Small Business Spotlight

The Candle Lab on wheels

By
From the April 2014 issue of Columbus CEO
  • Photo by Will Shilling

Steve Weaver was inspired to start The Candle Lab in 2006 by the number of candles that his then-girlfriend burned that didn’t meet expectations.

The candles never burned to the end and never smelled like the name promised, he recalled.

“I was convinced we could start this candle company to make natural candles that would burn the way they were supposed to with custom fragrances we developed,” says Weaver, who used to run a political consulting company.

When the couple, who later married, learned that a candle shop was going out of business in Worthington, they went for it.

Eight years later, Steve and Katesha Weaver have expanded to three central Ohio locations and are readying a mobile Candle Lab that they can take to festivals and art shows. They intend to use the truck to try out shopping districts outside of central Ohio to determine locations for new stores.

They also have started a segment of the company that focuses on creating custom fragrances for companies seeking signature scents for their business.

Several things set Candle Lab candles apart from others on the market, Weaver says. They burn cleanly and evenly because they are made with natural soy wax, cotton paper wicks and pure fragrance oils. The business also appeals to customers’ creative side by allowing them to customize their candles.

When the Weavers first started asking friends and family about what candle scents they liked, they realized everyone had their own opinion. For instance, one person might want a pumpkin pie candle that smells strongly of cinnamon while another associates vanilla or cream with pumpkin pie. Recognizing that they couldn’t please everyone, they decided to let buyers create their own scents. The stores stock more than 120 fragrances that customers can combine in a candle.

Today about 70 percent of the candles they sell are custom-made by shoppers. The stores also sell premade candles ranging in scent from baby powder to bacon. Prices range from $15 to $30.

Less than a year into the business, they opened a second location in Grandview. Buoyed by the success of those locations, they added a third location in Creekside in Gahanna. They closed that store within 18 months. The experience was a real learning opportunity, Weaver says. It really highlighted what a significant role the neighboring stores and the energy of the community play in The Candle Lab’s success, he says.

When customers pour their own candles at one of the shops, they must wait an hour before they can take it home. It’s critically important that they have something to do once they leave the shop, he says.

“It’s key to our success that the businesses around us take care of our customers,” he says.

The relationship works both ways, added Michelle Wilson, executive director of the Grandview Area Chamber. The wait time is great for other businesses, she says. Candle makers in Grandview can enjoy a meal, visit a coffee house or shop while they wait.

“There is so much to do that the time goes by lickety split,” she says. It’s a great draw to the area, she says. The chamber appreciates having a Candle Lab location because so many visitors are looking for experiential tourism, where they have the opportunity to try something new, she says.

When the Creekside development did not take off as expected, it made it impossible for The Candle Lab to survive there, Weaver says.

That lesson helped the Weavers see the value of building a customized shop on wheels that they can send to new locations. It will allow them to see what customers can find to do while they wait for their candles.

They also intend to allow people to rent the 20-foot trailer, which will be completed this spring, for parties and special events.

Another new avenue of the business that Weaver expects to take off in 2014 is creating customized fragrances. Clients can use the scents to create a sensory experience for customers when they walk into a shop, spa or yoga studio, he says. They also can create candles, sprays, lotions or other products that they can sell to customers. The Candle Lab will create the products in small batches and sell the scent exclusively to their business clients.

“We love working with other small business to introduce how scent can be part of their brand,” he says.

Julie Wilkes, owner of Seven Studios, has worked with Weaver to create a series of signature scents for her downtown yoga studio. She created fragrances to enhance principals she outlines in her book, The 7 Miracles. She also uses the candles, sprays and diffusers in the studio.

“It gives me depth to my brand,” she says. “It helps (clients) continue to practice what we learn through the teachings each and every day of their lives.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.