Heidi Mueller was working as an operations manager for a wholesaler, but her passion was designing jewelry from upcycled materials. One day Heidi mentioned to coworkers that she had a meeting with a buyer at a popular boutique after work. On her desk, for all to see, she’d laid out the handmade baubles she’d be bringing to the meeting. Her colleagues gathered around to check out her wares. Suddenly their oohs and aahs were drowned out by men yelling loudly for everyone to step away from their computers. A look beyond the cubicle walls revealed that federal agents had stormed the building and were headed straight for the boss’s office.
Heidi hunched down and swiped the earrings and necklaces off her desk and into the bag she’d brought them in. The entire staff was ushered into the cafeteria. Some were singled out for questioning. Hours later agents demanded everyone go straight to their vehicles without saying a word to one another. Shaken up and still processing what had happened, Heidi drove to the meeting at the boutique as planned—and the buyer bought every single piece in her collection.
That day, Heidi realized how someone else’s actions could threaten her livelihood. She had three kids to support and wanted to be in control of her future. But her jewelry business wasn’t generating enough profit yet. So she found a new job, and for the next five years she continued to work full-time while making jewelry in her spare time. When one boutique owner asked if she made candles, it sparked an idea for Heidi. She’d collected plenty of flea market finds—vintage glass and ceramic items—that could be made into candles.
When she started making candles, Heidi realized how much she enjoyed it. She got to use her hands, and she found melting and pouring wax therapeutic. Heidi committed to using the highest-quality ingredients from the start. She formulated her own fragrances from essential oils. She used soy wax, which burns longer and doesn’t damage surfaces inside the home. And she used lead-free all-cotton wicks that don’t release toxins into the air.
She quickly found candles were a lot more lucrative than jewelry. But as trends changed, demand for shabby chic candleholders diminished. She began sourcing contemporary recycled glass and metal containers from suppliers. She invested in a wax melter and moved operations from her stovetop to her basement. In 2016, she officially launched Excelsior Candle Company and retired her jewelry business.
Today, making hand-poured candles in small batches is Heidi’s full-time job. Her products are available at retailers nationwide. Her commitment to sustainability has not wavered. She encourages customers to bring back their empty Excelsior Candle Company containers for half off their next purchase, and she reuses all of the containers returned to her. She also plans to set up a nonprofit division of the company to help people in need. For now, Heidi gives back by volunteering and supporting other small business owners every chance she gets.
To learn more about Heidi’s business, visit ExcelsiorCandleCo.com.
Photo: Excelsior Candle Co.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story and Publish Her as platforms for doing so.