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The Candle Maker Chronicles: Lessons in Pricing, Humbly Learned

If you are reading this, then it’s likely that you have heard we will be increasing our candle prices on October 1st, 2019. What follows is our story about making candles, and figuring out what to charge for them; the mistakes we made and lessons we learned.


Early days


The background to our current price increase begins many moons ago, when we started Keap in 2015. We knew we wanted to create candles of the highest quality and to build a sustainable operation and business. We spent the best part of our first year testing waxes, meeting perfumers and homing in on how a Keap candle would eventually be made. We were full of enthusiasm, and it was equal parts intimidating and exhilarating.



Early Keap pouring by hand, 2015.


In November 2015, we launched Keap on Kickstarter. When we set our original prices for Kickstarter, we still only had a very rough idea of the cost of the raw materials and candle-pouring. Needless to say, many early mistakes were made and one of them was our chosen price-point.

Back in 2015, the price of a Keap candle was $28. We chose this price as it felt “right”, and the best available information suggested it would allow us to build out the business. As we began investing into materials and production, it became clear that this price left only a few dollars per candle to pay rent and our team—never mind anything else. You don’t need an MBA to know that this pricing was not going to get us very far.



Initial batches of candles being finished, 2016.


Finding our feet


One thing we have always had is a deep pool of belief and enthusiasm. Between 2015 and 2018 we aimed to do it all! We saw the rise of Amazon and large, robotic online companies that showed little care for their customers and the environment. We decided to do things differently by taking care of shipping, manufacturing, sourcing and everything in between. Our vision was a business with a deep reservoir of heart and soul and a commitment to restoring our planet, and our focus was not so much on margins as creating the ultimate experience. We optimistically delayed worrying about the smaller hidden costs in our business that quickly add up—like the 3% cut taken by payment processing companies on every single purchase, and the time (and therefore cost) it takes to handwrite a note and carefully pack a candle shipment.

As a new business, we also had a great need to get the word out. We made sure we did everything we could to get Keap in front of our New York neighbors—from pop-ups in offices to candle making workshops, from custom orders to collaborations. When months were slow, we sought income through side jobs to keep the business operating smoothly. In hindsight, we were spreading ourselves too thin, and as enthusiastic as we were, we were building up an unseen debt of physical and mental exhaustion.



Harry heading out to a pop-up with our trusty candle bag, 2017.


In fact, towards the end of this period (and with his permission to share), Harry’s health took a major turn for the worse. On a flight back from spending Thanksgiving with his family in 2017, he suffered an unexpected seizure-like event. Besides the immediate shock, the event resulted in him spending the next 8 months trying to find a diagnosis. On top of this worry, he spent those months severely weakened by the effects of the heavy seizure medication he was prescribed.

Though these were times of personal struggle, they also led to personal growth. We took more time to light our own candles and find a better balance in our lives. We had the impetus to slow down and reflect on what was working and the sort of company we wanted Keap to become.



Keap + Ecovative mushroom packaging, 2018.


2018 became a big turning point for us. Harry and I spent many months creating our first full vision statement for Keap’s future. We saw clearly that regenerative business was where the world needed to go and what our customers were demanding. We had a new sense of personal purpose: to become pioneers of this new, regenerative economy. We began learning about new models of equitable and lasting company ownership, new and ancient farming techniques we could support and new zero-waste materials we could bring to light.

In stepping back, we also saw that our candle subscription was providing by far the most joy to our customers and fostering richer relationships between us and them. Moving more slowly and purposefully, we said “No” to more things, breathed deeply and took on fresh focus.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, building around the subscription was brilliant in terms of helping restore our personal health and happiness. We found ourselves better able to plan and forecast our candle pouring, and were becoming a highly effective candle operation. Furthermore, we were finally able to work on things that excited our subscribers, like making our packaging 100% compostable and creating a new 2019 artist series.



Waves for subscribers, 2019.


Building for the long term


This summer, we took another step back to refresh our vision and refill our proverbial cups. One of the values that became clear as we discussed Keap’s future was our conviction to be long-term committed. For us, long-term commitment means prioritizing long-term relationships in every aspect of our business: from the way we care for our customers and our team, to the way we tend to our relationships with the farmers who sustainably grow our raw materials.

In the past year, we had substantially grown as a business and a community of subscribers. Yet, despite our optimism and energy, we were once again struggling to sustain our business or invest in our regenerative vision. With our earlier focus issue solved, we were able to analyze all aspects of our business more clearly. It became obvious that pricing was the root cause of this continuing cycle: we were saving our subscribers a few dollars in the short term, but not putting our business (and vision) in a place to be viable in the long-term.



Keap in the wild, 2019


The solution became just as clear: we needed to set our prices where they should have always been.

So as of October 1st 2019, our prices will (proudly) be increasing to appropriately reflect our long-term commitment to building a business that serves you, our team and the planet. Our subscription price will now be $39.50, and our one-off candles will be $49.50.

With our price changes, we will be able to progress in the areas our subscribers and all of us care so deeply about:

  • Investing in continuous improvement of our subscription
  • Enriching the lives of our broader community (customers, employees, suppliers and local communities) 
  • Making a meaningful contribution in the fight against the climate crisis
  • Creating a business that is still thriving in 20 years

We’re proud of the candles we make and what they mean to you, and proud to be putting our business in the best possible place to be able to continue to serve you.

If you have any questions, please get in touch. We love hearing from you.

We are excited to start this new chapter!

With gratitude,

Stephen (+ much help, patience and friendship from Harry), Keap Owners

 


The Keap Team, 2019.
(Harry, Donna, Jess, Karen, Stephen, Yasmine, + Jane)