Amy Mike burning her candle at both ends, and loving it.


Amy Mike's love for mixing things, whether it is hair care products or triple-scented candle wax, has made her one of Thibodaux's most notable business leaders.

As a young stylist 15 years ago, Mike opened Amy's Beauty Salon in her hometown. In 1999, she decided to hang up her curling iron, instead opting to try her hand at candle-making full-time. That's when Amy's Country Candles got its start.

Today, she operates nine outlets across south Louisiana - in Baton Rouge, Covington, Thibodaux and Houma - as well as an Internet store (www.amyscountrycandles.com) and a candle-making factory in Thibodaux. Add to that, the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans exclusively uses and sells her "Gardenia" scene in its hotel.

Ironically, Mike initially offered the candle-making idea to a customer looking for a career change. When he passed on the business idea, the stylist-turned-candlemaker decided to act on her own advice.

"On that particular day, we were talking about him possibly making a career move. The first thing that came to my mind was candle-making," Mike said. "He thought it was a good idea. He presented it to his wife and she flat out told him, 'No way!'"

"I thought it was a good idea, so I researched it and started preparing to move into the market."

Mike tried balancing hair styling and candle-making simultaneously in the beginning, but it quickly proved too much to run a startup and keep a full-time job. And candle-making offered the veteran business owner the most stability.

"I was making candles at night and cutting hair in the morning," she said. "But there was not enough time in the day to do both. I had to choose one of the other, so I chose candle-making."

The decision, she said, was literally a blessing.

"After I closed my salon, I threw myself into making candles full-time. I began to host home candle parties and, by the end of my second year in business, I had the majority of my retail stores in place."

In fact, her speedy track record earned her the coveted Governor's Lantern Award in 2002. The business award is given to proprietors with groundbreaking success in their beginning years.

Mike's main goal was to hit the ground running. Step one, she said, was finding the right people to create and market her product. "It takes a good team of people to make a store successful," she said.  With the right manpower mix, it was time to turn her attention to candle blends.

Amy's Country Candles offers 54 scents. Her district manager, Corrissa Lorgé, said Amy's stand above the rest because each candle is hand-poured with triple the amount of scent than regular candles.

"Amy always researches her product before she releases a scent because she wants her customers to have the very best," Lorgé said.

That was what caught the attention of the Ritz Carlton's New Orleans management.

"It says something when a big name business like the Ritz Carlton wants to use your product," Mike said. "I am so elated by that."

On the homefront, Amy's most popular scent is "Vanilla Sugar Cookie." The scent's soaring sales have made it the store's Candle of the Month for July 2008. Her scents "Bird of Paradise" and "Clean Cotton" come in a close second to the top seller.

Mike said her creative juices never stop flowing; she is always in the factory trying her hand to create new scents. She just released "Wedding Cake," her newest scent addition.

Unfortunately, like any business, the price of success comes with some downfalls. Mike said the stress and responsibilities of owning a business took a toll on her physically and mentally three years ago after the death of her husband Joey Mike.

"I had to remember that I was not doing this for myself; I was doing it for my children, Sonny and T.C., and my community," Mike said. "Because at the end of the day, the money I make is not mine, it belongs to God."

In fact, Mike's generosity has earned her a reputation in the Tri-parishes. The biggest recipient of her generosity has been the MacDonnell House in Houma. "We have to take care of our children because they are the leaders of tomorrow," she said.

Mike is in the process of creating her own seafood dip, Amy's Country Seafood Dip, which will be sold at all Rouses Supermarket locations. Proceeds from dip sales will go toward building a girls' dormitory at MacDonell House.

"It's not our money, it is God's money, so do something for others and not yourself all the time," Mike said. "I am sending out a challenge to other businesses to get involved with the community to do the same."

What Started out as a small business venture for one Thibodaux woman, has evolved into a seven-location business providing scents to many lives.

 By SOPHIA RUFFIN


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