By M. Scott Morris
Success smells a lot like the early days, when David Bell was just messing around in his kitchen.
A few years ago, he and his wife, April, were at a store in Tennessee, where they saw soy candles in little tins.
“I thought, We can make these. We don’t have to pay that,” 41-year-old David said.
April, 39, bought a candle-making kit, and David gave it a try. Something about the process activated the problem-solving part of his brain.
“I kept playing and playing around with it,” he said. “There were a lot of mistakes at first.”
He tracked down different companies to find the right wax and combination of scents, and he started to take over the family’s kitchen in Lee County’s Oak Hill community.
He turned baby food jars into soy candles and sent them home with family members, who were expected to report back. How did they burn? Did the scent spread?
Before long, he had candles he was proud of, and the Bells formed Oak Hill Candle Co.
April already had her own line of jewelry, Hooty Lou’s, so the pair started dropping off candles at boutiques that already carried her products.
The response was positive, so, without knowing what to expect, they reserved space at the Mississippi Wholesale Market in Jackson this past June.
“We picked up a bunch of new stores,” David said.
All the while, both were working at their business, Bell’s Cleaning Service, which kept them going six nights a week.
But trouble hit the family in July, when David had a heart attack requiring six bypasses. When he got out of the hospital, he didn’t have the stamina for cleaning.
Luckily for him, David had a way to channel his frustration.
“I was making candles the day after I got out of the hospital,” he said.
“The orders kept pouring in – big orders from all over,” April said. “He couldn’t just sit there. He said, ‘This is my livelihood.’”
“It was the only thing I could do,” he said.
Oak Hill Candle Co. is now in 22 stores in six states, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas.
Their kitchen quickly became a disaster area, so they’ve recently taken over an outbuilding that had been their daughters’ party barn.
“It was their hangout where they played games,” April said. “We had a sectional out here.”
Shelves are filled with Mason jars to be turned into candles. A device, essentially a deep fryer with a drain on the bottom, heats up the soy wax and mixes it with scents and colors.
Cotton wicks are glued to the bottom of the jars, and popsicle sticks with holes drilled in the middle keep the wicks vertical when David pours the wax.
“He does a Kudzu candle in purple and everybody loves it,” April said.
Other scents include Watermelon, Blueberry Cheesecake, Salty Margarita and Happie Hippie, which has a lemony, springlike aroma.
“I do a coffee one. I keep it white and I drop Starbucks beans in there,” David said. “The longer you burn it, the stronger it gets. I can make those and the house will smell like coffee for three days.”
He’s got a ragged, old shirt for candle making. It’s covered in wax and has several holes, but it smells delightful.
“I love the smells when he works,” April said. “It makes me happy.”
In addition to candles, he makes wax melts, room sprays and lotions. April also makes a range of soap products, including bath balms that have their own following.
“The balms retail for $5,” David said. “We have had girls waiting at the counter because they sold out. They were waiting for a $5 bath balm.”
An 8-ounce candle is $12, which is the same price for room spray and bubble bath. Wax melts are $5. Pump soap and lotion go for $14.
The Bells also sell wholesale products for fundraisers, and they can make two-layer candles with the colors of sports teams.
To make an order or find a boutique, look up Oak Hill Candle Co. on Facebook or Instagram, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (662) 321-5357.
The response to their products has been both humbling and encouraging. No one would ask for a heart attack, but that scary time led the Bells to where they are now.
“I feel blessed,” April said.
“It’s a blessing from God,” David said.
They’re planning to return to the Mississippi Wholesale Market in the summer. Since they’ve been through it once, they know more about what to expect.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll outgrow their outbuilding before too long.
“It’s just wherever it takes us,” David said. “It was never meant to be monetary support, but, after I couldn’t do anything, it grew into something big. It just went crazy.”