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With candle sales up, manufacturers face labor challenge to meet demand

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Posted at 11:26 AM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 14:26:11-04

Candles can be calming, a form of aromatherapy or the fragrance of some can transport one to a tropical island they can’t get to in the middle of a global pandemic. It seems many people have turned to candles as a comfort at home or a way to escape, because sales for them have soared over the past year, according to the National Candle Association.

According to the organization, in the last 52-week period, the sales of candles are up 17% for regular branded candles and store brand candles are up more than 30%. The unexpected growth has presented a challenge for manufacturers that had to temporarily close factories in 2020 and have struggled to ramp production back up ever since.

Even one of the largest candle manufacturers in the country, Yankee Candle, has had to deal with significant pandemic-related production headwinds.

"Our facilities here locally were shut down for several months,” said Lisa McCarthy. "For the period that we were closed, we use that period to gear up for our holiday season for the second half.”

McCarthy is the President of Home Fragrance at Newell Brands, the parent company of Yankee Candle.

“So, when we came out of that period, the fact that we weren’t able to build that inventory, coupled with the increase we saw in consumption and demand from consumers, really left us scrambling,” added McCarthy.

In addition to a mandated closure at a key production time, Yankee Candle had to deal with a labor shortage upon resuming production.

"A really widespread labor shortage,” McCarthy explained, “I mean we tried everything: wage increases, incentives, referral bonuses.”

Over the past year, it was such a challenge at Yankee Candle that company executives, including McCarthy, had to volunteer hours on the factory floor. However, the labor shortage issue is not unique to Yankee Candle or the candle industry. Across the entire manufacturing industry, this issue is being reported.

“I think that people seeing all the effort that went into adhering to social distancing and all of the CDC guidelines, that helped to put people at ease,” said Tom Leveille.

Leveille works in the factory and was the manager making the calls to get workers to return. He said what helped the most to get workers back into factories was the workers actually seeing all the new health and safety measures in place. Temperatures are taken, plexiglass barriers separate workers on the factory floor, arrows line the factory to allow for orderly and distanced navigation through the factory, there is hand sanitizer station throughout, and a cleaning team works all day to continuously sanitize surfaces. What has also help get new workers and even some old ones back has been the realization of the level of job security in this industry right now, especially compared to other areas like the restaurant or entertainment industries.

“That has been invaluable, to know you are going to wake up and your job is going to be there, and you just need to show up to work,” said Leveille. “That should be considered heavily for anyone that is looking for any job.”

In addition to job security, especially for skilled factory workers, some manufacturers have increased wages by 25% to lure in more workers. It is great for those in need of a job, but some economists warn about the cost being passed to consumers. Manufacturers have already signaled a price increase for items like TVs, fans and lighting fixtures, although not quite yet on in-demand candles.