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A customer checks out a low shelf of candles at Milkhouse Candles and Gifts.

andles and other scented merchandise are always popular items at general and country stores, but choosing which scents to stock can be tricky. The popularity of different scents can change depending on the season, or even the name. While a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, sometimes a name can make or break a scent, as Vicki Cobb, owner of Pocono Candle in East Stroudsburg, Pa., learned firsthand.

“The name put on the label can affect sales,” she said. “A scent called ‘Autumn Splendor’ was not selling well, so we changed the name to ‘Bamboo Tea’ and the increase in sales was remarkable.”

Shoppers Faith Sena-Hartman and Angelo, Breanna and Alyssa Drogue of Denver, Colo., photographed at Marion Lane Candles and Gifts LLC. The shop’s owner helps indecisive holiday customers by recommending themed scents.

Connie Cook, owner of Marion Lane Candles in Topeka, Kan., saw the difference that a name can make when she introduced a scent called “Tea Rose” in her store. “Surprisingly, no one would even pick it up to smell,” she said. “So we changed the name to ‘Grandma’s Garden…’ it immediately started to sell and is a top pick during warmer months.”

Color can also determine whether or not a scent sells. Cook said that her “Tea Rose” candle was originally light yellow in color; a change to a light pink shade helped the renamed “Grandma’s Garden” fly off the shelves. Cook said that her customers look for colors that “will fit in the environment they are wanting to fragrance.” Cobb said she also considers color when stocking scented merchandise. “Sometimes changing colors is necessary depending on home décor trends,” she said.

Candles and holders displayed as color-coordinated decorative accessories can spark ideas to duplicate at home for Pocono Candle customers.

Seasonal and holiday scents are usually very popular. Cook helps indecisive customers by recommending holiday-themed scents. “We try to stay neutral or within the holiday that we are closest to in scent (Cinnamon for Christmas, Lilac for Mother’s Day, etc.,)” she said. Cook suggests a name change to help seasonal scents sell all year round. “We decided to try an experiment with ‘Pumpkin Spice,’” she said. “It sells great from October through Thanksgiving and then sits. Once we get past Thanksgiving we now change the name to ‘Chai Tea’ and it sells continuously through March—almost as well as it did as ‘Pumpkin Spice!’ ”

Connie Cook, owner of Marion Lane Candles and Gifts LLC, in Topeka, Kan. The color of a scented candle, and even its name, can greatly influence sales, according to Cook.

Occasionally a holiday scent will not sell as well as expected, as Lori Striegel, owner of Balloons and Gifts by Lori in DuBois, Pa., discovered. “I actually thought that the pine scent at Christmas time would be very popular, but I hardly ever sell this scent,” she said. “I try to use other Christmas scents that are available, and realize what I think is not always what is correct. You have to research it and see what works and what doesn’t.” Merala Heins, owner of InSpired! in Port Angeles, Wash., said she also came across a holiday candle that just didn’t sell. “I ordered a Christmas jar candle last year that was made from palm wax,” she said. “It was attractive but had such a light scent that no one bought it. …I found that my customers prefer a stronger fragrance as long as it is a natural product.”

An impressive selection of candles at Pocono Candle. The owner categorizes her scents into five groups.

When it comes to displaying candles and other scented merchandise, Tonya Sparrow, manager and buyer at Milkhouse Candles and Gifts in Decorah, Iowa, said it’s important to arrange scents in different categories, like “masculine,” “sweet” or “flowery.” “We suggest customers try new fragrances in their favorite category,” she said, “perhaps in a sample size.” At Pocono Candle, Cobb categorizes her scents into five groups: “fruit,” “bakery,” “flowers,” “clean and fresh” and “perfume.” “By asking a customer what his or her favorite scent is, you can easily suggest others from the same category that they might enjoy,” she said. At Marion Lane Candles, Cook breaks her scents down into seven categories: “spice,” “food,” “fruit,” “floral,” “clean,” “earthy” and “vanilla.” “We’ve noticed that people tend to like a specific genre of fragrance,” she said.

Merala Heins, owner of InSpired! in Port Angeles, Wash. (right) with a customer. Shoppers like natural candles so long as the scent is pronounced, Heins said. Photo credit: Charlie Comstock

Store owners agree that the best way to decide which scented merchandise to choose is to talk to the customers. “It is important to engage in conversation with the customers so that you know what kinds of candles suit their needs,” said Cobb. “Always welcome the customer and ask if they need any help.” Cobb said she recommends her welcoming approach to help boost sales of any scented merchandise. “Your best sales tool is communication,” she said. “The personal touch is what leads to more sales. When customers leave our store with bags in their hands and smiles on their faces, we are smiling also!” Cook said that it’s important to “actively sell” scented merchandise. “They do not sit on the shelf without any explanation,” she said. “We are offering comments like, ’We just made this fabulous new scent; it’s on my top 10 list.’” Cook said it’s best to remember what each candle or scented item means to the customer. “I determined 12 years ago when I started making and selling scented products that I do not sell candles. I sell memories, experiences and, hopefully, traditions.”
A customer smells a candle at Milkhouse Candles and Gifts. Store employees encourage customers to try new fragrances in their favorite categories, perhaps in a sample size.

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