This is our first post in a new series we're calling MeetMontgomery where we'll be featuring local business owners right here in Montgomery.
Our first MeetMontgomery interview is with Melissa Warnke who some of you locals may recognize as a reporter/morning anchor for WSFA 12 News, but she also owns and operates Wicks & Willow where she makes stunning candles set in vintage tea cups and mason jars. Aren't they gorgeous?!
Melissa and her husband Adam both grew up in Cullman, Alabama (where they were high school sweethearts!), attended Auburn University and now live in Montgomery with their two adorable yellow lab/cocker spaniel mixes, Abbi and Cami (who are the sweetest pups).
Here are a few interview questions to help you get to know Melissa!
Z+M: Tell us a little about what Wicks & Willow is and what you offer?
Melissa: Wicks and Willow is a hand-poured soy candle collection I started in July 2012 specializing in tea cup candles and mason jar candles. I also offer a really unique refill program. Customers can bring their own cups, jars or containers to me and I can make it into a candle for them. That has been one of my favorite things. People have brought me pieces of their grandmother’s china or their wedding china to make into candles. It’s a way for them to enjoy and display those pieces, rather than just having them stored away in a cabinet. Because I use all natural soy wax, it doesn’t harm the container. The refill program also applies to candles purchased from me in the past; I can refill that same container.
Z+M: Where did the you get the idea to start Wicks & Willow?
Melissa: That is a question I get asked all the time! It actually was not planned at all. I never set out to make candles. My husband Adam and I enjoy antique and flea market shopping. From one of our shopping trips, we ended up with a box of vintage tea cups and saucers – I just couldn’t pass them up because they were so pretty! They sat in that same box in our closet for several weeks. One day, I came across a blog about making your own candles, and decided I’d finally put those cups to use! It took me several tries to get it right. Most of the first candles I made looked awful!! I couldn’t get them smooth on the top, or the right combination of wax to scent, or the wick to stay in the right place. After lots of trial and error, I was finally happy with the way they were looking. I posted a picture of one on Facebook, and someone asked if it was for sale. The rest is history! About a month later, I created Wicks and Willow, got my business licenses and opened up an online shop.
Z+M: What is your favorite part about owning/operating your own business?
Melissa: There are two things I love. One – I love knowing that something I made, in my kitchen, with my own hands…is something that people enjoy and use in their homes or to give as a special gift to a friend, bridesmaid, mother, aunt, etc. I have taken a piece of beautiful piece of china that was discarded or not wanted anymore and given it new life as a candle. It’s so neat that I have been able to sell candles to customers all over the country and other countries as well. My first online sale went to a sweet lady in Australia!
The second part I love has been the people I’ve met through this process. There are so many creative and inspiring people who are makers and creators and small business owners in Montgomery. Many times, they also have full time jobs or they have started a small business that grew into a company that they now operate full time. It’s been really cool is to have been a part of some cool collaboration projects with those folks. There is a really supportive community of creators in Montgomery. And, of course, my customers! Many of my customers have become good friends of mine. They have told their friends about Wicks and Willow and even alert me when they see a great set of china for sale somewhere, haha!
Z+M: Where do you get your inspiration?
Melissa: I love DIY and home décor blogs. It gets me into trouble sometimes, haha! I am always wanting to work on new projects around our house. But, it gives me ideas for styling my candles for photos and events. I also discover new ways to incorporate them into different kind of home décor. Wicks and Willow definitely has a certain aesthetic and look, but they appeal to a wide range of tastes. China is one of those things that can be a part of a very cottage-type or eclectic style as well as a more refined style.
Z+M: What advice would you give someone who wants to start his or her own business and/or new creative venture?
Melissa: I would tell that person to go for it! My advice is to remember that creating a brand is just as important as creating your actual product. You can start a business with a relatively low start-up cost, but I wouldn’t skimp on your logo design or your photography. Those are things that make a huge impact and can really set you apart. Also, go overboard with communication, especially if you’re selling a product. Answer questions in a timely manner, fix something if they have a problem and always go out of your way to make things easier for them. Word of mouth is so HUGE when you start a business. If people feel good and excited about your business or product, they will basically sell it for you!
Z+M: What’s your favorite part about owning your own business?
Melissa: I like the flexibility of deciding my own schedule. If I am busy and want to take a month off from candle-making, for example, I can do that! And this may be kind of weird – but most of the time, it is relaxing to make candles. My full time job is very go-go-go with the pressure of constant deadlines. I do thrive on adrenaline and being around people, but it is nice to slow down for a little bit in the afternoons and focus on making something with my hands. And I can do it all in my home!
Z+M: What is your favorite thing about Montgomery?
Melissa: My husband and I love Montgomery. It’s such a unique combination of history, southern charm, and everything Alabama! We have found such a wonderful community of friends here, so it really feels like home to us now. We have always felt like this city is a place that offers young professionals opportunities to get involved and make a difference. And, I think that with any city, your experience is what you make it. We have enjoyed getting plugged in with some non-profits and organizations around the city.
And now it's giveaway time!
One lucky Z+M reader will win TWO candles from Wicks & Willow - one Blue Willow Tea Cup Candle and one Blue Mason Jar Candle (which burns for 120 hours!) in the scents of their choice. Scents offered include:
- Eucalyptus and Spearmint
- French Vanilla
- Red Currant
- Cotton Blossom
To enter, you must use the Rafflecopter widget below.
If you're interested in purchasing candles from Wicks & Willow, you can visit Melissa's Etsy store, or if you're in the Montgomery area we suggest setting up an appointment to see all of Melissa's inventory - it's amazing! Just send her an e-mail at Melissa@wicksandwillow.com to set up a time! Her candles are also available at Hue Studio and the Gift Shop at Union Station.