Not all candles need to smell like a vague pastoral landscape intended to bring up abstract emotions — some just smell like roasted nuts.
That’s the idea behind Literie, a candle company behind very specific scents. Its first batch of candles were intended to encapsulate New York City. They included one that smells like the hot roasted nut carts littering Manhattan’s streetscape and another that tries to capture the aromas of bodega coffee.
“This brand is more about the names of the scents,” said founder and CEO Erica Werber. “It’s not a fragrance company where you’re trying to develop these notes and become the signature scent of someone’s home. It really is about what is this scent or what is this name bringing into my life?”
Werber joined the Modern Retail Podcast this week and spoke about the company’s growth. It first launched in 2021 with its five New York-centric scents, and has expanded into other areas like a New England candle that mimics the sea breeze and saltwater. Literie has also built a successful partnership engine, with high-profile collaborations with The Real Housewives of New York and the U.S. Open.
Literie first began as a side project during the pandemic, but the products became popular very quickly. And as soon as her very specifically scented candles went viral, retailers came knocking. For example, Macy’s reached out to Literie about purchasing a wholesale order.
This moment, said Werber, was when she realized Literie was going to become a full-time job. When the order first came in, she said, “I really thought that I could have my manufacturer develop these, ship them to me and I would throw them in my car and drive them to Macy’s.” Of course, that’s not how retail works. And so, Literie had to find a warehouse to fulfill the growing number of orders. “At that point, I was like if we’re going to start investing just to do this Macy’s order, then we have to really work to make this investment worth it.”
Two years in, Literie is continuing to grow and expanding its retail footprint. And it’s also open to bringing on new brand partnerships. But, according to Werber, even though the brand is still a startup she does have some hard rules.
For one, all partnerships must include the Literie name. “I don’t need to put the time and effort into something that isn’t going to get people to come back to my website or give us more name recognition,” she said.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
When Werber realized she needed to be prepared for retail expansion
“When we got that first big retail order, it had come from Macy’s, I think they had wanted to purchase 10,000 candles. The amount of backend work that has to happen for you to ship product to Macy’s is unimaginable. I really thought that I could have my manufacturer develop these, ship them to me and I would throw them in my car and drive them to Macy’s. That’s genuinely what I thought the process would be. And I think once we realized we had to invest in these back-end programs, now we need a warehouse — we were shipping these products out of my mother’s garage up until that point — it was like, ‘Ok, we need people involved to help us do this.’ At that point, I was like if we’re going to start investing just to do this Macy’s order, then we have to really work to to make this investment worth it. If we need to get a warehouse, then that warehouse should be holding lots of inventory. And if we’re investing in these systems, then we should have other retailers [be] a part of that system as well.”
How Literie inked its first partnerships
“There was actually no intention of ever doing licensing for this brand. The Real Housewives [partnership] came about because their head of licensing happened to see a post about the brand in my LinkedIn feed. We weren’t even connected and it was just [that] she opened her feed and… maybe it was a New York Post article or something. And she had reached out and said, ‘We’ve been wanting to do candles, we haven’t figured out the way to do it. Is that something you’d want to partner on?’ The U.S. Open was genuinely me playing tennis one day and my tennis partner saying you should make a U.S. Open candle. And I found out who their head of merchandising is and sent them an email. And it was the same response: ‘Yes, we’ve always wanted to do a candle. We haven’t figured out how to do it yet.’ So most of these partnerships were either inbound or just an easy email away.”
‘I’m not a manufacturer’
“We won’t do [a brand partnership] without our brand name [on the product]. I won’t name names, but we had an opportunity last year, which would have been huge for us. And, really, it came down to when we provided them with the designs, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is great, but we want to take Literie off of it.’ And at that point, I’m not a manufacturer. So if you just want to make your own candles then I’m happy to move you along. But I don’t need to put the time and effort into something that isn’t going to get people to come back to my website or give us more name recognition.”