Heaven scent Karen and Bob Tosterud are pleased and overwhelmed by the public response to their new business, His Essence, and its product � a candle inspired by Psalm 45:8. by David Lias Call it a definite case of divine inspiration.
Several years ago, Karen Tosterud opened her Bible and was intrigued by Psalm 45:8: "All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia ?"
The passage has inspired a new business called His Essence, and a new product, an aromatic candle.
To say that this new product has broad consumer appeal is an understatement. Many shoppers who had hoped to purchase one this holiday season will have to wait until early next year.
Following a feature story on KELO-TV last Friday night about the Tosteruds and their new business, there was such a clamor for the candles that by the end of Saturday, the couple's entire inventory had been sold.
Gloria and Dan Christopherson, who had 240 of the New Essence candles on the shelves of their Vermillion downtown gift store, Nook 'n Cranny, had to deal with a literal stampede of customers last weekend.
They had sold approximately two dozen of the product before news of their unique nature spread.
There are no more New Essence candles on the store's shelves, Gloria, who advised the Tosteruds on the development of the product, said. Nook 'n Cranny sold approximately 230 candles in just one day � last Saturday.
All day Sunday, all day Monday, and all day Tuesday, people have stopped in or called the store, wanting to purchase a candle.
Walk-in customers and phone orders quickly depleted the store's inventory, she said. Dan spent Sunday packing the product to fill out-of-town orders.
"They're going everywhere � they are going to Arizona, Florida, Montana, Texas � all over in South Dakota," Gloria said. "Monday morning, every time I answered the phone, it literally would be about this, and if they weren't calling, they were walking in the door from everywhere."
The verse that inspired the candles refers to the robes worn by the Messiah when he returns.
"I just wondered what that must smell like, and realizing what that was � this was the scent of the garments of Jesus when he returns," Karen said.
Curious about this reference, she and her husband, Bob, a University of South Dakota professor, set out to explore what kind of aroma would emanate from a combination of those scented oils.
"I've had the idea of combining these ingredients for years and finally ordered the oils and made a perfume for my personal use. It was a wonderful and pleasing fragrance that I thought others may enjoy as well," Karen said.
This spring, she decided to take her idea one step further � to develop a product so everyone could enjoy this unique aroma.
"Bob, who is teaching entrepreneurship, and who is as extroverted as he is, took the idea and ran," Karen said.
Several years ago, Bob became acquainted with Doug Uecker, owner of Woodbridge Candles in Freeman. Uecker recently completed the first batch of His Essence candles.
"We went to him in June with our idea, and he wasn't even sure if it would work," Karen said. "First you have to have a certain kind of oil, and he wasn't sure if it would burn right, or if it would throw the scent. He had to get the oils and experiment, and it turned out to be wonderful. It met all the criteria that he needed for a good candle."
Karen experimented to achieve what she believes is just the right fragrance.
"At first, I had too much aloe, and it wasn't right," she said. "We then felt, since we were going with a candle, and if the scent was going to be the most authentic, we should go with one third of each of the three elements. That's what we used for the formula, and the result was the wonderful scent."
"We knew immediately that was the way we wanted to go," Bob said. "The scent is a creation that comes directly from what the Bible tells us � it isn't a man-made formula."
It is, Karen said, a fragrance that is nearly indescribable.
"It's very fresh," Bob said. "It's not too fruity, it's not too flowery."
Mike Keller, dean of the USD Business School, told Bob the candle triggered memories of the barbershop he would visit as a boy.
"Those barber shops had the fragrance of aloe," Bob said. "It's possible that everyone gets a different scent from the candles. But when you light them, the fragrance very gently fills the room.
It is just light and clean ? and pleasant," he said. "Guys like it as much as women."
Myrrh's use in perfumes and incense dates back to antiquity. The aloe plant has a mild aroma and is best known for use in skin treatments. And the bark of the cassia plant has a familiar, spicy fragrance.
"Myrrh is more flowery. The aloe is very mild and soothing, and cassia is cinnamon," Karen said. "So putting those together is very refreshing, and it's not overpowering at all. Nobody can quite put their finger on the aroma when they try to describe it."
Uecker's first batch of New Essence candles totaled 768.
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"We gave a few away to family and friends, and we sold a few before the KELO story hit, so we were probably down to 700 candles by (last) Friday," Karen said. "Within 24 hours, we were sold out completely."
Karen delivered 72 candles to the Crossroads Books and Music in Sioux Falls on Friday. They were all sold by noon on Saturday.
On Monday morning, she brought Crossroads nearly 200 more candles. They were sold out by 2 p.m. that day.
"I have been answering hundreds of e-mails and phone calls since Friday night," she said. "We have been telling people that they should contact a local store in their area, and have them order them, because we aren't selling to individuals. We are only wholesaling them to stores.
"So now we are having a lot of stores calling and ordering the candle, even though they know they can't get it for Christmas," Karen said. "They are ordering them for January."
And the calls aren't coming just from Christian book stores and general gift shops.
"It's everything � we've had calls from a plumbing and heating company, and a seed store," Karen said.
There's no limit to the ideas the Tosteruds have for New Essence.
"We plan to branch out," Karen said. "We hope to add other products, such as a unity candle for weddings, because the verse describes Christ coming back for is bride, the church, so I think it will fit very well for weddings."
The couple have discussed funeral candles, with the name of the deceased etched on the side. "Every time you light it, you will remember the person who has gone on, and Jesus at the same time, which is a pretty powerful combination," Bob said.
His role at USD is to help inspire entrepreneurship and new business growth in small towns across the state. Bob is pleased that New Essence is helping to fulfill that goal.
The Tosteruds see their business growing beyond candles to also include such products as potpourri, skin lotions, bath oils and perfumes.
The manufacturing of each could be established in several South Dakota small towns, Bob said.
Karen also plans to develop a book of devotions that can be read daily as one experiences the calming influence of the candle's aroma.
"It will be a 40-day devotional. People can read that and light the candle and experience Jesus in new ways," she said.
"All of it is designed to create an environment," Bob said, "where you can experience Jesus in a much more intimate way."
"Just the scent of that in your home should remind you of his presence," Karen said.
Besides being a professor of economics at USD, Bob holds the Freeman chair of entrepreneurial studies at the university, funded by an endowment given to business school by the late Edgar Freeman of Yankton.
Bob teaches entrepreneurship classes in both Vermillion and Sioux Falls. Every day, he gives his students the latest news about the status of New Essence.
"They've been following along, and giving suggestions, and they've been watching a business being born and grow, and the challenges we've had," he said. "It's a real world experience, and it's been tremendously valuable. They're really excited about it."
The USD administration has given Bob permission to discuss New Essence in his classes. He also contacted each student, and told them that if they had problem talking about the business, because of its religious connotations, he would stop. "They've been all tremendously supportive," he said.
The couple admit that creating a new business is a bit of a scary experience. They initially viewed it as a way to supplement their retirement. But to get New Essence off the ground, they will have to invest their private savings.
"We're trying to do it on our own, and not with investors," Karen said. "So every cent we make on the candles, until we can be profitable, will have to go to make more candles."
Because of the high demand for the candles, the Tosteruds plan to have 2,500 candles made in the second batch at Freeman.
"I've had stores ordering them by the gross now," Karen said. "That's 12 boxes. That's 144 candles."
She admits to being introverted, much the opposite of her husband. Karen today finds herself overwhelmed with e-mails and phone calls.
She doesn't mind, however, because the reaction to New Essence has been so positive.
"There was one man who said, 'This must be what heaven smells like, and now we can experience it here.' The candle is a ministry � each candle seems to affect people and change them," Karen said.
Once the company is on firm financial footing, the Tosterunds will practice tithing from the net profits, with a portion of proceeds donated to charitable and philanthropic Christian programs.
"It is our goal for others to know Jesus better and experience him in a more intimate way. We feel these products will be a sensual reminder of our living in his presence," Karen said. "The selection of products and their quality will be done with utmost care, integrity, dignity and respect."
Retailers interested in selling the His Essence candle should contact the Tosteruds at
firstname.lastname@example.org, call toll free 1-877-psalm45, or, by mail: His Essence, P.O. Box 452, Vermillion, SD, 57069-0452.