Thinking about starting a candle business? Thinking about a side hustle - Here's my down-to-earth, realistic journey.
Who am I?
A few years ago, I decided to start a candle business. It was something I had always been interested in and I thought it would be a fun way to make some extra money. I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured I would figure it out as I went along.
Hi - My name is Jason, this is how much money I made in my first year of candle making and selling. What first started as a lockdown project in January of 2021 became a fairly decent part-time hustle. The income isn't passive it has taken a lot of work but my ultimate goal is to make a brand.
I started by making candles for family and friends and then selling them on Etsy. I quickly realized that there was a lot more to it than just making candles. I had to learn about wax, wicks, fragrance oils, and all sorts of other things. But I was determined to make it work.
As it turns out there's a lot more to candle-making than anticipated... No offense to seasoned candle makers, in my naïve state I thought I could just melt some wax, smash in some fragrance add a wick, and boom I've made a candle. Boy was I wrong, anyone can make a rubbish candle, to make a good candle, a candle you're proud of, one you're happy to sell takes a lot of work.
I had a clear idea of my brand, target audience, and the type of candles I wanted to make. Slightly upper-class candles, based on quintessential English scents, something that would sell well in farm shops and food fayres.
Examples of how my product grew
Here is the life cycle of my candle making, my first few products...
This was my first candle I ever made, well one of - I found some relatively nice and cheap jars and costed it all out, I wanted to make sure I was going to make a profit from the beginning not the other way round.
Jars, wicking, wax - I had no idea what I was doing and guessed a lot of it, I made some ok candles and some rubbish ones.
Labels - I still hadn't quite figured out what would look nice, the measurements or much of anything else. I had an idea though, I'm just impatient so I tried to cut the label out to fit.
My second candle - I had spent more time testing, understanding how wicks, wax and jar combinations work. I settled on TCR wicks & Soy & Rapeseed wax. For some reason I was blending together my own waxes, no idea why. I managed to create a candle that burnt all the way down to the bottom evenly and had a good scent throw.
My branding and labelling had improved. I knew what I wanted to do to stand out - I wanted to keep the jar as white as possible and have a rustic kraft gift tag.
My third candle - Set in a lovely honey jar, this was the product I was most settled on, consistently good feedback and a lovely candle that worked well. I still wasn't 100% sold on it, I felt like something was missing. I was still doing a lot of work to maintain them such as making all the gift tags myself, my time was becoming a bottle neck but I needed to improve cashflow before I could outsource some of it - A tricky time.
My fourth candle iteration and currently my final. This is what I've settled on I managed to find honey jars online quite cheap - I've improved my branding and labelling, I started outsourcing my gift tags ( massive time saver) .
I settled on a wax & wick combination (however I'm always testing) and I settled on a base range of scents. These rustic looking candles, look great and fit any home. Every step took time and I learnt something valuable along the way.
What was the plan?
I initially started out with a little bit of Amazon FBA arbitrage, which is basically buying something for a low price and flipping it on amazon, sending the items to their warehouse and letting them do all the work, the delivery and the customer service. This model was great, once the initial work was done it was hands-free, perfect for me working full-time as chef! I was making around £450 a month in profit, that's after all the costs including the Amazon fees.
The only issue I had with this was that it was becoming quite repetitive, I wanted to move on to making my own products. I wanted to create a brand, something long lasting, hunting down products takes time and you have to keep on your feet, swapping and changing with the trends. This is where my real journey begins...
After a little research, I noticed a little gap in the market for handmade candles on Amazon, with lots of white label but not many small-time candle makers standing out. I knew this is where I could fit in, make a brand, stand out, and do something a little differently. I'm not reinventing the wheel by any means but I wanted to create a rustic candle brand, with different labels and styles compared to most.
I also planned on opening a Shopify store and driving traffic to it via Instagram mostly, creating a countryside brand image as well as Etsy, I found Etsy a bit more difficult to drive traffic and sales, a very different platform compared to amazon.
Anyway, all that waffle aside let's get into what it cost me, how much I've made and whether it's all worth it.
How much did I make 2021 - 2022
Total gross sales from Amazon: £37345.08
Sales from Etsy, Shopify & Wholesale: £2958.92
Now, most internet gurus would leave it there, an ambiguous number that looks like I've done really well in my first year, and to be honest I think I have done well. But we need to take into account the cost of goods, fees, and advertising to get a real figure.
Cost of goods: £18977.69
This is everything including wax, boxes, wicks, and other arbitrage sales.
Admin expenses: £18916.34
During this period I was still doing a lot of Amazon FBA and I was still learning a lot, but let's break it all down.
Shelf rental: £75
Amazon fees: £14173.96
Amazon advertising: £2017.95
Amazon shipping: £12
Amazon fees are quite high
Amazon fees are quite a lot of money on the face of it but the way I look at it, it's like renting a shop front in the biggest shop in the world. The real winners are Amazon let's be real but there's no way I would have sold as many candles and goods without it. Long term I am creating a brand and a presence but this takes time, I always thought Amazon would be the quickest way to ramp up sales and build reviews on their platform.
Even Amazon advertising costs quite a lot but sometimes in the beginning before I ranked for keywords a little boost helps go a long way in a sea of other candles & goods.
Total profit made from my first year: £2409.97
There were a few other small deductions in there I haven't mentioned like getting a new camera and a new computer for editing purposes.
Overall my first year whilst working full time has been successful in my eyes, the learning curve is unreal and I think you have you make the mistakes first hand and grow with your business to succeed regardless of the niche. In the first year, I learned about: sales copy, marketing, making candles, roi, roas, branding, sales trends, and the list goes on.
With all of the mistakes in the first year, money wasted on candle testing, swapping and changing ingredients, branding, etc it's given me a baseline - something solid to work from for year two. I've established a brand with a good candle that works and smells nice, the rest is just consistency, putting one foot in front of the other.
There's a lot of stuff you don't learn in school, for example, a tax return, many things seem quite scary from the outside looking in, and until you've done one you don't really know how. There are lots of obstacles I think people tend to be put off by them, that and or waiting for the perfect time, which there never is.
Over all its been a great year I figured if I can sell one candle I can sell many, lots of lessons learned which will help me succeed in the following years.