Coming home: Milkhouse Candle Co. moving back to St. Ansgar

EJ Photo/Travis Charlson

In a back room at the Milkhouse Candle factory, owner and founder Eric Sparrow sits tucked away in a dimly-lit office. The ceiling tiles sag, splotched in brown from water damage. The fluorescent ceiling lights flicker. A single window looks outside to the back alley at dumpsters filled with cardboard.

“We need more room.” Sparrow said.

In the last decade, Milkhouse has milked every last inch of space out of their current facility in Osage. To even get to Sparrow’s office, one has to weave their way past production lines and through inventory shelves holding thousands of candles, past stacks of boxes waiting to be shipped, out a door and into the back alley, past the dumpsters and delivery trucks, and through a side door on a separate building.

It’s readily apparent that the space wasn’t designed to mass-produce soy candles, but the Sparrows have shown they have a knack for making things work. And at the time, this location was just what they needed to continue pursuing their dream.

“Osage has been great, we greatly appreciate everything [this town] has done for us,” Sparrow said.

But as the company continues to grow, Milkhouse is moving back to its home in St. Ansgar.

Eric and his wife Janet started making candles when they were first dating. When they got married, Janet was working as an occupational therapist and Eric as a school teacher in Manly. But they never stopped making candles.

It started as a hobby, but before long, the couple were bringing their product to break rooms in their work places and selling to friends, family and coworkers faster then they could make them. Pretty soon, their free time was spent keeping up with orders, often starting when they got home from work and lasting into the early morning hours.

The Sparrows then did the unthinkable: they left the security of their jobs to pursue this hobby of theirs that flourished into a passion.

But it didn’t stop there — the Sparrows weren’t interested in making ordinary candles. They started experimenting with different recipes and formulas, searching for a sustainable, healthy, and plant-based product. They wanted to make candles that not only looked good and smelled good, but were also good for your health.

So they ditched paraffin wax, which is commonly used in candle making and is laced with chemicals and carcinogens. Instead, they use “pure beeswax and natural soy wax from soybeans grown in America’s Midwest,” according to their website.

The Sparrows continued to purse this candle idea, and moved to St. Ansgar from Manly in 2004. They added a few employees as their candle making developed. After a while, they outgrew their space in St. Ansgar, so the Sparrows took their small candle shop and moved it to Osage in 2009.

“What it comes down to, is we had a need for space 10 years ago,” Sparrow said. “St. Ansgar didn’t have what we needed, and Osage did.”

Osage gave Milkhouse the opportunity they needed to grow their company, to take it to the next level, Sparrow said. They started producing more candles and hired new employees.

Sparrow said the company has grown so that space constraints at the Osage location now hamper productivity, and that the layout of the building doesn’t allow them to organize their production process in the most efficient way.

“Now we need space again, and our best option was in St. Ansgar,” Sparrow said.

They had discussed potentially moving operations to New Hampton, but heard about a new building going up in St. Ansgar’s Industrial Park, and jumped at the chance.

“It’s really going to open things up for us, probably quadruple our space and we’ll have 10 times the production,” Sparrow said.

Construction of the building is set to be completed later this year, and Sparrow expects production will move into the new location sometime during 2019.

“Growth is hard,” Sparrow said. “It’s hard to make things work and not just for the business, but for our people. And that’s what is really important.”

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *