Linda Tardiff’s Salem roots run deep.
She and her husband Gerard live in the house Gerard’s grandfather built in South Salem. Two generations of the family lived in Salem before that.
Gerard’s father, Francis Tardiff, was known as “The Birdman of Salem.” He took in two abandoned parakeets and bred them to a flock of approximately 350 birds. When people buying the parakeets complained about inferior seed, he developed his own and built a successful business selling to pet stores and individuals.
This entrepreneurial spirit extended to Rita Tardiff, wife of Francis. After teaching cake decorating to local women, she developed a line of products first sold from her front porch, then at the site of the Jefferson Café. It was known to many Salemites and called Rita’s Party Fare.
Flash forward to 1976, when Linda Tardiff, working for Kelly Services with a secretarial associate’s degree from Endicott College, began hosting lingerie parties and went on to a long career with UndercoverWear, Inc. The home party plan model was similar to the Tupperware craze.
Working against some negative connotations about the business, Linda became one of its top sellers, traveling all over the world and making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in the 1980s.
“It has a reputation of something for people who aren’t very smart,” she said. “You don’t know what else to do in life, so you sell plastic products.”
Previously an independent contractor, Linda then incorporated Satin Doll Enterprises and sold UndercoverWear products. The name came from a comment from Gerard, who said of her and her colleagues “you sell satiny items and you’re all dolls to me.”
After many years, Linda joined Petra Fashions, Inc., a privately held lingerie company in Danvers. Unfortunately, the company was plagued by mismanagement and was soon sold by the owner to an investment banking firm.
“All of a sudden we got called into a meeting and we were told the company was filing for Chapter 7,” she said.
Linda says she and others were then flown by private jet from Beverly to Ohio, where her bosses wanted them to check out a company that was slated to buy Petra Fashions. It turned out to be a sex toy manufacturer.
“I came home and cried for a month...,” she said.
Now Linda found herself out of work, having to write a resume for the first time in her life.
“I had to find work to keep the house which was not easy with my age and background,” she said. “Some people looked at me and thought I was overqualified, while others didn’t know how to check me out because I had always worked for myself, or the companies were shut.”
Before embarking on her current venture, Linda spent time at a variety of jobs, often at the same time. She worked the Simon’s welcome center at the North Shore Mall, babysat at the Jewish Community Center in Marblehead, and even peddled Aidell’s meatballs in local supermarkets.
Then she got a call from David Oreck’s people, wanting someone to help build a home-based party business. Her response: “I’m not going to sell vacuum cleaners.”
The David Oreck Candle Company manufactures candles in the United States and Oreck is a proponent of creating jobs for American workers. The products and the company’s business model were attractive to Linda.
“Anything I sell I have to believe in,” she says. “I had to know it was a product that was going to sell, people would like it and it was a viable income for me. I’m offering an opportunity for women to make money and be home with their children.”
Linda says that Oreck’s candles are made of soy and vegetable wax, which is more eco-friendly and of better quality than imported candles often made of tallow, or animal fat. Oreck’s candles tend to hold their scent longer too.
“I never realized how much there was to know about a candle,” she says.
In August, Linda joined the company full-time to build the Northeast region. She says her life has changed and her outlook keeps her going.
“Life is so different for me in the way I think about material things and my family,” she says. “You need to keep a positive mindset and know that things will turn out OK, as hard as that can be.”
With so much marketing experience, Linda maintains a slew of online resources to grow the business. Her personal website features blog entries about her recent meetings all over the country. You can view a presentation of the candle products here and the main David Oreck Candle Company page here.