Modernizing the Age-Old Craft of Candlemaking

For Eric and Janet Sparrow, the journey is the destination. They've taken their company, Milkhouse Candles, from staff room tabletops to the largest soy candle manufacturing facility in the United States.

Milkhouse at a glance

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Industry

Manufacturing and Sales

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In Business

Since 2002

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Employees

33

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CUSTOMER

Since 2013

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Location

Iowa, USA

How it all began

Eric and Janet Sparrow began making candles as a hobby in 2002, when Eric was working as a third grade teacher and Janet was an occupational therapist. They made their candles from paraffin wax and sold them to family and friends and at work, where it was common for a supply of 60 candles to be purchased within 20 minutes. Eric and Janet—enterprising spirits that they are—re-invested the money they earned in making a better product.

Sustainable

They soon discovered the natural and sustainable qualities of soy wax, and switching from paraffin was a no-brainer. Finding quality soy wax was difficult, but the Sparrows had an advantage: they lived in Iowa, one of the top soybean-producing states in the country.

Making it work

Eric and Janet had found their niche in locally produced, high-quality, all-natural soy candles. The next step was finding a way to build a thriving business. Eric and Janet did this by leveraging the expertise of those around them. They formed a relationship with Soy Basics (a soy candle manufacturer in New Hampton, Iowa), who supplied materials to Milkhouse and were champions of the soy movement. Milkhouse partnered with Soy Basics in promoting the soy message, and lead the charge in spreading that message after Soy Basics closed its doors.

But, Eric and Janet realized they would grow even faster if they could find a way to drive customers to those stores, where they could physically experience the candles. Cue Internet marketing.

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They also developed relationships with other small businesses in their town of Osage, Iowa. Friends of co-workers owned shops and wanted to sell the candles in-store, which helped Milkhouse grow organically throughout the community.

Modernizing the business with technology

An online presence was exactly what Milkhouse needed to manage their prospects and thrive in the industry. Rather than competing with the stores that sold their candles, Eric and Janet launched a website to build brand recognition and cater to their consumer and wholesale markets.

They use online marketing as a platform to promote the soy message and help fellow soy manufacturers in improving the soy process.

As they perfected the soy candle making process, Eric and Janet built relationships with local soybean farmers like Al Witt, who supplied raw materials to Milkhouse. And having the right technology was crucial to the process; for Al, iPads in the tractors (using GPS technology) could provide statistical data that reveals which soybean crop performed best, allowing him to create a more sustainable soybean next year. Technology also makes it possible for Al to have constant communication with Milkhouse, which creates a synergistic effect between the two companies—both use technology to continually adapt in order to make a better, healthier product.

The iPad technology inside the tractors gathers data for the best performing crop which allows for improved sustainability the following year.

The growth

Milkhouse owes a large part of its growth to the community, which is why Eric and Janet take such care in giving back. They love knowing that Milkhouse is a livelihood for so many people in Iowa, and that—by partnering with other modern small businesses—they're creating a demand that helps not just their community, but ultimately the country and the world.

When Milkhouse's supplier Soy Basics closed their New Hampton plant in 2014 (the largest soy manufacturing plant in the U.S. at the time), Eric and Janet jumped at the opportunity to give back to a community they had been working closely with for years and made a bold move: they bought the previous Soy Basics facility. The decision meant giving jobs back to the 120 people that previously worked for the plant, and gave Milkhouse the capacity it needed to scale globally.

Expanding into communities outside of Osage has given Milkhouse the opportunity to integrate with the unique expertise and systems of the community, and has given Eric and Janet insight as to how they can leverage those relationships to move forward as a company. They understand that future growth rests on attracting and managing customers, as well as managing time in order to build positive, life-long relationships with those customers—and that technology has to be a part of that.

Where are they going?

Milkhouse has a vision to become the "king of soy". They want to be seen as an authority in the world of soy candle making and promote the soy message. Just as they scaled their business locally using technology, Milkhouse hopes to promote the soy candle cause worldwide. Now that the business is thriving, they are focused on using their expertise to help aspiring soy manufacturers achieve similar success—whether that's coaching them through the process or supplying them with raw materials.

Eric and Janet feel a responsibility to create a better world for their kids, and leave a lasting impact on future generations. They're doing this in a way that not only helps grow the Milkhouse brand, but also supports their community, American agriculture (by purchasing soy from local farmers like AI), and the environment (with cleaner products and renewable resources).

To Eric and Janet, Milkhouse is a continual work in progress. They're always looking at their next step and constantly searching for ways to make Milkhouse a better, more sustainable brand.

Eric Sparrow

This is not about Eric Sparrow, or Janet Sparrow, or Milkhouse Candles even as much as it's about the livelihoods that we're contributing to.

Eric Sparrow

The business journey is a lot like a life journey—and vice versa.

A better customer experience with Infusionsoft

Whether it's an individual looking for a better candle or a fellow soy manufacturer needing production advice, Milkhouse strives to create a better experience for their customers—and Infusionsoft is helping them do that.

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