How To Start a Candle Business
Fifteen years ago, when I started making my own candles, there weren’t a lot of online resources. Today, Google searching “how to start a candle business” will yield about 70 MILLION results (not a typo). Readers, meet number 70 million and one! Hey, I get it, folks just want to get that side hustle rolling and don’t have time for 70 articles, never mind 70,000,001. I feel confident that this article will provide anyone, who wants to start a candle business, the knowledge for a solid foundation.
First off, don’t let these big numbers scare you off from starting your candle business. It’s true, the artisan candle competition pool is huge, plus you’re competing with the big companies that can mass produce candles at a much lower cost. However, the news is still good because, the scented candle market is even bigger than huge and is projected, by all research, to continue growing steadily every year through the early 2030’s. The way I see it, 70 million search results only support the size and relevance of this industry.
As the owner of a wholesale candle supply store, I was compelled to write “number 70 million and one” because, I spend a pretty good chunk of my workday sharing knowledge and experience with my customers because, it’s the best part of owning and operating this business.
Just last week I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with a mother/daughter team who want to start a candle business. They were already signed up for craft shows and purchased supplies but, didn’t have any candle making experience AT ALL. Again, I get it, sometimes putting the cart before the horse is what it takes to get going on a new venture. However, having a vison, a plan and the knowledge to act on them will only save hours of frustration, disappointment and the hit to your bank account, in the long run.
Making candles isn’t rocket science but, it IS science. Actually, it’s a mix of interdisciplinary skills that requires a business sense, a creative and artistic mind and an understanding of the science and math that’s required in successful candle making. The 6 steps outlined below are generally what I covered with the aspiring candle business team, as well as anyone else who’s asked me for guidance. They are based on 15 years of observation, experience and pretty much every mistake that could have been made and learned from.
Document your vision and goals- Why do you want to start a candle business and what do the candles you want to make look like? The possibilities are endless but, just to start, think about what type of candles you want to make. Are they pillar, molds, container or melts? What kind of themes, shapes, containers, colors, wax, wicks, fragrance oils? These are all important questions to consider because they are all part of your vision. You can create a vision board that includes those ideas as well as images of candles you like, sketches of your candle line, label designs, etc. and put it aside for later.
What are your goals? Some candle makers just want to fund their holiday shopping list and sell at a few craft shows, while others want to transition their candle business into their full-time career. Most are looking for a side hustle and a way to manage a candle business with their “day job”. Having a clear vision of your candle business goals will also help you create a brand and product line that’s right for you.
Case Study: I’m a single mom of a toddler, I work outside the home part-time and want to turn my interest in candles into a side hustle business, where I can work from my basement while my son plays, naps, etc. I want to be able to supplement the income of my part-time job and eventually transition into making my candle business my full-time career. I love candles that are in a container because they feel safer to have in the house to me with an active toddler and also like melts because I can drop them in a warmer that’s plugged in out of my son’s reach. I want the wax, wicks and fragrance oils to be as environmentally friendly as possible and love clean, fresh fragrances.
Determine your niche and target market- While there are plenty of potential customers, more and artisan candle makers are popping up every day. If you want to be able to compete and find your place in the market, it’s important to “niche down” as much as possible and identify your target market.
So, who is your target market? If you answered “people who buy candles”, join the club that includes every single candle business on earth. This is where you refer back to your vision and goals and start listing additional characteristics of your target market such as:
- Intended use of the candle
- Preferred fragrances
- Style of candle
- Type of candle
Customer’s gender identity
Case Study: My target customer would be mothers of younger children who are on a budget but have some money to spend on personal indulgences. They burn candles to relax and “escape” and enjoy fresh, spa type and relaxing fragrances. They are conscious of what their children will be breathing in so they prefer natural waxes, fragrances free of as many potentially harmful chemicals as possible and lead-free wicks. They also like their candles to blend into their décor and prefer simple glass or cement tumblers.
3. Brand your business- some may think this should come higher on the list but, it’s my belief that it’s a lot easier to brand a business when you know the answers to the questions asked above. Your brand is simply the visual identity that connects the consumer with your product line or service, keeping your target market(s) in mind.
Case Study: I will Google search “candles for <the target market characteristic>” and save images and ideas that appeal to me on a digital vision board. When I’m finished gathering my inspiration, I will either consult with a graphic designer or design my own branding book (logo, colors, typography, imagery, etc.).
Learn how to make candles and know your supplies- again, not rocket science but, there is a science to successful candle making. The goal in making a scented candle is ending up with a product that is safe, burns evenly, smells good and looks good to the customer. How you combine your ingredients will determine whether or not you have an even burning candle with a good fragrance throw or just a hot mess. Using container candle making as an example:
a. Vessel- The last thing you want is to have a customer purchase a candle, have it crack, leak hot wax all over and possibly start a fire, knowing it was your negligence that caused it to happen. Choosing vessels with your target market in mind is key but, there are other factors to consider as well such as whether or not your vessel is heat tempered, sealed, and consistent in diameter.
Case Study: I’m going to make a candle line in a cement jar that holds a total of 12 oz. of liquid but more like 9-10 oz the correct pour point. The diameter of the inside of the jar is 2.95”. It has been properly sealed and is heat safe.
b. Wax- There are so many waxes on the market today compared to when I started making candles, when it was basically paraffin, beeswax and soy, the early years. Recent additions include coconut and apricot but, the thing to keep in mind is that all waxes have different melt points and will react differently to the same wicks and fragrance oils.
Choose a wax that algins with your vision, brand and target market because, it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t sell many candles to a target market who’s environmentally conscious if you’re using paraffin wax.
Case Study: Because I enjoy making and burning candles that look and smell great but, leave the lightest possible carbon footprint. After researching all the types of candle waxes on the market, I’ve decided to use a coconut soy blend wax.
c. Wicks- Often the most underestimated yet, the most important factor to consider in good candle making. Study wicks and don’t use lead filled. Most wicks used in today’s candles are cotton core or wood wicks and, in the case of candle making, size absolutely matters!
Case Study: I’m using coconut soy wax blend in my cement vessel that’s 2.95” in diameter. My Ultra-Core wicks are sized based on the melt pool they will create but, were tested with paraffin wax. Because coconut soy blend wax is much softer, I will need to “wick down” because the UC 3.000 that would create the correct melt pool with paraffin wax will be too big/burn too fast for my coconut soy blend wax. I think I’ll try the UC 2.775 and TEST BURN before mass producing.
d. Fragrance Oil- Study fragrance oils for candle making as, they are made for any scented product and aren’t necessarily interchangeable (this is where the chemistry comes in). Wholesale suppliers, like me, partner with a fragrance oil manufacturer and count on them to meet our requirements and align with our business values. In my store, I focus on the “cleanest” oils possible by choosing fragrances that are phthalate free, California Proposition 65 compliant, skin friendly, etc.
Also, in the candle business, oils are measured by liquid weight and not volume because fragrance oils contain different ingredients and, the actual weights can vary. In other words, you can look at 6 different 1 oz. bottles of fragrance oil for candle making and all the levels can be different in the bottle. Yet, they’re all still 1 oz. and that’s how you should weigh them when adding to your melted wax to add the amount you should be adding and not too much. Adding too much fragrance oil will not give your candle a stronger fragrance throw (smell stronger), it will only cause it to burn poorly because the wax can only hold so much fragrance and the excess will clog the wick and cause all sorts of issues.
Case Study: I’ve chosen a few fragrance oils to add to the line I’m developing. Because I can use 7-10% of oil to wax, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, I’ve decided to test 2 different fragrance loads (the percentage of fragrance oil to wax) to get an idea of what the fragrance throw (how strong it will smell after curing) will be on both ends of the range. I will place my UC 2.775 wicks in in 2 cement jars and will start by melting 8 oz. of my coconut soy blend wax for this test (because I already know that’s the amount that will fit into my jar). After the wax is melted and at the correct temperature to add my fragrance oil, I will add 7% of fragrance oil to the melted wax. According to my calculator, that would be about .56 oz of fragrance. After I stir and pour, I’ll repeat the process and add 10%, which is .80 oz. I will need my candles to cure for a couple, few weeks to get a good hot fragrance throw and will decide after test burning, how much of each fragrance I need to use in production.
Develop your product line- you’ve reflected, researched, evaluated, documented, determined your target market, branded your candle making business and learned how to make candles. Now you’re ready to produce and launch your candle line. I feel like any new candle business is going to do much better by keeping it simple and, starting with one line. This makes it easier ot evaluate the results of your plan and making necessary adjustments before launching additional lines. Having a clear vision and knowing your target market will help with this process.
This is also when you would decide how to price your candles. With so many factors to consider in this process, it’s most important to remember that there’s no one formula that will work for everyone. You will be considering cost to make the candles, your target market, competitive prices in the area (because someone might pay $35 for a 9 oz. candle in Manhattan but, that same candle might sell for $12 in a small mid-west town).
Case Study: I’ve decided on 10 unique, fresh, relaxing, spa like fragrances to use in my cement tumblers. To offer variety at the craft shows I signed up for, I’ve also decided to use the same fragrances in 6 oz. silver tins with lids and breakaway melts. I will name the line and fragrances to appeal to my target market. After calculating the cost to make my candles and researching the competition, I’ve decided my cement jars will be $12 each or 3/$30, my tins will be $7.50 each or 3/$20 and my melts will be $4 each or 3/$10.
Establish an online presence- Regardless of what your goals are for you candle business, everyone needs their customers/target market to know how and where they can purchase your products. Again, knowing your target market will help you know where to focus your social media efforts. Using app like Social Media Demographics to Inform Your 2022 Strategy | Sprout Social will help you understand where your target market spends their time.
Case Study: After researching where my target market spends their time on the internet, I’ve decided to sell my coconut/soy candles in an Etsy shop e-commerce platform and will be marketing them on Facebook and Instagram. I will also do some Tik-Tok videos to drive traffic to my Etsy shop.
These are just a few of the important steps to consider when deciding to start your own candle business. Naturally, there are others, mostly the “red tape” steps that I’ve decided to save for another article. It’s more important to me that number 70 million and one focuses on the creative process and saving topics like registering your business, taxes, insurance, etc. for another day.
I hope, after reading this, you understand there’s more to starting a candle business than tossing melted wax, some fragrance oil and wick into a random jar and slapping a label on them. More importantly, I hope you read something that left you feeling inspired and ready to pursue that nagging idea or dream.