Melissa Cleland remembers sitting on the couch with her brother to watch Saturday morning cartoons when they were children. Each would be eating a bowl of Froot Loops cereal.
Now, whenever Cleland inhales a Fruit Loops candle that she has made, it sends her right back to that couch.
“It’s not just a good smell, but it takes you back to a time when maybe you were really happy,” she said.
Cleland understands the impact scented candles can have, not just for memories, but also for wellbeing. Six years ago, she started the Lebanon Candle Co. and sells candles, wax melts, air fresheners and most recently, room sprays.
The company has developed into a full-time family business that involves Cleland, her husband, Brad, their twin boys and her mother.
Candles are sold through an online website and available in 40 antique malls, boutiques and other stores across the state. That includes some Hy-Vee supermarkets, with the nearest one in Jefferson City.
While Cleland hasn’t expanded into the Columbia market yet, it’s something she’s planning for the future.
The company buys American soy wax and hand pours all the candles, many made with unusual combinations of scents, such as a fruity blend called Butt Naked, a sweet-and-spicy fall mix called Hocus Pocus and Christmas Movie Marathon, a candle that combines a fruity scent with cinnamon and cloves.
Cleland has developed at least 260 scents for her candles. She said she is always combining fragrance oils and developing new collections from her own inspiration and requests from customers.
“The smells will draw anyone in,” said close friend and customer Nicole Klemin. “I was shocked by all the names they came up with and how on point the smell was to the name.”
Some of the most popular candle smells have developed out of customer recommendations. One might reminisce about a grandfather’s cherry pipe tobacco, for example, and another will remember the distinct smell of a pie made by her grandmother.
One of Cleland’s favorite candle names, Butt Naked, came from a customer recommendation. The candle has been made for years, but inspiration for the name came from an offhand comment.
“He goes, ‘That’s better than naked butt’ and I’m like, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’” Cleland said. “It’s so funny how you can do something 100 times and not think of it.”
Cleland spends seven days and about 100 hours a week pouring candles at her home on the family farm near Lebanon. She and her husband start their day at 3:30 a.m. and work until 9 p.m. during the busy fall and winter season.
The day starts early because of the time it takes to melt the soy wax. Once the wax melts and the fragrance scents are added, Cleland and her family pour about 90 candles a day, which adds up to about 32,000 candles a year.
The candles take two weeks to cure, and they are not always a guaranteed success, especially when new scents are in play.
On top of that, Cleland deals with customers, both retail and wholesale. The Clelands also organize events for vendors and travel across the state to stock candles in retail outlets.
“It never stops,” Brad Cleland said. “I knew it was going to take more hands.”
Before starting the business, Melissa Cleland worked in the car sales. She said it helped polish her business skills before starting a venture printing designs on T-shirts and eventually selling candles.
With her background in sales and experience as a small business owner, she knows how difficult it is to sustain a company. It’s one reason she holds vendor events and chooses to work with small and family-owned businesses.
“You go to these vendor events, and there’s so many families that rely on it,” Cleland said. “It’s insane. But it is so rewarding to see these people feed their families.”
The future for Lebanon Candle Co. is expansion, both in the social space and in production. Cleland hopes to grow the wholesale side of her business, along with pouring more candles every day to increase the number of candles they can make every week.
She said she is also looking forward to more involvement from a Facebook account, and she might even seek the help of customers to name new candle scents.
Cleland wants to support the Lebanese community and uplift other small businesses. For her, the biggest impact comes from continuing to put food on the table for everyone she can and making a lasting impact on everyone she works with.
“Always take care of your customers,” Cleland said. “There are times you have to take a loss. But in reality, you’re being a good person. It’s going to come back to you.”