Mick Kittredge Isn’t Just Waxing NostalgicIt isn’t often in life when you get a chance to do it all over again, either personally or professionally. But Michael Kittredge II is getting that opportunity, and he can thank his son for that.
Mike, as he’s called, founded, developed, and later sold Yankee Candle Co., in what is arguably the region’s most celebrated entrepreneurial success story. You probably have heard that it all started on an old Queen Anne stove in his parents’ house in South Hadley, on which he made a candle that became a present for his mother. What you might not know is that his son, Michael Kittredge III, “Mick,” also made his first candle on that very same stove a few decades later.
Today, the Queen Anne holds pride of place just inside the front door at the Kringle Candle Company’s retail store and headquarters in Bernardston. In many ways, it represents not only the elegantly shelved candles in the store beyond, but the connection between a father and son.
At Kringle, Mike is on hand to collaborate with Mick on marketing, making gift baskets, and keeping an eye on the retail side of things — he said that “retail was always something that I really loved, so I’ll walk around the store, put a little more of this here and there. When a company is just starting out, there are a lot of hats that everyone has to wear.”
The only difference this time is that Kringle is Mick’s idea, and he’s the one at the helm.
The all-white, scented candles began as an idea just over a year ago as part of a marketing class Mick was taking at Greenfield Community College, and today they are rapidly becoming another success in the Kittredge family. The path of the chandler was always one he had envisioned, Mick said, explaining, “I knew that I wanted to do something with candles, not quite sure how specifically. When I was younger, I had thought about running Yankee someday.”
But when Mike sold the company in 1998, both men agreed that the culture they knew had changed. “I decided against trying to work up the ladder over there. It was a little too corporatized to me, especially as I remember what it used to be like,” Mick said, referring to a close-knit and very family-oriented work and retail environment.
“Going into this company,” he continued, “with my father and me discussing different names, we wanted to be associated with Christmas, with the warm feeling you get from the holidays. That’s really what I’m looking to do here.”
What that translates to is a retail and marketing experience that, as company president, Mick says he works hard at to make fun for all involved, customers and employees alike. “That’s why people are going to come here,” he explained. “It’s the fundamental and underlying need of all people to want to have some fun in their lives.”
And, Mike added, “if it’s fun, you’re going to want to do it again.”
The basic design of the Kringle Candle is all-white and highly fragrant. Currently, the lineup features more than 40 different scents, from florals to foods; from spices to holiday favorites. The retail store is set up with rooms of both classically presented shelves and inspired vignettes — like a refrigerator stocked with fruit-scented candles in reusable culinary containers.
Shedding light on his own distinct approach to the business, Mick said, “we’re honest with our prices, we’re honest with our quality, and we’re striving to keep that honesty in the marketplace.” He uses both the highest-quality fragrance oils available and domestically produced 100% food-grade paraffin to create the distinctly white premium candles.
“There’s no line of candles out there that’s anything like it,” he added. “Unique shapes, styles, scents, and the whole concept of the white candle. It throws more light, it’s décor-neutral; it’s for someone who’s looking for some ambience and art in their life.”
Mick’s first foray into the retail market was a single point of sale at Jackson & Connor, in Northampton. But just a year ago, he and his father came across the ‘for sale’ sign outside their present headquarters while on a foliage drive.
“The original idea was that it would encompass 3,000 square feet of retail in the front, then distribution, warehousing, and production all here, all contained within this building,” Mick said.
“Today, less than a year later,” he continued, “we have a 15,000-square-foot distribution center, we own more than 200 acres in Bernardston, and we are already unable to continue within the confinements of this one building.” Success is coming fast for Kringle; Kathie Lee and Hoda proclaimed the candles one of their “favorite things” on NBC’s Today show.
As one would expect, all eyes are on Mick’s venture into what was, essentially, the family business, and Kringle has attracted international media attention. But he takes it in stride. “My father started what became the largest candle company in the world,” he explained. “Those are big shoes to fill, and it’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun trying.
“The product quality is top-notch,” he continued, “we have a great concept, and we have a good idea of what we want for the future. My dad knows what works and what doesn’t, and he’s giving me a great deal of knowledge, as any son would go to their father for advice. He’s the best teacher I could ever have. He’s done it before, and it just so happens that he was the best in the world at that.”
Mike added that it’s a different story this time — Mick’s, not his. Those big shoes he built over at Yankee might have turned into “giant fishing boots,” but, he added, “this is a different-style company — a boutique company. For people who know the difference between high quality and all the rest. Mick is here filling his own very cool boat shoes.”
The comparisons to Yankee will be inevitable, but Mick is adamant about keeping Kringle his own. “I don’t want it to get so large where I lose touch with every facet of the company,” he explained. “I come in still and make candles, I’m in the retail store talking to customers, I’m working online, doing marketing. I’ll take the growth as it comes, but always keeping it the way I remember it, the way it used to be.”
Because, like his father who famously created an empire by doing things his own way, Mick has his eyes on a business model that goes much further than a balance sheet. In many more ways than one, Mick is rekindling an old flame. n
— Dan Chase