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Susan Dickenson

Portrait: The Caldwell family, Grace Management Group

Family of brands

From left, Bob Caldwell JrFrom left, Bob Caldwell Jr., Dodd Caldwell, Bob Caldwell Sr. and Ben Caldwell.
FAMILY-OWNED AND operated Grace Management Group specializes in fragrance research and development and holds several patents on the processes that produce a variety of products under four distinct brands: Bridgewater Candle Company, Votivo, Willowbrook and Greenleaf. It's a marketing strategy that keeps the company on top of its game and in front of specialty and independent retailers both domestically and overseas.
     The four brands are as unique as the markets they're produced for, with presentations and packaging so different that many customers are surprised when they learn they all come from the same place. That place is Spartanburg, S.C., where Grace has been owned since its inception by members of the Caldwell family. The company employs about 250 people, many of whom Vice President Bob Caldwell, Jr. said have been working there for more than 10 years.
     "Our facilities sit on about 31 acres on South Pine St. The company is very involved in the community, and dad and mom sit on the board of a couple of local charities," Caldwell said. "Dodd, my brother, volunteers as the president of Rice Bowls, a nonprofit organization founded in Spartanburg in 1980 that feeds orphans in developing countries around the world (and to which Bridgewater donates directly)."
     As fragrance application has become one of the company's greatest strengths, so, too, has the management structure. It's one that has enabled the brands to enjoy the benefits of functioning independently while being run by a group who have a lot in common.
     "From the very beginning, it has been about family," Caldwell said. "Everyone, including the grandchildren, helps out in some way. Bob Caldwell Sr. is the president. My sister Kathy's husband, Mark Johnson, is the director of business development. Kathy handles the accounting for the company's charity foundation."
     Grandchildren Robert Caldwell and Carter Caldwell have become a familiar sight in the Americasmart Atlanta showroom, where they hand out product samples and Haagen Dazs ice cream to retailers.
     "Up until 2008, Benjamin Rollins Caldwell was creative director of Votivo. He now runs his own studio furniture design company, BRC Designs, out of the plant," Caldwell said. Earlier this year, during the spring High Point Market, BRC Designs debuted at Market Square's juried Salon.

How did the family get into the home fragrance business?
     We actually more or less fell into it. Back when I was growing up, we had a greenhouse wholesale business and tried to grow and sell poinsettias. Unfortunately, we never could get them to bloom at the right times - they were white in the fall and red in the summer. One day mom went to a local craft fair and brought back a little baggie of soil with fragrance. So dad took it downstairs and used mom's KitchenAid mixer to start applying fragrance to different types of potting soil. From there he made the first envelope sachet. That started the Greenleaf sachet business in 1975. We added candles in the 1980s. In 1997, we launched Bridgewater as a core candle company.

How did each of the brands come about, and how different are they from one another?
     Each brand has its own target market, its own voice and its own personality. We actually have separate product development, marketing and design teams for each brand to ensure that the ideas and products maintain a strong voice. Over the past couple of years, we have worked diligently to develop each brand's story and to outline guidelines and specifications that serve as checkpoints as we develop and launch products.
     Bridgewater Candle Company is a core candle line of fun, friendly, comfort fragrances in a variety of forms: pillars, votives, tea lights, large and small jar candles, home fragrance oils and sachets. Bridgewater is committed to the independent retailer, so it's sold in gift shops, car washes, boutiques and the like. Each Bridgewater candle burns cleanly, fills a room quickly with fragrance, looks great doing it, and does it atan affordable price point. This brand is also committed to a partnership with the Rice Bowls organization - for every Bridgewater jar candle sold, one child eats for one day.
     Greenleaf features products inspired by nature in three collections: Home Fragrance (potpourri, room spray, candles, votives), Home Decor (reeds and diffusers) and Spa (soaps and lotions). Greenleaf, like Bridgewater, is committed to the independent retailer but also sells internationally to more than 80 countries.
     Willowbrook houses the original envelope sachet and sells to specialty chains like Cracker Barrel, Pier 1, Bed, Bath and Beyond, and Hobby Lobby. From the very first scented sachet envelope, Willowbrook has chosen to use a recyclable paper, earth-friendly oils and biodegradable ingredients.

     Votivo, one of the first domestically made luxury candle lines, enjoys a reputation for its quality fragrances and distinctive packaging. Each Votivo product is handwrapped and each seal is hand-pressed. Votivo caters to the luxury markets. We sell into spas, hotels, boutiques, even upscale pet stores, as well as chain accounts like Bloomingdales.

Are there any unique challenges and rewards specific to a family-run enterprise such as this?
     Yes, absolutely. The advantage is that we have multiple independent brands. There's enough room for each person to find their sweet spot and work autonomously, while working together toward a greater goal.

Where did you find Mike Licciardello (the "nose"), and how long has he been with Grace?
     We were looking for a cosmetic chemist and engaged a search firm. They kept sending us candidates but nobody was a good fit. Eventually they sent Mike, who was IFF trained and had a great background in fragrance. He's been with the company for over 14 years.

Biggest business/operational challenge you face on a daily basis:
     Being on time while trying to manage a global supply chain! It gets quite taxing with so many brands.

How have you seen the industry change over the years?
     It's a much more competitive market and it's more of a challenge to stay relevant to retailers, so now it's about developing a strong strategy that will ultimately grow the independent retailer business. We really want to provide them with the best products on the market to make them successful and help them compete with the big box stores. The reality is everybody wants to buy a special gift and that is something the Wal-Marts cannot offer. I believe independent retailers will survive because most people want to buy something that's unique and meaningful.

 

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