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Published August 26 2011

Hillsboro, N.D., couple’s idea for unique candles turns into business

HILLSBORO, N.D. – It’s a product that mesmerizes in a how-the-heck-does-that-work sort of way: a hollow candle that burns in a long, slow spiral along the outside, filling in as it goes along.

And when inventor Aaron McWilliams showed it off at a recent business expo in Pennsylvania, the results spoke to the allure: Passersby kept hopping out of the line for food, visiting his booth to buy a few candles, and then getting back in line at the end.

“It was fantastic to see the response we were getting there,” he said. “It’s something unique that people haven’t seen before.”

Or indeed, made before. McWilliams, an entrepreneur who also runs a video production company, first got the idea while watching a candle burn in a restaurant. He wondered if the wax could be controlled to create a second shape as it melted.

A few candle companies told him it couldn’t be done cost-effectively. So he and his wife, Sara, set to work inventing a process themselves. It took them four tries to get a prototype that worked – and about 20 more attempts to duplicate that design consistently.

That was about seven months ago. Now the couple has transformed part of their farm home here into a bustling homemade candle factory. They started selling in June and are now in boutique shops in a dozen states.

They produce perhaps 100 to 150 of the candles a day. It’s a painstaking process that involves spiraling a wick along a wax cylinder and then surrounding it with a larger mold to create a hollow candle. A second, wooden wick goes in the center, held in place by a thin wax bottom.

As the first wick melts, it fills in the cylinder. When the spiral runs out about three-quarters of the way down the candle, the wooden wick essentially creates a second candle.

Right now, Aaron and Sara are making every candle themselves, sometimes working into the small hours of the morning to fill orders.

“For about two weeks in June, I lost him altogether,” Sara said.

In the next few months, they’re planning to move to a larger space in Hillsboro to expand their capacity.

The candles come in two sizes – 2 inches by 3.5 inches and 4 by 6.5 – and in a variety of scents ranging from cinnamon to vanilla to apple pie. The smaller size retails for $6; the larger sells for $20 to $24.

Aaron said they’ve been approached by Hobby Lobby about selling the candles there but want to stick with smaller stores.

“We’d rather produce a product that’s unique to all the boutique stores and cannot be found at the major retailers,” he said.

This week, they struck a deal to get the candles in two Fargo shops – Vava on Broadway and Hurley’s Religious Goods on University Drive.

The latter is an appropriate fit given the faith-based ties of Aaron’s production company, Oasis Productions, which includes a nonprofit Catholic element. It also ties in with the faith-based line of the candle company, which lets customers write a message of prayer on the wooden wick.

As the candle burns, Aaron said, it becomes part of the prayer.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502