I was with a couple of girlfriends in Napa, celebrating a birthday at the Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Oxbow Public Market. We were strolling down the aisles filled with unique merchants (think the Ferry Building in San Francisco, only smaller) when we came across a candle cart. Yes, a cute-as-can-be cart filled with candles, displayed with charm. We all leaned in and picked up candles, smelled them, read the names of each of them, and yes, bought them! How can you resist names or scents like The Paris Apartment Collection, Exotic African Teakwood, Lake Tahoe Balsam Cedar, Campfire Marshmallow, Sweet Orange Chile Pepper, Amber Noir?
The woman behind the candle operation is Muguette Renee, fifty-one, and a former jewelry designer. (Her name rhymes with baguette with Mui in front, as in shoes by Mui Mui.)
I was struck by her enthusiasm for her business and the total image of her and her first-class products. Her attention to detail is nearly mind-boggling, everything from her business card to the label designs on the candles; how she displays her products on the cart; the cart itself (built for her by Omar Morgan); the way she packages your purchases and adds the black-with-white polka dot tissue paper to your bag at the end. Oh, and the gift cards she includes. Did I mention the matching matchboxes? She’s thought of everything. Plus, she represents her product so well. She’s every bit as adorable as the products themselves.
She’s doing LOTS of things right!
I thought of women our age (hers and mine and the decade up or down from there) who are looking for their next chapters in life. I knew I wanted to share her with you. I asked Muguette if she’d pull back the curtains and show us how she created this chapter in her life and she said yes! Here are a few questions I asked her.
How did you make the transition from jewelry to candles?
I’ve done the Napa Farmers’ Market for eleven years now. It runs from May to October. I sold my jewelry there. Five years ago the jewelry market was over saturated. I’d made candles for friends for the holidays. My Chanel candle was the first. My girlfriends loved them. They’d ask, “Do you sell them anywhere?”
I started playing with the candle idea that summer and brought them to the farmers’ market. It was an item that people would use and come back and get again. When the market ended in October, four years ago, I decided to go full-fledged with the candles. That next May when the farmers’ market started again, my whole booth was candles. It was easier getting into art & wine festivals with candles. I found a market.
The cart was built this summer. That was the missing link I needed to get into the Oxbow Public Market. Steve, the head of Oxbow said, “Now I know what I can do with you.” The cart put it over the top. I was doing really well at markets and shows but the Oxbow Public Market put it in full gear for me. I’m talking with them about taking a permanent space there. I’m thinking of multiple locations. I really believe in the product. The Oxbow really showed me that. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
The way you look so matches your product. Is that part of the plan?
I think it’s important for whatever product you’re representing to look the part. If you sell power tools at Home Depot, you’ll dress the part. UPS drivers match their trucks. It’s a good look. You have to represent what you’re selling. I’m not going to be in jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes at my booth. That’s not my product. I want the person who’s selling my product to match my product. Besides, I’m overdressed for everything. I was born overdressed.
Are you a risk taker?
My husband and I talk about this often. We’ve been married for 27 years. My husband is a solid guy. He’s old school, never late for work. I’ve always admired his integrity with work. He admires my ability to not be scared. In the past he’s asked me, “Do you ever worry that this could fail?” I’ve never been afraid of failure. I’m going to give it 110%. If it doesn’t work, I had a fun run. Either I’ll make money at it or it’ll be a hobby. I’m not going to stop doing it.
My husband told me, “Yours is not an overnight success. You’ve earned this. You’ve worked so hard. All your hard work is paying off.”
How do you be both creative and savvy as a businesswoman?
Being creative doesn’t take a lot of money. The beauty of being creative is being resourceful. Friday and Saturday nights I’ll be at the computer looking for ribbons, boxes, labels, studying fonts. I spend hours on the details. With the Internet, everything’s at our fingertips.
I can be really creative on a budget. I’ve started this at a minimal cost. I’m doing my homework and shopping around for materials at a reasonable price.
I set financial goals but I’m not upset if I fall short of that. When you work for yourself you set your own bar. I’m the person who pushes myself. I’m tougher on myself than any boss could be. I’ll tell myself, “You do twenty more of these before you get to take a shower and go to bed.”
What is it about fragrance?
Smells conjure up images for me. The water coming out of a garden hose smells like my childhood. Candles is where I was always supposed to be. It took a few different forms of art to get there and now I’m finally there.
You said you learned a lot from your parents. What did you learn?
My parents immigrated to this country from Holland right after WWII. They lived in Holland during the occupation. When I hear the stories of living in an occupied country and coming to the U.S., being sponsored to come here, not knowing the language well, I feel so lucky to have been born in this country. Here in the U.S. you can be anything you to want to be. My parents instilled that in us. When you live in an occupied country, you don’t have that luxury. I don’t think it’s hard to make your dreams come true. This doesn’t ever feel like work. If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. It’s true!
I think if I could bottle up her clear, positive attitude and put it in a jar with a label on it that I hired her to design, it would be a win/win. It would sell like crazy and would be guaranteed to help others who might have some self-doubt about realizing their next chapter dreams.
On realizing dreams Muguette says, “You have to put in the time and do the hard work. Success means more to you when you’ve worked really hard at it.”
Then she added, “You’re not going to fail at something you love.”
“That’s pretty bold,” I said.
“Well, yes, a little,” she answered, but I think she was just being polite! She really means it!
Here are her details
Her Etsy website address has all her candles and fragrances and of course, she’s very busy thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day! Visit her if you can at the Oxbow Public Market. She’s there at her cart Thursday through Sunday, at 610 & 644 First Street, Napa, California.