When Mike Kittredge II, 59, and his son Mike "Mick" Kittredge III, 21, talk about how they got started in the candle business, both men point to an antique Queen Anne stove inside Kringle Candle Co.'s store in Bernardston, Mass. (pop. 2,129).
"We both made our first candles on this very stove," says the elder Kittredge, who became a candle-making legend after founding Yankee Candle Co. in 1969. "I was just 16 when I made my first candle."
Kittredge recalls being too broke to buy his mother a Christmas present, so he heated up the family stove and melted his childhood crayons to make her a candle. A neighbor convinced him to sell it and with the money, the teenager bought enough wax to make two candles: one for his mom and another to sell. It was the beginning of what has become the nation's largest candle company, which he sold in 1998.
In 2008, when Kittredge's son Mick wanted to try his hand at candle making, Mike had one piece of advice: "If you're going to make a candle, you've got to start on the same stove," he recalls.
Mick listened to his father, and a year later he founded Kringle Candle Co., naming the business after Kris Kringle, Christmas' jolly gift giver.
The genesis for Mick's company began with a college marketing course. "My final project was to create a marketing plan and come up with a product," he says. "Candles were a natural choice."
Mick handcrafted his candles and convinced a men's clothing store in Northampton, Mass., to sell them on consignment. While interviewing customers in the store about his product, he noticed something amazing.
"While I'm standing there, people were grabbing up my candles to buy them," he says. "My father was there videotaping this, and we looked at each other and said, 'Maybe we should get back into the candle business.'"
Mike had sold his multimillion-dollar Yankee Candle Co. in South Deerfield, Mass., because of health concerns. But his son's excitement was enough to coax him out of retirement. "He's the youth behind it, and I'm the experience," says Mike, who serves as his son's business adviser. "It's a perfect combination."
Kringle Candle, which employs about 100 workers, has carved out a niche by producing only white, 100 percent dye-free candles in more than 50 scents, from mango to fresh mint. "The all-white concept not only blends perfectly into all backdrops, it can throw 100 times more light than a colored candle," Mick says.
Kringle products are sold at specialty gift stores across the nation, as well as online. Prices range from $1 for a tea candle to $22 for a large apothecary jar candle.
"I love that they're all white and smell so good," says Judy McGee, of West Brattleboro, Vt. (pop. 2,740), visiting the Kringle Candle retail store in Bernardston to buy her favorite rose-scented candle. "When I found out the same people who started Yankee Candle had opened this, I knew I had to check it out."
Kringle's production facilities are located in the same 20,000-square-foot building as the retail store. Each candle is handmade. The process begins when a wick is glued into the bottom of a container. Next, workers fill each container with wax. Six hours later, after the wax has hardened, the candles are ready for labeling and packaging.
It's not uncommon for Mick to work 10 to 12 hours a day. "I'm so exciting about what's going on that I don't want to go home at night," he says. "I love being here. This is my passion."
His father says his son's enthusiasm reminds him of himself in his early days toiling away on the old Queen Anne stove. "I had that same passion," Mike says. "I worked the long hours and created all the stuff. It's really exciting for me to see him doing what I did. And now we get to do it together."