26 October 2017
Former electrical engineering student becomes candle manufacturing entrepreneur
An entrepreneur from North Wales who left behind a career as an electrical engineer more than two decades ago is now running one of the UK’s largest independent manufacturers of scented candles.
73-year-old Alan Edwards started his career with Manweb in the 1960s, working as an electrical engineer while studying at Wrexham Glyndwr University, then known as Denbighshire Technical College.
Originally from Prestatyn, he married in 1967 and became a father to three children with first wife Gaynor, living in Wrexham and later Marford.
12 years later the family moved to Morpeth, Northumberland, when an opportunity came up to work for the North Eastern Electricity Board (NEEB) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In 1996, he left the corporate world behind forever, buying a small candle business called Best Kept Secrets with second wife Denise (pictured with Alan below).
The company now employs 14 people and sells scented candles and soaps to more than 800 gift retailers in the UK, also exporting to France, Germany and Australia.
Alan said: “The move to NEEB was an excellent move which I’ve never regretted. I would never go back to it now. Best Kept Secrets was small when we bought it, making ‘face’ candles which were based on Phantom of the Opera.
"Sales were not great but when we ventured into scented candles the business expanded significantly.
“It’s changed a lot in the last 20 years, mostly around the internet. Gift retailers now face real competition from massive internet stores.
“We have to have a continuous focus on our website, alongside trade shows and trade press advertising which formed our entire marketing mix previously.”
Alan looks back on his life in Wrexham with happy memories, both with his family and as a student, when he lived with three others at Plas Noble, a farm house rented from the last Squire of Erddig, Philip Yorke.
“Things were very different to today. Manweb paid all educational fees and I was paid a normal salary when at college, plus a significant contribution to accommodation costs while away from home.
“Philip was rather eccentric – he once offered to pick someone up from Ruabon and turned up on a tandem,” said Alan.
“He claimed that Plas Noble was haunted, referring to one of the rooms as The Ghost Room. Needless to say we didn’t use that room, although we did hear Philip screaming when he went to collect some items from there one day!”
Best Kept Secrets has now started selling fragranced soaps and gifts after acquiring two businesses in recent years to expand its range. The company also recently re-launched its website, bestkeptsecrets.co.uk
“Despite the growth of the internet you can’t smell scented candles online – yet. The biggest difference between running your own business and working for someone else is ‘the highs are higher but the lows are lower.’
“The best piece of advice I’d give to anyone looking to start their own business is to sell something that needs replacing on a regular basis. Fortunately scented candles need replacing regularly.”