It's almost every small-business owner's dream to be featured on Oprah's list of "favorite things." But twice? Well, then they would have to pinch themselves. For Jon Bresler, founder and owner of Lafco, a high-end soap and candle company, it's been a dream come true. The talk show queen, whose show is now in its final season, recently named Lafco's House & Home Candle Collection to her list of "ultimate favorite things."
Lafco, which stands for Luxury Articles and Fragrance Company, has four locations and is sold in stores like bluemercury. Bresler is a former litigation lawyer who moved to Switzerland to worked as a speechwriter for a pharmaceutical company. After coming across a Just Lady (akin to an Avon Lady) selling aromatherapy oils and candles, the idea for Lafco was born. He founded the candle company in 1995 as a design-forward bath and body concept inspired by Europe's age-old tradition of artisanal soapmaking.
Lafco has three principle brands - Santa Maria Novella (imported from the 13th century Florentine homeopathic pharmacy of the same name), Claus Porto (a "joint venture" with a Portuguese soapmaker) and the House & Home Collection, which launched four years ago. This last collection features 18 candles, each designed to create a different atmosphere in different rooms, based on how they should or could smell - bedroom, bathroom, laundry room and dining room are just a few examples. Each member in Oprah's audience received the entire set of 18 candles, at a retail value of $1,100.
We recently caught up with Bresler to find out how he got on Oprah, how it affects business and how hard it was to keep mum about the big O until Friday's show.
Congratulations on being chosen for "favorite things." I'm sure it's been a busy weekend for Lafco!
There was a nice spike! We are getting thousands of visitors a day, whereas normally we receive hundreds of visitors a day. Just over the weekend, sales have tripled.
That's free publicity most businesses would love. How does one get on Oprah?
We're in New York City, and we consider ourselves a design-forward bath and body concept with beautiful packaging. We have our own public relations team, and O, The Oprah Magazine and the television show are things that we pitch every year. We've been pitching Oprah for the past 10 years!
When did you find out you were selected?
We were first notified during the summer. Harpo people said Oprah burns our candles and chose us as a candidate, and they asked if we were interested in going forward. They asked if we would be willing to donate 7,000 candles (18 House & Home Collection candles for 350 audience members), which is a significant investment, but we don't spend any money on advertising -- we rely on editors' and staff writers' editorial comments in the press. We said yes and we were notified about six weeks ago that we were picked. I had to sign a contact with Harpo, and one of the most important parts of the contract is that were not allowed to tell anyone.
That must have been pretty difficult.
It's one of the hardest-kept secrets in life -- certainly in my life! It's heart-wrenching to purchase more inventory and gear up for Oprah without the ability to tell everyone why.
And you first got lucky in 2007. How did it affect business -- and were you able to meet the inevitable demand?
In 2007, Oprah featured our Claus Porto soaps, there were times that we wished it didn't happen - and you have to take that with a grain of salt! The increase in sales was astronomical, and we sold $1 million in 30 days on our website alone. We were seriously unprepared, so some orders were shipped late or packages were misaddressed, and we did have a concern that it might get back to Oprah. We went into absolute overload and were putting ads in newspapers and looking for help. It was overwhelming.
So how did you prepare this time around?
We were very well-prepared -- we've been preparing for this for six or seven weeks. We have extra staff in the office and in the warehouse, we added two phone lines and we increased our Web server size, so we did quite a bit of preparation.
What advice do you have for other small-business owners who are hoping with get an Oprah plug?
I would caution a small business to make sure you have the resources to handle a 10- or 15-fold spike in business overnight.
Now that you've had a few days to bask in the Oprah afterglow, how does it feel?
We feel very special for being chosen by Oprah -- we really, really do -- and we think of ourselves as being very different. We're a small business and we deliver a high-quality product with a focus on authenticity. Authenticity is a big word for Lafco.
Name: Jon Bresler
Location: New York
2009 Revenue: 15 million
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 11/22/10.
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