happy wax melts

Bear-shaped wax melts and their packaging from Happy Wax in Hillsborough.

It looks like a machine swiped right out of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” A giant dispenser, almost two stories high, feeding at least 10 shiny, silver canals that sort and drop colorful tiny, bear-shaped figures into bags to be sealed, labeled and stored for shipping. All around the room — on tables, in boxes, trays, forms, and even a few on the floor — there are tiny bears.

They look good enough to eat. And if you were to pop one in your mouth, you needn’t feel shame for the mistake. But it would be the last time you made that mistake. “There have been a couple of folks who, when we’ve done pop-up stores, have tried to eat them. But that’s a one and done,” said Sam Mathias, who is CEO at Bootstrap Brands, which produces Happy Wax scented wax melts. 

While they resemble the popular gummy bear candy and are made with all natural ingredients, the wax figures do not share the same sweet taste. 

But they’re fun to look at, come in a variety of colors, and dozens and dozens of fragrances. And they’re made right here in Hillsborough.

Last October, Bootstrap Brands, which is effectively a consumer products company, moved from Durham to Hillsborough to allow the company to bring its operations under one roof. Among its other main brands are Elf Logic, which is holiday lighting and decor, like light balls, Moravian Stars, and rotating Christmas tree stands; and Bull’s Eye Office, which takes an updated spin on novelty office products, like magnets, dry erase boards, and a globe that you can put pins on to mark places you’ve been. But far and away the biggest seller for Bootstrap Brands is Happy Wax. 

“While Happy Wax is becoming its own company and standalone type of brand, we have all this small stuff that we’re always playing with and put out on Amazon, see if there’s any perceived demand and then if that goes well we just try to grow it from there,” Mathias said. “So that’s kind of the fun part.”

In the past year, Happy Wax sales have grown in the neighborhood of 80 percent, which means a lot of people sheltering in place took good care of their noses. Happy Wax is a warmer and melt company. For those not familiar with wax warmers and melts, they’re essentially a flame-free alternative to candles. The Happy Wax warmers come in a variety of styles and sizes. They also use a silicone tray for melting the wax, which makes for easier cleaning between melts. Other brands use metal or porcelain trays, which means the wax must be either hot for cleaning, or frozen and chipped free.

The origin of the bear-shape wax melts is an arresting story. A big, burly policeman from Gatlinburg, Tenn., learned from his aunt how to pour wax. In his free time he would relax by making candles and wax melts, and was particularly fond of the bear mold. His melts caught on and became popular. He sold his idea to Bootstrap Brands.

Now, thousands of tiny bears are made daily. The wax is made with soy and essential oils for the aromas. The concoctions are poured over trays of molds that are moved down a conveyor and into a row of large box-shape machinery where the wax hardens. At the other end, the trays come out and the bears are popped out into a bin where they’re either fed into the two-story bag packaging machine, or carried to a table where Happy Wax workers pack the round “tins” with around two dozen of the melts. 

The packages are carted to the storage area, where hundreds of bins are labeled with the names of scents, like eucalyptus spearmint, caramel macchiato, bourbon and wood, pepper and pine, apple harvest, and many more. As online orders come into the warehouse, workers pull the wax melts and/or warmers to be boxed and shipped.

There are also wax melt combination selections available.

Mathias said his company recognized that wax warmers often resembled something you would find at a country store, and there was nothing special about the wax that was sold in clamshell packaging. Happy Wax saw an opportunity to reach a younger demographic by offering modern-looking warmers, fun-shaped wax melts and attractive packaging.

“I mean, virtually everyone has a candle,” he said. “What’s been interesting is giving our product to people who don’t necessarily know what wax melting is. But the minute you show them it’s just this fun, easy thing. Even for people that still have candles it’s a little more entertaining.”

The company had been headquartered in Durham, but saw an opportunity to consolidate its operations in Hillsborough. “It was a combination of factors,” Mathias said. (Hillsborough) had this great space that felt like it would be perfect for what we needed. Also, the geographic location is pretty central to a lot of the folks we employ. We get a little more space and the cost of property was a lot more favorable than what we were seeing in downtown Durham.”

Bootstrap Brands, which came into existence in 2016, employs about 25 people. Much of its business is through online sales, although Happy Wax products are available in some stores nationwide. Mathias said the company has hopes for expansion, including offering warmers that can regulate the strength of fragrance and increasing the varieties of fragrances.

Bootstrap Brands is at 1515 Coleman Loop Road in Hillsborough. Happy Wax products are available at www.happywax.com