BELMAR – Michelle Fontanez used a crockpot to melt wax in her kitchen when she started her Belmar business seven years ago.
Now, through sheer hard work and creative thinking, Fontanez has turned Surf's Up Candle into a worldwide business that has accounts such as Universal, QVC, Bed Bath and Beyond.
The single mother of four children has weathered the coronavirus pandemic shutdown well – and even actually grew during it – to inspire others with her success story.
Surf's Up Candle's website noted that Fontanez came up with the idea in 2014, when she got the idea to manufacture soy candles while attending a local festival.
After doing some research, she started with just the crockpot. But it eventually became a "multiple crockpot operation" that quickly turned into a garage warehouse, and she was able to start hiring employees
"She worked 24/7 to get her name out to local retailers and word started to spread countrywide," the website said.
Along the way, Fontanez noted that she had a big mailing list "that we never really utilized."
But it turned into a Godsend as she's used it to help grow and sustain the business during the coronavirus crisis.
"When the virus hit, every one of our stores that we sold to closed instantly," she said. "I figured out how to work my mailing list and start selling retail. That list enabled us to stay in business."
Now she's in thousands of stores. And her own business is now doing equal parts wholesale and retail. But amid the events of 2020, the retail side has really picked up.
Fontanez opened her first retail store in 2017 in Belmar and a second in 2019 in Annapolis that did not survive the COVID pandemic.
"What we did with the retail sales in 2019, we do that more than that in a month," Fontanez said.
The website said Fontanez now has a full line of paint can candles, bath bombs, soaps, sugar scrubs, diffusers and air fresheners to compliment her mason jar candles "that she has become notorious for."
"With now over 50 fragrances and eight products, Surf's Up Candle opened its first retail store in June of 2017 and has grown to a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and 10 employees to ship to retailers worldwide," the website says.
What separates Surf's Up Candle from other candle manufacturers, the website says, "is the passion and drive to create an all-natural, handmade product that customers have come to trust and love."
The pandemic has made her work even harder to make sure that people get what they need, and having the list has helped sustain and grow those accounts.
"I'm kicking myself for not doing this earlier," Fontanez said.