As part of J&L’s 10th Anniversary, we will be telling stories about our brands, our values, and our products.
In person, many comment on our choice of candle container, which permits me to tell the story of how the container is the reason behind why I started making candles.
In the Beginning
Making candles is not new to me. As a child and as an adult I made candles for myself. One holiday season I decided I am going to make all my own candles for my seasonal needs; leaning on all the traditional scents of the time. What I thought would be a cost saving measure ended up costing me more than I could dream. Making candles as an occasional hobbyist activity is not cheap. The wax alone is significantly more expensive than what I pay today for wax. Buying the molds, wicks and all the necessary tools for the the activity is an investment. But it was fun and I made what I wanted for my home in the way of sizes, shapes, colors and scents. That is why it is an enjoyable and worthwhile activity, despite its costs. As a means to save money, it is not. What I took away from this is the skills to make candles and respect for those who make even the most basic candles as a craft.
Everybody Else Is Doing It So…
…why should we?
From the earliest days of J&L I was asked if I would be making candles. Or, more specifically make a given Beard Oil fragrance as a candle. It was always a hard pass. Why? Because it seems in my little world they are everywhere leaving me to think I would have little to offer in the space. I rarely purchased craft made candles as they often leaned leaned towards scents I don’t much care for. They are not bad scents, just not my style. I enjoy floral scents, but I rather have them in a garden. Fruity, dessert, and other food scents are a turn off for me. Especially when I find the scents overpowering and not all that accurate. I felt it was a corner of the craft maker-seller market I can leave to others as I focus on hair & skin products. An area that is not often covered as deeply as we tend to get.
Then Life As We Know Went Off the Rails
When COVID hit it was thankfully off-season for J&L. This was fine at first, as it went further into Spring it became a huge challenge to sell what I had made and near impossible to make more as far too many people felt they could make hand sanitizer; leaving needed materials near impossible to find.
I was getting feedback from my existing customers that despite how much they love the products they were not using them as much as they had before. With working from home and not going out for social activities they felt that they didn’t need to use the items as frequently. I was flat-out asked to make candles so they could smell their favorite scents while sitting around their home. I dismissed the requests at first and then there was that “a-ha” moment.
Looking through container & packaging supplier websites for affordable bottles to purchase I saw these cool paint cans on the front page of one site. My first thought was how great these would be as packaging for a Beard Care gifting bundle. All sorts of ideas around that general concept rolled around in my head. While that thinking was happening, once again I received a message from a customer asking for their favorite Beard Oil scent as a candle. This time I did not say no. What I did do was look to one of my ingredient suppliers that specialize in candle making wares to start the process of cost analysis. This then led to a deeper dive into what it would take to make candles. Pouring pitchers, melters, wicks, scents, and more would be needed to make them. I had to think of even little details like what waste from making would look like, how much time & labor; even before I can look at what scents I would make. There is research into what like candles other makers are selling and what their prices were. Etsy is my prime, all-in-one place to do this research. There are a lot of makers at my level there, as well as customer feedback on what they felt about the price vs. quality of the most similar candles I would find.
The results were surprising. First, I found others doing what I was thinking about – using 1 pint paint cans for candle containers. Cool, so it’s not weird that I would be into doing it. There was shock to see how much they were charging for them… same size, same contents in a 1 pint paint can were $40.00 regular price on the LOW END! Going as high as $70. All had relatively positive reviews, meaning nobody thought that was too high of a price. There were even 1/2 pint paint can candles for $25 to $60! Personally, all that is too much to pay.
Where JÖL Would Fit Into the Mix
With my analysis, it would be very feasible to offer a 1 pint candle, well scented, for $20. At the time that was a very good price with solid margins to cover costs to make, sell, and ship; as well as add to the bottom line of the business. Our prices have increased since then as the costs of goods have significantly increased in that time. Soy wax has increased by 35% since the first time I ordered wax, shipping costs increased as well. In the time since then all components involved have increased in price, leading to this year’s price increase to $25 per candle.
I opted to lean heavy on less common, more complex layered scents and used at max scent load in the candle. That load being 10%; any higher and we risk stability issues of the wax and reduced quality of burn. I tried my best to carry over from Beard Care the most popular scents to only find it would not be feasible. Using the same scent oil was not an option due to the formulation, use of essential oils for scent, and the costs of the oils. Our suppliers for scents have primarily been for the use in personal care products and not candles. Few of our then current scents would smell the same when burned in a candle. My mission was to find companion scents; those that would be similar and carry much of the same notes but may not be the exact same scent. That left me with too few options in fragrances. To create a smart assortment of scents, I tested dozens of samples and dived into scent notes to find some variety that well suited J&L’s current line up.
Once we made a few test candles, I now had to start the testing. Not only did I wish to make sure the scent was pleasant, I also needed to look into how long it burned, how strong the scent throw was, how the can handled the heat, how the wick performed; every detail possible had to be monitored. I burned the candles for 2 hours at a time over a few days and measured how much wax had burned versus how much wax was still in the container. This is where we discovered something awesome about using the paint cans. The design of the can, having a rim for holding the lid, helped create an ideal convection system to help the candle burn more evenly, cleaner, and longer. We were surprised with our own experience of a candle lasting approximately 120 hours under our situations. The scent throw was great and wafted throughout the home. Being that the candles were burned in a smaller room added to the longer burn time and why we further research our into the results we come away with our 70 to 100 hours of burn time. In general the larger the space leads to a shorter life of the candle.
The Other Benefits Behind the Paint Can
First is the look, the aesthetic. Shiny metal that gives an industrial, modern, or even futuristic vibe despite being seemingly retro and common. And even that is a style that some enjoy. The can will stand out, or easily hide into the surroundings depending on how and where it is placed. Strip off our label and add your own touches to it – wrap it with your own artwork, set it within an arrangement or tablescape. As long as your are mindful of the flame and heat, you have hundreds of decor options.
Metal is far more sustainable than ANY other candle container out there. Candle-safe glass is not recyclable due to its composition to be heat safe; same for ceramic or pottery style containers. Some containers may be functional for reuse or to be up-cycled, but they may be limited in uses or appeal. These paint cans are infinitely recyclable to then be used to make more steel. Being repurposed is where they continue to shine. Once the candle burns all that it can burn, warm the can in a shallow pot of very hot water to melt the remaining wax to then pour out. Use a little Goo Gone or like adhesive remover to loosen up the wick tab to then pull out with needle nose pliers – or gently pry out with a flat edge screwdriver. After it is out, wash the can and lid well with sudsy hot water and immediately dry it. Now you can use it store anything that fits. Although the wax and can are food safe, and the scent oils we use are not toxic we suggest using a liner of some kind if you wish to store food. Here’s a little list of suggested uses: store tea, coffee, candy, nuts, trail mix – which you can gift to others or keep safe when camping or on a picnic; store small parts, hardware of crafting items – label them for easy finding when stored; artist may like to use them for mixing up larger quantities of custom paint, stain or other art mediums; pencil holder/desk organizer; hold cutlery for a buffet table or party layout; hide/save money & coins; place a tea light or other candle inside for a cool ambient glow. This list is not complete, but gives a lot of solid ideas on how to reuse them.
A future goal of ours will be able to offer a candle refill program. As long as if the can is in good shape we could refill it with your favorite candle scent and take a couple bucks off the price. Good shape would be no major dents, still has the lid, and it will sit level on a surface.
The Not So Great Feature Behind the Paint Can
The first is a positive, with a negative side. The cans easily dent. A big win for using cans is that they don’t break. Not in shipping; not while pouring hot wax; not while burning in your home. Glass is very breakable – even glass that is designed to take high temps. I have had the typical glass jar of a candle suddenly shatter while the candle was burning on a table. It was only half way through burning, as when candles get really low in a container the container gets hotter. More heat is captured inside and a cool draft or drop of water can cause it to explode. This will not cause metal to burst, sending shrapnel everywhere, glass easily can! In a well packaged box being shipped to you any number of causes can lead to the candle jar breaking. This is a huge disappointment to you, possible a big let down or inconvenience for you as well. This also ads to the costs of business, and a reason why candles can get pricey. A maker needs to build into the retail price the costs of waste associated with an item. Whether that waste is before, during, or after production.
And this is why cans being easy to dent is an issue. Every case of cans we receive are loosely packed, more like stacked, in a cardboard box. No protection from internal damage is used. If the box has voids (areas with no product), maybe the supplier will put an air pillow or two inside. During shipping and any other movement of the box, the cans will bang into each other which leaves marks, dings and sometimes big dents. Suppliers also like to pass their waste onto you by sending along crushed or broken stock and put it all on you as you are forced to accept such terms to buy from them. Even if the carrier is the cause of damage, they remove themselves from the issue. I get to absorb the waste and all losses. Glass is often shipped more securely due to its fragility, but I have even received broken glass bottles that I must take the loss.
To reduce waste as part of our sustainability plan, we will use all cans that are safe to use and will not negatively impact the overall experience of the candle. You are very likely to receive a can that has tiny nicks and dents. We see it as part of their character. And when I say tiny, I mean that are barely noticeable and you are more likely to not even see them. Nearly every can we use has some tiny mark somewhere that occurred during it’s travel through the assembly line with its manufacturer on through to my door. If the can is heavily dented or crushed, and cannot be mended; does not sit level, has spurs or other flaws that can scratch or cut, does not have a proper fitting lid, or is otherwise a hazard to anyone we will not use it to make a candle. I try to put the bad ones to work for me. Example:
Honestly, that is the only not so great feature – and its is something I think we can live with as the benefits far outweigh this one character flaw. Oh, and that tiny flask is an original scent formulation I am testing.
We are thankful that so many asked us to make candles
After 3+ years of doing candles we have grown to love doing it. They are very fun to make and require little prep work to get to making them. They have opened our door to more people than our lotions and soaps had up to then. Their popularity has made them our #1 selling product line, alone they are nearly half our entire business. As of writing this we have over 30 different scents available, with some being limited to specific times of the year for their production. All our candle scents have been complimented by adding WAX MELTS and ROOM + FABRIC SPRAYS to the assortment. Allowing those that want the candle scents without the candle flame in their home – or to take wherever they go as a spray.
In time, we want to offer other sizes and forms for candles. Maybe a smaller size can, possibly votive as well. There are always inspiration for more scents to try. With all this love for candles, it has renewed our drive forward as J&L enters its 10th year. They are the leading force for us to get a production space to keep up with the growing demand and make it easier to buy them.