Wicklow company Max Benjamin has driven exports by selling its scented products into stores across Europe.
Production of clove and cinnamon scented candles has been spiking at Wicklow company Max Benjamin this month with the preparation of the last Christmas export orders for department stores across Europe.
Possibly Ireland’s largest exporter of fragranced candles, the company signed an agreement with an Italian distributor in the summer which saw its products go into 360 stores in five countries this year, including high-end department stores in Italy, Spain and Germany.
“Turnover for this year is €3.8m, up 40% on 2015. In the region of 70% of sales take place between the months of September and December — which means that Christmas is extremely busy for us,” says company managing director David Van den Bergh.
Although shipments to Europe will stop next week, he says the company will continue to supply Irish customers, which include Brown Thomas, Arnotts, Avoca and the Kilkenny Shop up to Christmas.
“At this time of year clove and cinnamon candles and gift sets are flying out the door,’’ says Mr Van den Bergh whose company specialises in producing scented candles made from natural wax for the premium end of the market.
"Set up in the late 1990s by Mr Van den Bergh’s sister Orla, the company started out by producing hand-made pillar candles and developing sales of own label candles for department stores in Ireland and the UK. In 2008 new trends in the candle industry prompted the Van den Berghs to make some dramatic changes.
“We switched to making candles from natural wax, developed new fragrances and created a new brand — Max Benjamin, using the names of Orla’s sons Max and Ben,” he says.
Mr Van den Bergh says at that time the focus had begun to switch from colour and shape to fragrance while the demand for handmade candles was going up.
The new Max Benjamin range, made with a mix of soy, bees wax and coconut, initially involved four fragrances — cloves and cinnamon, gardenia, lavender and grapefruit and was launched at Showcase in Dublin.
The Van der Berghs believe their company was one of the first in Ireland to make hand made candles from natural wax. The advantage with natural wax is that it burns more cleanly and it lasts a little longer.
New fragrances have since been added to the range as well as new products including fragrance diffusers and gift sets.
“We slowly grew sales in Ireland and in 2011 began to develop exports — attending a trade fair in Frankfurt and taking on an agent who sold our candles to perfumeries in Germany,’’ he says.
The business, which had initially involved just the three Van den Bergh siblings making candles in a converted stable, also began to grow. The facility now employs an additional seven staff. The emphasis has been on producing new and different products to match changing demands in the market.
It launched a range of five coffee-scented candles as well as a range of five tea-scented ones. While the majority of the firm’s products involve 190g candles which sell for €22 each, Max Benjamin has now made its first foray into the luxury market — with the Ilum Collection with candles in porcelain containers with prices ranging from €95 to €450. In marketing Max Benjamin products to develop international sales, Mr Van den Bergh says it focused on key areas.
“The selling points are that our candles are hand made from natural wax and that they look beautiful — the fact that they are produced by a family-run business in Ireland is also part of the story.”
Securing a distribution agreement with Italian company Alessi this summer is seen as a major coup, launching into high-end stores in Milan, as well as Oberpollinger, a luxury retail store in Munich.
Another new distribution agreement is helping the company to develop sales in eastern Europe and, in the New Year, it will start supplying Selfridges in the UK and will also begin shipping to Singapore and Japan.
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