Small Business: Candles By Design

By Aimee Shaw

Candles By Design founder Brigitte Oberndorfner.
Candles By Design founder Brigitte Oberndorfner.

Auckland's Candles By Design is a one-woman operation that makes and sells handcrafted candles.

Founder, candle artist and ornament creator Brigitte Oberndorfner talks about her intricate trade.

A brief description of your business

Candles By Design specialises in customised candles for a range of events - each candle is individually designed and crafted.

I've got several candles suppliers that supply different shapes and sizes, and I specialise in the ornamentation of the candles. I prepare them for weddings, baptisms, gifts, thank you candles, funerals and also candles for schools, churches and businesses.

What gave you the idea for the business?

It started with research when my son went through first communion and I put my hand up for organising the candles. I quickly found there weren't any suitable, upmarket candles for the event so I decided to create them myself.

How has business changed in the 12 years since you started?

It has expanded and now incorporates a whole different range of events. Every day is different and every enquiry requires slightly different decorations and ornaments.

New candle shapes have also been added to the range, like the obelisk and wax bowls, and cubes which are popular.

Your trade is very unique, where did you learn to create intricate wax designs?

I'm completely self-taught. I took me about a year to research and trial different methods, initially. I'm from Germany and in Germany candle making and decorating is a trade so I was able to gain some insight from that, but it's quite a different story in New Zealand. The materials here are not easily accessible.

The materials I use to make ornaments are a mixture of different waxes so there was a lot of trial and experimentation - I'm still learning now.

I also visited a master candle maker in Germany, where apprentices are strained in this historic and traditional craft.

Candles By Design creates personalised occasion candles.
Candles By Design creates personalised occasion candles.

What is the process involved in creating these candle ornaments?

The process of creating an ornament requires many steps, from pouring into silicone moulds, which I make myself, tidying up, highlighting in metallic colours, lacquering to applying. Some work is rather repetitive, like preparing fifty or more white doves at a time. There are no specific candle decorator tools, so I have assembled my own and borrowed some from other crafts.

There is always a master template that I have as an existing ornament or I make one myself, then I produce a silicon mould and from that I can then create multiple ornaments from.

A small business like mine, which I run by myself, often has requirements similar to that of a larger business, especially when it comes to IT and technology.

I really enjoy working with wax, though seasonal temperatures and humidity in the studio at times create a challenge.

Aside from sourcing wax and materials, what has been your biggest challenge in running the business?

A small business like mine, which I run by myself, often has requirements similar to that of a larger business, especially when it comes to IT and technology.

When you go cloud-based the first question asked is how many employees you have and if you come back with 'one' the response is not great because people don't think the business has the scale to make it worthwhile.

Brigitte Oberndorfner creates intricate wax ornaments for candles.
Brigitte Oberndorfner creates intricate wax ornaments for candles.

What are your long-term plans for the business?

For now and the next few years I will be continuing as I am, but I have been starting to think about succession planning and that's not easy because the skills required for this kind of business are so multi-faceted and you need a real love for intricate, fine work.

Why have you kept the business to just yourself, despite operating for 12 years?

Being home-based it's not that easy to expand, and deciding what part of the job is to be done [by another], because often when an enquiry comes that turns in to an order then that turns in to invoice production - to hand that over just for the sake of someone else being involved is not that easy.

It's satisfying working with clients and knowing that the end result will be meaningful for them - that's what keeps me going and makes the long hours worthwhile.

What advice would you give to other small business operators thinking of starting a similar business?

One thing I didn't start with, which I would recommend early on, is to create a database from the beginning - it's difficult to start later.

With IT and website development you also need to make sure you have good specialists on board that support you.

- NZ Herald

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