping the nation.
It all started with a friendly dispute over which of their home counties was best: “I grew up in Buckinghamshire and Oli in Bedfordshire and we’d always tease each other about which county was best,” explains Hannah, who previously worked in events management and marketing. “Then when we moved to Hertfordshire together, I would travel into Oxfordshire for work and it struck me that each county has its own very distinct character that could be packaged up in scent.”
I am interviewing the 30-year-old entrepreneur while she and Oliver, 34, are in Atlanta, showcasing their hand poured, natural soy wax, biodegradable and vegan-friendly candles at their first international trade show. “When people move away, having something that reminds them of home is often really important and so we’ve found there’s a great market among ex-pats in the US, as well as with companies that sell much-loved British brands that aren’t so easy to get here, like Marmite and Cadbury’s,” she says. “It’s a market that is strong in Australia too, so we expect to head there next.”
While the pair are now travelling the world with their Home County Co fragrances, it all started from the kitchen table of their one-bedroom house, in Tring, four years ago.
“Oli and I had always talked about setting up a business together and so when he was unfortunately laid off from his job in golf sales in January 2018, we bought a home candle-making kit to see if we could make some candles that represented the home counties closest to us; Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire,” explains Hannah, who chose to base The Buckinghamshire candle on her memories of blackberry picking with her sisters in Wendover Woods and The Hertfordshire, which remains the company’s bestseller, on the bluebells that can be found on the National Trust-run Ashridge Estate.
Not long after they developed their first candles, initially under the brand name Home County Candle Co, the couple began supplying National Trust shops, which Hannah describes as a real ‘pinch me’ moment. “The National Trust shops in Hughenden, Ashridge and Stowe have been amazing supporters of our products over the years,” she adds. “Since then we’ve celebrated opening accounts with English Heritage, Notcutts Garden Centres and, more recently, Klondykes Garden Centres in the North of England and we always view accounts with national chains as big pinch me moments.
“But we’ll never forget those retailers who helped us right at the beginning. We had no idea where to price the products or about packaging and they were great at giving us advice on that. The local support in Hertfordshire has been overwhelming.”
From The Cambridgeshire to The Cornwall and The Somerset to The Surrey, there are currently 27 Home County candles and diffusers with plans to eventually launch a fragrance to represent each of the 48 ceremonial counties in England. So, how do they decide which county to work on next? “We’re currently running a poll on our website and via social media to allow our customers to choose which counties we should launch next,” explains Hannah. “So far Worcestershire is winning, so that’s next on the list and we’ve got a beautiful scent planned. We also have some really exciting plans to introduce Scottish scents this year too.”
The type of scent that represents each county is also something Hannah and Oliver put out to the public. “We try to really throw ourselves headfirst into the culture and history of the county we are creating and speak with the locals to discover their ‘scent stories’ so we can create products powerful enough to transport people back to that place and what they were doing in that moment in time,” Hannah says.
With a number of awards under its belt, including Best Customer Service Award at the 2021 SME National Business Awards (an award the company is up for again this year), as well as endorsement by Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday initiative, the company is set to follow in the footsteps of some of the country’s most successful modern lifestyle brands.
“I’m a real lover of British lifestyle brands with inspiring founders – brands like Emma Bridgewater, The White Company, Joules and Sophie Allport,” Hannah admits. “We’d love to become a real Great British Heritage brand one day, and so we really look up to other brands who have really made a name for themselves in just one generation, we’d love to have an impact like that.”
To that effect, the company recently moved to a new warehouse across the border in Buckinghamshire and is currently undergoing a rebrand that will see it diversify into other products for the home, such as linens and kitchenware. However, Hannah says candles (and the county of Hertfordshire) will always be at the heart of the business.
“Scent can often be overlooked when we’re thinking about making a house feel like a home, but scents are so closely linked to our memories and emotions that it’s really important to choose fragrances that mean something to you,” she says. “Lighting a candle is about so much more than simply burning wax with a wick, it’s about the act of taking some time to make your home feel more homely – to me there is something magical about filling your space with a beautiful scent and the glow of candlelight.”