Candle Composition

Soy Candles

Pictured: Cosmopolitan, Amaretto Sour, and Lavender. Wish I would have played with this composition a little more; I didn’t try this particular angle until the very end of this evening’s photo session.

The candles are, of course, made by Yours Truly and are for sale — $5 for the Cosmo, $4 for the Amaretto Sour, and a mere $1.50 for the cute 2oz Lavender. Other scents that would be smashing in a cocktail glass: Piña Colada, Fuzzy Navel, Green Apple (appletini, anyone?).

On My Candlemaking Hobby

One of the many things I record and track in my life is the income and expense from my hobby of making soy candles. Since September 2006, I’ve recouped in sales about half of what I’ve spent on candlemaking supplies.

This is not a lucrative hobby for me, mainly because I keep it as a hobby. I’m not willing to spend time and money to make this a viable second income. I don’t need a second income right now.

I tried selling on Etsy, just for shits and giggles, and only had one customer. Granted, I only sold my standard wares, and didn’t do anything fancy or eyecatching with the packaging, so my candles were basically lost in a sea of craftiness. It also didn’t help that candles are heavy and relatively expensive to ship, compared with their per-unit cost.

Mainly, I have two repeat customers, both friends, both local. They’ve been responsible for the majority of my sales (15 out of 24 total sales, or $130 out of the $300 total I’ve made in the past 2½ years). I’ve had some sporadic decent-sized orders from other people — one gift basket, ordered by a former supervisor of mine; and one batch of stocking-stuffer candles with custom labels, ordered by a friend and former co-worker — but I subsist mainly on my two repeat customers and a few random co-workers who discover (or remember) that I make and sell candles.

I recently had the chance to kick things up a notch. A really BIG notch.

I got an e-mail last week from a potential candle buyer in New York state, who requested a quote on a custom batch of candles for a party she was throwing at her church. It was a 1950’s-themed party, so she wanted root-beer-scented mini-mugs (which she must have found via Google, since they’re no longer linked from my candle site) and parfait/sundae glasses in vanilla. There would be three to four candles per table, and 35 to 40 tables.

I about passed out when I did the math. That’s roughly 140 candles. At $4 apiece (minus a bulk discount of 10%), that comes out to $500.

I seriously considered doing it. Then I kept doing the math.

Mine is a very low-volume operation. I don’t even have a proper wax-melting vessel; I use a Pyrex measuring cup I got at Goodwill years ago. I can make about 18 ounces’ worth of candle in one batch. That means I’d be making candles for literally two weeks straight. Every night. Unless I took a weekend to just make candles ALL DAY LONG.

And that’s not even considering the initial monetary investment I’d have to make in bulk fragrance oils, dye, and soy wax.

I e-mailed the woman back and politely declined, telling her that I just am not equipped for such a large order. Granted, I probably could have done it. Would it have gotten me more return customers and expanded my business? I doubt it; not from New York.

I’m content to continue making custom hand-poured candles for my friends and acquaintances, and to keep my hobby as a hobby. Although I must admit that I wouldn’t be upset to see myself break even one of these years.

What I Do For Fun And Profit

Homemade Soy Candle

This candle will soon be going up on my Etsy store, assuming I don’t sell it to someone at work first.

I’m planning to do a bit of a holiday sales push on the candles, reminding all my friends and former co-workers that my candles are perfect Christmahanukwanzakah gifts. I can’t really do discounts, since the whole point is to actually break even on this hobby of mine… but I have been known to cut deals on gift basket sets.

I’ve gotten some sample scents from my newest supplier, and have been highly disappointed to find that their Cranberry scent smells like port-o-john, and their regular Basil scent smells like Seabreeze astringent. From what I can tell so far, though, their Eggnog and Christmas Pine and Candy Corn and Caramel Apple and Fresh Basil are double-plus awesome. We’ll see for sure when I make test candles out of them.

Think of me when you get your Secret Santa going on at the office, and suddenly need a selection of anyone-will-like-this gifts! (The four-ounce candle in the picture is $4 plus shipping, if you’re interested..)

Fear of Rejection

Out of my previous list of candle inventory for sale, I managed to sell three: two Kahlua and one Hazelnut Coffee. The rest are in the process of being posted to my new Etsy store:

Etsy store listings

There are a LOT of soy candles for sale on Etsy, though, and mine don’t really stand out for any particular reason. I guess I just wonder how long it’s going to take before I actually sell anything.

I know that nothing has really changed about my little operation: I still melt 18oz of wax at a time in my thrifted Pyrex measuring container. I still measure my annual sales in single-digit quantities. But now that I’ve put items for sale on a much more public scale… I don’t know.

I’m really just dabbling in a hobby, and making money to offset what I spend on said hobby. I have no right to feel like I’m a “candlemaker” or a “craftsperson,” really. If my candle sales took off, it’s not like I’d actually ramp up the operation or anything. So that means I shouldn’t feel bad if my three little votives don’t sell, right?

Right?

Just put my first item up on Etsy! It’s a lilac soy votive candle; not very unique. Link
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Damn. I can’t edit blog entries from work. The Hazelnut Coffee candle and one Kahlua are now spoken for. Still have Coconut, Lilac, more…
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Hey! Who wants some homemade soy candles? I’m blowing out my current inventory: Link
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Candle Sale!

homemade soy candles

It’s time for the First Annual Soy Candle Blowout! (No pun originally intended… but that does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?)

See, I figure I can justify my candlemaking hobby if I actually recoup some of the money I spend on supplies. My losses have been steadily declining over the years, until 2008 is finally looking like the year I might actually turn a profit on this hobby. Granted, I’ve spent only a fraction of what I spent on supplies in previous years, but still. It’s all about learning how to maximize profit while still having a good time and making smelly-good candles for me and mine. Right?

I’ve had this idea in years past that I should really make a big push for Christmas sales, since that’s when I usually sell (and gift) the most candles. Last year, 72% of my annual sales were made in December alone; the year before, 65% were from November and December combined. So, I figure that if I can increase my visibility in the months leading up to the holiday season, all the better.

I’ve considered putting up an Etsy store to try to sell my candles, but I have the feeling I’d probably only sell to my friends and family (and co-workers), anyway. So, best to skip the middleman and just try selling direct from my blog!

For sale to the first people to e-mail me (since comments have been wonky lately), I have up for sale the following 3oz votives from my current inventory:

  • Kahlua (three two one available)
  • Cool Citrus Basil
  • Creamy Coconut
  • Hazelnut Coffee [SOLD]
  • Vanilla Mint
  • Lilac (available via Etsy)

The price is $4 per candle. If you need your candles shipped, we can discuss shipping charges via USPS. Along with your purchase, you also will receive a FREE tealight sample of another fragrance (of my choosing). These samples come two to a box and are perfect for deciding whether you like a scent well enough to buy a votive or mason jar candle. (Not so good for smelling up a whole room, though.) Also excellent stocking stuffers. These tealight samples usually sell for 50¢ for a box of two.

My normal M.O. is to take custom orders: say, two eggnog candles in quilted mugs, or a 10oz cranberry candle. I prefer not to have too much inventory laying around for too long; since I don’t have very many customers, I’d rather not make candles in advance and just hope they’ll sell. But, while I’m making these custom orders, I like to make additional small votives and tealights, either for myself (why do you think I got into this hobby?) or as gifts, or to sell like this. It’s helpful to have SOME inventory when a former boss e-mails me and says, “I need a holiday gift basket for the Secret Santa exchange — what can you do for me?” Since I’m such a small operation, I don’t exactly have the equipment to make multiple batches of candles, so a gift basket could take me a week to create, you know? Nice to be able to pull out a Cranberry and a Pumpkin Pie and some boxes of tealights and only have to make one or two “big” custom candles.

Point being, if you ever decide you want a soy candle, and you have a particular scent in mind (even a Bath & Body Works or Yankee Candle scent), just ask. Chances are, I’ll be able to oblige.

OK, enough rambling about candle crap that you probably don’t care about. Who wants some?

One 16oz Drakkar candle sold to Rob Woz for $12. He even approved of the fruity sample I included. …I miss my coworker-friends.
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Etsy (or, Who Knew I’d Buy Homemade Crafts?)

I first learned about Etsy from Dooce.com. Heather buys lots of interesting and kitschy prints and bags and whatnot, and posts about them on her site. Honestly, a lot of the things she posts about are a little too cute for me, so I didn’t really go check out Etsy just on her recommendation.

Later on, Aaron pointed out some video game related items that were posted on Etsy: earrings, specifically, I believe. It was at that point that I realized that there are all kinds of crafty people that make all kinds of crafty things, and I started looking for things that would suit my own style.

While I’ve found some interesting items that I haven’t actually bought, I have purchased an etched Buddha pendant, and I have some more purchases on the way this week, including a hand-thrown bowl (for burning incense on my Zen altar) and a cup/mug, and a triptych of Zen-inspired gicleé prints.

Maybe I’ll pull a Dooce and photograph my finds and post accolades as appropriate. We’ll see…

P.S. – I can’t deny the fact that I’ve considered making things to sell on Etsy myself — specifically, my soy candles, and maybe prints of my photographs. Honestly, though, I’m not sure they’d sell very well. I’d have to come up with some sort of gimmick to make them more saleable — holiday gift sets, or unique packaging, or something like that. I haven’t ruled it out, but I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy right now.

P.P.S. – Along those lines… If I were to start offering a weekly candle sale on my blog, to liquidate my current inventory (and actually make some off-peak income to keep funding my hobby), would I have any takers? Or would it really depend on the price? Leave feedback in the comments…