Candle business glows with success

By Louise Ronald

Twenty-three years ago, Jackie and Alan Carberry started a candle-making business in the basement of their home.

Warm Glow’s retail complex, with it’s distinctive candle, decorated for the holiday season.

Today, Warm Glow Candles are sold in 2,000 stores across the nation. The Carberrys manage an 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that during peak season employs more than 20 and produces as many as 10,000 candles a day. Almost half of those candles go to their own retail complex down the road, another nearly 25,000 square feet filled with home and garden décor, food and wine, works by regional artisans, Christmas and seasonal ornaments, and candles.

Lots and lots and lots of candles. In 72 fragrances that give both retail and manufacturing spaces a unique and distinctive scent.

Warm Glow is an impressive story of business success, and Jackie Carberry credits much of that success to the company’s location in Wayne County, Indiana.

Jackie Carberry surrounded by Warm Glow candles and her beloved labradoodles. (Photo by Kyle Evans)

“This area is so receptive to entrepreneurs,” she said. “Every door that needed to be open to us … was opened.”

Local banks, insurance companies, accounting firms and attorneys “helped us every step of the way,” said Carberry. Without that help, “we couldn’t have become what we’ve been blessed to become.”

The company – especially the retail complex, which employs as many as 25 – also has benefited from having Interstate 70 run through the heart of the county. The Warm Glow shops are right next to the interstate, just feet from Exit 145 and easily recognizable because of the gigantic candle nestled among the buildings.

That candle caught the eyes of Scott Grider and Laura Helm of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, as they were passing through Wayne County several months ago. Curious, they decided to stop, not realizing it would be the beginning of a long-term relationship.

Grider and Helm were in the process of creating their own retail business, CU Over the Rainbow, which they describe as a nostalgic candy/variety shop. One look, one sniff and they were certain they wanted to feature Warm Glow Candles in their shop. They were referred to the manufacturing plant, where they set up an order immediately. They also inquired about the possibility of a custom candle in orange and blue, the team colors of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Scott Grider and Laura Helm of CU Over the Rainbow in Champaign – Urbana, Illinois, make regular trips to Warm Glow to buy candles for their shop.

No problem, they were told. Although Grider and Helm don’t yet have a brick-and-mortar store, they have no trouble selling whatever they pick up during their regular trips to Warm Glow. “Everybody’s just been falling in love with the candles,” said Grider, as Helms nodded enthusiastically.

That’s not to mention the coconut cream pie and Indiana wine the pair always purchases for their own use. The Warm Glow retail staff makes sure to have those favorites on hand when they know the CU Over the Rainbow folks are coming.

This kind of effort is more than excellent customer service. Carberry knows that for many visitors, the Warm Glow shops form the first impression of Wayne County. “It’s important to be a good ambassador,” she said. Within the main shop, there is a Welcome Center made available rent-free to the Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau, so shoppers can learn more about the region’s attractions and events.

Billboards along the drive back to the interstate invite interested travelers to go a mile or so out of their way to explore the many antique shops in Centerville and Cambridge City. Ron Purcell of Purcell’s Main Street Antiques in Centerville said those signs bring him new customers all the time.

The checkout counter in the main Warm Glow shop is decorated for Christmas.

To Jackie Carberry, it’s a way of paying the county back for the support she and Alan have been given. “We think about what’s best not just for Warm Glow, but for the whole of Wayne County,” she said.

The Carberrys moved to the area in 1991, attracted by the beautiful architecture. They purchased a home on Richmond’s Main Street. Alan got a job as an electrical engineer in nearby Brookville, Ohio, and Jackie found work in her field of food service.

Then Jackie was diagnosed with cancer.

That “eye-opening experience” changed her life.

When she recovered, she didn’t have the stamina for food service, so Jackie and Alan began selling antiques at a small shop. At the same time, they began experimenting with candles in the basement of their home. Once they were satisfied with their product, they offered the candles for sale at the antique shop.

Before long, the candles were the staple of the business.

“That was kind of our market study,” Jackie Carberry said with a laugh.

This Warm Glow employee says the shelves of popular Christmas candles need to be restocked every 20 minutes or so.

They heard about a wholesale candle company for sale. “I was thinking that would be a good direction,” she said. When the sale fell through, they decided to expand their own operation. In 1995, Warm Glow candles made their wholesale trade show debut.

“We had tremendous success,” Carberry said.

Alan was still working as an engineer and helping Jackie with the candles at night. They closed the antique shop and hired two people to help them with the candles – still manufactured in their basement. The dining room of their beautiful period home was filled with cartons of candles ready to ship. Jackie found she could never get away from the fledgling business. And carrying cartons of candles – each of which weighs over two pounds – up the basement stairs was becoming onerous.

A grandmother and granddaughter admire Christmas decorations while shopping at Warm Glow in Centerville.

They rented a 6,000-square-foot building and expanded the operation to six employees. Jackie said she remembers thinking, “I can’t imagine ever needing anything more than this.”

It didn’t take long to prove her wrong. A neighbor saw the difficulties they were having with wax deliveries, now by the semi-load. “You need a bigger building … with loading docks,” the businessman said. He happened to have something available.

After five years of continued growth, the Carberrys again were looking for more space when another businessman dropped in. He showed them the current manufacturing facility “so conducive to our needs.” The long, narrow building was well suited to hand-dipped candle production and the Centerville location had easier access to the interstate than their Richmond facility. It was also about a mile from the small retail space they had opened in 2000.

In 2002, they bought the factory.

In 2004, they broke ground on a 10,000-square-foot building on land next to the small retail store. That opened in 2005, but by 2010 the shop was full to bursting. In 2011, they opened a 10,000-square-foot addition to the main building and a rebuilt version of the 3,000-square-foot original store to house The Watering Can, a specialty garden shop. The two are connected by a 1,500-square-foot outdoor pavilion.

“It was quite a ride,” said Carberry.

Offering a selection of Indiana wines is one way Warm Glow Candles support their home state.

The company’s growth has, ironically, freed up some of her time. In the early days, she often put in 100 hours a week. Now, working with her trusted team, she has got that down to 40 to 50 hours. Alan, retired from his engineering job, stops by the plant afternoons to supervise, help with shipping, or take care of anything else that needs attention.

And things continue to change.

The garden products have been moved into the main store, and the small shop recently was renamed Artisans & Java. It features artwork, jewelry, pottery, wood carvings and more from regional artisans, and soon will include a coffee shop.

Many people who stop at the Warm Glow store want to buy something from Indiana. Indiana wines and beers, as well as some regional sauces and other foods, have been available in the main store for the past few years. The artisan shop seemed a logical extension.

Carberry, an avid gardener herself, is philosophical about change to the small shop’s identity. “I had one vision and the public quickly changed that vision,” she said. “You have to be flexible.”

Warm Glow’s recent Fall Festival had traffic backed up along Interstate 70 as well Centerville Road.

Flexibility was one of the things required during the retail complex’ recent Fall Festival. It wasn’t the first year for the event, but for some reason, this year’s festival grew exponentially, resulting in a major traffic problem.

Interstate 70 was actually backed up with cars trying to get off at Exit 145. Centerville Road, which leads to the shops’ driveway, also was blocked. For a while, it was a major headache for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, the Centerville Police Department and the Warm Glow staff. With cooperation and volunteer help, the problems were solved, and plans already are in the works to avoid a similar situation in 2018.

To Carberry, it’s one more example of the advantages of doing business in Wayne County.

“I think it’s a wonderful place to start a company,” she said. The price of land and the cost of living are “very conducive to attracting corporations that might think of relocating here.”