Family business earns accolades for spurring local economic growth
Milkhouse Candle Creamery, a leader in the soy candle industry, is the latest winner of Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa Leader Award. A new focus and timely business mentoring helped turn Eric and Janet Sparrow’s candle making hobby into a booming business, with national clients and a growing employment base.
The ‘Milkhouse Candle Creamery’ success story began in 2002, when the Sparrows set their sights on making the best, and healthiest candle possible. Through experimentation and selling the experiments to co-workers and friends, the Sparrows discovered an untapped market niche that ultimately led to their company’s tremendous growth and success.
Most candles are made from paraffin wax, a carcinogen, according to Sparrow. And, even the ‘green’ and healthier candles advertised as ‘soy-based’ have just a small percentage of soy. The Sparrows learned that consumers were looking for a candle product that didn’t have carcinogens, so the couple experimented with different soy blends, trying to get it just right, noted Sparrow.
“We were living on an acreage at the time, surrounded by soybeans, so we thought we’d give soy wax a try,” said Eric Sparrow. “It doesn’t have any of the carcinogens; it’s renewable; it’s a product of American agriculture; and hey, you can look right out our window and see the soybeans where this wax comes from.”
As the soy candle market grew, so did the success of Milkhouse Candles. Following the closure of a candle factory in New Hampton that employed 120 people, the building and machinery went up for auction, and the Sparrows launched their plan to expand their candle business.
While Milkhouse Candles doesn’t have the staff size as the previous company, county leaders say the company’s growth and economic benefit for Osage has been extremely valuable.
“I was here when the original candle factory closed down, and I know how important those jobs were to our community,” said Chickasaw County Farm Bureau President Travis Swehla. “It’s great to have Milkhouse Candles in our community and getting some of those jobs started again. I’m looking forward to their future in New Hampton.”
The Sparrows say they’re looking forward to their future in the community as well, and business continues to grow rapidly. Milkhouse Candle’s original factory in Osage can produce a couple thousand candles per day; their new operation in New Hampton can produce 30,000-40,000 candles per day. With consumers seeking higher quality, soy-based candles, the future is bright for Milkhouse Candles. Janet Sparrow is quick to remind folks that despite the rapid growth, they are family focused and part of the community. “We are a family company,” Sparrow said. “I truly believe that everyone that comes to work with us feels they are part of a family, part of a team, and part of something bigger than just making candles.”Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) is an IFBF initiative supporting new and existing businesses through education, mentoring, and financial resources. The next Renew Rural Iowa Business Success Seminar, “The Journey to Your Vision,” takes place November 10 at Iowa Farm Bureau Auditorium in West Des Moines. For more information, go to www.renewruraliowa.com.