Maker - Entrepreneur - Dad
I founded Dickens Candles formally in 2016, though I had been experimenting with making beer bottle candles some time before that. My first experience “making” candles was while I was in college at Illinois Wesleyan University. My roommate and I had a large triple wick candle that we’d burn to help mask the odors that are typical for a college house. The candle would frequently tunnel and leave a huge amount of unburned wax. As a curious and frugal college student, I figured I could melt the wax and remake the candle. After a quick google search, a trip to the craft store for wicks and a simple double boil on the stove, I had made my first candle and it was back in action masking the scent of spilled beer.
Fast forward a decade or so. My wife and I had a 2 year old daughter and a second on the way. We were both working full time corporate gigs, me at a marketing agency and she in supply chain. Life was good, but with a growing family and our time spread increasingly thin we felt stuck in the rat race instead of living life on our terms. We wanted to create flexibility so our kids could spend more time with us and less time in day care. And eventually we could have time to coach sports teams and never miss any of their concerts, awards or games.
With the motivation of building the life we wanted for our family I started seriously thinking about what kind of business I could start. I was pretty sure I wanted to make something. I liked working with my hands and enjoyed my experience with manufacturing (from my marketing agency role). I also wanted to incorporate something I was passionate about. Passion is important, it shines through everything you do in a company. I had home brewed beer as a hobby, but knew starting a brewery was contrary to my goals of flexibility. So, I started tossing around ideas related to my passions: craft beer, coffee, sustainability, cooking, repurposing, simple pleasures, etc. In addition to experimenting with candles in college, I had also played around with making glasses out of beer bottles while working at my marketing agency gig. After having tried several methods to make the beer glasses, I finally figured out a method that yielded a safe, smooth cut. One day it dawned on me that beer bottles would be perfect containers for candles.
I have always had a proclivity to be an entrepreneur, but never had the obvious opportunity to make a jump into business for myself. Guess what, there’s never an obvious time, or a perfect time to start a business, you just have to jump and have faith in yourself. And that is exactly what I did. I didn’t quit my day job right away. But, I formally created my business, and started learning everything I could about making candles. After a lot of experimenting, coupled with a change in the daycare situation for my oldest, I mustered up the courage to give my boss my notice to quit. Because my boss was really awesome (and still is), we ended up coming to an agreement for me to stay on as a contractor to continue managing my biggest client. That made the transition a little easier for both sides.
Early on in the process I was cutting bottles in my driveway and pouring candles in my kitchen. I focused on sourcing simple, natural ingredients and making the candles as sustainably as possible. All of the beer bottles were sourced from my fridge. The soy wax for the candles was american grown and clean burning. I even reused beer cases and six pack holders to transport and sell the candles. So I struck out to craft fairs to test out the candles and see if people would buy them. The interest was pretty immediate. Turns out that most candles are in mason jars or apothecary jars - Dickens Candles are very unique. Customer feedback was that Dickens Candles were unique, smelled great without being overpowering, and were elegant looking so they complemented the decor of their homes.
With proof of concept in hand, I stepped away completely from my marketing gig and dedicated myself full time to Dickens Candles. I’ve moved my candle making from my driveway and kitchen to a makerspace in my basement I affectionately call “the candle factory.” I still hand pour every candle, and fortunately production now outpaces my beer consumption so I source bottles from local bars and restaurants. I’ve painstakingly curated my candle scents from over 500 fragrances in my testing lab (aka basement). My candles are available online and in several carefully selected boutiques and coffee shops that share my values. Growing a successful small business that fulfills the needs of my family is extremely gratifying. I’m very grateful for every customer and look forward to making many years to come.