Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good Candles and Good Neighbors in North Dakota

That's Aaron McWilliams, CEO of Spiral Light Candle. He's also my son-in-law. Conventional wisdom, in some circles, is that doing business with relatives is a bad idea. Sometimes that's true: sometimes not. (September 12, 2011, June 5, 2007) In our case, it's been working out just fine.

'Look Who's in the Paper!'

Friday's Grand Forks Herald ran a longish story of Spiral Light Candle and the man (and woman) behind the candle. I've clipped some excerpts, and will sound off at intervals:
" A new kind of candle goes into production in Hillsboro, N.D."
Grand Forks Herald (June 15, 2012)

"A candle in a wine bottle sparked a business that took one couple from their farmhouse kitchen to a 10,000-square-foot factory here in less than a year.

"Observing the uncontrolled wax flow, Aaron McWilliams, 28, and his wife Sara decided they wanted to create a candle with a new kind of wax flow where the dripping wax can be reused to stretch the burn time.

"When the couple started making the candles in February 2011, they said it took three to four hours to make just one. Today, Spiral Light Candle Corp. churns out 400 candles a day at its new factory, a former potato warehouse the couple purchased in January...."
(Grand Forks Herald)
I walked through that old potato warehouse with Mr. McWilliams during purchasing decision-making: and it didn't look anywhere near as move-in-ready as it did in this photo:

Spiral Light Candle factory, south section: during construction. December 31, 2011.

On the other hand, the bones of the building looked solid: and some fellows who actually know something about construction said that it was in good shape.

By Next Year - - -

"...By next year, the company's seven employees — including the McWilliamses — hope to produce more than 1,200 candles a day, using 7,500 pounds of wax a week. They anticipate hiring 14 or more workers by Christmas and also plan a gift store at the front of the factory....
(Grand Forks Herald)
Spiral Light Candle products are already being sold in quite a few stores. The "Find a Retailer" page on on the company's website shows a fairly heavy concentration in the upper Midwest, but folks elsewhere are finding out about "the candle with a twist," so that's changing.

The company's online store opened yesterday afternoon:

Running Out of Room

"...After repeated attempts, they [Aaron and Sara McWilliams] developed a process to coat the inside of the candle without using molds. Aaron McWilliams made his own equipment, using parts from home improvement stores, then did some research and contacted a fabricator in Minnesota to help design full-scale models....
(Grand Forks Herald)
That's when it started getting interesting. Making a candle or two in the kitchen every day wouldn't keep up with demand:
"...Once they started selling the candles, they rapidly expanded their kitchen factory into the basement and then the garage with some funding from family...."
(Grand Forks Herald)

Planning: Lots of Planning

Aaron McWilliams and I spent an intense 10 days or so, around the first of December, 2011, 'crunching the numbers.' (December 3, 2011) He has the business experience, and knows the math: I've got technical skills and follow directions fairly well. Like I said, working together - works. For this family.
"...By February of this year, they were out of the garage and working on the new factory, the only space they could find in town...."
(Grand Forks Herald)

Spiral Light Candle factory, south section: production floor and offices. March-April, 2012.

That's what the old potato warehouse looks like, with several feet of insulation added to the walls. The candle-making process requires rather tight temperature control. Happily, what's right for candle-making is also comfortable for people.

Spiral Light Candle factory, south section: part of the HVAC system. May 25, 2012.

Community Support

"...The McWilliamses said the community welcomed their business in a way they didn't expect.

"When they bought the building in January, they signed a purchase agreement right before Christmas but didn't have the funds to pay it back until February. Everyone stepped in to help. Local beet-plant workers locked out by American Crystal Sugar Co. provided labor, and businesses provided everything else on credit. 'By the time we had money in, we had already spent four weeks renovating a building we didn't technically own,' Aaron McWilliams said...."
(Grand Forks Herald)
There's been quite a bit written about "mutual trust and respect." Some of it makes sense. I think trust, respect, altruism, and 'enlightened self-interest' boil down to the old 'love your neighbor' thing. And that's another topic, for another blog.

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