Women taking an idea from a kitchen table concept to a nationally known enterprise is a story we love to tell. And today, we’re doing exactly that with our behind-the-scenes look at an artisan candle company you’re likely already familiar with: Paddywax
My introduction to Paddywax came in the form of a gift a few years back – a friend remembered my birthday with a cucumber-scented Paddywax candle, and I recall lighting it, thinking the fragrance was surprisingly clean. As someone who is averse to artificial and heavily perfumed anything and not prone to lighting candles, except for special occasions, I was delighted to discover a product that was so enjoyable and easy on the nose. I quickly burned through my first Paddywax candle and had to go on the search for another. At the time, I only found the candles in small shops – my hair salon, a flower shop. Now? They seem to be everywhere – West Elm, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Nordstrom to name a few. That smells like success to me.
Meet Gretchen Hollingsworth, Atlanta gal and the founder of Paddywax. Always a person who enjoyed crafting, she stumbled upon the initial concept of candle making in an issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine back in the mid-90’s. For a girls’ night project with friends, she made a few of the candles, enjoyed the process and continued making them as a hobby. Finding herself restless in Chicago, unsure that her career was headed in the direction she wanted, she moved to Atlanta to live near family. At some point during a conversation with her sister about the next step, she voiced that one-thing-leads-to-another question, “What should I do with my life?” The answer, which came in the form of another question: “Why not make those candles you love and turn that into a business?” And with that, she began making small batches of pillar candles, beautifully packaged – a signature element of the Paddywax brand, present from the beginning – to sell at craft fairs.
During 2001, when she officially began operating, she experimented a lot to determine what people liked and didn’t. Natural scents were the key, not powdery, artificial ones. Soy, she also discovered, made for the longest, most even-burning candles and were ideal for blending the fragrances. She secured a booth at the AmericasMart in Atlanta, the largest market venue where retailers come to find products for their stores, and was picked up by few catalog companies like Spiegel and Sundance. On her own, she managed to produce and distribute truckloads of candles across the country to the tune of 600% growth within a year’s time. Impressive, needless to say.
All that crazy growth led to hiring people and expanding her operation, not to mention eventually meeting Joe Moore, a former CR Gibson executive steeped in retail and the gift industry, who discovered Paddywax products at the New York Gift Show. Enamored with the packaging, he introduced himself to Gretchen and the duo immediately clicked. Joe had left CR Gibson in search of entrepreneurial adventures, and given his passion for retail, gifts in particular, he saw the potential to partner with Gretchen’s excellent product and grow a one line, small company into the 15-line nationally known brand Paddywax has become. In 2009, they became business partners, and 4 short years later are enjoying the rewards of combining strengths with a shared vision.
Both Gretchen and Joe are quick to say their partnership is great. In his role as President and CEO, Joe focuses on finance, marketing and growth, while Gretchen, as she laughingly says, focuses on all the fun stuff: product development and design. Recently, Joe and Gretchen made the decision to move the bulk of the Paddywax operation from Georgia to Tennessee. Franklin is now the headquarters, though all the product development magic still happens under Gretchen’s masterful hand in Atlanta. Paddywax added a retail outlet in Cool Springs last fall as a complement to their wholesale operation. The photos below show some of the production work involved in bringing the candles to market.
Over the course of a year, Paddywax will come up with 30 concepts for collections. Design boards are put together, detailing the elements of the proposed collections – theme, vessel and packaging are key pieces here. These eventually get boiled down to 8 – 12 new concepts, which in turn become the beautiful products we get to buy, bring home and enjoy.
The process from concept to shop shelf is not a simple one, and there’s always a lot of trial and error to get to the finished product. Gretchen is constantly working on ideas for collections – new scents, different combinations, unique packaging. And many different eyes and noses are involved in the process, from Paddywax staff, to a wide array of customers. Yes, Joe and Gretchen believe that customer input is invaluable to the continued growth and success of the company, so new products must pass a customer smell test!
During the last few years of economic downturn, we’ve heard much about struggling businesses. Knowing there are companies like Paddywax right here in our own backyard that are growing and thriving is not only reassuring, it’s exciting. Clearly, the adage holds true: do work that you love, and the rest will fall into place.
Learn more about Paddywax at their website: www.paddywax.com.
Purchase Paddywax products here in Memphis at these stores: