Smell of success: Duluth candlemaker turns hobby into full-time job
It's the era of the artisan. Now more than ever, consumers are interested in products that are made with care and pride by people who have made a hobby into a way to earn a living. Danette Thacker of Riverside Soy Candles is one of these people. She has turned a love for candlemaking into a thriving small business, and it has been an exciting journey for her over the last few years.
"Riverside Soy Candles is a true grassroots story," Thacker said. "I'm a self-taught candlemaker without a business degree. I've always loved candles, and I decided to try making a few as a hobby. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this hobby would become my full-time job."
Things for Thacker started slowly. "I've worked to where I am today by trial and error, and by learning as I go," she said. "Five years ago, I bought my first pound of wax at a local hobby store and practiced making a few candles for myself. Months later, I found a distributor and ordered my first 50-pound box of wax, which at the time I thought was a large amount."
As time went on and Thacker began selling her wares, she gained a sense of what her buyers were looking for. "Customers want simple, quality products at an affordable price, and Riverside Soy Candles embodies all of (that)," she said. "My candle business has had a natural progression over the last five years, with production increasing each year. Fast forward to 2018 — a 65-pound melting pot was purchased to be able to keep up with demand. In the months of November and December, I went through nearly 2,000 pounds of wax; 2018 was my busiest year to date."
"Today I offer over 50 varieties of scented candles," Thacker said. "I've created specialty candles that include local high-school colors and sports-team colors. I offer custom-labeled candles for local businesses, baby showers, and weddings. Local customers are my biggest supporters, but I do ship to customers all over the country, including as far as California and Florida. Customers have been so supportive and encouraging over the years. I receive so many kind emails and messages from customers stating how they love my candles and how Riverside Soy Candles are the only candles they will burn."
Those candles are unique, as the name might indicate. "Riverside Soy Candles are made with high-quality, 100% soybean wax that is grown and manufactured right here in the USA," Thacker said. "Soy wax is clean-burning, and produces little to no black soot when burned properly. Soy wax is natural and contains nothing artificial, which makes it a better alternative to petroleum-based candles. Soybeans are a renewable resource, which makes Riverside Soy Candles a environmentally-friendly candle choice."
The business is mostly a solo endeavor, though Thacker gets some help, here and there. "Last fall, I trained my husband in to help out during the busy fall and winter months," she said. "He has been a huge part of Riverside Soy Candles' success. Craft shows would be nearly impossible without the help of my mother and daughter. It's truly a family affair."
Thacker has seen a lot of growth in the last five years, and there's no signs that things are letting up. "2019 is looking to be an exciting year," she said. "This business has slowly been taking over our basement, so it is definitely time to expand. In February, I will be taking a big leap and renting a workspace in the Lincoln Park area, with hopes to possibly open a storefront later in the year. I'll also be working on getting a website up and running in the near future for easier online ordering."
For now, Riverside Soy Candles are available all over the Northland in places such as the Glensheen mansion gift shop, Duluth Antique Marketplace, and Northwoods Confections & Gifts, among others.
While it's a business with a rising profile, at the end of the day, it's still all about Thacker's passion and creativity, something she clearly holds dear.
"I find inspiration driving down the road, listening to a favorite song or overlooking a pretty sunset," she said. "And, when I get home, I just love putting the song or sunset in a jar for others to enjoy."