MICHAEL JAMES KITTREDGE’S JOURNEY
Michael James Kittredge was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts on February 1, 1952, the son of James Kittredge and Jean Golota Kittredge. When he reached age three, his family moved to the neighboring town of South Hadley.
Mike demonstrated an early aptitude for marketing and promotion; by the age of 13 he had seen The Beatles and decided to become a rock star. He devoted himself to learning to play guitar and made rapid progress; within a year he had organized his own rock band, the Bristol Curries. They played school dances, parties and the like, with Mike organizing the practices, booking the jobs and cultivating the musicians’ stage “look”.
Although locally successful, the group eventually broke up in the late 60’s when its eldest member went off to college. Suddenly without cash from weekend performances, Mike elected to make a Christmas gift for his mother – a candle created from his old childhood crayons. A visiting friend offered to buy it, and the Yankee Candle Company was born in December 1969. Soon he was selling candles at school, to friends and even some stores.
Mike’s early entrepreneurial years were difficult as he struggled through poor cash flow, production woes and marketing challenges. But by 1972 he’d managed to move the fledgling operation out of his parent’s garage and into an old one-time paper mill back in his native Holyoke. The $80 per month space he rented in the nearly 200-year old building lacked heat, running water and electricity. He carved out a serviceable work area and kept at his task, initially working alone but adding help as revenues permitted.
Yankee Candle expanded slowly but surely during the next decade, and eventually reached $1 million in annual sales. The vast majority of that business was wholesale, but since a steady trickle of retail customers had been finding their way to the inner-city Holyoke location, Mike became convinced that a more accessible location in the country would be the key to real expansion.
In 1983 he took a great leap of faith, using an SBA loan to build a new retail outlet and factory complex just off I-91 in South Deerfield, roughly 15 miles north of Holyoke. The store and the company flourished, retail and wholesale revenues expanded rapidly, and Yankee Candle became an internationally-recognized brand by the mid-1990’s.
In 1998 Mike sold 90% of the equity in Yankee Candle to Forstmann Little & Co., who brought the company public a year later. He remained on the Board of Directors until 2003 before fully retiring from the business.
Little did he know then that ten years later he would help his son Mick start his own candle company, Kringle Candle. Mike continues to influence, support and inspire Mick in his own fragrant journey with Kringle.