Spring 2010
Candles’ Glowing Appeal By Sue Marquette Poremba

The time-tested gift shop staple has held its own even during a recession. Find out why candles continue to light up every retailer’s bottom line.

Shoppers who visit Wilson and Wilson Folk Art Gallery in Eureka, AK, can always smell a candle burning.

Owner Blakely Wilson says she burns one candle—A Cheerful Giver’s Praline Caramel Sticky Bun scented candle—year-round. And the sales have followed. The model for setting out testers seems to especially work on men, Wilson reports. They often smell the candle and end up buying one.

Wilson has been selling candles for the past eight years after seeing the vendor’s candles in a magazine. She’s since discovered that candles are popular items for her
customers. “We have people who will order a dozen candles at a time,” Wilson says.

Sizzling sales

This isn’t surprising. The National Candle Association reports that 70% of all households burn candles, with U.S. retail sales at $2 billion. And that doesn’t include candle accessories.

“Candles have traditionally been a sought-after gift item because they’re always a welcome gift (for the recipient) and are relatively inexpensive (for the giver) and there’s a wide range of selections,” says Barbara Miller, spokesperson for the Washington D.C.-based National Candle Association.

Especially attractive about candles for retailers, says Colleen B. Booth, is the fact that they are not a one time only purchase. Customers will buy candles over and over again. “For retailers candles are a critical product category to feature, due to their popularity as well as the fact they are a replenishable business,” says Booth, director of
product development for Fragrant Passage Candle Co. of Greensboro, NC. “Consumers purchase them, burn them and come back to replenish them. Replenishable products are critical to establish and maintain a strong customer return rate. The more frequently a customer returns to a store the more opportunities to sell to them.”

What customers want

Consumers want quality in the way candles look and, perhaps even more important, in the fragrance they throw, says Jon Haveman from Lakeshore Candle Company in Zeeland, MI. “The quality of the fragrance throw creating ambiance in the home is a major factor in candle sales. The appearance, price, and quality of the burn also
are strong factors,” Haveman says. To ensure a clean, long-lasting burn, Lakeshore Candle Company makes its own cotton and paper core wicks.

­­Grace Dul agrees that fragrance is key in some candle sales. The sales administrator at Vance Kitira International in Little Falls, NJ, points out that unscented candles also occupy a special niche in the industry. For example, when entertaining, especially ­­­during a meal, customers might not want a fragrance to interfere with the ambiance but might still want candles burning.

Vance Kitira’s Timber Candles are their best sellers. These are distressed textured pillar candles that are banded and tied with palm and bamboo shreds. They come in 32 different colors and 13 sizes, ranging from a 2×4 inch candle to a pillar 24 inches tall.

Home accents

So what is it about candles that make them both a popular gift and home accessory for so many people?

Robyn Spizman, co-founder of TheGiftionary.com, a national gift guide, explains it this way: “When candles went from being a functional item to a decorative item, the candle industry understood that it had a product that elicits a feeling. Candles make us feel loved; they brighten our day; they bring a decorative style to our homes and create ambiance and elegance. Consumers began to recognize that candles have a personality, and they became an economical and functional way to enhance décor.”

Pam Danziger of Unity Marketing, a market research firm in Stevens, PA, agrees with Spizman. “Candles are an emotional purchase,” she says. “They go a long way in influencing the mood of the home.”

What’s more, vendors are paying attention to this use of candles as home accents and crafting candles with specific color palettes in mind. Design and color trends are important, Dul from Vance Kitira points out. “Apart from being [given as gifts], candles are used by most as home décor. So it is essential for us to select colors and design patterns that reflect up-and-coming trends. We research this each time before any new candles and colors are presented,” Dul says.

Candle choices

Amongst Fragrant Passage Candle Co.’s top-selling products are its Coffee To Go candles. These are coffee flavor fragranced candles packaged in “to-go” cups. Also popular are the Gem Lights, which are clear wax candles with a premium fragrance. When burning, it has the shimmering elegance of a gemstone.

A Cheerful Giver, based in Elmer, NJ, has 75 fragrances. Owner Tony Gross says the Praline Caramel Sticky Bun candle is one of the top-selling scents in the company’s Keeper of Light jar candle line. “Our fragrances are true to life,” Gross says, explaining the popularity of his candles. A Cheerful Giver’s best-selling candle is Juicy Apple, while the recently introduced Lavender Vanilla is growing quickly in popularity.


In Unity Marketing’s 2007 Gifts & Decorative Accents report, candles and candle accessories ranked as the most purchased home furnishing and decorative accent item. One of the reasons it ranks so high is because candles are an item purchased—either as a gift or for personal use—by a wide demographic, at least by age.

And while as Blakely Wilson found out, men buy candles too, the overwhelming majority of candle buyers are women. The National Candle Association states that women make 90% of candle purchases, yet both men and women agree that candles make an “always acceptable and appreciated gift for a wide variety of occasions.”

Popular sizes

The National Candle Association reports that votives, container, and pillar candles are the most popular types of candles sold in the United States. While the vendors say their top-selling candles fit into one of those three styles, the popular products appear to vary depending on the brand. For example, Haveman has found that candles that retail for under $18 are the most popular. These include the company’s oversized votives that burn for 25 hours and poured candles that range in size from 6 to 18 ounces. Dul reports that Vance Kitira pillars in 3-inch, 6-inch, and 9-inch sizes are among the company’s popular offerings.

Peggy Harris, director of publicity for Aromatique Inc. says the Heber Springs, AK-based company carries 15 different sizes of candles, but their most popular are candles between 5-7 ounces. “People seem to like variety and change the fragrance frequently,” she says. The smaller jar candles, which have a burn time of 40-60 hours, fit those specs, as do the always-popular votive candles.

Dean Rappaport of Delray Beach, FL’s, Eclipse Home Decor, LLC, says his company’s most popular candles burn for 80 hours. However, these candles are a bit different than other styles on the market. The candle design comes from the 1600s, when candles were rolled. A section of the beeswax candle is unrolled and lit, burning until the wick runs out. This allows the user to decide how long the candle will burn. Refills are available.

A dash of luxury

There is another aspect about candles worth emphasizing—they allow customers to indulge. Candles offer an opportunity to create a spa-like atmosphere in the home.

“During difficult economic times consumers will look for ways to nourish their emotional well-being in affordable ways,” says Booth. “So whether it is having friends over for
dinner instead of eating out, or taking a long, hot bath surrounding by fragranced candlelight, today’s consumer is getting creative and making their homes become their favorite getaway. Candles are the perfect accent to create a spa-like experience in any room of the home,” she adds.

These luxury candles involve the highest quality wax and fragrance. “Like crafting fine wine, candle creation requires expertise in science and the olfactory arts. A luxury candle embodies the fusion of those two fields,” says Rachel Sutherland, public relations spokesperson at Votivo, based in Spartanburg, S.C. “We have our own in-house perfumer that mixes, strategizes and computes the exact fragrance formulations that will elicit specific moods or moments. His name is Mike Licciardello, but we call him ‘the nose,” she adds.

Customers enjoy luxury candles using them as home furnishing accents or to have the fragrance set a mood. However—and perhaps this is another reason why
candles make such a popular gift purchase—they can also fit a wide range of interests hence catering to a variety of customers. People who collect teddy bears or frogs, for example, likely have frog candles in their collection. Candles come in souvenir tins or in holiday-shaped jars. A Cheerful Giver has jack-o-lantern, beehive, and snowmen candle jars that come with holiday-appropriate scented candles.

An eye on green

Fragrant Passage offers recycled votives, which are made from the leftover wax from different production runs. “Instead of disposing off this wax we re-melt it and pour it into a line of value-priced recycled votives. This product is great for our retailers’ margins, our customers’ budgets and most importantly Mother Earth,” Booth says.

Just as candles come in all shapes and sizes, the materials they are made of is also varied. Paraffin wax and beeswax candles scented with a variety of essential and fragrance oils are standard favorites. These days, candles crafted using a variety of vegetable-based materials including soy and palm, are vendors’ responses to increasing consumer demand for natural products.

Selling candles

Because of their overwhelming popularity, candles aren’t difficult to sell, but there is always room for improvement. “My best advice is to avoid spreading candles around the store,” says Gross. People like to smell them, he adds, so put them in a central location, all together, so customers can compare and contrast.

Gross also includes a sampling program, where his retailers can give out small samples of his candle products with the purchase of another product. “This has yielded good results,” he says. “Customers are able to sample a candle and come back looking for more of the product.”

Peggy Harris thinks burning a candle near the checkout counter is another way to encourage candle sales. Harris adds that most candle consumers like to purchase and burn candles that enhance seasonal natural fragrances. Floral scents are popular in the spring, while fragrances that include apples and cinnamon are staples in the fall.

Bryan Poole, vice president of SampleHouse & CandleShop in Dallas, TX, says buying candles can be overwhelming. “It is hard to pick the right one,” says Poole. “I have always said that candles are like perfume and are a personal preference so we don’t really try to push one scent or line over another. They have to sell themselves to the customer.”

Whatever methods you use to sell them, there is no doubt candles remain a gift shop staple. Poole found candles continued to be popular even during the recession.

“They are therapeutic by nature and have a way of making a house smell like a home. Even in a down economy most everyone will want to pamper themselves in some way. A candle is a perfect response,” he adds.

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Sue Marquette Poremba

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in State College, PA. She specializes in technology, engineering, energy, and IT security topics. She has also published over a dozen essays and is the author of a book about the Philadelphia Phillies.

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