Right at home

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | September 27, 2013

During the past 50 years, the home fragrance category has grown from cottage industry to corporate, and sales have surged.

Delivering scents that help a house feel like home—or maybe somewhere more appealing—today’s environmental fragrance category has come a long way from the days of single accord room sprays, simple sachets and quaint candles crafted in small batches. Consumers have a bevy of product forms (candles, plug-ins, diffusers, wax melts, solids) and an infinite range of fragrance choices in a category flush with corporate giants, boutique style shops and luxury marketers all vying for attention.

Back when Happi first debuted in 1964, air care brands like Glade and Renuzit already had some years under their belts, and there was Claire Burke, the interior designer who was among the first to make the connection between scent and home décor, who had been selling her own brand of potpourri.

But it wasn’t until two decades later when the home fragrance category ignited, so to speak.

“Scented decorative candles began to appear in the late ‘80s, seemingly as an outgrowth of the interest in potpourri for home fragrancing,” Barbara Miller, a spokesperson for the National Candle Association, told Happi. “As candles became more decorative, consumers first saw the addition of color, then variation in size and shape and then the addition of fragrance.”

Yet many industry observers contend the real sea change in home fragrance began when plug-in devices—led by Glade and Bath & Body Works—burst onto the scene. These devices offered consumers a more convenient, longer lasting way to dispense scent in the home.

From Cottage to Corporate
In many ways, the history of Yankee Candle exemplifies the evolution of the home fragrance business from cottage to corporate. In 1969, Mike Kitteredge was a cash-strapped teen. He made his mom a Christmas gift; a candle from old crayons. Then, people started to buy others he made. After having run his small wholesale operation out of a garage, Kitteredge took out a SBA loan to build a new Yankee Candle factory and retail store. Revenues expanded rapidly, and by the mid-1990s, Yankee Candle has become an internationally recognized brand. In 1998, Kitteredge sold off his empire to Forstmann Little & Co. for nearly $500 million, and soon after, Yankee Candle would go public.  

Since then, Yankee Candle has changed hands a few times, including just last month when Jarden Corporation, a Rye, NY-based consumer products company, announced its purchase of the candle maker from Madison Dearborn Partners, LLC for approximately $1.75 billion in cash.

Harlan M. Kent, Yankee Candle’s president and CEO, who will remain on board, called the deal “a transformative milestone.”
“Over the past 40 years, we have built a truly iconic brand with a deeply loyal customer base. Jarden is well known as a stable, long-term owner of businesses, and this will provide us with a perfect platform on which to grow,” he explained. “This acquisition provides us with the resources and scale necessary to drive our future success and will further strengthen our existing product development and distribution capabilities. Jarden’s similar niche consumer strategy and complementary consumer portfolio will help to accelerate our expansion.”

Other home fragrance brands have been swept up in the corporate shuffle too. For instance, venerable Colonial Candle, which traces its lineage back more than 100 years, was acquired by Blyth in 1990, and in 2005, Limited Brands acquired prestige player Slatkin & Co., an upscale brand created by industry visionary Harry Slatkin.

In 2011, Blyth sold off Colonial (which was part of the Midwest-CBK business) to MVP Group International, a Charleston, SC-based maker of candles and other home fragrance products. And after less than a year under MVP’s umbrella, Colonial Candle opened a 3,000 sq. ft. flagship store in Charleston.

While Blyth isn’t out of the home scenting market entirely, its direct-to-consumer home fragrance operation Partylite finds itself up against one of the fast-growing companies in the category—Scentsy. This Meridian, ID-based direct seller of home fragrance products (and now women’s accessories) has been growing exponentially. The firm, which was founded in 2004, already boasts a network of more than 200,000 independent consultants and was ranked No. 26 in Happi’s Top 50 Report this past July with estimated annual sales of $560 million.

Innovation Fuels Sales
Scentsy’s staple is the wax melt—and the success it has had with this form of scent delivery has spurred other marketers to jump into the pot. As a result, a number of firms offer wax melts, including SC Johnson’s Glade, which caused its own seismic shift in the home scenting category when it rolled out PlugIns.

But according to some industry observers, the category hasn’t seen a major innovation in product delivery in some time.  Instead, leading marketers are piquing interest by way of “refreshing initiatives,” said Karen Doskow of Kline & Co.

Tactics include pushing the connection between home fragrance and home décor, creating unique destination and limited edition scents and unveiling marketing endeavors that promote air care—especially in mass—in a new light. SC Johnson, for instance, is present on HGTV, including segments in which designer Genevieve Gorder talks up Glade Customizables; Air Wick has teamed up with the National Park Foundation to create a series of limited edition fragrances; and just last month, Henkel unveiled a new online Renuzit campaign featuring comedienne Joan Rivers that spoofs TVs “The Bacherlorette.”

In addition, home fragrance marketers are taking their products to new domains where Americans spend a lot of hours, like their cars, as well as places they wish they could spend more time, like the bedroom. Air Wick this year debuted the Filter & Fresh Car, while P&G’s newest entry is the Febreze Sleep Serenity collection. Out this Fall, the Sleep Serenity Collection includes products such as the Bedroom Mist, Bedside Diffuser and the Febreze Sleep Serenity Bedding Refresher, which can be sprayed directly on sheets and comforters.

What’s Simmering?
Could air care marketers active in 1964 ever imaged today’s home fragrance category—the complexity of the scents, the unique marketing campaigns, the willingness of consumers to spend big bucks on something as utilitarian as a candle?  
Yet, that appears to be the reality of home fragrance 50 years later—an estimated $3.6 billion sector where the luxury products are fueling the overall growth.

According to Kline’s recently released Home Fragrances: US Market Analysis and Opportunities report, prestige candles collectively posted a 6% gain fueled by the performance of brands like Lafco, Trapp and Nest.

“High end candle brands are where the growth has been over the past two years,” said Doskow, pointing out another trend that could play a role in home fragrance marketing and distribution over the next 50 years: online shopping.

“It sounds a little odd,” she added, “but the internet is exploding in the home fragrance market.”  
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