February 05, 1998|By Kate Coleman

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

click images below for enlargments


Candles aren't just for birthday parties or romantic dinners anymore.

U.S. candle consumer retail sales are approaching two billion dollars a year, according to information on the Web site of National Candle Association, a trade group representing candle manufacturers in the United States. Since the early 1990s, the industry has been growing at a rate of 10 to 15 percent a year, with even greater growth in the past two to three years.

Candle manufacturers' surveys show that 96 percent of all candles purchased are bought by women.

What other home accessories can hold a candle to those kinds of numbers?

Candles account for a quarter of sales at This Olde House in Hagerstown, says Joy Finniff, who has owned the Washington Street business for 10 years.


Finniff says she's seen a big increase in candle sales in the past year.

A five-wick, long, lumpy log candle is popular now, and tube-cake candles and candles with decorative herbs and spices on the outside also sell well, Finniff says.

Why are candles so popular? The electric lightbulb has been around since 1879, so people aren't buying them to read by.

Jordan Blake, president of Mystic Lights, believes candles are about luxury. They make you feel good.

Candles can provide a pick-me-up to those suffering from the "winter blahs," Blake says.

And the pick-me-up can last all year with the company's candle-of-the-month program. Pillar candles come in a variety of sizes and burn for 40 to 60 hours, Blake says.

A single candle sells for $30 plus shipping and handling. A year's supply - month by month - costs $250. Mystic Lights aromatherapy candles also are available at some "high-end" department stores, Blake says. The February selection is called "Aphrodite" - a sensual blend of jasmine and rose to encourage romance.

Affordable indulgence

Candles look and smell good, and Blake believes candles can help with our stress-filled lives. She keeps a lavender aromatherapy candle by her bedside and lights it a half hour before she goes to sleep, relaxing while looking through a magazine.

"It's an indulgence that everyone can afford."

Another company with a home-marketing approach is PartyLite Gifts Inc. which offers a line of 500 candles and candle accessories through direct sales via in-home demonstrations by more than 15,000 independent consultants in all 50 U.S. States, Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Company spokesperson Leslie Allen compares it to the way Avon and Tupperware do business.

Bunita "Bunny" Del Grosso of Owings Mills, Md., is a senior regional vice president with PartyLite. With the company for five-and-a-half years, Del Grosso has built her business to the point where she helps with parties two nights a week and takes care of office work three days a week. She says its fun, and she earned $150,000 in 1997.

Del Grosso says candles make her family room relaxing and warm, and she enjoys floating candles in a bubble bath.

PartyLite, with headquarters in Plymouth, Mass., is affiliated with Colonial Candle of Cape Cod. Colonial Candle originated in the early 1900s when Mabel Kimball Baker of Hyannis, Mass., started making bayberry candles for her friends. When she died in 1965 at the age of 94, her business had grown to a $6 million enterprise.

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