Local candlemaker hopes new business will ignite

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Does the image of hot apple crisp, warm sugar cookies, banana-nut bread and butter-cream-frosted cake make your mouth water?

Those descriptions can be found on some of the soy-wax candles hand poured by Traci Anderson of Hillsboro.

Her scented candles fill a room with aromas potent enough to make you think you just stepped into a warm glowing kitchen steaming with freshly baked goodies.

“The scent is very strong,” Anderson said.

“People come up to us at craft shows and say ‘I could smell you even way over on this other aisle, and I had to find out what it was.'”

Anderson and husband Clint are chandlers-which means they make candles. They also make scented Airy Animals, soy-wax lotion bars and lip balms.

Their side-line company is Back Road Candles and Gifts, with products sold at Hillsboro’s Lagniappe-A Little Extra and Inspirations hair salon. The Andersons also sell at various craft fairs.

The couple has five children to keep them busy in addition to their jobs. Clint is an appraiser for Sedgwick County. Traci works part time at Lagniappe and is a sign-language interpreter for an agency in Wichita.

Anderson said she decided about three years ago to try her hand at making her own candles.

“I love Yankee Candles, so I thought, ‘I’m going to figure out how to do this for myself,'” Anderson said.

She initially tried to make paraffin candles but soon discovered she liked soy-wax candles better.

Soy-wax candles burn longer than paraffin, produce less soot, clean up easily with just soap and water, and contain natural biodegradable ingredients.

All candles have a cold throw-the normal at-rest scent of the candle-and a hot throw-the aroma when the candle is lighted.

“When we got into soy wax, the scent throw on soy is so incredible-both hot and cold-that anybody I gave them to as gifts, they wanted to buy them,” Anderson said.

“And (the business) just evolved from there.”

Her candles are sold in three sizes of jelly jars with lids, and are also available in votive or pillar styles. Her display table at Lagniappe is brimming with a large variety of colorful candles.

These container candles are available from a pool of about 50 scents, such as garden cucumber, autumn spice, candy cane, sea breeze and an unusual combination called lavender, apple & oak.

Production takes place in the utility room of the Anderson home.

The soy wax she buys comes in a slab about the size of a sheet-cake pan, measures about three inches thick and weighs about 10 pounds. She buys her wax by the case, and a case weighs about 60 pounds.

“Not all soy wax is 100 percent soy wax, but the brand I use is,” Anderson said.

“The company I buy from, their beans are all American, and that’s not true of all companies.”

The container candles are made from a different blend of wax than those for the votives and pillars.

After breaking a desired piece of wax into small pieces and weighing it, Anderson melts the pieces in a wax melter.

Her wax melter is specifically designed for chandlers, is equipped with an adjustable temperature gauge and can hold up to about 20 pounds of wax.

It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to melt the wax to a pre-determined temperature according to the type of candle she’s making.

While the wax melts, she uses a scale to measure the fragrance oil in grams.

“You have to be pretty exact with it,” Anderson said.

“Some candle makers use ounces, but it’s not as specific-you don’t get as consistent a product.”

The wax is ladled into a pour pot, and the fragrance oil and a liquid dye are added to the pot.

Although standard color ranges are available, Anderson said she enjoys the process of mixing her own colors, too.

“I had someone give me a Kansas State University logo and say, ‘I want a purple candle,'” Anderson said. “And it matched-that’s really fun. I enjoy mixing colors and matching.”

She also experiments with mixing her scents, like orange dreamsicle, which she concocted from a combination of different fragrance oils.

“I purchased three different orange-dreamsicle fragrance oils, and they just weren’t quite right,” Anderson said. “So I decided I was just going to try this, and that’s what I came up with.”

After the mixture cools to a trade-secret temperature, Anderson pours the candles.

The votive and pillar candles are molded, and the container candles are poured into jelly jars.

Prior to pouring, Anderson prepares the wick in the mold or container.

“Wicks are one of the really tricky things in candle making,” she said.

“I have a fastener that I use down in the bottom. Then, after I pour the wax, I have this gizmo that my husband made me out of tongue depressors-so it pulls the wick up through. And I have a clip I put on there to keep it tight.”

Wax shrinks as it cools, and if the wick isn’t held tight, it will become crooked, and the candle won’t burn correctly.

The final touch to her candle is a sprinkling of glitter on top, labeling and then affixing a price tag ranging from $5 to $9.50.

Each customer receives a tip sheet with helpful information to properly burn a candle.

A second unique product she sells is her Airy Animals, which are scented stuffed-toy animals used as decorative room freshners.

These huggable-looking critters have been transformed into candle-like sculptures emitting strong soy-wax scents, such as cinnamon red hot and vanilla velvet.

“We have a big pot of soy wax, and we literally submerge the stuffed animals in the wax until they stop giving off bubbles,” Anderson said.

“Then we put them on a rack over a pan, and they drain out.”

The cost of the animals ranges from $10 to $20, depending on the size.

The scent will last from four to six weeks but has been know to last from two months up to a year. The aroma can be renewed with a carefully applied warm hair dryer.

The companies third product line-lotions and lip balms-is made by Clint.

“My husband wanted to have a part of the business that was more than keeping the books and being the muscle at craft shows,” Anderson said.

Used as hand lotion, the bars are made with soy wax and contain either shea butter or cocoa butter.

The cocoa butter comes with its own natural chocolate-like perfume, but the other products can be scented. Lotion bars are available in two sizes and cost $4 or $10.

The lip balm costs $1.50 and is proffered in tasty flavors, such as berry blitz, cream soda, peach, vanilla cream and strawberry.

Although the Anderson business is in its infancy, it’s already proven successful.

“It’s kind of snowballed,” Anderson said.

“When we started this, we never intended to sell it. Now, I love it. I love doing craft shows-they’re so fun. And you meet the neatest people.”

Her excitement about the beauty of a burning candle has not waned but “waxed” over time.

“I love the smell, I love the light,” she said. “I’ll turn the lights down-it’s an atmosphere I find very relaxing.”

And her customers appear to be happy with her product-measured to her exact standards.

“When I have people who do repeat orders, that’s the biggest compliment,” Anderson said.

“I wouldn’t sell them if I didn’t believe in the quality of my product.”

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