A good dose of faith and gumption took this midwest darling from a high-stress career to a joy-filled handcrafted business. Brittany Whitenack, of the beloved Antique Candle Co., shares her heart and an insider peek into the story of this thriving community. You’re sure to sense her delightful spirit bounce from these words and fall as much in love with this visionary company as we have.
Our heart-strong interviewees are women in business who have taken the talents, abilities, resources, and unique personalities God has gifted them with and created something beautiful through the work of their hands and dependency upon Him. Be encouraged, inspired, and glean savvy insight for your own creative journey from this leading lady!
And be sure to check out all the charming products offered at antiquecandleco.com.
Tell us a bit about your family, where you live, what you enjoy doing as a family, and how you love to spend some of your downtime.
Hi, friend! My name is Brittany and I am a thirty-something that is enjoying this season of life. I founded Antique Candle Co. six years ago and now lead a team of 32. I do this alongside my family—which includes four of my brothers (I come from a large family). Bonus: I work with several brothers and sisters in Christ from my church, too! Work days are exciting and it’s what I spend most of my time doing. I am blessed to have full support from my husband, Dan, to whom I’ve been married for 9 years (whew, that flew by!). In my downtime, I LOVE thinking of the next place to explore in the U.S. and bring my husband and pug along with me.
What is your salvation story?
I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist church and am so thankful for that foundation. I heard the gospel clearly presented every single Sunday, which was always accompanied by an alter call—an opportunity to give someone to respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Because of this upbringing, I could tell anyone the Jesus story by the age of seven. However, I didn’t truly believe this story myself. One of the most important aspects of salvation is knowing that you have sinned against God and must turn away from your flesh and accept the free gift of salvation. In all honesty, I was a very proud child and pre-teen. I got good grades, was praised by my parents (all that special attention as the only girl). I didn’t feel or think I needed a Savior. God changed my heart as a 12 year old. After probably the 300th time of hearing the Jesus story, something shifted. I understood that I needed forgiveness from my creator and hero. I realized I could be mean, self absorbed, and moody (in my 12 year old mind). That day, I asked Jesus to let me be part of His eternal family and come into my heart forever. I’m so thankful for that decision!
What is your business/organization story? How and when was the idea seed first sown, then sprouting and blooming to what it is today?
We are all on a life journey and sometimes God can take us places we would never expect to go. He prepares our hearts in such a way to be ready for our next stage in life. When I look back at the year leading up to the inception of Antique Candle Co., I can easily see how He was preparing me for something new.
My life NEEDED a change. I graduated from Purdue University with a Management degree in 2012. My husband and I married during college and lived in our first home on campus (so fun!). Our friends said we were the cool married couple, ha!
After graduation, we left West Lafayette, Indiana and moved to the Chicagoland area. I accepted a position as an Assistant Store Manager at a Super Target. That store generated 63 million in sales/year and as a 22 year old, I was very overwhelmed. I worked so, so hard and gave all of myself to that job. I would come home and be utterly exhausted. This was so much harder than any all-nighter I had during college. My husband was working in the city and worked long hours as well. We continued this pattern for a year.
Then there was a specific low-point realization moment. I came home after closing the store one night and the sink was full of dirty dishes. It was beginning to smell. I didn’t have anything left to give and found some Lysol in the bathroom and sprayed the dirty dishes in the sink so the smell would dissipate for a time. I remember doing that—I was so ashamed. How did I get to this point? Everything seemed to be falling apart. I knew I wasn’t being a godly wife, sister, or friend. I needed to do something that would honor God in all aspects of my life, not just my career.
I left Target and began searching for another job. In the meantime, I took up a hobby: candle making. I would always buy a candle at the store as a little gift for myself. I found such joy in a small candle and the thought struck me of how fun it might be to make them! I spent a few months learning and perfecting the exact ratio of fragrance oil to soy wax; I now understand why there are so many lousy handmade soy candles out there. The entire candle making process is very precise and can be difficult, but very rewarding to master.
After a few months, the Lord began to reveal that I have the ability to offer these candles to others and even begin a legitimate small business. I wrote a business plan (thanks business school!) and planned to name my company, Antique Candle Works. I liked ‘Works’ because it implies something is being made and produced. Now, though, we are called Antique Candle Co.. Not only are we a company, but we are also a large and loved community that expands far beyond just those in the studio. Despite how much we’ve grown and changed, every candle is still hand poured with love today, just as they were 6 years ago.
What have you discovered to be your greatest joy in running your business?
One of my greatest joys at Antique Candle Co. is implementing employee alignment. I LOVE creating roles and responsibilities that match an employee’s passions and God-given talents. With 30+ employees, there are a wide array of talents on the team. It’s such a blessing to know so many gifted individuals who choose to apply that to their work. For example, I had the privilege of building a full-fledged marketing team 10 months ago with a photographer, customer service representative, social media gurus, videographer, and brand manager. How cool is that? Answer: WAY COOL!
How would your employees describe your leadership style? And please share a little bit of the why behind their perspective.
My employees would describe me as a servant leader with some ‘engaging and inspiring others’ action sprinkled in! Each day, I make it my mission to be on the floor working right alongside the candle making crew or shipping team. I am especially intentional with this for the most un-fun tasks (you know what I’m talking about, each business has them!). For us, it’s hand unloading 24 pallets from a truck into the loft (with a flight of stairs). It takes 2–4 hours and it’s grueling, physical work, especially during the summer months. But it’s something we accomplish together, which makes it all worth it!
To engage the team, I organize “Fun Fridays” and always have some fun team building activity planned—like going to the Trampoline Park, ordering an Ice Cream Truck, or hanging out at Starbucks for an hour! These activities encourage the team to build community and fosters a culture that shows appreciation for hard work.
What do you feel has been the most significant factor that has led to the success of your business?
I truly believe that my employees are the biggest factor in the success of Antique Candle Co. For example, the right managers are in the right work centers based on their personality, experience, and talents. Each manager is extremely dedicated, talented, and hard working. Of course, many things have to be going right for a business to succeed. I truly believe this aspect of ‘team’ is imperative and has served Antique Candle Co. well.
Something unique about our business—we are bootstrapped and operate with cash only. For a company generating $4M+ in revenue, this is difficult to achieve, but we have done it. We do not have any debt or investors—it’s just us candle makers. We work diligently at controlling expenses, pricing our products correctly, and giving extraordinary value (and an experience) to our candle friends. After all, our candle friends are the reason we are here! It was really, really tough at times to make it on cash alone, but I am so glad that God challenged us during those hard months financially. It taught me to rely on His provision.
What is your vision for your business five years from now? What do you hope will remain the same and what are some goals you have for the future of your business?
My dream and hope is that Antique Candle Co. remains a family business with less than 50 employees. I LOVE how small and family-oriented the business feels right now. I know what everyone did the weekend before, where they are going on vacation, what bible study they are reading, etc. I think that can be lost when your company scales to a larger size of 50–100 employees or more. My goals for the business include providing good, fun jobs and great pay for my employees. That’s very important to me personally. God has given me a great responsibility, which I do not take lightly. Although carrying the HR and financial aspects of the business can be quite burdensome, I know the Lord has asked me to cultivate this. It can be hard to remember that sometimes (especially during Cyber Monday week!), but I know He desires that I give it back to Him.
What is your best advice for women wanting to begin their own business, organization, or cause?
If I could recommend one thing for women who want to start a business, organization, or cause, I’d encourage them to learn how to read and understand the two most important financial statements for any business (in any industry: an Income Statement (also referred to as a P&L) and a Balance Sheet. Personally, having a clear financial picture of the month, week, and year has been imperative in making business decisions. For example, I found myself knowing that we need additional employees in a certain work center, but by looking at our labor costs for the previous period, I was able to determine if we could afford a full-time or part-time employee. If you haven’t taken an accounting class, I strongly recommend enrolling in a true accounting class online or at a nearby university. Seriously, it will be a game changer—I promise! Do not rely solely on an outside accountant for financial advice on your business—you should be able to make those decisions, too!
In what way is the Lord growing and stretching you through the daily work of your hands in your current season?
In this current season of my life, the Lord is showing me that I cannot rely on my own strength or understanding—literally. I NEED Him. Not only that, I need community—other people at work and church to be a part of furthering His Kingdom.
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