WARRENS, Wis. — Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Kindred Candles in Warrens is accomplishing what Jason and Amy Krultz set out to do in 2016 when they bought and renamed the business.
Jason, who is Warrens village president and has been on the village board for the past 21 years, including 13 years as president, and Amy bought the Gondola Gardens candle-making business in Tomah from Gwen and Don Nelson in 2016. They renamed it and operate it from their Warrens home with the help of their children, Alison and Riley.
In their home workshop, the Krultzes hand pour candles that they wholesale to about three dozen retailers in Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota. They also sell their candles at a few area events each year, such as the Warrens Cranberry Festival, and on the Kindred Candles website.
“Kindred stands for family,” Jason said, explaining how he and his wife settled on the current name of the business.
They decided to buy the home-based Gondola Gardens after hearing that the Nelsons planned to retire from it.
“The short-term goal was college funding” for Alison and Riley, Jason said. “And it was an opportunity to have a business for the four of us family members.”
“It was something we could do together,” Amy added.
Four years later, Alison is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and plans to be a speech therapist.
Riley is a sophomore studying finance and accounting at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Both still help with Kindred Candles when they’re home from college.
Jason and Amy have other jobs. Amy is the bookkeeper for the Tomah School District.
And Jason, who has more than 22 years of banking experience, operates Krultz Consulting LLC, a business consulting firm. “My target is, like our candle business, the smaller mom and pop shops,” he said, that are great at what they do, what they make, what service they perform. But on the back side (he helps with) everything from accounting and purchasing to record keeping and financial strategies. So many small business owners struggle with that part of it. I saw that a lot when I was a banker.”
Kindred Candles sales have increased each year, until this year.
“We’re down about 60% from last year,” when Kindred Candles poured more than 4,200 candles, Jason said. “And I think it’s exclusively because of COVID.” Kindred Candles’ wholesale customers are mainly gift shops, boutiques and a few wineries. Many of them closed for at least a while this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Warrens Cranberry Festival’s board voted in June to cancel this year’s festival, which had been set for Sept. 25-27. At the time, Jason said the impact of the cancellation would be felt throughout the area, but commended the festival board for choosing the safe option.
“Wearing my village hat, I was certainly concerned about the volume of people that would be coming into our small community” if this year’s festival was held, Jason said. “And you didn’t know what was going to happen. As a candle vendor (Kindred Candles sells candles at a booth at the festival), Amy and I were very disappointed. Because we realize the kind of value that brings to our business every year.
“Amy is on the festival board, so she has an intimate knowledge of everything that goes on” with the festival, Jason said. “We understand the financial impact not only to the village but to Monroe County as a whole.”
Kindred Candles is best known for its Cranberry Relish candles, which are red and are made to look like large red cranberries are floating in them. But those “cranberries” are actually made of wax as well.
“Our 3-inch pillar (candle) is probably our biggest seller,” Jason said. “And that’s a Cranberry Relish” candle.
Kindred Candles’ Candy Cane candle also is a big seller for the holiday season. It’s made with alternating layers of white and red wax.
The Krultzes have expanded their line of candles since acquiring the business in 2016.
“The original Cranberry Relish product line is about the same” as it was, Jason said. “But what we saw a lot of requests for was ‘Do you make soy candles?’ After we participated in our first cranberry festival as a candle vendor, we started talking about that” and experimented with making soy candles. “Now I think around half of our sales are soy candles.”
Soy wax is produced from soybean oil. Kindred Candles uses traditional paraffin wax to make its other candles.
While pillar candles are its biggest sellers, other kinds of Kindred Candles come poured into enamel cups, glass jars and galvanized pails. The business also makes votives and melting tarts.
Besides being available in retail shops, candles have been for sale on the Kindred Candles website for more than a year. But online sales aren’t yet a major part of Kindred Candles’ total sales, Jason said.
After four years, the Krultzes still enjoy operating Kindred Candles.
“I get to work with my wife; it’s something we can do together,” Jason said. “And of course I enjoy working with our kids” when they’re home from college.
“We like working together,” Amy said of making candles with her husband and children. “We spend time together doing something fun. And it’s relaxing.”