Economic Development Tourism Historic Preservation
Calhoun County, Iowa

Walking into the J&J Candles shop south of Manson is a total sensory experience, from the vibrant rows of colorful candles on the display shelves to the enticing aromas near the work area where new candles take shape. Overseeing it all is Janis Miller, the self-proclaimed “Crazy Candle Lady.” 

“I fully embrace that role,” said Miller, who has a custom-made, decorative sign with her unique title displayed above the door. 

Miller and her daughter, Rachael Castle (“Crazy Candle Lady 2.0 and wax melt maker extraordinaire”), run the business on Miller’s acreage. They use glass canning jars to hold their 8-ounce and 16-ounce scented candles, plus they create three-wick candles in large, wooden bowls. They also make scented wax melts, room sprays, car fresheners and reed diffusers. 

“Everything here is created by hand, from pouring the candles to attaching the labels,” Miller said. 
Customers can choose from an incredible variety of scents for these various items. “We have more than 200 fragrances,” Miller noted. “You know how some people collect food recipes? I collect candle fragrance recipes.” 

    Options include: 

•    Fruit scents like Strawberry Kiwi, Peaches and Sweet Berry, Cranberry Orange, Black Cherry and more.

•    Floral scents including fresh-cut roses, lavender, hydrangea, patchouli, sweet pea and more. 

•    Food and drink, including almond vanilla, lemon sorbet, fruit loop, hot buttered rum, root beer float, sugar cookie and more. 

•    Holiday and seasonal aromas, including apple cinnamon, candy cane, frozen pine, pumpkin pie, spiced cider and more.  

•    Farm-inspired scents, like Tack Room (a mix of leather and hay aromas), Trail Ride (with its distinctive equine scent), Country Hay, and Heart & Soil of Iowa, which smells like a freshly-tilled field. “To me, the soil is the heart of Iowa,” Miller said. 

•    Auto-inspired aromas like Race Day (which smells like high-octane fuel), Weekend Race Warrior (which smells like methanol), and Dragstrip (which smells like motor oil and burnt rubber). 

•    “Designer” scents, including flannel sheets, Highway 7 and the top-selling birch and black pepper (think fresh-cut birch wood with a spicy note). 

“It’s like chemistry-lab-meets-kitchen here,” Miller said. 

Handmade in Manson
Business ownership and entrepreneurship weren’t on Miller’s mind when she got into the candle business 26 years ago. 

She started exploring the candle-making business through an accounting class she took at Iowa Central.

“We had to come up with a business for a class project,” said Miller, a non-traditional student who had gone back to school. “I started making candles in my kitchen.”
After she completed the class project, Miller decided to keep on making candles. “Soy wax wasn’t readily available then, so I made my candles with paraffin blend wax,” said Miller, who continues this tradition today. “I also have some customers who are allergic to soy wax, so the paraffin blend has worked out fine.” 

She kept her day job while continuing to make candles on nights and weekends. When her family moved to an acreage a mile south of Manson in 2004, she began making candles in the basement. As Miller promoted her products to vendors, more gift shops and other retail outlets across western, norther and central Iowa began selling her candles. 

By 2017, Miller was making enough income from J&J Candles to leave her full-time job at the Ft. Dodge Correctional Facility and run the candle business full-time. As the business continued to grow, she and her husband, Jeremiah, built a 30-foot by 64-foot shed in 2018-2019, just east of their home, complete with to include a spacious workshop, warehouse and retail space.

“We were on track to have our best year ever in 2020, since we’d expanded our product line into vendors in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska,” Miller said. “Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.” 

It has been tough at times to recover from this disruption, she added. J&J Candles’ products are still available in Miller’s shop, at 14 retail shops in the region, and through J&J Candles’ website ( A large map of the United States near Miller’s work area is filled with pins from coast to coast, denoting where J&J Candles has shipped its products. “My candles have gone all over, from Alaska to Maine,” Miller said.

Supporting local businesses 
Miller received some good news in May 2022, when Wells Enterprises (maker of Blue Bunny ice cream in Le Mars) selected J&J Candles to supply a variety of custom products for the company, including 8-ounce and 16-ounce candles with scents including Birthday Cake and The Original Bomb Pop, a red, white and blue candle with scents of cherry, lime and blue raspberry. 

J&J Candles can do custom blends and custom labels for other customers, as well. “Our strong suit is the personal touch,” Miller said. “I’ll do whatever I can to get you what you want.” 

Along with its own products, J&J Candles’ retail shop also sells items from area small businesses, including Stripling Apiary (honey, beeswax furniture polish and more) from Clare, and Farm Gal Soaps (which supplies goat-milk soaps, bath bombs, natural deodorant and more) from Hardy, Iowa. “I’m all about supporting small businesses,” Miller said. 

J&J Candles also offers fundraising opportunities for 4-H clubs, dance teams and other groups that want to sell J&J Candles’ products and make money for their own organization. “I love helping people,” Miller said.

“My mother was the most giving person I’ve ever known, and I try to carry on her legacy through my business.”  


written by Darcy Maulsby

More Blogs