As a match is struck and the wick begins to burn, light from a single candle can enhance the atmosphere of a room.
At DPM Fragrance, traditional methods and modern marketing are combined with a family-oriented workforce. The DPM team, who is committed to quality and excellence, crafts more than just candles; they create a positive force in their local community and homes across the globe.
“Every time you light it, the flickering flame and fragrance that are emanated from that candle are going to change the environment and totally transform the space,” says 2008 graphic design graduate Mary Beth McDavid.
As the creative director for DPM Fragrance, the Starkville native who also holds a minor in marketing is one of the 30 alumni working at the city’s largest manufacturer of luxury home fragrance products.
Originally founded as Aspen Bay Candles, the company became DPM Fragrance (Desirepath Mississippi, LLC) in 2001 after being purchased by current owner Tom Reed, who is based in the greater Atlanta, Georgia, area.
“We kind of kept our roots as Aspen Bay Candles, and then we have two other brands within DPM Fragrance: Capri Blue and Found Goods Markets. All three of these product lines have different aesthetics, and we have different vessels that come in different fragrances specific to each collection,” McDavid explains.
The Volcano scent from the company’s Capri Blue collection continues to be the most beloved item among DPM’s customers—as well as among those of another well-known company.
Starkville native Mary Beth McDavid, a 2008 graphic design graduate from Mississippi State University, is the creative director for DPM Fragrance.
“Anthropologie is actually one of our largest customers,” says McDavid. “We’ve been working with them for about 10 years. They picked up Volcano when they were in one of their growth phases, and it has kind of become the fragrance that people love and associate with their store.”
Taking pride in tradition while being receptive to change and new ideas also has proved beneficial to DPM Fragrance, which was included—for now the third year in a row—as one of Inc. magazine’s 5,000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.
“How the Inc. award works is that you have to sustain a 100 percent growth rate over a three-year span so growing at 33.3 percent each year, which is what we’ve averaged for the past five years,” says 2011 marketing graduate Casey Wesson. “It’s been pretty spectacular to be a part of all of that growth.”
When looking for inspiration in developing the company’s Found Goods Market brand, McDavid says that the leadership may scour places such as thrift stores and flea markets to find items whose spirit of the past can be transformed into a product for today’s consumer.
“There’s a whole psychology behind fragrance in that it has the power to take you back to a memory you may have forgotten,” she explains. “Our Homestead collection is based off of Southern nostalgia. The vessels we use may remind you of something you may find in your grandmother’s house, or a particular fragrance may smell like the perfume you wore when you were in high school.”
Another collection within the Found Goods Market product line is Fairfax and King, which was inspired by the nation’s oldest apothecary. It was located at the corner of Fairfax Street and King Street in Alexandria, Virginia.
“All of the fragrances in this collection were based off of things you may have smelled in that apothecary,” McDavid says. “We bought the amber glass similar to what would have been used in an old apothecary. Even the labeling was inspired by a label that may have been on an old bottle that was used back then.”
Wesson, who served as DPM’s national sales manager prior to her promotion as director of sales and marketing in 2013, says the company has serviced more than 7,000 independent retailers in the past year and a half.
“We also work with international distributors in South Korea, Australia, Germany, Argentina and Canada, and we also have several international accounts in Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and China,” she says. “Our footprint spans across many, many places, so as we continue to grow, we’ve been using our international outlets to expand.”
In addition to the Aspen Bay retail store on Main Street in downtown Starkville, DPM Fragrance’s wide variety of products may be purchased from popular retailers including Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Francesca’s, Crate and Barrel, Nordstrom, Ann Taylor Loft, Papyrus, Altar’d State, West Elm, along with thousands of independent retailers.
“There is very little difference in the way that we do things now to the way candle makers did things a hundred years ago,” says Mike Ferril, a Brandon native who was hired in 2012 as DPM’s production manager while finishing his bachelor’s in risk management, insurance and financial planning. Recently promoted to operations director, he adds, “We probably have a little bit higher tech melting tanks, but that’s about it.”
“We use American made wax and fragrance oil, and we use glass made in the U.S. whenever we’re able to source it,” McDavid says, explaining that one fragrance could easily contain up to a thousand ingredients and therefore every candle burns differently.
But what’s the greatest characteristic of each and every one of the 1.8 million-plus candles that DPM Fragrance produced this past year?
“All of these products that are going to all of these places across the country and around the world are being made right here in this building in Starkville,” says McDavid.
“We do import some of our containers from overseas, but all of the candle manufacturing is done right here,” she explains. “The candle will be wicked by hand, poured by hand, packed by hand, and every label and every bow will be applied by hand.”
In fact, each candle gets touched roughly 12 times before it reaches the customer, according to Ferril.
“It’s the people who make our candles what they are,” he emphasizes. “It’s Michael Bishop and Dorothy Harris. They poured that candle, and that candle is the way it is because of them. The same thing goes for Lorraine Moore who packed it. It’s packed the way it is because of Lorraine, so that’s pretty neat.”
Once all materials are available, McDavid says DPM usually shoots for a three-day turnaround, but emphasizes that “should we need to turn it around sooner, we will figure out a way to make it happen.”
“We’re not going to sacrifice the quality of our product or look of our product because it’s difficult to make,” adds Ferril. “What makes us who we are is that we figure out a way to hand tie a bow 45,000 times instead of just saying we’re going to have to lose the bow.”
“It’s challenging,” he admits, “but it’s also fun and makes us feel a sense of success whenever we do finally tie that 45,000th bow.”
Another point of pride that speaks to the success of DPM Fragrance is the company’s continued commitment to invest in the local community. This past July, the company implemented a second shift from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., which Ferril says allowed the company to double its capacity for six months out of this past year.
“We’re able to provide a job for so many people who live in Starkville, and the employees that we have working here are unbelievable,” he says, adding that many production employees have been working with the company for at least 10 years, some even 20.
• ’13 Bethany Johnson; ’13 Kellie Brady; ’09, ’13 Mallory Ramsey; ’13 Alaina Anglin; ’02 Chris Garton
• ’10 Molly Maynard; ’13 Jason Sanders; ’00 Norma Gillis; ’14 Claire Johnston; ’13 Ashlee Bennett
• ’13 Ruth Bryan; ’11 Casey Wesson; ’12 Steve Lloyd
• ’13 Casey Smith; ’08 Ashley Craig; ’09 Ashley Tate; ’05 Mark Williams; ’11 Laura Massey
• ’14 Anne Ward; ’14 Anna Ballard; ’09 Keri Steger; ’09, ’10 Hunter Harrington; ’93 Valerie Hicks; ’01, ’12 Scott Gronewold
“When our employees need to go and pick their children up from school, we’re very understanding and work around that. I think everybody sharing the same mindset that we’re going to do whatever it takes to get the job done is what has allowed us to sustain over 30 percent growth rate this past year,” Ferril adds.
Participating in the AbilityWorks program through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services is one of DPM Fragrance’s most beloved community engagement efforts. Specifically, the program seeks to “improve the quality of life, employment opportunities, and integration of people with disabilities into the community,” according to the MDRS website.
“It may be hard for these individuals to go out and find a job, so we help them get back on their feet by providing them with real-life work experience for a month,” says Ferril, who serves on the AbilityWorks advisory board. “We have actually hired a lot of these people ourselves, and they are terrific employees that we can’t imagine what we’d do without.
“Flexibility is the key to success,” he continues. “Instead of telling a production employee, ‘This is the way we do this,’ I say, ‘This is how we’re doing it right now.’ Sometimes, they come back and say ‘What if we do it this way?’ and we’ll say, ‘Let’s try it.’”
When reflecting on their personal growth as company leaders, Ferril and McDavid attribute their success in part to the guidance and life lessons they received—and continue to receive—from their alma mater.
“Mississippi State has been and continues to be a huge resource for us,” Ferril emphasizes. “We have production and design interns all the time who come from the university. We’ve had the Extension Service come out and look at the plant and put together a flow map for us. I still utilize a lot of my former professors.” He says he continues to apply knowledge and skills obtained while enrolled in Allison W. Pearson’s principles of management production course. Pearson is a W.L. Giles Distinguished Professor of Management in the university’s College of Business.
As for McDavid, she says her can-do spirit and no-cutting-corners policy stemmed from her experience working alongside longtime University Florist manager Lynette McDougald.
“Ms. Lynette instilled a lot in me as far as just having a great work ethic and taking pride in the quality of work and making it a success, and not being just happy or ho-hum with the way something is,” she says. “We like to donate pallets of unused glass to the University Florist for use in their floral design classes because we know it’s going to be so beneficial to the students and just the university in general.”
“We’re here because of the people of Starkville,” Wesson adds, so whenever we can give back to our local community, we love to do that.”
By Sasha Steinberg, Photography by Nikki McKenzie