The Brunswick Community College’s Business Incubator Program
Brunswick Community College’s Business and Industry Incubator Program offers a helping hand for entrepreneurs like Celebration Candles.
PHOTOGRAPHY by Megan Deitz
Entrepreneurs begin with a dream, and all too often that is as far as they get. But maybe not anymore.
Brunswick Community College (BCC) has recently initiated a Business and Industry Incubator program to encourage and support the efforts of qualified businesses. It is funded by grants from N.C. Golden Leaf Foundation and U.S. Economic Development Association along with a contribution from BCC totaling $441,000. Here’s how it works.
A start-up business or one that wants to expand its current operation can apply to be a tenant in BCC’s incubator program and lease space for light manufacturing or warehouse distribution at a cost significantly lower than they would have to pay for a comparable commercial facility. The program has three spaces available at its Leland Center located in the Leland Industrial Park on Enterprise Boulevard.
Along with the subsidized space, the tenant will also get the benefit of advice and counseling provided by the college’s Small Business Center and Workforce Development Training programs. Dreamers of most start-up businesses have creative skills and maybe a few ancillary business skills, but few, if any, have the complete basket of proficiencies that is required to run a successful operation. So they have to hire people to help them do it, or outsource some segments of their business. BCC’s incubator businesses will have training and mentoring available to them at little or no cost.
The program is off to a great start. The first tenants, Faye and Harvey Madgitz, proud owners of Celebration Candles, moved into their 950-square-foot space on July 1, 2016. The Madgitzes’ personal story is as compelling as the history of their business. Theirs is a story of the power of resilience in the face of multiple setbacks, and the reason BCC decided they deserved a second chance.
Harvey had been making candles for years in the basement of his mother’s house. “That was back when you could just stick a wick in a tin can,” he says. But it wasn’t long before he invented much more creative designs. In 1980 he set up a candle display in Hess’s Department Store in downtown Allentown, Pa., and that is when he met Faye, who was working in the store’s public relations department. According to a modest Harvey, that is when his candle business really began to take off. Their business soon grew beyond the craft shows and candle-making exhibitions as they began to build up their wholesale business. They even had a few retail outlets.
Faye and Harvey are perfect business partners. He is the idea guy and the technical genius, and she is the quintessential marketing and sales person. If he could make it, she could figure out how and where to sell it. Their primary business has always been making candles to celebrate Christmas, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, anniversaries and any other major life event. Their trademark countdown birthday candle has been a tradition in many families for generations. This candle is given to the parents of a newborn and is brought out each year on their birthday and burned 1 inch to the next number.
Faye tells the story of the time she got a call from someone at a bar who told her the family had just burned his candle all the way down to 21. Presumably the traditional cake was replaced by a pitcher of beer. “We love being a part of our customers’ milestones,” she says. “It is wonderful to be a small part of these joyful times in people’s lives,” Faye said.
Their second most popular candles are the personalized wedding and anniversary ones with the customer’s choice of a verse, a sentiment, a picture or two and whatever else they can think of to make their candle truly theirs.
The Madgitzes also regularly introduce new lines of candles that reflect the current trends. When baking and canning were all the rage, they did a collection of pie, cake and fruit jar shapes and scents that they called Nanny’s Kitchen. They made candles in whatever colors were popular at the time. And more recently, they designed and developed a modern-day birthday candle. The traditional one had a wedding ring at the 21st birthday mark, but today that is no longer the assumed goal. So the modern candle has a shooting star. However, the traditional one is also still available because some families that have been doing this for generations want their kids’ candle to look exactly like the one they had.
All was going well for the Madgitzes until a fire destroyed their factory in 1994 and they had to start all over. By the early 2000s they had built their business back up and were going strong. At their peak they had 100 employees and were grossing about $4 million in sales. The economy was thriving. Everyone was making money – and spending it. That is until 2008, when it all fell apart. The Great Recession hit. People lost their jobs, and they could no longer spend money on discretionary items. The Madgitzes’ former customers were forced out of business. And consequently so was Celebration Candles. “We walked away with nothing,” Faye says.
By 2010 Celebration Candles was back in business. All because one customer requested their candles. But when that one customer is Amazon.com, it gets your attention. Not long after that, Faye was temporarily sidetracked by two knee replacements.
Finally about a year and a half ago, they left Allentown and headed for North Carolina and a warmer climate. After visiting several southeastern N.C. coastal communities, they settled in Waterford. There was golf, the beach and great seafood, but one thing was missing. The one thing they just weren’t quite ready to give up – the candle making business. They decided to start all over one more time.
First they rented a small garage with no air conditioning and inadequate lighting. Then Faye found the BCC program and warehouse space on Craig’s List and knew right away that it would be the perfect place to begin again. She and Harvey filled out the extensive application form, attached their detailed business plan and anxiously awaited an answer from the decision makers.
However, getting selected is only the beginning. There are certain requirements that every tenant has to meet. They must grow their business each year. Faye expects Celebration Candles to double its business this year. They must hire people in the community. They have already hired their first employee after only being there for a couple of weeks. And they must “graduate” out of there at the end of three years.
In the meantime, Faye is looking forward to taking advantage of BCC’s business support services to build up her marketing efforts. She said her first priority will be to get some help in website optimization and maximizing opportunities on social media sites.
Harvey is looking forward to introducing some new designs and resurrecting ones that worked well in the past. “Now that we’re on the coast,” he says, “we could bring back our nautical candle display with shells and a starfish.” He is also thinking about buying music boxes that could be fashioned into a candle holder and would play Happy Birthday. Or how about a countdown birthday candle that would have the fragrance of a birthday cake? Or maybe monogrammed candles will be the next fad.
Celebration Candles can be ordered on the Internet from Amazon.com or Etsy.com. You can also visit their website at celebrationcandleshop.com to see their full line of candles and order directly from them.
Want to learn more?
Brunswick Community College’s Business and Industry Incubator Program