Lighting the way

Milford manufacturer going strong

Telegraph photo by ADAM URQUHART President of Alene Candles Rod Harl clutches onto a candle next to a conveyor belt where candles are poured, before making their way down the line.

MILFORD – After taking over Alene Candles 10 years ago, business partners Rod Harl and Ted Goldberg are now producing almost seven times the number of candles the company made when ownership changed hands at the end of 2008.

The company, which emits a sweet-smelling fragrance from its factory, marked 10 years of ownership Dec. 30. Officials hosted a company party Friday night to celebrate the strides made in the last decade.

When they first took over, Alene Candles employed 75 people. There are now about 400 year-round workers between two locations. Harl is the president of the company, and said the strides he and Goldberg, vice president, have been able to make through the years is quite remarkable.

“We didn’t set out to do that,” Harl said. “We set out to find a business that worked for both of us.”

After a bit of planning and scoping out possible businesses to purchase, they chose Alene Candles.

Aside from boosting candle production and the number of employees, Harl said Alene Candles is also the first company in New Hampshire to implement a Conscious Leadership model, which embraces 15 commitments. This initiative was unveiled at their New Hampshire location in just the last couple years, while training is continuing at their Ohio location. After purchasing the company from its original owner, Paul Amato, the two businessmen strived to provide their employees with an environment in which they enjoyed coming to work, no matter what his or her role is in the company. That’s where the Conscious Leadership model comes into play.

“We started actually in 2016, testing out these concepts internally, and we started with our executive group, and it’s based on a book called ‘The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership’ (The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership: A New Paradigm for Sustainable Success),” Harl said. “One of the authors of that book, Diana Chapman, I’ve known since 2014.”

Chapman penned that book with two co-authors, Jim Dethmer and Kaley Warner Klemp. Harl said the first of the 15 commitments they exposed people to uses the phrase “radical responsibility,” which relates to taking 100 percent responsibility in the workplace. Another commitment is “candor,” which relates to having upfront communication in the workplace to avoid having any gossiping occur.

“We brought that internally, actually, at a time in 2016 where we had really some significant cultural challenges here in New Hampshire,” Harl said. “We had some leadership that was not reflecting our company values. As we made changes and started to recover from that, I knew we needed some tough medicine, and Diana’s concepts in this book had really the greatest overlap with the philosophies I wanted to see us embrace as a business.”

The model began with the executive team in 2016, and was then rolled out in New Hampshire in 2017 at all levels of the business. In 2018, this model made its way out to the Ohio location. Harl believes this model will work for other manufacturers as well, and that the 15 concepts can translate into an employee’s daily life, at home with family, or out and about with friends.

Nevertheless, with a second facility, more candles are produced, and are then sent on their way across the U.S. to be purchased. While their candles are primarily sold in the U.S., Harl said some candles also make their way to places such as Europe and the Middle East.

In 2012, they opened their second facility in New Albany, Ohio, which is a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. Harl said this has been a good move for the company, as it serves as a complement to the New Hampshire facility.

“So, we generally start with the more challenging projects in New Hampshire. We have a larger experience base, we’ll deal with the complexity here,” Harl said. “Really, the center of our research and development effort is in New Hampshire.”

He said the newer Ohio facility is a bit smaller, but has a higher output. However, candles are a popular holiday item, and in order to keep up with that seasonal output, the company has to hire temporary workers to meet demands. When it comes time to prepare for the holiday season, the company has to hire hundreds of seasonal workers to meet demands.

“We have about 200 year-round employees here, about 180 year-round employees in Ohio. And we grow to, let’s call it, 1,100 employees in our busiest time of year, which is September, October and November,” Harl said.

He said sometimes the same temporary workers return year after year, with a specific draw from various immigrant population in communities.

However, Harl said while some manufacturing companies across the country encounter a bit of a challenge attracting and retaining qualified workers, Alene Candles does its best to be an attractive employer that provides a good place to work. He said the facility in Ohio is fortunate because it’s part of a manufacturing park. He said New Hampshire is a bit more challenging because there are fewer workers available. Still, they are able to make things work.