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Mother-daughter team love candle business
Karen Jones didn’t want to be cleaning houses for the rest of her life.

“I’ve always been a treehugger,” she laughed. “I’ve always cared about what was good for the environment and nature, and I wanted to see what I could do to keep that up.” 

A desire for a new career, and the opportunity to work with her daughter Kelly Robeson, led to a sweet-smelling success near the Big Swamp outside of Bladenboro.

Country Cottage Candles was one of the first in the eastern U.S. to use soy-based wax. Jones said while researching candlemaking, she was shocked to find out what goes into most paraffin-based candles.

“You have the dregs from an oil drum,” she said. “Then you have to add something to get rid of the petroleum smell, as well as adding things that won’t react with the first set of chemicals.

“We don’t do that.”

Country Cottage Candles uses essential oils and natural ingredients, as well as the clean-burning soy wax. The women add or change scents and aromas along the way, custom-blending some while deleting some from the line.

“If one doesn’t sell,” Robeson explained, “we aren’t committed to a big warehouse full of them. We just quit making that scent and move on to one that people like.”
The soy-based candles burn clean, as opposed to burning halfway paraffin candles, leaving a scorched, sooty, smelly jar. Quality control takes place in the kitchen sink – candles are randomly pulled from each batch, and burned 24 hours or more to make sure the aroma is consistent, but not too strong, and that the candles burn cleanly.

The milder nature of cottage candles was very important to the mother-daughter team.

“We have people who say they are allergic to candles, but they like ours,” Robeson said.

Since 1994, the women have run the candle shop from Jones’ father’s ”pouting house,” a fishing and hunting cabin built decades ago. Jones and her husband raised their family in the former man cave, and  the candle company takes up much of the space in a side building once used for fish fries and family events. Big Swamp comes right up to the back steps of the home.

“It’s hard to work sometimes, when the fish are jumping and the ducks are flying,” Robeson laughed.

Both Robeson and Jones are always looking for another possible product. Curiosity about how to make those well-known pine tree car air fresheners led Jones to look into the accessories.

“Do you know how much the paper blanks cost?” she said. “It was amazing.”

 Jones was convinced that Country Cottage should have an air freshener line. “People hunt around here,” Robeson said. ”You know what a truck can smell like by December.”

Jones found out how to make recycled paper for use as a scent-holder, but their first attempts at cutting out the traditional freshener patterns failed miserably. The jagged, irregular cuttings gave rise to the country cottage “Ugly Stix”, not to be confused with the popular fishing rod with a similar name.

Made of 100 percent recycled materials, Ugly Stix are designed to work whether they are clipped to a sun visor or dashboard –or hung from the rearview mirror in the traditional manner.

“We have had real good response from these,” Robeson said. “People are surprised, and they like the fact that it’s all recycled.”

The women did the craft show route for a number of years, but the increasing popularity of social media and the Internet, combined with the rising cost to attend craft shows, led them to a more direct marketing route.

“We don’t have website,” Jones admitted, ”because so many people go straight to Facebook now. Plus, there’s too much of a chance in this day and age of people hacking your site and stealing people’s financial information. I don’t care what safeguards they say are in place—once is enough, and I don’t want to be responsible if someone steals from my customers.” The candle firm does accept credit cards via a secure reader.

While the candles are being carried in a number of retailers – including New York and Wisconsin – most of the candles are sold online. The company delivers its candles via the U.S. Postal Service, as well as in person.

“If you’re close by,” Robeson said, “we’ll meet you somewhere. We like meeting our customers, anyway. We like people.”

Robeson said half the enjoyment of the business comes from working with her mom.

“Not everybody gets this type of opportunity,” she said. ”Plus it’s fun to see people when they open one of our candles for the first time.”

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