Americans are obsessed with clean-smelling homes. They are also looking for ways to de-stress. Who knew that something as simple as a candle would be the solution for both scenarios? If a study by the research firm NPD Group is any indication, a lot of Americans are attuned to that fact – 80% of Americans regularly use some sort of scent in their homes. The National Candle Association (NCA) puts annual spending on candles at $3.2 billion!
Today it’s difficult to go shopping and not find candles beckoning with their alluring names, decorative containers and fragrances that can instantly transport you to your favorite beach, garden, mountaintop or even grandma’s kitchen. With the strike of a match, it can be spring, summer, fall or winter in your home. Research has shown that nothing evokes memories like the sense of smell.
Once a staple of the holiday season, candles are now available year-round at high-end boutiques and home-accessory shops, as well as department, discount, hardware, drug and grocery stores, not to mention spas, craft fairs, makers markets and souvenir shops. There are even specialty shops devoted solely to candles.
The NCA reports that October through December continues to be prime time for candle sales – nearly 70% of annual sales are made during that time period. Not only are home dwellers trying to capture the essence of fall (pumpkin spice) and the holidays (gingerbread, pine and bayberry to name a few) through fragrance, but they’ve discovered candles make great gifts, as they have become an integral part of the growing self-care-products industry, as well as the hygge craze that is synonymous with creating a sense of coziness and well-being in one’s home. Candles have even reached pop-culture status. In 2016, Saturday Night Live hilariously paid homage to the power of a candle – as the ultimate prize for re-gifting – with a skit, The Christmas Candle.
Several Christmases ago, Katie and Eric Roering received a candle as a gift. “We burned it, and by the end of the day, we both had headaches and didn’t feel well,” Katie recalls. All they could attribute their out-of-sorts feelings to was the candle.
The unsettling occurrence prompted Eric to do some research. He discovered that the quality of candles varies widely – there are no industry standards – with cost being a good indicator of their makeup. For example, paraffin candles are made from a non-renewable wax that is a byproduct of petroleum, coal and oil shale. Such candles can be problematic for those with asthma, allergies and chemical sensitivity. (If a candle doesn’t state its makeup, more than likely it’s made from paraffin.) Paraffin is often responsible for the black soot that forms around the top of the candle’s container.
For those in search of a natural product, beeswax and soy fit the bill. As by-products of mother nature (bees and soybean oil), they are non-toxic and clean-burning. (As for the cost element, paraffin sells for $1 to $2 per pound, while beeswax costs $4 to $5 per pound.)
Natural elements are important to the Roerings. “We’re committed to living a healthy lifestyle,” Katie explains. “We eat clean, exercise and use only non-toxic cleaning products in our home. We didn’t like the fact that we were burning candles that don’t complement our lifestyle.”
That dedication prompted Eric to begin formulating a beeswax candle that met their standards and expectations. Discovering that beeswax was too hard and didn’t hold fragrance very well, he added coconut oil to his formula. He also added another natural element by using a wooden wick, which provides “ambiance and a nice crackle – it’s just something different,” he notes. (Some candle wicks can contain zinc.)
Eric so enjoyed the process that he became a hobbyist, formulating and pouring candles in his basement. “We gave them away as gifts to family and friends,” Katie recalls. The positive feedback encouraged the couple to consider taking candle-making to the next level.
Katie and Eric are no strangers to entrepreneurism or the corporate world. A graduate of Linden Hall and Millersville University, Katie was one of the founders of The Complete Canine Center in Landisville, where she served as the director of training. (In 2016, she was recognized as Lancaster’s Young Woman Entrepreneur.) Eric, who is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, arrived in Lancaster to work in the world of chocolate – as a cocoa trader for Cargill and later as a procurement manager for Godiva and pladis global. He is now a procurement manager for Armstrong World Industries. Their engagement in 2016 made Katie realize she needed a better work/life balance, so she sold her share of The Complete Canine Center. Prior to their marriage in March 2017, she launched a business that focuses on web design and social media management, which she continues to operate.
Eric’s background in accounting and procurement and Katie’s marketing experience meshed perfectly, allowing them to successfully launch their candle venture, which is named in honor of Eric’s great-grandfather who hailed from Italy. “His last name was Fontana, but when he arrived in the United States, it was changed to Fontaine,” Eric explains.
They incorporated in 2018. Last November, the company began operating out of a 3,500 square-foot warehouse in Mount Joy. Katie’s mother, Judy Errigo, has joined the company. “My parents supported us from the beginning,” Katie says of Judy, and her late father, Chip. “My dad had a good feeling about it and was on-board from day one.” They also credit their Score mentor, Jeff Eberts, for his help. In Katie’s opinion, “Lancaster County has a lot of resources” for those looking to start a business. “It takes hard work and a bit of luck,” she says. “I think we’re hitting the market at just the right time. People want healthy products for their homes. I think they also appreciate our transparency.”
Of course, fragrance is what draws customers to candles. Fontana’s fragrances originally came courtesy of pre-mixed oils that were purchased through vendors. Currently, the Roerings are in the process of reformulating scents; going forward Fontana will utilize 100% natural and chemical-free essential oils for its candles. They hope to have the process fully completed by next spring.
Collections are released twice a year – in the spring and in the fall. Nine fragrances are staples of each collection, with six seasonal scents bringing the total to 15. “We aim to pour 3,500 candles each season,” Katie says.
Marketing and sales are achieved through a mix of brick-and-mortar locations, a website, social media and makers markets such as Creatively Lancaster. “The community of makers we have in Lancaster County is amazing,” Katie remarks. “Everyone is very supportive of each other. There’s enough business for all of us to be successful.”
As for brick-and-mortar outlets, Fontana Candles are available locally at more than a dozen locations, as well as in shops located in Bethlehem, the Philadelphia area, Cape May, Stowe, Vermont, and Houston, Texas. “Getting into Hershey Entertainment & Resorts was big,” Katie says.
Of course, the company’s website and social media are a “huge part of the business.” Fontana makes it a practice to work with influencers, and she notes that “Instagram makes cold-calling easier.”
The impact of social media prompted them to rebrand with a new logo and product labels that deliver a “high-end, more natural” image. Wholesale gift shows are on their radar.
“You can get a candle anywhere,” Katie remarks. “The fact that people seek out ours is encouraging.”
For more information, visit fontanacandlecompany.com.