#HandMadeChat No. 51: How To Start Your Own Handmade Candle Business

On Thursdays, Indie Business Network hosts #HandmadeChat, a Twitter talk show to educate, train and inspire creative and artisan entrepreneurs to become profitable business owners. While the show is aimed mainly at entrepreneurs who make and sell handmade consumer products, the topics and discussions can empower and encourage the growth of any small business.

This chat was sponsored by OnlineLabels.com. Your one stop source for blank laser, inkjet and thermal labels for your printer.

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Our guest was Chelsea Elam of Yum Yum Candle in Florham Park, New Jersey. Chelsea makes unique and fanciful soy candles in scents like: Limoncello, Gray Cashmere, and Beach Bellini.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE “NATURAL,” WHEN IT COMES TO CANDLES?

Chelsea Elam: Though we are not members and we're talking about candles and not body care products, we like the definition that the National Products Association uses for natural personal care products: A product labeled “natural” should be made up of only, or at least almost only (95% is the guideline), natural ingredients, and should be manufactured with appropriate processes to maintain ingredient purity. Synthetic ingredients are permitted if they are “nurturing to us and harmless to the environment.”

Given this definition, it is extremely difficult to create a natural candle that's long lasting and has good scent power (called “scent throw). For this reason, we promote that our primary candles, those in our Classic Collection, are made with a natural soy wax, but we don't promote them as “natural” candles. Our Natural Collection uses the same wax, but we use essential and/or naturally derived oils for fragrance. Those are “natural” candles.

You can get more information about the Natural Products Association here.

WHAT ARE THE FIRST THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN FORMULATING HANDMADE NATURAL CANDLES TO SELL?

Chelsea Elam: Most people would probably be tempted to dive right in with securing fragrances, making candles and working on packaging design, but as seasoned candlmakers and entrepreneurs, we know better. We suggest doing some homework first, including checking out the competition and considering how your candle business will stand out in a highly populated market.

Consider how you would like to sell your candles (online or storefront, retail or wholesale or private label). Consider what kind of wax you want to use. Visit candle making forums and watch YouTube videos to see how it's done. These kinds of behind the scenes activities should come first, before you even start formulating candles to sell.

WHAT TYPES OF CANDLE WAXES ARE THERE, AND WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EACH?

Chelsea Elam: Paraffin, soy and beeswax are the three most popular waxes. Palm wax and a variety of blended waxes are also available. You should choose a wax based on the type of candles you plan to make (container, pillar or tapered).  Many wax suppliers are available on the Internet so you should compare and contrast them.

Paraffin wax is a petroleum by-product created in the gasoline-making process. For this reason, it is not considered an eco-friendly option, and is not a wax you should choose if you're making natural candles. Paraffin wax is a hard wax, making it suitable for pillar and tapered candles. It throws scent well too.

Soy wax is a hydrogenated vegetable wax derived from soybean oil. It's considered an eco-friendly option because the only limit to soy supply is how much farmers decide to grow. It is therefore renewable and sustainable. Soy wax is known for its clean, slow burn.

Beeswax, like soy wax, is considered eco-friendly. It's a natural wax created by honey bees to seal honey in honeycombs. It burns clean, but is hard to use in pillars and tapered candles.

Given that the process of burning anything results in emissions of some sort, there is a debate as to whether or not vegetable waxes are as clean burning as people think they are. Use your favorite search engines to search and read about this topic so you can be educated on this issues affecting your candle business.

WHAT SAFETY ISSUES ARE INVOLVED IN MAKING AND USING HANDMADE CANDLES?

Chelsea Elam: Ever wax has particular candle making specifications for things like fragrance load, and melting and pouring tempeartures. Always follow the wax maufacturer's instructions. There are many safety issues when it comes to using candles safely. At a minimum, you should share this information with people who buy your candles:

1. Burn within sight.
2. Keep way from combustibles.
3. Keep away from children.

Most labels also include additional manufacturer instructions for burning the candle properly. More information is available at the National Candle Association website.

WHAT THINGS SHOULD WE CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING FRAGRANCE OILS AND/OR ESSENTIAL OILS FOR NATURAL CANDLES?

Chelsea Elam: Know which consumers you want to target. If you want to appeal to people who prefer natural products, don't use fragrance oils in your candles. If you want to market your candles as made with a natural wax, but not claim that they are “natural,” you can use fragrance oils. Here are some key points to remember:

1. Not all oils produce a clean burn. Test your finished product and observe what you see and smell. Do you see black smoke? (Not good.) Is your candle burning in a weird way? (Possibly dangerous.) Does it smell noxious? (People won't like that.) Any of these things can mean that you used too much scented oil, or maybe an oil that is not suitable for use in candles.

2. Stick with suppliers that specialize in oils specifically made to be used in candles. Many bath and body or cosmetic safe oils are fine to use in candles, but you should check with the supplier to be sure. Some cosmetic safe scents will be safe for candles too, but they may not be strong enough for a good fragrance.

3. Some fragrances smell one way in the bottle but a different way once in a candle. You have to test things out to see how everything will work together in your product. Buy samples and test them before buying gallons of ingredients.

WHAT INGREDIENTS SHOULD WE AVOID WHEN FORMULATING NATURAL CANDLES?

Chelsea Elam: If you are making an all natural candle, avoid fragrance oils. Avoid using lead wicks, which were used in candles for many years. Avoid using candle wax dyes as the can be problematic.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CANDLE FOR HOME FRAGRANCE AND A “LOTION CANDLE?”

Lotion candles are formulated with cosmetic safe wax, along with some carrier oils and cosmetic safe scents. When burned, the candle was heats to a few degrees above body temperature so you can massage the product onto your skin to moisturize. Lotion candles should be free of candle dyes and other ingredients that help increase shelf life or maintain the look of home fragrance candles.

Home fragrance candles are not designed for skin care use! Always read the label on a candle and ask questions if the label is not clear.

HOW DO YOU MAKE A CANDLE HAVE A GOOD, LONG LASTING SCENT?

Chelsea Elam: Choose robust smelling scented oils and follow the supplier's directions for how much scent to use. Text your candles exactly how you will make them, using the same waxes and fragrances, before selling them. This is the only way to test the scent. Using more scented oil does not necessarily mean the candle will smell good. Follow the oil manufacturer's and supplier's instructions. Another important tip is to make sure you know the shelf life of your waxes and oils, so you can advise your customers on how long the candle should be expected to deliver good results.

WHAT ARE THE BEST CONTAINERS FOR CANDLES? GLASS? METAL?

Chelsea Elam: There is no “best container.” Which container you use will depend on the overall look and feel you want for your candle line. We use containers made in the USA with recycled materials.

Donna Maria: WHAT ARE YOUR BEST TIPS FOR PRICING YOUR CANDLES?

Chelsea Elam: Like any other product, there is no set formula for determining price — other than that you have to cover your costs and go up from there. When considering price, factor in the cost to make the finished product (materials and packaging) as well as your labor and overhead. Consider what other cande companies are doing as a benchmark. Ultimately, you need to set your price so that business is profitable, but you don't do that in a vacum. YOu have to know what other candle companies are doing too.

WHAT ARE RETAILER LOOKING FOR IN CANDLES THESE DAYS?

Chelsea Elam: It varies based on time of year and geography. The one thing all these retailers want is to be able to put a product on a shelf and have it move quickly into the hands of a buying customer. As more consumers look for ways to live a healthier, greener life, candles that can be marketed as “green” are highly sought after.

Candles generally sell better in the fall and winter seasons. Popular summer scents include citrus and fruity scents, along with “clean” aromas like laundry and ocean.

WHAT DO I DO FIRST BUSINESS-WISE IF I WANT TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL CANDLE BUSINESS?

Chelsea Elam: First, learn how to make a good candle. Experiment with fragrances, waxes, containers and wicks to create a finished product that combines all of those things in a way consumers can enjoy. This takes time, but failure to do this type of work on the front end, can cost you money when disappointed customers don't come back to give you a second chance.

WHAT OTHER THINGS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT FORMULATING NATURAL HANDMADE CANDLES TO SELL?

Chelsea Elam: It can be hard to get any business off the ground, even when you're selling products everyone needs. Candles are not a necessity, and yet they're sold almost everywhere — so they are in demand in high numbers. In this economy, it's easy to become discouraged. Don't. Other businesses are struggling too. Keep plugging away. Remember: water does not cut through rock because it's strong, but because it's consistent.

PLEASE SHARE WHAT YOU ENJOY ABOUT BEING A MEMBER OF #INDIEBUSINESS IBN?

Chelsea Elam: I enjoy the interactions I have with other members. Theres a sense of camaraderie. Many members I've met are now friends, and we serve as sort of like a mini support group for each other. It's been easier to adapt to the lows and highs of being an entrepreneur, thanks to Indie Business. I love the exchange of ideas is truly invaluable!

More About Chelsea Elam

At Yum Yum Candle, Chelsea and her sister make home fragrance products rooted in creativity and enjoying life. Their mission is to create chic, incredibly-scented products that are less harmful to our living environment, our planet and our bodies. They offer soy candles, lotion candles, reed diffuser sets, and a growing line of bath and body care products.

Connect with Chelsea:

Chelsea's business was Yum Yum Candles. She closed it a few years after this event so she could focus on other career endaevors.

When Is The Next #HandmadeChat?

The next #HandmadeChat will be Thursday, May 23, 2013, at 8pm ET, when actor and creative blogger Andrew Zahn will share on the Top Habits of Successful Creative Entrepreneurs.

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.