David and Wendi Kast started making candles out of curiosity. For years, they made candles as a way to relax from their daily grind and for their own enjoyment.
Candle making was simply their hobby until friends began clamoring for more and offered to buy their candles. The increasing demand and change in circumstances forced the couple to rethink their hobby into a serious business.
By improving their craft and learning a few more skills, they have been able to turn their candle making into a profitable at-home business. David and Wendi now operate Contemporary Candles (http://www.contemporarycandles.com), offering a variety of candle products from holiday and seasonal candles to “super-scented” crystal wax melts.
Learn how David and Wendi Kast have managed to convert their hobby into a thriving business in this interview with Wendi.
When and how did you start creating candles?
We’ve been making candles for a couple of years now. I was curious about how they were made so I bought some books on the subject. After reading those I decided to see if there were more resources on the Internet, and there was a wealth of information available! I joined some mailing lists and started asking questions, playing with different wax and additives, and realized it was something I really enjoyed. Dave, my husband, was just as interested and was learning right along with me. We have a great time coming up with new ideas for candles and fragrance combinations!
Creating beautiful candles started as your hobby. What convinced you to transform this hobby into a business?
I had originally *never* intended to make it a business! I just really enjoyed making the candles for myself, because I truly enjoy them. As I learned more about the craft, I realized it involves a lot of testing. Every wax, fragrance oil, additive, and wick can produce a different result. Eventually, we ended up with so many candles it was becoming impossible to test them all, so we gave some of them to friends, family and co-workers along with test sheets, and asked them to burn the candles and give us the results on wick performance, scent throw, etc. People began to ask if they could buy the candles and we kept protesting that it was just a hobby–we weren’t selling them.
In April of 2001, however, I was laid off from my part-time job as a Human Resources assistant. I decided to work on a website and try to turn my much-loved hobby into a business because the job market was so tough at the time. When we realized it was really going to take off, I stopped my job search and focused on the candle business full time.
What were the challenges that you faced during your start-up phase?
Probably the biggest challenge was finding customers. We are pretty much a web-only presence, except for a few local sales here and there, so we needed to convince people that our candles were worth taking a chance on. Once we got those initial customers and they told their friends about us, it really helped our business grow.
The next challenge after we found those customers was getting through the first holiday season unscathed. We were very surprised at the volume of sales and were caught off guard. We worked well past midnight for weeks to be able to make and ship the candles in time and tried at the same time to have some family time with our two young children as well. After the holiday season was over, we reviewed what we could have done better and we feel we have a good plan in place for this year.
Aside from your site ContemporaryCandles.com, how else are you distributing your products?
Our website is the only way we sell at the moment. Because we both have moderate-to-severe hearing losses, doing craft fairs would be very difficult for us. We did consignment in a shop for a short while but decided it was more worth the effort to build the website and use that as our main sales tool.
How has your web presence helped your business?
Our web presence *is* our business at this point! Without the website, we would most likely not be selling candles. Just about every other popular method for selling candles–through craft fairs and flea markets, in your own shop, or through in-home parties–would just be too difficult for us (and not at all enjoyable). We are always updating and keeping our website current since it is the only way our customers really ‘know’ us.
For those thinking of starting a candle making business, would this be a good business for them to start from home? And why?
I think this is an excellent home-based business. Every aspect of making a candle is easily done in the home, and although the supplies do take up some room, they really don’t take very much space. Of course, you can also do this from a shop that’s not inside the home, if you wish, but the beauty of it is that you don’t have to. Some people, however, prefer to keep their kitchen for food preparation and don’t want to worry about wax dribbling onto their countertops, so if you have room for a separate workshop in your home then that is the best option. 🙂
Is a candle making business expensive to start and manage?
Yes, it’s fairly expensive to start because of the quantity and range of products you need. Beyond the actual equipment to melt wax, the molds and other equipment (pouring pots, ladles, etc.) you need to buy wax, wicks, wick tabs, dye, fragrance oil and containers if you are making any kind of container candles. If you aren’t lucky enough to live near a wax supplier, shipping is really expensive since a case of wax weighs anywhere from 50 to 62 pounds, and you will go through a case of wax before you know it! By the time you finish testing and find a combination that works well, you’ve used a lot of wax and fragrance oil (which can also be very expensive)!
The initial purchases to find the quality materials that you want can be very expensive. Managing isn’t quite as bad as the initial start-up costs, however, once you settle on products you know and trust. If you work out of your home, you save yourself the overhead costs of operating a store. Insurance can also be rather expensive and difficult to find, due to the nature of the business.
How did you fund your business?
Our business was funded entirely with personal funds. We had many of the supplies we needed since we had already been making candles as a hobby for quite a while. As business picked up and we needed wax, fragrance oils and molds in greater quantities, we poured every penny from sales back into the business.
How are you marketing your business?
Search engine placement is important to us and brings us a lot of business. We encourage people to tell their friends and family about us with a referral program. We are listed in many online craft malls and we have advertised in select publications as well. Word of mouth continues to bring us many customers, and of course, we pass out business cards and candle samples to just about everyone! Online candle parties have also been really popular–a hostess/host emails invitations to friends and family and when they place an order, they use a specific party number. At the end of the party period (usually two weeks), the host/hostess earns discounts and free merchandise based on the amount of sales from the party.
What makes the candle making business right for you?
This business encompasses all of the things both Dave and I enjoy–the actual creation of a candle is a passion of ours. Dave excels in the technical aspect of things and he also expanded our workshop when we needed more room. I’m able to express my creativity through the candles and the website, which I really enjoy. We’re able to work from home and be here when our children need us, and our hearing loss does not affect the work we do. We can choose our hours and the way we want to do business (i.e., online) … and email is a blessing for those of us with a hearing loss! 🙂
Has this business always been easy? Did you ever think about giving up?
It has never been easy, but it has always been fun! The main thing for us is that we enjoy candle making so much–it really never feels like work. However, we are doing something related to the business at almost all waking hours of the day so it has gotten overwhelming at times. We’ve never thought about giving up, though, because it’s all been worth it!
What advice can you give someone who wants to start this business?
Take your time, and don’t give up! It takes a lot of time and money to get started and to put out a quality product, but it’s worth it. The worst thing you can possibly do is to rush into it and sell a candle that is unsafe or that burns badly. Take the time to test and really know the materials you are working with. Be creative and have fun!
Any other advice or tips
Find a special item to make that is unique to you; there’s a lot of competition out there, and you want to find a way to stand out and make people remember you. Don’t spread yourself too thin–find the products you make well, and do your best to them. Trying to do too many different varieties can be overwhelming … we found this out the hard way and cut back on some of the items that were too time-consuming to make. Every few months, take a look at sales and see what products might need some changes to help them sell better. We’ve found even renaming a fragrance that wasn’t selling well can make a big difference!
Article originally published on August 2002
Recommended Books on Candle Making Business:
- Candlemaking for Profit: A Practical Guide for Small-Scale Producers
- Step by Step Guide to Starting a Candle Business
- The Ultimate Guide to Soy Candlemaking From Hobby Enthusiasts to Business Professionals
- B to B CANDLE MAKING – Beginners to Business
- Custom Candle Business
Category: Business Ideas