Aunt Sadie’s has been a Be staple since the day we opened our doors. With a wide variety of scents and colorful label designs, their “candles in a can” are perfect for every season and setting. We sat down with co-founder Gary Briggs to talk about the deep history behind Aunt Sadie’s and his passion for the Shop Local movement.
BE: What inspired you to launch Aunt Sadie’s?
Gary: In all honesty, we pinch ourselves when we think how far we’ve come since we first started. In the mid-nineties, my business partner Brian Schnetzer decided he wanted to learn to make candles. His search for classes in the Boston area was unsuccessful so he bought books and basic equipment and began to teach himself. He made about 80 pairs of hand-dipped tapers over the stovetop in his first three weeks.
He gave some of his first batch to family for Christmas and I convinced him to sell the rest in my antique shop. Brian is a graphic designer so he made decorative labels for the tapers, but never thought they had a chance of selling. But, of course, we sold 50 pairs in three weeks and customers came back to the shop saying, “These are the best candles I’ve ever burned!” Eventually, we found the taper candles were too labor intensive so we switched to our signature “candle in a can” in 2004.
We’ve since moved our manufacturing to the rural town of Lunenberg, Vermont (where I grew up). Our candles are made daily by family and friends, in a barn built in 1865. We still have an antique shop on the property and we love visitors!
BE: Why did you choose the name “Aunt Sadie’s” for your business?
Gary: Aunt Sadie, or Sadie Denton, was Brian’s grandmother. He had a very special relationship with her and decided to honor her life by naming the company after her. In 1992, she died at the age of 91. While she never made candles, she baked almost every day and rarely used a recipe. Aunt Sadie taught herself to bake by trial and error, which is exactly how Brian learned to make candles.
BE: Tell us about your process for brainstorming and eventually deciding which candle’s you’re going to make each season?
Gary: Being hands-on business owners makes it easy for us to go directly to customers for feedback on what’s working and what’s missing, so a number of our ideas have come directly from them. We also get regular feedback from our sales reps. For example, our rep in Kentucky urged us for years to make a bourbon candle so she could sell it to stores on the Bourbon Trail. We felt it had a very limited audience so we didn’t move on it very quickly, but she was persistent and we finally introduced our Honey Bourbon candle in January 2016. It was our best scent product launch ever.
Brian and I also meet once a week over dinner and brainstorm ideas during that time. Sometimes we’ll design a label or series of labels before we ever decide on the scent. We tend not to follow industry trends but we do watch current events and that certainly inspires some of our candle designs. Vintage images also inspire us. I’m still in the antiques business and I’m always looking for something fun that can be the inspiration for a new label.
BE: Talk about your process for hand pouring candles and the importance of premium wax and essential oils.
Gary: Brian’s grandmother inspired our core beliefs of hand-making our candles using premium ingredients. Many people will tell you that hand pouring scented candles in a container is a waste of time. We don’t believe that! It may not increase the value in our customers’ minds, but our team is very proud to be making a handmade product.
Paraffin wax can be purchased in different grades with different additives and we’ve selected one that we think is best. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about types of candle wax. Unfortunately, much of the information is misleading. About ninety-five percent of candle makers in the US use paraffin. It’s the absolute best material for the base of a candle because it’s very hard when it gels. In fact, many of the alternative wax manufacturers (e.g. soy) use as much as 50 percent paraffin because they need something to harden the very soft soy wax.
We get our true-to-life scents by purchasing well-developed fragrances. Fragrance is sold by the liquid pound. The more your pay per pound, the more essential oils you get.
BE: What are your favorite candle scents and designs?
Gary: For May, some of our best sellers are Fresh Cut Grass, Rosemary, Lilac, Lavender, Sunshine, Daffodil, Ocean and Clementine Vanilla. Our Mother’s Bouquet candle is also very popular for Mother’s Day. May is Lilac Month in many parts of the country so it’s also extremely popular. Our Lilac candle smells just like a fresh blooming lilac bush!
My all time favorite has to be our famous Pine Candle…partly because it’s our #1 seller, but also because it has an absolutely incredible fragrance. I grew up in rural Vermont, so I’ve always had a strong affection for the Adirondack region of New York and their lush pine forests.
BE: How important are small boutiques to Aunt Sadie’s success?
Gary: Aunt Sadie’s built its business on small, independently owned boutiques and shops and they remain the core of our business after 19 years. We owned our own retail shop in Boston for 10 years and we’re huge supporters of the Shop Local movement. The success of an independent retailer is the ability to offer products that can’t be bought everywhere. We know how tough that challenge is from owning our own store.
Studies show that 60 cents of every dollar spent in a locally owned shop stays in the community. That drops below 30 cents for a dollar spent in a “big box” chain store. It’s also the local independent retailers who support independent charities through gift basket donations for silent auctions, ads in small program books, selling tickets for local events, making monetary donations, and volunteering. It truly is the small independent retailers who are the backbones of the “Main Street” in our communities.