Master’s Hand: Tekamah candle maker grows into chocolate and gifts

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Looking for a unique Christmas gift or a thank you gift for a party host?

As hardcore shoppers hit the malls and big box stores for their Black Friday deals, smaller stores are anticipating visits on Small Business Saturday.

We found a great store on a trip to Tekamah earlier this month. Master’s Hand Candles and Gift Shop offers visitors a great selection of gifts beyond candles.

Ornaments, scarves, purses, and other accessories fill the store, along with wine glasses and racks. The store has an eclectic supply of items. You really need to stop in to see everything available. IMG_7052

For us guys (I had to get that in there since I mentioned purses and scarves), there are chocolate treats. And plenty of them! They hand make their chocolate treats. My daughter Mallory and I quickly fell in love with the chocolate and caramel covered pretzel rods. There are bunches of different chocolates, including ones that taste like peanut butter cups, and fudge.

IMG_7038They also make a great apple cider. Lisa’s step-mom makes great cider during the holidays. This stuff can challenge that (don’t tell Angie I said that).

Outside the store are yard ornaments of all kinds. Chickens made from metal welcome you as you pull into the parking lot.

Yard stones adorn the porch. Military ones honoring the different branches are available for purchase.

Husker, Iowa and even South Dakota Coyote yard stones are available.

The John Deere tractor stone touched a special spot in my heart. My dad farmed years again the nearby Oakland/Uehling area. He loved John Deere. As his memory faded in his later years, he could recall his first tractor – a John Deere. He collected John Deere calendars, just for the photos. IMG_7007

Once inside the store, the Christmas decorations welcome you. Various items, such as candles, fragrances, decorations and knick knacks line the shelves.

IMG_7015Owl ornaments fill a Christmas tree in the store. We liked them so much that Lisa bought one. We have to be careful where we place it this holiday season, as we have a curious kitten (6 months old, but still a kitten) who likely will want to check out the decorations.

The store – which also sells other seasonal items, such as fall decorations and plants – was a secondary thought when Master’s Hand Candles needed a warehouse.

The candle business started in her home, said owner Susie Robinson. She educated her children at home, and the candle business grew from school-related projects.

“We were just having fun.” Susie said.

However, they used the home schooling classes to help develop fragrances. It was like a chemistry class, she said. After nine months, they had created recipes for candles. IMG_7095

What started out as a fun project quickly grew into a fund raiser success story.

They made candles as Christmas gifts one year. People came back to her family, asking for more.

Soon afterward, people asked if they could get candles for fund raisers, Susie said.

Master’s Hand Candles took off from there.

The company’s primary business is making candles for nationwide fund raisers, she said.

They try to keep the candle business as personal as possible. For Midwest customers, they try to deliver the candles personally, Susie said.

The name of the business is based on their faith, Susie said.

It’s been successful, as they’ve been in business for 13 years.

“It’s been mostly word of mouth,” Susie said.

Churches and schools make up their primary fund raiser groups, she said.

“Our favorite sellers are the 10-year-old girls,” Susie said with a smile. “Man, can those 10-year-olds sell.”

As the candle fund raising business grew, Susie and her family realized they’d outgrown working at home.

They needed somewhere larger, where they could set up the candle making area and a warehouse to store the candles.

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They can produce 1,200 candles by hand daily, Susie said. It takes three days for candles to cure. “Like a fine wine,” Susie joked.

In 2008, the old Nordstrom building on the south edge of Tekamah was available.

Susie closed on the building days before the Great Recession of 2008 hit. One week later, she said, and she probably didn’t get the bank deal.

“It was a scary time,” Susie said. “What did we do?”

Once in place, she and her family went about the business of candle making. They used the warehouse area in the back of the building as their working area.

In the meantime, local residents would stop in to see who the new owners were. The storefront was basically empty. Running a store hadn’t crossed their minds, Susie said. IMG_7061

But, people suggested they should do something.

So that December, Susie and gang hosted an open house. They put some candles on shelves. It didn’t take long for locals to set the foundation for the store.

They took their time building up the business. They wanted to be debt free in running the business, Susie said.

They started selling candles in the store five years ago. They then added accessories, such as purses and scarves. The floral arrangements later followed.

It was during the recession that we learned about Master’s Hand. A local morning news program was running a series of stories on one-day trips. Tekamah, which is about a 45-minute drive from Omaha, was picked as one of the road trips. The reporter focused on the candles, chocolate, and the unique items people could buy at the store.

The store gets about 75 percent of its business from outside Tekamah, Susie said. People will travel to visit the store. We saw license plates from several Nebraska counties and a couple of Iowa ones.

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Lisa’s dad and stepmom live in Tekamah. So, as we would drive up for visits, we’d notice the store and always mention how we should go there.

Well, finally we made the stop. Our daughters were with us one day, and the eldest, Steph, asked if we could stop in. We did. The store had a free gift certificate drawing, so the four of us entered. Lisa ended up winning a gift certificate. That was cool.

IMG_7056Lisa and I came up a second time, to get the gift certificate, as well take some photos for this post.

Susie has enjoyed the growth of the business. It’s grown from the almost bare front room with a few shelves of candles to a nearly packed store front.

When they decided to sell candles in the store, she thought maybe they’d make $300 a month in sales.

“Really, it’s been a good story,” Susie said. “It’s humbling. It’s been a blessing.”

Four years ago, they added the Serendipity chocolate area.

Later, a kitchen was opened. They will host group brunches and lunches. You have to make reservations for it.

The chocolate/dining area has a personal feel.

“My goal is that people would feel welcome,” she said.

Susie and her crew have succeeded at that. They greet people as they enter the store.

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The eclectic choices available at the store make it worth the stop. When you visit, enjoy the fragrances of the candles, the chocolate and the gifts you can buy.