Your garage holds more than just your cars and rarely-used power tools. It holds the potential for greatness. The wide-open floorplan and separation from the rest of the house mean that the garage is the perfect room for making noise, as countless hobbyist handymen or teenage bands have discovered. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the greatest companies in the world got their starts in garages.
Join us as we explore these achievements through a running blog series, updated every Monday. We’re interested in learning all there is to know about the creativity produced in the most pivotal garages in history, and we’ll bring all of our findings straight to you.
Welcome to Garage Greatness.
Holding a Candle to Yankee Candle
The Kittredge family may just have a little wax in their blood. Michael Kittredge II started making candles when he was just 16, starting The Yankee Candle Company in his parent’s garage. Forty years later, his son Michael III founded Kringle Candle, establishing the company just 20 miles from Yankee Candle’s flagship store. Michael III is intent on following in his father’s footsteps to greatness, although of course having a multimillionaire father means that he has plenty of help beginning his journey. Michael Kittredge the II, his father, only had three things – a dream, a garage, and a single candle.
Mike joined a band by age 13, intent on emulating the success of the Beatles. His band, the Bristol Curries, was successful locally but when the older members of the band left for college, Mike suddenly found himself penniless again. Without any earnings from the weekend gigs he had come to expect, Mike found himself in a very relatable struggle. He needed to get a Christmas present for his mother, but couldn’t spend any money on it.
Any 16-year-old knows the problem of finding a home-made gift that isn’t cheap or childish, but Mike’s solution ended up being bigger than anyone could have expected. He used some household wax, a red crayon, and a milk carton to make a simple candle, now titled Christmas 1969. A heartfelt gift for his mother.
Of course, his mother never saw that candle. A neighbor expressed interest in buying the candle, and Mike sold it on the spot for $2. The business-savvy mindset that guided Yankee Candle for years was already at work in Mike’s mind, so he promptly re-invested the money he had earned, buying enough wax to make two candles. This time, one of the candles actually did end up going to his mother. He sold the other, and used the proceeds to buy enough wax to make two more. Just like that, Yankee Candle had been financed and was looking for early buyers.
For four years, Yankee Candle ran out that garage.
Mike found friends of his interested in working with his fledgeling company, and soon enough he was selling to family friends and some small local shops. In 1973, his operation grew too large for his parent’s garage, and so Mike and his 12 employees moved into an old paper mill. In the bottom floor of the building, they opened an outlet store – the rest of the mill became factory space.
The new space was only $80 a month in rent, but was 200 years old and lacked hear, water, or electricity. Making the space serviceable was no small undertaking, but Mike had the entrepreneurial spirit and skills to make it happen. Yankee Candle began to define the scented candle market, assuming the role that they still hold today. Compared to other candle companies, Yankee strove to be a higher-quality product with a devotion to fragrance and a focus on evoking nostalgic scent memories.
By 1980, a decade of growth brought Yankee Candle to the national spotlight. A warm reception at the Boston Gift Show earned Yankee a place on the shelves of national retailers and, by 1983, $1 million in annual sales. The company continued with slow growth, opening over 500 small-box stores, most of them in shopping centers or malls. The Massachusetts-based company has two primary stores, in South Deerfield and Sturbridge, and these scenic locations include several other tourist attractions, including the Bavarian Christmas Village, the Yankee Candle Car Museum, and Chandler’s Restaurant.
Now, many of Yankee’s sales happen from the direct mail catalogue and the company’s website, but the brick-and-mortar locations still play an important role in the family and community aspects of the company. Although Michael Kittredge II left the company in 1998, he couldn’t leave candles behind completely. Now, his son is taking on the job of growing a company, with his father’s guidance and help.
Kringle Candle employees some former Yankee Candle employees, is located just down the street from Yankee’s headquarters, and has the name family at the head. Mike has said that some of the philosophical decisions made by Yankee in pursuit of profits don’t align with his own beliefs, and so possibly Kringle is his way of giving things a second try. The Kittredge family has another shot at making candles an art without the concerns of commodities.
The Yankee Candle Company is the most-recognized name in the candle business and seems determined to stay on top of the pack, with the current owners at the Jardin Corporation expanding into international markets and still growing in America. Michael Kittredge never foresaw a future this bright when he molded his first candle inside a milk carton in his garage, but even projects that start with humble origins can grow to change the world.
This is not an isolated story; great companies and inventions seem to naturally find their starts in garages. Next Monday, Garage Greatness will look at the origins of Google, the most visited website in the world and one of the most powerful technology companies of the future. Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, rented their friend Susan Wijcicki’s garage in 1998 for almost 6 months before Google’s explosive success and growth forced them to find another office. See how these two visionaries found success in the garage, here, on Garage Greatness!
Scented candles are nostalgic and calming for many – what’s your favorite scent? Have you ever smelled a candle that you hated? What do you think about the Kittredge’s return to the candle industry, and so you think that Kringle Candle could ever challenge Yankee Candle’s hold on the market? Use the links on the left of this page to let us hear your response!