It was an unforgivably cold night, well at least by my standards, as I walked up to the entrance of Sole’ Augusta just before 7pm to meet Amanda Ferguson, owner of 40 Wax Candles, for an interview. Neither she nor I knew what to expect. I’ve interviewed dozens of people and even though you prepare and research a person and company the best you can, you can never predict chemistry. Either it’s there or it ain’t. As I walked in, I noticed what I presumed to be a familiar face speaking with the hostess and I gently tapped her on the shoulder, Amanda? She quickly turned around and said Rhyauna, Heyy! I feel like I should hug you! We shared a laugh, hugged and were quickly seated at the first available spaces at the bar. My first impression of Amanda was that she exuded such a vibrant and positive energy. I love people like her. I thought it would be a great idea to talk for a bit and get to know each other before starting the interview. I’m a sucker for a good conversation, and understanding who she was a bit more would only enhance the conversation we would have about her business later in the night. We sat at the bar and chatted for almost an hour talking and laughing. Her, drinking a Moscow Mule and eating Edamame. I was a bit indecisive and if there was any indicator of how interesting our night would become, my drink choice was decided by a penny flip. I settled for bottle of Chardonnay. Yes, a bottle! All wine bottles were half off and if you’re a real wine drinker you don’t pass up a deal like that! We decided that the restaurant was too loud to hear ourselves think let alone record an interview, so we opted to go outside to the beautifully lit, outdoor section of the restaurant to begin. As soon as we sat down, the manager lit the fire pit, which was the perfect touch to what we would later realize be a great interview. Meeting a kindred spirit is much like finding the perfect candle. Sparking the perfect conversation ignites a natural connection you just can’t deny. It makes what I do so much more pleasant. We warmed up a bit and the interview began.
A: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company 40 Wax Candles?
40: I’m from Augusta, born and raised. I took an adventure off to film school in Savannah for a spell. Decided I wanted a change in scenery from the south and moved to Michigan for like two years. Froze my butt off and missed my family (audible laugh) and then I decided to come back to Augusta. It just didn’t work out in Michigan for me very well, it wasn’t my vibe so I came back here. I worked for a major retailer for a while, loved it. I eventually decided it wasn’t for me, so I took a big girl job working at a bank, I didn’t love that, for reasons obvious for my personality. It wasn’t me at all, so now I work at Wier Stewart.
Candles came about when I finally had a regular schedule for once. I wasn’t working crazy hours. I started working at the bank and was half-way joking with a dear friend of mine and was saying like, pretty much making fun of a major candle company. I won’t name names. Totally joking about the poisonous candles they made. I always loved candles my whole life and then one thing leads to another and your grow a wild hair and you’re like Whatever, I’ll just try it, it’s not a big deal and give it a shot and it ends up actually kind of being successful. The next thing you know you’re friends like it and then their friends like it and their asking “where can I get them?” You basically start growing whether you realize it was going to happen or not. What happens when you grow and you’re not prepared for it? You adapt. You figure it out. So let me figure out how to do web stuff. Let me figure out how to market and it’s the best experiment when its yourself.
A. You learn a lot about yourself.
40: Yeah, you do! I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about candles. I always know I loved them, but exploring them has been an adventure to say the very least.
40 WAX CANDLES
A: How did you come up with the name 40 Wax Candles?
40: Puns are really fun, that also rhymes. So, its actually kind of a twisted story, the Lizzie Borden story. So, a while ago in New England area in the 1800’s there’s this girl who basically kinda went nuts, but its like the most infamous story ever, well maybe not ever, but its pretty intense. She kills her dad, kills her stepmother, gets away with it. I’ve only heard of this story as a child because nursery rhymes are so demented. Its basically, Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother 40 wacks. When she’d seen what she had done, she gave her father.
A: Ooooh, wow! I have heard of that.
40: See! How demented is that?! To be taught that in your childhood! But nobody gets that and that’s okay. Its like you have wacks and then you have wax candles, so its just a play on words. A lot of people when they hear that story, they’re just like Oooh, thats weird.
Another thing I’ve learned is that 40 Wax can also be applicable to this region. You have the 40 Watt Club in Athens. They’re super known for great music. You also have a 40 Watt bulb. Candles are a way of how I see light as being better than electricity. A candle is timeless; they’re age old. Its been around forever; Electricity not so much, so I feel like honoring and combining old with new, 40 Wax with a 40 Watt bulb, and it makes the most sense to have this version of light that I find appropriate.
A: Tell us about the process in making a 40 Wax Candle?
40: Alright, I guess we have to start philosophically then. It’s totally sporadic when an idea comes. It can be from a song, a book that I read in the back of someone’s car randomly because they didn’t have room for me in the rest of the vehicle (audible laughter from us both). Sub-culture, pop culture, you name it. Its anywhere and everywhere. There’s no way to predict. It’s like trying to pluck the wind out of the air, when its gonna come. So ideas are based off of a many of things. It could be seasonal; it could be a joke someone said. Canadian Tuxedo is like one of those sub-culture things where someone wears all denim. It’s like what a funny candle name, but then what would that be? Then it’s like, Well I want a candle that smells like the perfect man. Well what is the perfect man and go further and ask what would that guy smell like? There’s only one way to find out, a lot of trial and error. But it all basically comes from story telling. So if you can tell a story with a candle, I think that is the ultimate form of storytelling because scent is the strongest sense tied to your memory. So I can make a candle and I don’t give f*ck what it smells like, if you have a bad memory of vanilla then they’re going to hate that candle no matter what. So the story is the rug that ties the room together. And I have yet to see a candle tell a story like 40 Wax does, so that’s what I’m searching for, the story, not the good smell. I mean obviously they smell great. I wouldn’t make a poop smell candle, but the thing that can lift a candle is the story I use.
Then physically what goes into making a candle is some math, which I’m terrible at. I had to really get right with tablespoons and ounces and ratios to wax. Its hard and here’s why. Some fragrances which seem simple and unassuming like basil can cut through any scent that you combine it with no matter what. And they don’t play well with others. So you have to have a distinct relationship with the oils that you use. I tried coffee, terrible. It does not jive well with other oils. You have to understand the story, but you have to understand the limitations, or maybe their aren’t any limits, but that’s just my nose. I think coffee smells bad with anything else. So what I have to do is kind of come up with a hero smell and then the supporting cast that’s going to tell the story and then make sure they have a good relationship, but what ratio do they play onto each other?
There are rules in the industry for making candles, dependent upon the kind of candle you’re making will determine what kind of ratios you want to put into it. I could get scientific.
A: Depending on the size as well, right?
40: Yes, so usually I do small batches so that I can control it a lot better and its all by hand. It’s me. I don’t use any other kind of outsourcing of talent. So the smaller the batches are, the better I can sort of like quality control how it comes out. Also I put my heart into every single one of them, so the ratio is huge to pay attention to. You cannot lose count of what you’re pouring. You have to start over. Once that oil goes into that wax there’s no turning back. It’s like you’re at the point of no return. It gets wild. Even when you combine oils together. I’ve had so many mistakes like I’m going to add so much of this and then I lose count. Then I don’t know what I just did. The second I get a hazy moment, I have to start over. If people love one candle, lets say Killer Kudzu, and they’re obsessed. You can’t give them anything that’s not that. Your nose has to know. You can’t bounce around that. It gets intense. I keep lots of coffee beans around to refresh my nose palette because you can get nose blind and everything smells the same. So once they all melt down, I just pour them into their jars that I’ve designated for them and let them set and the setting process is awesome. You just sit there one day and you’re like Why is this taking so long? And then (snaps) in the blink of an eye your candle is done. It’s like watching, (dare I say this comparing it to children) but it’s kinda like watching a kid of yours grow up. You’ve physically made this thing with your hands and then its over and somebody’s going to love it and enjoy it for its life span. I mean its kind of exciting. It’s kind of what I imagine it may feel like.
A: I understand that because as an entrepreneur your product is your baby.
A: Then a lot of times people don’t know when to let go.
40: When someone’s placed an order or its a request for one, you understand going in that this will be gone. But you also understand that it’s going to go somewhere that’s loving and a its win-win for everybody. Why not share something that you love with the world. Its a totally autonomous joy, that requires no sticky relationship, no weird thing that could happen. Its just me and my candles and I like sharing that love and that’s so important.
A: What are your 3 most popular candles?
40: So far, Killer Kudzu, straight slayin it! Its strong but it’s refreshing. Broad on Broad St. is really a successful one. We have a lot of wholesalers doing that one. It’s the most accessible candle and the most relateable, not just because of the story but how it smells as well. Geez, I gotta say the third is a tie. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but its so true; Philosopher’s Stone and Mountain Mama. Numbers-wise, they’re very close to each other.
A: What’s your favorite candle and what’s the inspiration behind it?
40: I’m shaking my head as you ask me that question. That is very very hard to say. Because again, candles are, for me, based on mood. So it’s like Whats your favorite pie? I don’t know, it is Summer? But what do I have on my coffee table? Light My Campfire because its masculine, but its sooo sexy. I love masculine smells, but it’s one that penetrates a room in a way that you didn’t realize. It’s very subtle. So it’s like when you know someone’s presence is near but you don’t see them yet, that is what Light My Campfire is like.
A: It’s like a sixth sense.
40: It IS the sixth scent (audible laugh). That’s the one for me right now. Light my Campfire is appropriate for the chill outside. For this warming effect but it’s also not heavy at the same time. I just love masculine sh*t.
A: What candles are popular among men?
40: Dapper, because it’s a shoe-in. Guys are weird when it comes to candles and it kind of freaks me out, but its understandable. Especially in the South, there’s some sort of perception that candles are really a women’s purchase, but I’ve seen so many guys buy candles. And it’s for so many different reasons so its like My house smells. I’m a gross bro’, let me light this candle because I think this girl might come over or my parents are coming over. It’s only one of two things. Its a guy wanting to swoon a girl or its a dude that knows his sh*t and understands the soothing effects of a candle and how it kind of heightens a room and heightens an environment and theirs no qualms about it. Dapper is made for that entire spectrum, but it’s also for women too.
A: Ya know, when you’re lonely… (audible laugh)
40: (audible laugh) Well a tagline for that I thought was pretty clever was It’s not like he’s here, but like he just left.
A: Ooh, Smooth.
40: Dapper is the most popular among men but Killer Kudzu is kinda the dark horse coming up on the masculine side and following suit will be Light My Campfire, I just know.
A: What do you think was the worst scent you’ve ever created?
40: Okay, so I was trying to make Philosopher’s Stone and friend of mine asked me to make a candle for his girlfriend for Christmas. Mind you, I’d only been doing this for two months. Totally green at it, and this girl is totally just the sh*t and I love these two people more than, ever. So the pressure was on and Christmas was fast approaching. Okay so what is she like, what’s her personality like, what’s my favorite memory with her? My favorite memory was being in the back of her Jeep on a mountain getaway, surrounded by her sh*t because her car was basically a cash-all for her life. So I’m sitting in the back of this Jeep and she smelled like Patchouli. So i’m sitting in the back minding my business and there’s this tattered book jabbing me in the back. I pick it up and its this book called The Alchemist and I was bored so I said I guess I’ll start reading it. 48 hours later I had read it cover to cover and its my favorite book of all time. So I was like I need to obviously honor that book and I could not have read this book without her. Then one day she came into a bar and her perfume smelled great and I looked it up and saw some of the notes that were in it and decided to tie it to some of the things I already had. Obviously patchouli, the book in that moment was due to her and then her perfume and tied it altogether and Philosopher’s Stone came out. HOWEVER, it was not that easy making Philosopher’s Stone, AT ALL! So there are several trials that took place. One of which, I had to leave a friend of mine behind at home. I had to go deliver candles somewhere else. So I asked her Can you put these smells together? Just see what happens, I trust you, I gotta go. I come back and there’s just wax all over my front yard. It smells like complete and utter dog sh*t and I knew I was approaching an emotional deathtrap and so I slowly walked to my front door. I’m like Heyy, What happened outside man? She was like I can’t do this. I told her Don’t even worry about. We’ve got some good stuff. We’re just not quite there with the story yet. Months later, I saw that she had written in a notebook we use to keep track of what we’re doing and in all caps it said AND SATAN WAS BORN! (audible laugh) I was like Satan is still in my front yard stankin like dog sh*t every time I come home. So that was the worst one, but every candle has a trial and error phase. There’s never one time you do it and its done.
A: Are you completely locally based or does your business extend out to other locations?
40: It’s made locally. E-commerce is international, so that’s kind of a wishy-washy question. We ship all over the place. Anywhere that somebody wants it, they got it. I have the website. Amazon Handmade, we got accepted into that, which was so clutch and then of course you’ve got to have Etsy. I have candles at Oxygen Fitness Studio located in Surrey Center. They were like my first wholesale ever and they are just the sweetest sweethearts and they carry gobs of Broad on Broad St. all day. The whole place smells like the candle and its becoming kind of signature for them to smell like Broad on Broad St. and its the sweetest, best, most amazing thing ever. And its a refreshing smell so like Uhh, this is it! I also did a custom candle for Cucumber & Mint which is located in Surrey Center as well. That is obviously a little cucumbery, a little minty but has some lavender notes in it. That’s a really chill one. I was very proud of that custom smell. Then Purely Painted Market is a older couple that just opened up and they sell fun knick knacks and handmade things. Hyper local to the southeast. They have special relationships with their vendors. It’s legit handmade stuff. They are very into having a holistic voice in Augusta. They will paint any piece of furniture you have, teach you how to do it and educate you on what paint to have in your home, especially for moms who are about to have babies. Particularly moms who are DIY but are not knowledgeable about what’s going into those products. You can read about food stuff all day long, but home decor, DIFFERENT.
A: That’s entrepreneurship.
40: It is! They’re the best! The wife has dealt with bouts with cancer and they’ve had health issues which is why they’re like We need to have a voice in Augusta and it’s been an honor to have my candles in there to say the very least. I’ve thought about other markets in Augusta, but I don’t want to over-saturate that, so it’s a slow carrying process. I’ve got some candles in a shop in Illinois. I’ve been working with a group in Arizona that wants to carry them, a boutique. A beautiful woman in France pegged me like Hey, lets start this conversation, so I’m working on sending her some samples. The sky is the limit, but I’ve got to honor my roots, so there are candles that honor Augusta. It speaks to Augusta and no one’s doing that here.
A: Why do you think it’s important to support local businesses?
40: Why isn’t it? If you’re not pumping money into your local economy, your outsourcing. If you’re outsourcing what is successful to you then someone else feeds off of that. Why wouldn’t you have that go directly back into your hometown which eventually means its coming back into your pocket anyway. So if mom and pop aren’t doing well then that means you aren’t doing well and I’ve seen places and towns up north, when I lived there, that are failing miserably because they don’t have that kind of local structure to have each other’s backs. So it’s basically like the tribe that supports each other can build the biggest tent. And Augusta is starting to grow so fast but if you don’t want your town to grow, then absolutely buy things from other towns, but you’re going to be employed in the one that you’re in so why not put money back into your own pockets by helping the people. That’s just basic economics. The thing too is that local businesses don’t know that they have a voice, honestly.
A: What is the best lesson that you’ve learned as an entrepreneur that you can share?
40: Never assume, anything. Never assume that you know everything, because no one does. I learned that from being a little too cocky on occasions. You can’t assume someone is going to like you immediately, which I get personally offended if people don’t. I assume I know what people are thinking, wrong. I assume I know what candle somebody is going to like, totally incorrect. You always have to give the people what they want and you can’t assume that you’re going to love the end result but it they love it, I think that’s a lesson within itself. I love when people love something I’ve done for them. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but I don’t care. My joy is joy in others and I can’t assume that I can automatically do that because its takes work and its takes pushing forward. Its a routine that you figure out as you go along and its never the same every time.
MATCH MY MOOD
A: Let’s play a game. Its call MATCH MY MOOD. I give you a scenario and you tell me the perfect candle that would match that mood.
40: Yeeeesss! Oh my god, I love this!
A: Its a beautiful Saturday morning and I’m doing some spring cleaning. What candle would get me energized and feeling good?
40: Killer Kudzu. It’ll wake yo ass up!
A: I’m married with kids and they are with their grandparents for the weekend and me the hubby can finally take a nice bubble bath together, what candle would be perfect for this ocassion?
40: Mountain Mama. She’s relaxing, but she’s got some bite!
A: I have a bachelor pad and I need a manly home fragrance that the ladies would find appealing, what candle should I choose?
40: To escape sounding corny, the obvious answer is Dapper. I feel like for the off beat bachelor, he should be lighting Light My Campfire.
A: It’s the middle of winter. What a perfect night for a delicious bowl of chili, a RedBox or event Netflix and Chill, what candle would complete my experience?
40: Philosopher’s Stone. It’s mellow, very subtle and slightly sweet. Its got some spice in it.
A: It’s Valentine’s Day and I want to surprise my significant other with roses, a nice dinner for two and some gentle music. What would be the perfect candle to complete the experience?
40: One of each. Unless you know the love of your Valentine’s Day, you won’t know their scent unless its a custom candle, which I do, plan ahead. But the ultimate, most sweeping gesture would be one of each and say Lets experience these together. Pick your favorite as a couple.
A: How can people find you?
40: Well, you can find me at Sole’ by a fire pit, drinking a Moscow Mule. You can find my candles at:
Location: Oxygen Fitness Studio, Purely Painted Market & Cucumber & Mint
Facebook: 40 Wax Candles