How many of us have dreamt about turning our favorite hobby or side hustle into a profitable business? For most people, it’s exactly that- a dream. But talk to Erica Werber, founder and CEO of Literie Candle, and she will tell you- she did exactly that. She launched what she thought was a pandemic hobby with the help of her kids scent sampling while remote learning and planned to then return to her normal career. However, much to Erica’s surprise, her hobby turned out to resonate with thousands of people and Literie Candle is now recognized as one of the top luxury candle brands. It seems as though Erica was poised with the perfect product and business plan at exactly the perfect time. We got to talk to Erica and hear all about how she took her hobby and made it into a sought after brand.
Erica found herself with a lot more time on her hands when the pandemic hit and her current business was slowing down. During this time, she began missing family and friends and had what she thought at the time was just a crazy thought. It all started with her love of the smells in New York City and wanting ways to remember her father who had recently passed away. The smell of a hot roasted nut cart- her father’s favorite- was something she couldn’t get enough of, but with Covid this was becoming harder and harder to find- and she was of course- staying home.
She shared about her father, “He’s a born and raised New Yorker and always bought a bag. When he passed away, I found myself going to them more and more just to have a memory of him. And at some point I thought well how can I bottle this smell? Like can we make this a candle? How do I create something where I could smell this whenever I wanted. ” This thought led to more inspiration of Erica’s favorite New York City scents, like the 28th Street Flower Market, A Mr. Softee ice cream cone on a hot day, the grass in Central Park.
With no background in the candle making industry, Erica took to Google to get started on everything from supplies, to fragrance making, to manufacturers and retailers. When she found a lab to work with on the candle fragrances, Erica knew that she really wanted her candles to evoke a memory of New York City, that set the brand apart from others in the industry. One of the ways she achieved that was through the labels themselves. The other was by making sure the scents are completely true to real life. “They say, ‘Afternoon in Central Park,’ and when you open up and smell that candle, it smells like grass. It’s not like a pretty version of grass. I mean, it smells like grass.” She also wanted to be sure the hot roasted nut cart candle smelled exactly like her favorite memories with her father. So she purchased 10 bags of hot nuts from a nut cart in Times Square and sent them to the lab so they could get the smell exactly right.
The difference with Literie Candles is in the feeling of nostalgia that the scents evoke for people. Erica recalled, “My grandmother cooked all the time and I remember always walking into her home as a child and there would be these smells, it was such a good feeling. Now if I happen to walk by a Polish restaurant and smell one of those smells, I’m immediately brought back to my grandmother’s house. And that’s what I think these candles are doing for people. So let’s bring them in with the label. And then they have a chance to smell it. And they’re like, yeah, totally.” Literie’s inspiration and branding is like a love letter to New York City with scents for different memories throughout New York City, developed during a time when people couldn’t go out and smell them.
With so much inspiration and the extra time on her hands during the pandemic, Erica decided to take a risk and make a small investment to produce a small amount of inventory- to just see what would happen. “I thought I would purchase this minimum order of 2000 candles, it would take me maybe a year or two to sell them,” she told us, only to later discover that candles are one of the most purchased items by people during the pandemic. So with a combination of Literie’s unique brand story and the high demand for the product- she sold over 10,000 candles in only 9 months of launching the brand.
People were updating their spaces in affordable ways- like buying candles and there was even a pandemic tradition for remote workers to light candles at 5pm the end of the day to signify the end of the work day, “because it was hard to create that separation, especially if you lived in a very small apartment. So people would be like, I’m gonna put my laptop away, and start my evening now. And the candle symbolizes that. That was a fun idea.” Erica said. Unknowingly, Erica’s desire to bring those memories home became something that thousands of people could really relate to and that became apparent with the official launch of Literie.
Literie’s April Fools Launch
Erica has a background in public relations, so when she decided she really wanted to launch the Literie Candle brand, her first hire was a PR agency. Erica shared, “Right before our first photo shoot we decided that we would create a candle for April Fool’s Day, which was just a little over a week after our launch day, and we created a candle called Summer in the Subway, and the scent was hot trash. Clearly not something we were going to actually create. But the photography had, you know, a crumpled up MetroCard, and an old slice of pizza and some trash. And that’s really where things took off.”
She put the April Fool’s Day candle up on the Literie website, with the professional photography and branding, and then those that purchased a candle received a mystery candle in one of the current scents. They also added a charitable element to the launch with 50% of the profits of the April Fool’s Day candle going to New York Cares- an organization that was helping the homeless, who were struggling so much during the pandemic.
“So I think it was just a perfect brand to launch during this time. We have this super funny candle for April 1. And then the charitable component I think is really what pulled people’s interest. And I think people just started posting about it and then the media caught on but then other people just started reposting it. It was amazing. I’m not sure we could recreate that kind of attention like that, again,” Erica said about the April Fool’s launch success.
Literie’s first $20,000 month
With the momentum building from the PR agency’s work, Erica decided it was time to start advertising. So she brought in a small advertising agency that specialized in social media advertising, and sales spiked from $4,000 monthly to $20,000 using targeted ads for their New York loving, candle shopping audience. Erica tells us, “ I spent $1,500 a month and for $20,000 in return that month- it was incredible. They’re a great agency. But I think our photography speaks to people. I think we had great video content. You know, it’s eye catching, when you’re scrolling through Instagram, and especially if you can easily target candle lovers.”
They began targeting consumers in New York, California, and Florida since a lot of New Yorkers move to those states. However, they quickly saw that New Yorkers loved sending Literie Candles to their loved ones all over the states. With sales increasing, and the trend in gift giving, Erica also saw many gift receivers returning to purchase more candles of their own, which is no surprise given the personal touch that went into every order.
Erica shared, “When we first started, I was personally fulfilling all the orders out of my apartment. I hadn’t thought about a fulfillment service yet or warehousing. I mean, this really was me doing this at home, my kids sometimes were helping me pack stuff up and apply labels. But because of that, we were offering a free handwritten note for anyone who wanted to ship a gift to anyone. So for months, I was writing these notes for orders and they were beautiful. It was parents to children talking about how they can’t wait for them to come visit again. It was notes between two best friends who used to have brunch in the West Village together- which is one of our candles- and they hadn’t been able to do that in a while. And I felt really honored to be able to kind of step into these intimate relationships and read these beautiful messages where you can clearly see that people were missing each other. People were missing socialization and being out and being with each other. And it was kind of beautiful to be a part of that and read those.”
The Literie Difference
Another way that Literie stands out from the rest, is their commitment to supporting small businesses and to producing clean products. From the candle manufacturer, to the jars and packaging, Erica made sure that everything she sourced for the candles was also supporting small businesses. Every component of every candle is all made in the USA and every company involved is a small, family-owned business.
Erica shared with us that she is really sensitive to fragrances, so she wanted to ensure that other people with sensitivities felt safe using her candles. Every Literie candle is created with a vegan soy and coconut wax blend paired with high-quality fragrance oils. It was a top priority for Erica to have high quality fragrance oils from the start. In addition to being high quality, Literie candles are always sulfate-free, phthalate-free, animal cruelty-free and non-toxic.
What’s Next for Literie
Even though the Literie New York collection is not slowing in popularity, Erica also has plans to expand the brand to other regions and cities. In fact, Literie launched a Miami line, as it is one of Erica’s favorite places to visit and a Jersey Shore candle, as most New Yorkers will spend some time on the Jersey Shore. Also on the horizon, Literie will be launching a Los Angeles collection- and just like the New York collection Erica is working hard to make sure everything is just right so keep your eyes peeled for the new line coming soon.