It started out as a way for Jill Henn to spend more time with her friend.
On Wednesday nights, after their kids went to bed, she would go to Alicia Reisinger’s house and help her make candles.
“We’d pour a glass of wine and do candles until midnight or 1 a.m.,” Henn said to the Lincoln Journal Star.
“It was kind of our time to just get to connect.”
She happily volunteered the time, sometimes getting paid with candles she had helped make.
Then about two years ago, Henn needed to raise money to pay for a volunteer trip she and her husband were taking to Africa.
Reisinger offered to start paying her for her candle-making time, telling her she could use the money for her trip.
That’s when Henn became the first official employee of Wax Buffalo Pure Soy Candle Co.
Reisinger had started making candles along with other healthy home products in 2011 as a sort of therapy to deal with the stress of her first child’s health problems.
When her grandmother died in 2014, candle-making took on a more formal role in her life.
“We were very close, and it was a lovely distraction I needed, making beautiful products for people instead of just thinking about how much I missed her,” Reisinger said.
It was her grandma who had introduced her to candles, and the first candle she ever made, when she was 14, was a present for her.
Grandma Ferne, as she called her, also was a main reason Reisinger and her husband had moved to Lincoln from Chicago a decade ago. She wanted to spend more time with her as she battled cancer for the third time.
The couple worked for Back to the Bible producing a TV documentary series called “Footnote” that told stories from all over the country.
But when their daughter was born with a cleft palate, it forced her to take a step back from full-time work to focus on her daughter’s treatment.
“I think I was going a little crazy,” Reisinger said. “I was kind of just looking for something a little therapeutic.”
At first, she made the candles for fun, often giving them to friends or family.
Eventually, a friend encouraged her to try selling them.
“They sold out in a week. It was just 12 candles, but it felt really good,” Reisinger said.
At that point, she started to get more serious. It was around 2015 that the weekly candle-making sessions with Henn began.
The business quickly grew from there.
She started selling them online, with people finding out about her on Instagram.
Eventually she got her candles into stores, mostly a few dozen small boutiques across the country, but also Scheels in Lincoln and several Whole Foods locations in the Midwest. Production moved out of her house into a 400-square-foot space in the back of the Blu Velvet clothing boutique in Piedmont, as business has continued to double year after year.
Now, the company is ready to graduate to its own space.
Wax Buffalo Pure Soy Candle Co. will soon be open.
In addition to a retail space, the location also has a large production area in the back and a space off to the side that Reisinger plans to allow people to rent and use as a makerspace.
She plans to continue to hand make all of her candles, at a rate of 100-300 a week, with help from her staff, which now numbers more than a dozen.
Most of them, Like Henn, are stay-at-home moms looking for flexible work. And none of them have any specific experience in candle-making or retail.
“It’s a really fun change of pace from what I do every other day,” Henn said.
Nicole Norris is one of the only people on staff with business experience.
She has a degree in business and spent a few years working in human resources, although before joining Wax Buffalo, she was going to nursing school and working as a certified nursing assistant.
But after having her second child, Norris decided finishing nursing school wasn’t a realistic goal, so she started looking for a part-time job.
She applied at Wax Buffalo after her husband saw an ad posted on Instagram.
“The job was exactly the amount of hours I wanted to work,” Norris said.
That was two years ago. Norris now does all the marketing for Wax Buffalo and works on wholesaling and getting products into stores.
While Reisinger is the creative brains behind the company and looks at the big picture, “I’m more detail-oriented,” Norris said. “We complement each other.”
Both Henn and Norris said Reisinger is motivated and driven, and it is fun to watch the company grow.
“It’s easy to kind of fall in love with Alicia and her vision and to believe in the product you are making,” Norris said.