[This story originally aired on Marketplace, October 9, 2009]
TEXT OF STORY
TESS VIGELAND: If you’re feeling shoptimistic and braving the crowds this weekend, you no doubt noticed that retailers are going all out to get your attention.
But despite the banners, fireworks and discounts, there are some people who are just impossible to shop for.
Like … MEN!
But leave it to those retailers to invent the perfect gift for the man in your life.
From the Marketplace Entrepreneurship Desk, Caitlan Carroll has this illuminating story.
Caitlan Carroll Candles don’t sound like something a tough guy would want. But what about Mandles?
Commercial: Don’t know what to get for the man who is admired for his manliness by other manly men? Never fear. The Chuck Norris sweat Mandle is here.
Jennifer Catrin: I have no idea where that came from.
It came from YouTube. It’s a spoof on Mandles. Jennifer Catrin and her husband Mark started the candle company a few months ago. It’s not their first venture.
Jennifer: Oh, we’ve been through so many!
Mark: I spend a lot of hours looking around to see what’s hot and what’s not. But to be honest mainly to be looking for what’s not there.
What’s not there? Candles designed for men. With special manly smells like dirt and rawhide.
To see if this is something a guy would actually buy, I head out to Big Wangs sports bar in Hollywood. I find Brad Caratulo drinking beer and watching football.
Brad Caratulo: I buy candles for my room.
Carroll: What kind?
Caratulo: What did I get last time? Mango.
Hmmm… This seems promising. So I take out the Mandle and light it up. It’s bacon scented
Caratulo: This smells like the sponge in the urinal.
There are others, like bass killer, auto shop, meat and potatoes. Caratulo shakes his head.
Caratulo: I buy candles so it smells good for girls not for me.
His buddy Gerard Palacios says this is definitely something a guy would not buy for himself
Gerard Palacios: It’s the type of product a girlfriend would buy for you and then you’d break up the next week, but you’d have a Mandle at the end of the relationship so it’s a win-win-win.
And there’s the rub. The candles are for men. But about 90 percent of all candles — almost $2 billion worth — are bought by women. So how do you sell a $15 candle that smells, well, kinda gross?
Play up the novelty factor. Joe Priester is a marketing professor at the University of Southern California.
Joe Priester: It can get people who sort of buy it because it’s sort of ironic and hip and tap into people who are buying it from sort of a non-ironic position.
That can work, says Joseph Pedott, godfather of the novelty business. He’s behind:
Commercial: Cha Cha Chia! Chia Pets!
Commercial: Clap on, clap off!
Pedott says to make a mark in the novelty business, products have to be fun, cheap to sell but even cheaper to make.
JOSEPH Pedott: That’s like finding a needle in a hay stack. It really is. If you get one, then it’s worth it.
The Catrins think they may have one. They’ve made a couple thousand dollars on Mandles in the first few months of business. And they’re expanding the line.
Mark: A couple upcoming smells we’re going to have is burnt gunpowder, which is in pretty high demand. We’ve received lots of requests.
Jennifer: I’d like to do Wet Dog, but I haven’t figured out how you put wet dog into a machine.
What they really need to figure out is how to turn stink into the sweet smell of profits.
In Los Angeles, I’m Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.
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