Jessica Kivett has always been drawn to the idea of being her own boss.
A full-time graduate student in entomology at Kansas State University, Kivett has divided her time since June selling hand-made soy candles through her line, Flint Hills Candle Co.
Kivett, who lives in Manhattan with her husband, Ryan, started making candles in January as a hobby. After making more than she could possibly use, she decided to take a cue from a friend who sells jewelry at the Downtown Farmer’s Market, and for the past several months, Kivett has arisen bright and early every Saturday morning to sell her own line of candles.
Kivett found her initial reception to be encouraging. “I’m really thankful to the customers who purchased from me the first time because that’s what kept me coming,” she said.
Of course there were many decisions that had to be made along the way, including how to package the candles, the fragrances to use and, importantly, what to call her product. “It’s almost as tough as naming your own child,” Kivett said.
She toyed with several names involving local landmarks, including the Konza Prairie, before settling on Flint Hills Candle Co. She chose that name to celebrate one of the region’s most well-known and beautiful geographic features.
When it came time to choose a design for the candle’s labels, Kivett said she first turned to her brother-in-law, a cartoonist with some experience in graphic design, for help. He designed a label for Kivett featuring a stylized candle in red, orange and brown.
To choose the candles’ scents, Kivett bought tiny samples of fragrance oils as testers. “There are so many (scents) out there,” she said, but Kivett tried her best to pick fragrances she suspected would be popular.
It’s not always easy to guess what people will like and sometimes Kivett said people’s preferences surprise her. Her Egyptian amber candle was one of those surprises, while other top sellers have been Vanilla Bean Nectarine, Pumpkin Pie and Mango Peach Salsa.
Kivett’s personal favorites are her Watermelon and Blueberry Cheesecake candles.
She carries approximately 30 scents, the majority of which imitate fruit or rich desserts. She also makes custom orders.
For Thanksgiving and the holidays, Kivett made several seasonal candles, including Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Spruce Christmas Tree, Peppermint and Amaretto Nog. “If I could put a season to candles, it would be right now,” Kivett said. “People associate good memories with scent and smell.”
She sells her candles in a variety of styles: 6-ounce tins, votives, tea lights, melts, luminaries and pillars. The luminaries are a newer item where Kivett dips a blown-up balloon into the wax, lets it harden and then pops the balloon. Tea lights are then lit inside.
Kivett said her entrepreneurial spirit comes from her grandfather, who opened his own lumber company in Wichita. “I think about him when I’m running my business,” she said.
When Kivett started, she only sold the tins and a few wax melts and didn’t have a finished package design. “(But) it was one of those things, where it’s like, I’m ready to sell this weekend,” Kivett said.
Her husband, Ryan, who is employed by the city of Manhattan, helps her sell her line at the farmer’s market and at the craft shows Kivett attends. “It’s really encouraging,” she said.
The two met online and married in April 2011.
Kivett is only in her first semester of her master’s program, but she said the workload hasn’t been too overwhelming to continue her candle line. In an attempt to not waste any time, Kivett tries to get the majority of her schoolwork done while she’s at school so her evenings are open to make candles.
Kivett’s workspace is the couple’s kitchen.
Though Kivett is interested in pursuing research in entomology, she said she can see herself owning a more large-scale business in the future. She encourages people to try being their own boss.
She said selling her candles at the farmer’s market has given her practical experience in budgeting money and keeping up with inventory. “I hate telling people I’ve run out of something,” Kivett said.
Anyone interested in Kivett’s collection can visit www.flinthillscandles.com.