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‘I’ve only been given one life, and I want to live it the way I want to live it’

Adams County business owner donates a portion of sales to heart association

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February 5, 2024

ADAMS – We often hear how some small businesses are created on a whim – with nothing more than an idea and a passion. 

For Nicole Gulrud, her idea came purely by accident – literally.

She had purchased some candles from a major retailer and unintentionally left one burning overnight. 

The next morning, Gulrud said she discovered the candle jar had shattered and there was wax everywhere. 

Given that a fire could have easily started in their newly-built Dallas, Texas-area home, she said the spilled wax was the least of her worries. 

“It made me start to question why (the jar) had shattered,” she said. “In researching why my candle vessel broke, I learned about wicking candles and the different types of candle waxes. This specific brand was 100% paraffin wax, and the reason the vessel shattered was because it got too hot. The wicks were too large for the vessel they were in – they got too hot and caused the vessel to shatter.”

It was then, Gulrud said, that her husband, Michael, suggested she make her own candles. 

So what does one do when they want to learn how to do something – head to the internet.

Gulrud said by watching videos, she learned about different waxes and the best way to wick candle vessels. 

Having moved themselves and their two sons – Michael Jr., then 20, and Hunter, then 15 – to Dallas from Wisconsin in 2020 after she and Michael both accepted promotions within their companies, Gulrud said she initially started pouring candles as a way to meet their new neighbors.

“I poured candles and invited neighbors over to pick out their favorite scents,” she said. “That was how I initially met people. After that, I started going to different vendor events and farmers’ markets.”

Gulrud said she made the decision right off the bat that she wanted her candles to be as clean-burning and sustainable as possible.

“My candles are 100% soy wax,” she said.

At the time, Gulrud said, many of her candles were lavender-scented – which eventually prompted a lavender farm to approach her about wholesaling her candles. 

That, she said, led to her doing custom blends for the farm, and got the idea of making soap. 

“Making soap is like an art,” she said. “You never know what it’s going to turn out like. I make cold-process soap, which takes four to six weeks to cure. The colors might be dark when you put them in, but by the time the soap cures, it could be a different color.”

Gulrud said it was important to her to use clean scents in her soap. 

“Phthalates are chemicals used in many soaps and body care products, but they are also chemicals that can trigger headaches, especially in people who are sensitive to scents,” she said. “So, all fragrances I use in my products are all phthalate-free.”

Life took a dramatic turn

With sales going well, Gulrud said the Solsikke Soap & Candle Company was officially born in October 2021. 

But then, as fate would have it, in August 2022, Gulrud, then 45, learned she was in the advanced stages of heart failure and would eventually need a transplant. 

“The right side of my heart was only functioning at 29%,” she said. “That was quite the shock. I’m in stage C right now – when it becomes stage D, I’ll be deemed critical and placed on a transplant list.”

At the time of this diagnosis, Gulruds said they had been living in Dallas for just a little more than two years – but knew a move back home was inevitable. 

“It was a tough decision to leave Texas and come back home to Wisconsin, but I knew it was what was best for me…,” she said. “I knew I would need the support network of my family for this journey.”

So, in October 2022, the family moved back to Wisconsin, settling back in the Adams area. 

Heart problems from an early age

Though learning about her advanced stage of heart failure in her mid-40s was stunning, Gulrud said she had some heart issues when she was young and knew heart disease ran in her family. 

In 1995, when she was 16, her 14-year-old brother passed away suddenly from a heart attack. At that time, she said the medical field didn’t know much about the heart disease Gulrud now suffers from, but as more college and professional athletes began to pass unexpectedly or have cardiac issues, she said the disease became more well-known. 

Shortly after her brother’s passing, Gulrud said she went to give blood, during which her pulse skipped, causing some concern for the technicians. 

“Subsequently, a health check was performed, and it was discovered (that) I did have an issue,” she said. “Extensive testing was done to try to determine what the problem was, but no one could figure it out – I just went on with my life.” 

Twelve years later, at age 28, Gulrud said she blacked out for no reason. 

She said she was hospitalized for about a week and doctors again tried to determine what was going on. 

“I had a team at Meritor in Madison working hard to try to figure out what had happened,” she said. “They ended up doing a cardiac MRI and (I was diagnosed with ARVC) which is what they called it at the time. It has since changed to ARVD (arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia), which is a leading cause of sudden death among young athletes, but can affect people of all ages and all activity levels.” 

Gulrud said she was given a defibrillator two days later and since then has pretty much lived a normal life – continuing to be athletic for many years, including hiking with her husband.

Gulrud said her care is being supervised and condition treated by different teams at the hospital at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Health). 

“They’ve been trying to slow down the progression of the heart disease with five different medications, which are adjusted as necessary, every couple of months or so,” she said. 

Gulrud said her team is keeping a close eye on things.

“They’re watching my kidneys and lungs,” she said. “My kidney function so far is still normal, and my lung function has improved since coming back from Dallas.”

Business as usual

Gulrud said though she can no longer go on long walks or hikes, and most days, she can barely walk from her car to the front door of work without having to stop to take a deep breath – continuing with Solsikke Soap & Candle Company helps her remain positive.

“It’s been an adjustment because we were such active hikers,” she said. “But making candles and soap takes my mind off where I’m at with my heart failure journey.”

Gulrud said she has continued moving forward with her business aspirations, including opening a brick-and-mortar store last June at 169 S. Main St. in Adams.

“That gave me the space to display more products and gave me a permanent space in town rather than trying to make candles in my home (and sell them that way),” she said. “People can come into the shop anytime on the weekend when I’m there working.”

Still working a full-time job in Greenfield, Gulrud said she makes the two-hour drive to Adams on the weekends to be with her family and run her candle and soap shop.  

“I’m all about creating opportunities for other people, and one of my girlfriend’s daughters wanted to become an entrepreneur,” she said. “She wanted to have a small space in my shop for boutique clothing, so I created that opportunity for her. She will occasionally open my shop on Fridays, so usually, we’re open one to two Fridays a month plus Saturdays and Sundays.”

Gulrud said with her husband being in Adams and working the third shift, he also helps out. 

“If I get an email that someone wanted to stop by the shop (during the week), he will run up to the shop and open it up for the customer,” she said. “I do have some customers who can’t make it to town on weekends, so we’ll take appointments during the week.”

People can also purchase products from the website and have them shipped to them. 

Gulrud said there is also a beauty salon in Oshkosh that is interested in wholesaling her products in their salon in the near future.

Using the business to give back

When Gulrud opened the physical store, she said she got the idea of donating 1% of all sales to the American Heart Association to help those needing a heart transplant – kindred spirits if you will.

Donations can also be made directly to the association from the shop’s website at 

“We never know in our lives where or when we’re going to need the gift of life from someone else,” she said. “I feel like our cause is a great cause to have – giving back to others. I have that personal connection because, at some point in my life, I’m going to get the gift of life from someone else.”  

Gulrud said she currently carries more than 425 different candle scents and sales are always increasing – which means there’s more money going toward the American Heart Association. 

“Making the candles and soap is a great way for me to express my creativity and my artistic abilities,” she said. “I don’t know how big I want my business to be when it grows up.” 

More information on Solsikke Soap & Candle Company can also be found on its Facebook page.

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