When it comes to the aromatic arts, giftware sellers are generally well stocked, and contrary to national economic news, well satisfied. Even though sales of decorative gifts like candles, incense, and oil burners took a hit over the past couple of years, most indicators show the category in the midst of a solid, if not spectacular recovery. According to the National Candle Association (NCA), U.S. retail sales of candles, excluding sales of candle accessories, are estimated at $2 billion annually, with candles being used with some regularity in 70 percent of U.S. households. Whether they're for birthdays or other celebrations, outdoor use, utility or religious usage, candles are a household staple.
Per the NCA, there are more than 400 commercial, religious and institutional manufacturers of candles in the United States, as well as untold scores of small craft producers for local, non-commercial use. Candles are sold principally in three types of retail outlets: specialty/gift shops, department/home décor stores, and mass merchandisers (including discount stores, drug store chains, grocery stores, etc.). The association also reports that over one billion pounds of wax are used in producing candles for sale in the U.S. each year, with manufacturers routinely offering between 1,000 and 2,000 varieties of candles in their product lines. About 35 percent of candle sales occur during the winter holiday season, the NCA adds.
In May, the Yankee Candle Company, Inc., the leading designer, manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer of premium scented candles (based on sales) in the giftware industry, reported first quarter 2010 sales of $141 million, an 18.2 percent increase from first quarter 2009. Sales in the company's wholesale business increased by 23.1 percent over the previous first quarter, while retail sales rose by 14.2 percent, versus the prior year first quarter. Retail sales were $73.7 million, an increase of $9.1 million. Retail store comparable sales increased by 9.4 percent over the prior year quarter. Total retail comparable sales, including the Consumer Direct business, increased by 9.1 percent compared to the prior year first quarter.
"We are of course encouraged by the improving trends in the overall economic and consumer environment during the first quarter, and by the solid performance of our businesses," Yankee Candle CEO Harlan Kent said in a statement. "We believe that we have plans in place designed to drive further profitable growth in our business, and to continue to capitalize on any further improvement in economic conditions and consumer shopping patterns. At the same time, we plan to maintain our focus on productivity and efficiency measures, in order to meet our cash flow and debt repayment goals."
And while most candles feature a flower or citrus scent, the aromas available continue to grow. In May, fast food burger chain White Castle launched its "Steam-grilled-on-a-bed-of-onions" scented candles at its online store (www.houseofcrave.com), which sold out in two days. "We're thrilled with the overwhelming customer response to our one-of-a-kind White Castle candle," said vice president of corporate relations, Jamie Richardson. "White Castle fans from around the country have responded so enthusiastically that our online inventory sold out in record time. Best of all, net proceeds from all candle sales will be donated to Autism Speaks." The candles, which sell for $10 apiece and are packaged in a ceramic holder that reproduces the signature cardboard sleeve of the White Castle hamburger packaging, will be available for sale again later this year around the holiday season.
Though not offering hamburger-shaped and scented products, BL Gifts Imports (http://blgiftsimports.com) has also been doing well with its line of candles and oil burners, according to president Brian Black. "We've been doing very well for the past five years," Black declares. "Our fantasy items in particular do pretty well." Fantasy items include several dragon designs, including the two-piece "Dragon of Ra" oil burner set ($9.75 per case of six, or $7.80 per case for orders of six or more), the "Grendles Light Dragon Candle Holder" (an eerie version of a traditional candle holder, priced at $11.25 per case of six or $9 each for orders of six or more; all include three candles), as well as the "Summoner Grim Reaper" oil burner, an understandably macabre offering that's priced at $8.85 per case of eight, or $7.10 for orders of six or more.
BL also offers a number of incense holders (skeleton and Grim Reaper designs go for $4.15 per case of 36, or $3.50 each for orders of 36 or more). The store also offers a variety of nature-themed items in the oil burner and incense holder categories, and requires a $50 minimum on all orders. "This year business started to pick up in June," Black says. "The beginning of the year is typically slow, but as we head into the holidays it picks back up. Customer orders in general are getting larger, and we're getting more and more inquiries about products for the future."
BL tries to stay a step ahead by constantly adding product lines, with wine bottle holders and salt and pepper shakers the latest additions. "With the wine bottle holders, we'd tried one with a bear that was cute and seemed to catch on, so we just added to that," he says. "We're always trying different items, based on what our customers are asking about or trends that we've noticed. You never know for sure what's going to sell."
Oil burners have also been a steady seller at ETS Design (www.etsdesign.com), according to president Susan Liu. "Those have done well for us for many years," she says. "Even though we usually don't put a lot of emphasis on oil burners, we've stood by the quality and service that we provide, and our customers always come back to us." ETS recently added a line of high gloss, high density aroma oil burners in crystal, available in a number of colors; most are priced at $3.50 each/$72 per order of 24. Oil burners highlighted by figurines (deer, crosses, hummingbirds, grapes, etc.) go for $7 each/$78 per order of 12, with decorative wood oil burners similarly priced.
Liu says that the company's best selling gift items are currently its fashion jewelry line, which runs the gamut from crystal, glass and stone pendants, to Pandora-style jewelry and a line of Murano products. "We've put a lot of our marketing effort into that area," she says, "advertising in magazines, on the Internet, and at trade show events." Overall, she adds, "We've been extremely busy lately, which should mean a pretty good holiday season for us."
Business is also starting to pick up at wholesale incense distributor, River Village (www.river-village.com), according to owner Suda Kuyt. "It's definitely a seasonal business for us, so it's always a little slow during the summer," she says. "But once we start getting into the holidays, as we are now, we start to get busier and busier." The Nag Champa line of incense from India remains River Village's steadiest and biggest seller, Kuyt says. A new "Fragrances Startup Kit" that includes 12 each of incense sticks bearing the Nag Champa, Celestial, Midnight, Patchouli Forest, Sandalwood, and Sunrise scents is priced at $40 each; each fragrance is also available for sale individually.
The store's biggest seller remains the 15-gram box of Nag Champa incense in a variety of scents (15 grams usually equals 15 sticks); they're priced at $0.70 each, $0.66 for 36, and $0.62 for 72 pieces. Nag Champa cones, also popular, are priced similarly. Also a strong seller is the Satya line of incense; indeed, many of its products are currently sold out on River Village's website. Satya branded body oils are the most widely available currently, priced at one dollar each.
The company has also had success of late with a new line of tote bags, handmade in India and priced at $3.25 each ($3 each for orders of six or more). Scented oils generally do well, though Kuyt notes that, "They're a bit more expensive. We do about 30 to 40 percent with those, as we do with our incense." Most body oils are priced at $1.90 to $3.75 each. River Village requires a $35 minimum on each order.
Harry Rosenberg, president at Harnel Inc. (www.wholesalecentral.com/harnel), says that his company, which specializes in balloons and greeting cards, has been doing, "Better than expected; we're actually doing pretty well at the moment." Harnel does well with its 18-inch purple star and red heart Mylar balloons (priced at $2.34 per unit of six), as well as its special jumbo Mylar balloons (for birthdays, births, and other such special events), priced at $9.95 per five pack. The company also sells latex balloons in either solid colors ($4.69 per bag) or with messages ("Congratulations," "Happy Birthday," etc.) at $5.89 per bag.
In addition, Rosenberg says, Harnel continues to do solid business with its line of greeting cards, whose price can come out to $0.19 to $0.22 each, depending on style and weight. A line of "3-Deez" cards are usually priced at $3.60 per half dozen. "Our customers have been laying pretty low at the moment," Rosenberg says. "If what's happened the last couple of years happens again, we'll have a lot of them waiting until the last minute to place their orders. We keep our products in stock all the time, so we can handle that. A lot of other companies do not, but it works out well to have the stuff in hand, when somebody calls up on December 15th and wants to place an order."
In the meantime, business, "Has not been as strong as we'd like to see it," at Dakota Steel Art (www.dakotasteelart.com), according to owner, Ray Zajac. "But we're hanging in there, and keep on going." As its name suggests, the Mantador, ND based company specializes in decorative, laser cut stainless steel wind spinners, many with a nature theme (birds, butterflies, dragonflies), but also encompassing pets, motorcycles, religious and American iconography, and a host of other hobby and interest-related designs. The spinners are priced according to size; a 3-inch angel goes for $6, while a "Dancing DNA" double helix design, complete with machine that helps it spin, is priced at $50.
Dakota Steel's latest innovation is a patent pending line of 12-inch to 18-inch "Solar Light Spinners," which includes a solar powered light to give extra illumination to seven different designs, priced at $36 apiece. "People like to see things light up at night," Zajac explains, "and these have proven to be a good product for us." The company is also investing in equipment to allow them to put multiple colors on a given spinner, he says. "That should give another boost to our sales."
For more information:
Brian Black, president
BL Gifts Imports
PO Box 282
2077 Pennington Road
Warriors Mark, PA 16877
Susan Liu, president
1010B Norcross Industrial Court
Norcross, GA 30071
Suda Kuyt, owner
PO Box 208
Mayodan, NC 27027
Toll Free: 800-242-0115
Harry Rosenberg, president
94 Messner Drive
Wheeling, IL 60090
Ray Zajac, owner
Dakota Steel Art
405 County Road 25
Mantador, ND 58058
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