THE CHAL­LENGE

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE -

THE chal­lenge of grow­ing a global brand is no small un­der­tak­ing. A com­pany must de­velop a prod­uct with uni­ver­sal ap­peal that is at­trac­tive across mul­ti­ple mar­kets and is sup­ported by a ro­bust mar­ket­ing, brand­ing and lo­gis­tics op­er­a­tion. But Wick­low-based Max Ben­jamin seems to have fig­ured out how to grow a global foot­print. Its scented can­dles and fra­grance dif­fusers can be found in top depart­ment stores around the world.

HOME fra­grance spe­cial­ist Max Ben­jamin was set up in 2007 by sib­lings Orla, David and Mark Van den Bergh. Lo­cated in the pic­turesque Wick­low Moun­tains just out­side the vil­lage of En­niskerry, the com­pany em­ploys 12 staff and is on tar­get to see an­nual rev­enues reach €5m this year.

“We de­sign, man­u­fac­ture and sell a wide range of scented can­dles, scented cards and fra­grance dif­fusers,” says David, the com­pany’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

Their most recog­nis­able range, their Clas­sic Col­lec­tion, comes in bright colour­ful boxes and in fra­grances rang­ing from a homely Cloves and Cin­na­mon scent to the more ex­otic White Pome­gran­ate, French Linen Wa­ter and Per­sian Rose fra­grances.

Their Amalfi Col­lec­tion which in­cludes fra­grances such as Ac­qua Viva and Fiora Rosa, draws its in­spi­ra­tion from the Amalfi Coast in Italy where the fam­ily spend a lot of time both for busi­ness and leisure.

“Our Ely­sium Col­lec­tion is also very pop­u­lar. Fo­cused on cre­at­ing a sense of in­dul­gence and il­lu­sion, we use re­lax­ing scents with names such as ‘En­chanted Paths’ and ‘Es­cape to Won­der­land’, to help give users a sense of es­cape from the de­mands of their busy lives,” says Mark.

David and Mark then show me their pre­mium range, the Ilum Col­lec­tion.

Now sold in top gift and depart­ment stores across the world, this range comes in large porcelain vases with swirling ge­o­met­ri­cally shaped de­signs in­spired by the fam­ily’s Bel­gian her­itage.

I am to­tally taken by the qual­ity of every­thing this com­pany does.

From the de­sign of their packing to the metic­u­lous lay­out of their show­room dis­play. There is a level of care and at­ten­tion to de­tail that is rarely seen.

Be­yond the show­room is the pro­duc­tion area where a team of skilled can­dle mak­ers are busy pour­ing the day’s pro­duc­tion. What’s sur­pris­ing is that ev­ery can­dle is poured by hand.

“We add the se­lected fra­grance to the melted wax be­fore the blend is poured into each can­dle holder,” says David.

“The process takes seven hours from start to fin­ish. We use only 100pc nat­u­ral waxes that do not con­tain any paraf­fins, while our wicks are made from nat­u­ral Ital­ian cot­ton,” he adds.

David, Mark and Orla grew up right be­side where the fac­tory and show­room are now sit­u­ated. In fact, this used to be the site of the fam­ily’s sta­bles.

Their fa­ther, orig­i­nally from Bel­gium, was him­self an en­tre­pre­neur who ran a suc­cess­ful en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness, some­thing David and Mark be­lieve helped in­stil a strong work ethic in them, to­gether with a sense of in­de­pen­dence.

“He really en­cour­aged us to do things for our­selves and I think the rea­son none of us grew up with a fear of be­ing self-em­ployed is largely down to both his en­cour­age­ment and his ex­am­ple,” says Mark.

The ini­tial idea to get into the can­dle busi­ness came from Orla. She had stud­ied eco­nom­ics at UCD be­fore mov­ing to the US where she found a job in a can­dle-man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness.

On her re­turn to Ire­land in 1995, she be­gan mak­ing church can­dles, more as a hobby than a busi­ness. How­ever, in time, that changed and two years later she be­gan pro­duc­ing can­dles un­der the name Oberg for pri­vate la­bel and depart­ment stores.

Mark joined the busi­ness in 1998. Hav­ing com­pleted a de­gree in eco­nom­ics and phi­los­o­phy he had gained con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence in sales with Beamish Ir­ish Stout in Ger­many.

David, a busi­ness and fi­nance grad­u­ate from NUI Maynooth had been work­ing in the IT sec­tor in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia and on his re­turn home, he too joined the busi­ness, in 2003.

In 2007, Orla, David and Mark launched Max Ben­jamin with all three as equal share­hold­ers.

“The busi­ness is called af­ter Orla’s twin boys, Max and Ben. We were try­ing a few names and this one really stuck with us,” says Mark. “We launched at Show­case in 2008 and were for­tu­nate to se­cure Avoca and the Kilkenny Group as cus­tomers.

“From there we ex­hib­ited at trade shows in the UK where we landed John Lewis and Sel­f­ridges. The fol­low­ing year we launched in Ger­many and grew it out grad­u­ally from there.

“In the early days, we were put in touch with a men­tor with a de­sign back­ground who helped us iden­tify the key ar­eas where we needed to im­prove if we were to be suc­cess­ful in cre­at­ing prod­ucts of dif­fer­ence that would stand out in an in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket.

“These in­cluded hir­ing qual­ity sales pro­fes­sion­als, in­vest­ing in high-qual­ity pho­tog­ra­phy and un­der­tak­ing more PR — and these really did help shape our fu­ture growth,” says David.

Since then, the founders have de­vel­oped vast ex­pe­ri­ence from deal­ing with in­ter­na­tional re­tail­ers, at­tend­ing in­ter­na­tional trade shows and set­ting up world­wide dis­tri­bu­tion agree­ments.

To­day they sup­ply their prod­ucts into 42 coun­tries world­wide, in­clud­ing lux­ury depart­ment and home­wares stores such as Brown Thomas in Ire­land, Har­rods and Sel­f­ridges in the UK, La Ri­na­cente, 10 Corso Como, Italy, KDW and Oper­pollinger in Ger­many, Le Bon Marché in France, Mit­sukoshi and Takashimaya Ja­pan, Stevens in New Zealand and Myer in Aus­tralia.

David now serves as MD while Mark looks af­ter prod­uct de­sign and brand­ing and Orla re­mains ac­tive in the busi­ness on a half time ba­sis. To­gether, they have grown the com­pany 35pc an­nu­ally over the last five years and are on tar­get to do the same again this year.

“We have come a long way since we started and our vi­sion now is to grow the com­pany to be­come the mar­ket leader in lux­ury home fra­grance world­wide,” says David.

Any­one who has ever picked up some­thing from the Max Ben­jamin range can­not but be im­pressed with the qual­ity of the prod­uct and the pack­ag­ing that goes with it.

Hav­ing met the founders and the team be­hind the brand, it’s easy to see why their love for what they do, to­gether with their ab­so­lute at­ten­tion to de­tail is pay­ing off in spades. This is an Ir­ish brand that is really go­ing places. maxben­jamin.ie

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