For Chad Kendall, starting up J.P. Waxington, a candle-making business in Pembroke, wasn’t about lighting up the world so much as making his own world lighter.
A veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy, Kendall served on HMCS Ottawa at Maritime Forces Pacific in Esquimalt, B.C. Following a medical release in 2018, Kendall struggled with anxiety and depression.
“I was having issues with my arm where it would suddenly seize up on me when I was doing drills with rifles. So the military doctors decided to go in and cut into my neck, but then it ended up causing vertigo and daily headaches. I’d still be in uniform today if it hadn’t been for that surgery,” explains Kendall in a voice laced with regret.
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Originally from Barry’s Bay, Kendall chose to return to his home county of Renfrew. A theatre buff, he joined the local troupe, where he met April Laabs. By 2019 the couple was married and Laabs, keenly aware of her husband’s struggles, encouraged him to start candle-making.
“About 20 years ago, I started playing with making candles, just messing around, nothing serious, and then I joined the military,” explains Kendall.
“After we were married, April noticed that I was having a rough time, not able to contribute to society. She suggested that I take up the candle-making again. I had no intention of making it into a business at the time, but it just kind of blossomed from there.”
J.P. Waxington’s soy wax candles are vegan, phthalate- and cruelty-free. The simple glass jars are recyclable and returnable and every effort is put into sustainability. All the candles are wicked, poured and labelled by hand and the scents — such as “campfire” and “oakmoss and amber” — carefully chosen. Prices start at $12.
“We see Renfrew County as our inspiration. People will find that our candles have more outdoor scents and natural scents. There are a few that are a little bit different but for the most part they are inspired by the outdoors,” says Laabs.
The most difficult part of starting the business, according to both partners, was finding the right name.
“Coming up with a name took quite some time; trying to figure out the best name for a candle company, something that would be easily remembered, that would look great on a candle in any home. Through many trials and errors and us not liking each other’s name suggestions, Chad came up with J.P. Waxington — an older, Victorian-style man who created the candles, kind of like the lumber baron characters from the Ottawa Valley,” chuckles Laabs.
J.P. Waxington candles can be purchased online and are already featured in seven stores throughout Ottawa, Renfrew, Eganville and Petawawa, including at CFB Petawawa’s Canex, a military store.
“As a military veteran, I wanted our candles in the Canex. It was one of my dreams and, when they approached us, it just fell into place,” smiles Kendall.
While Kendall makes, wicks and pours the candles, Laabs takes on most of the other tasks.
“I do all the socializing jobs. Because I’m the social person and growing up in Pembroke I tend to know a lot of people,” says Laabs, a high school drama teacher.
“April is the glue,” concurs her husband. “She runs the day-to-day business of J.P. She talks with our potential stockists, works on branding and social media, and keeps everything moving.”
Kendall plans to start running workshops for anyone in the community, including veterans and their spouses, but has a few details to iron out yet – like a location. In the meantime, he’s come to realize that his story and his local connections are an asset to the business.
“The business has been well-received because of our story, our minimalist branding, and our local scents,” he suggests.
Still deeply connected to the navy, Kendall feels a responsibility to his military family.
“It is important for us as a veteran-owned company that we give back to veterans. That is why we donate one dollar from the sale of each candle to various veterans’ charities and our future goal is to be able to hire other veterans and military spouses that move and have a hard time finding work while posted to Petawawa,” says Kendall.
When Kendall’s pitch to the mentoring committee at Enterprise Renfrew resulted in a $4,000 grant, the funds went to purchase a larger wax melter with the remainder earmarked for enhancing the company’s social media and website presence.
“Chad was initially nervous about embarking on a candle business, though (he) is now a guide for others as he shares how becoming a maker of candles has helped his healing process,” says Heather Inwood-Montrose, small business adviser with Enterprise Renfrew.