Why Handcrafted Candles Shouldn't Be Cheap

All candle makers have fielded pressure to make cheap candles. Comments such as “Gosh, that’s really expensive,” or, “I buy my candles at Bath and Body Works when they’re on sale”, can make us second guess our pricing. Perhaps you are currently experiencing an internal crisis, not knowing how to price or lacking confidence in your price point. Simple rules such as cost of goods multiplied by four are basic tools but hardly the whole enchilada. There are two thought patterns that frequently trip us up, leaving us almost always underpriced, under appreciated, and feeling nervous:

  •  You are not competing with the big guys.
  •  Cheaper does not make people want it more.

Bath and Body Works is not your competitor. The corporate candle world makes a lousy product. All makers know this yet we often feel they are our competition. They are not. Clients who are buying from Yankee when it’s on sale at Walmart are not your target audience. It’s not personal, this clientele simply does not see the benefit of handcrafted, locally sourced, unique, high quality candles. Let them go. Really, you’re not going to miss them. The fact is, you don’t want to produce a copycat of an inferior product anyway. And even if that were your goal, it would be impossible for you to scale in this manner. These corporations have huge factory floors on which candles are mass-produced. I recently watched a video on YouTube of a large, well known candle company’s production line and felt so depressed. They took the heart and soul out of candle making and their line workers looked so bored (and underpaid). The facts are: you don’t want to be them so stop competing with them, they’ve got mass production nailed down and you’re not going to do what they do better, and the market does not need another mass producer of lousy candles. The market is already flooded with cheap, crummy candles.

So what does this mean, really? Well, it means it’s time you stop thinking about them. You no longer care what price these guys sell their candles for. Their pricing does not factor into your pricing AT ALL. You are not selling the same product. Yes, it’s made of wax and you light it on fire, but this is where the similarity ends. Nothing else about your gorgeous, exceptional quality, hand crafted candle is remotely similar to that hot mess in a cheap jar that they make. When someone says, “I can get a candle at ________ for five bucks,” your retort should be, “And I can buy sushi at a gas station, but I prefer to buy it from a restaurant.”

Cheaper does not make people want it more. This one can be difficult to wrap our heads around because we so frequently hear price, price, price. Here’s the deal: there is something called perceived value and it is real. From a psychological perspective, when we acquire something cheaply, we typically value it less. That’s why reducing your $6 candles to $4 doesn’t see them flying off the shelves. Your $6 candle was already way underpriced and reducing it to $4 tells the world that it has almost no value at all. Last I checked, a Venti Caffe Latte at Starbucks cost $4.15. Surely a handmade candle is worth more than a cuppa joe. I encourage all candle makers to do two things: make a beautiful product and raise your prices.

This argument is typically met with objections such as, “I can’t raise prices, my area cannot afford that,” or, “All of my existing customers will be upset”. While it’s true that perhaps your immediate area cannot afford appropriately priced candles, I can guarantee there is a town nearby that can. Furthermore, who cares what your neighborhood can afford? Selling online means you can sell to literally anybody. Existing customers may be upset when prices are raised, this is a true statement. Many will totally get it; some will leave you. Wish them well and consider it a blessing---they are not your target audience. There are millions of other clients for you to acquire.

You define your own value. When you tell people what you are worth, they believe it. It is for you to decide, not them. I am saying ‘your value’ instead of ‘your candle’s value’ because I want you to start thinking about what you are selling. You are selling your expertise, creativity, and art. You are selling the countless hours and thousands of dollars you spent developing your product. And if you don’t think this beautiful artwork you’ve created has value, no one else will either.

Before I entered the candle business, I owned an upscale residential home cleaning company for over a decade. My first year in business, I was criminally underpriced. All of my team’s schedules were full of underpaying clients and we were growing rapidly. I, however, wasn’t making any money. I needed to raise prices and I was terrified. I was afraid I’d offend people, I was afraid of losing clients, and I was afraid that my customers would be angry with me. Never mind the fact that most of my clients lived in homes valued well over one-million dollars and could easily absorb my minuscule price hike. I did raise prices and, truthfully, some of them were angry, some of them sent horribly rude emails telling me to never contact them again, and some of them just flat out quit the service. But most of them, the vast majority, didn’t say anything at all. One woman, a really lovely lady with a lot of class, sent me an email saying, “I knew this day was coming. Your pricing was just too good to be true. I’m happy to pay the new rate.” Wow. The lesson I learned from this, and I have successfully applied this knowledge to all areas of business, is that the clients I want will pay a fair rate. Period. If they want cheap and dirty, they don’t want me. And perhaps more importantly, I don’t want them. When I raised prices the most amazing thing happened. In the three months that followed, I acquired 100% more clients than I had the previous quarter. The new clients were willing to pay the going rate and they treated me with respect. So when I ask a new business owner, “Who is your target audience?” and they reply, “Everybody,” I know they’re in trouble. Everybody is not your target market. You are not selling toilet paper. You are selling a luxury, handcrafted piece of art that you created with hours of formulating and testing. So no, you do not want or need to appeal to everyone.

I know how hard it is to do what you do. And I want every maker to feel confident that their beautiful candle, poured into a lovely container, (not mason jar!), is worth every red cent you are asking for. Now go be fabulous!

February 23, 2020 — Vanessa McGee