Winter 2019
A Haitian Narration By Sam Ujvary

A trip to Haiti with the Bridgewater Candles team shows the power of the stories behind products.

There are few things in this world that match the blissful feeling you get from helping a child, in any capacity. I learned that a while ago and was overjoyed to have a chance to realize it again in Haiti this past October.

While attending the Bridgewater Brand Experience trip to Haiti, I started thinking about how I could even begin to share the thoughts and emotions I encountered. First of all, I didn’t expect to make so many new friends. Instead, I walked away with not only an appreciation for all the small things we often take for granted, but also an appreciation for my group; for all the wonderfulness that these very different personalities exude.

We’ve been doing some research on millennial shopping lately, and I’ve noticed an interesting trend. A trend that came to mind while I was on the flight back from Port-au-Prince. Millennials want an experience when making their purchasing decisions. This includes the story behind products. They want to feel connected.

Seventy-two percent of millennials (and 98 percent of Generation Z) prefer to shop in physical stores. They get a personal touch, a verbally told story, and a sense of belonging when making any kind of in-person purchase.

When you know the story of how the product you’re purchasing came to be — or perhaps more importantly, why — it makes it more intimate. For this reason, I’ve always loved writing about products with purpose. But, seeing it first-hand is something I’ll never forget.

The Bridgewater Brand Experience

Photos courtesy of Robert Caldwell.

I always knew how much I loved Bridgewater Candles, simply for the product itself. Its fragrance range offers something for every mood. And I had always loved the thought that they give 75 cents of every candle sold to feed children, but I didn’t know what exactly that process entailed until I was invited to join them.

“There’s a story to be told,” said Bob Caldwell Jr., president of Grace Management and mastermind of the Bridgewater Brand Experience. “We want our sales reps, our employees, our retailers to have a clear understanding that the actions they’re taking — something as simple and everyday as a candle — can have an enormous impact on kids around the world,” he told me as we sat on the magnificent oversized porch of Hands & Feet’s flagship home in Jacmel. To Caldwell, business is more than just making a profit. That’s a sentiment clearly defined after spending some time with his group.

I enjoyed chatting with Sylvia Caldwell on one of our walks, which is where it all clicked. This notion of helping others truly is a family affair. She told me how her husband, Bob Sr., had a lifelong goal to open a boys’ home. He had told her this well before they were married. He came home from serving in Vietnam and before she knew it, they were newlyweds fostering 8-12 boys at the Spartanburg Boys Home. This was something so substantial to hear because it made me understand that the sentiment of giving back is so deeply embedded in the entirety of both the Caldwell as well as the Grace Management family.

It only seemed logical that they would partner with some great organizations like Rice Bowls and Hands & Feet.

Purposeful Pursuits

The organization receiving 75 cents from each candle sold is an awe-inspiring one. Rice Bowls works tirelessly to provide a food budget for 55 different homes in eight countries for children. Rather than providing a specific menu, the organization gives those who run the homes the freedom to determine what food to provide that will be more beneficial. “What it does, is alleviates part of that budget so (the rest) can utilize that money in other areas to better care for the children,” said Johnny Ramantanin, director of operations for Rice Bowls.

Getting connected with the third branch of this give-back tree came from a chance encounter. Ramantanin met an Audio Adrenaline band member and Hands & Feet co-founder at a children’s ministry conference when he felt their interests aligned.

Hands & Feet was founded for the purpose of reuniting families. What began as a permanent reprieve for abandoned, orphaned and restavek (a term meaning child servant) children, has morphed into a multi-campus organization working with social services in Haiti to love, educate and eventually reunite children.

And so, it all came together. The perfect storm of manufacturer, non-profit organization and feet-on-the-ground facility created this well-oiled give-back machine we witnessed in Haiti.

Upon our return, we realized we had a story to share. These trips come from Bridgewater’s desire to spread information and more clearly connect the dots between selling a candle and the notion of giving back. Especially for its sales reps.

OneCoast, Bridgewater’s sales representative group, attended the Experience as well. Those who had been selling the product for years and understood there was a cause attached wanted to really understand what they were selling.

“(Retailers) want to feel good that they’re supporting something; (that’s) what I’m finding,” said Cathy Seagraves, territory manager with OneCoast. She added that having hands-on experience and to be able to bring the story back to them is an extraordinary feeling.

“Store owners have to trust us,” said Seagraves. “Especially those who haven’t been there.”

And for those who have been there? That story is much easier to sell.

For Bethany Frazier, owner of AllyOops Boutique in Pearl, Mississippi, the trip gave her a better understanding of the importance of helping and mentoring children. Before the trip, Bridgewater was easy for her to sell, “However, now I have a whole new passion for what (they) are doing. So, when I talk to customers about the line, I get even more excited and tell them about the trip and the kids I met. I feel like it makes it more real for the customer and they truly see how they’re impacting kids lives.”

So, Bridgewater has this great idea. To get their extended group together to take part in this truly incredible, life-changing trip for not only the experience, but to better understand why it is they do what they do. The truth is, words cannot express the experience from Haiti. The feeling I got from seeing smiling, happy children cannot be perfectly told. But what the Grace Management family gave me, was an opportunity to experience in real life, what I had been writing about for so long. This is what it’s all been about. For that, and for them, I am so grateful.

Sam Ujvary

Sam is the managing editor of Gift Shop Pets, Museums & More and Party & Halloween Retailer, and is a contributing editor for Gift Shop Magazine. She has a copywriting background and has been in publishing for six years.

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