With scents as varied as “Lavender Lemonade” and “Drunken Unicorn,” Brandon Love’s Crumble Co. burns in a unique — Love would say “joyful” — space within the candle market.
A wide grin spreads across the 21-year-old founder’s face as he notes the name of the wax melt spreading aroma throughout his loft apartment at One Light in downtown Kansas City.
“That’s ‘Sexy Lumberjack’ … a Christmas classic,” he says, laughing.
Online sales from the candle company are successful enough to pay for Love’s upper-floor luxury apartment, as well as support the team of four at his Olathe production facility, he said. And Love is continuing to grow the brand.
“I really want Crumble Co. to be Kansas City’s aroma company,” the feisty, young business owner said. “There’s a lot of hipster-esque brands and chill brands, but I want to be like, ‘No. Screw it. Let’s go all-pink, wild.’ I like colors and loud and craziness.”
Pink candles in the darkness
Life didn’t always afford such a bright and cheery view from near the top, he said.
Growing up in a poor family in Baltimore, Love dropped out of school in the ninth grade, he said. He lied to his mother about attending homeschool classes. He faked a diploma.
It allowed him the freedom to embrace his crafty side, embarking on an early graphic design career and learning business tactics along the way, Love said. He sold products on Etsy, made fabric, cell phone cases and stuffed animals.
But at 18, a bad breakup with a boyfriend of three years nearly snuffed it all.
“I put a gun to my head in my dad’s closet,” Love said. “I had lost all of my graphic design clients because I just couldn’t focus. I had to let them go because I was failing them. I was losing my mind.”
As he contemplated suicide, Love took to heart the advice of a friend who told him to battle through dark times by staying busy, he said.
“Schedule things with friends. Get crafty. Start a new project. Do stuff that keeps your hands busy, your mind busy,” Love said. “Before you know it, you’ll look back and this big breakup will be over.”
With $50 in his pocket, he left the closet and asked his mom if she would be willing to throw in another $50 to start a business, he said.
“I don’t know why I chose candles,” Love said. “I didn’t even burn candles.”
The Little Pink Candle Company followed, with scented pillars, clam shell shapes and jars, he said. They were all the same color because Love could only afford one color of dye, he said.
“Our first candles were not good, but I didn’t give up. Family and friends supported me and I didn’t let the bad things get me down,” he said.
The products were sold through Etsy, as well as by patrolling Facebook swap-and-shop groups for people who might be interested, Love said.
“Someone would say, ‘I’m looking for a candle that smells like grass,’” he recalled. “I’d be like, ‘Oooh! Oooh! I can make a candle that smells like grass — but it’s going to be pink!”
“I had to start by taking things one sale at a time. Hunting people down. ‘Never stopping’ became a lifestyle,” he added. “Eventually, I was paying rent for the first time ever because I was making more money with candles than as a graphic designer.”
Building the brand in Kansas City
When the ex-boyfriend who fueled Love’s depression resurfaced two years ago, he knew it was time to distance himself further from the relationship — and Baltimore.
He’d visited Overland Park, Kansas, about three months earlier to see a friend and graphic design client, he said. Love picked an apartment at 150th Street and Metcalf Avenue, sight-unseen.
“I just really liked Overland Park,” he said. “When you’re from Baltimore — it’s got some grunge to it — and I don’t think people in Overland Park realize how pristine and blessed it is to be there. Kansas City is the same. To walk around these streets, you don’t have too much fear, despite the recent headlines in the news.”
The area’s affordability compared to East Coast pricing helped convince him he could better manage the business from the Midwest, he said.
“My dad packed a truck with a futon mattress and that’s about it. One thousand miles. We just picked up and I ditched,” Love said. “I came out here and tried to figure out my life.”
The Little Pink Candle Company became Wax Crumbles, and later was rebranded Crumble Co. It continued to grow rapidly, surprising no one more than Love himself, he said. The company’s Facebook page now has more than 61,500 followers and an associated Facebook Group boasts nearly 22,000 members.
“I looked around and I was really happy and out of my depression. When you’d mention my ex, I was like ‘Who?’ Because I had a whole new life,” he said. “Crumble Co. did this for me. It was just this big fun thing I’d made, and people were calling me the ‘Wonka of Wax.'”
Something in the air
Crumble Co.’s best sellers — wax cubes similar to Scentsy bricks that are melted in a candle warmer — are like Love himself: They don’t fit the industry mold, he said.
“One of the things that sets us apart is that each cube is decorated to the nines,” he said. “It’ll have hay on it if it’s like a seasonal one, or there’s glitter. We have little gummy bear shapes on top of our gummy bear-scented wax. Of course, our collection of aromas is very quirky.”
He’d love to work on a beer scent with Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company, Love said.
“They’re my favorite beer company. Ever,” he said. “But I haven’t had the balls to contact them yet.”
Produced and distributed in Olathe, the lineup of products also includes “Unicorn Berries,” as well as fragrant room sprays, poop-shaped wax lumps that can be cut up into smaller melts, and a No. 1 seller called “Fuck Anxiety,” Love said.
“Yankee Candle is not going to sell that. No one is stopping us from doing anything crazy, so we just go with it,” he said. “We’re really fun and trendy like that. And our scents are very unique. They’re not something you’re going to find somewhere else.”
Most importantly, Love said, Crumble Co.’s products are double scent-loaded.
“I wanted from the start to have the strongest candle — to put my middle finger to the air at all of these giant franchises and rally around it,” he said.
The candle industry averages about 5 to 6 percent oil content per wax, Love said. Crumble Co. uses up to 14 percent oil.
“That’s expensive, but it’s a premium product. We charge a semi-premium price,” he said. “It works really well — when you have a small team especially — to charge what you’re worth.”
Lighting the way
Recognizing self-worth is another big part of the Love’s mission, he said — and not just as it relates to money.
With its current branding, the business has taken on the slogan, “Crumble Co., the Anti-Suicide and Pro-Joy Company,” Love said. His own personal history already had shown Crumble Co. could become a vehicle for overcoming depression, he said.
“All it took for me in that dark moment was that gentle reminder to stay busy,” Love said. “Now we try to be that gentle reminder for other people.”
The effort takes shape in Crumble Co.’s social media outreach. The founder plays host to Love-Stream TV videos that highlight the “ups and downs of life and how to heal with them,” along with regularly posting messages of positivity and providing a platform for support.
Adopting the additional anti-suicide outreach was a whim made overnight, Love admitted, and he feared there could be a backlash from people who didn’t understand the connection.
“When I woke up the next morning, I was like, ‘Well, this is probably going to go horribly,’” he said. “A suicide candle company? Ew.”
The change, however, was met with a tremendous positive reaction from existing fans of the company, as well as fueling new traffic to Crumble Co., he said.
“People were really digging into it,” Love said. “They were just puking these stories out and I’m realizing, ‘Oh, my god. Everyone has gone through this. Everyone has had these really dark moments.’ That sounds obvious now, but as a teenager out in the world, I was like ‘I’m all alone. No one else has ever experienced this.'”
Now approaching three years since that fateful day in his father’s closet, Love is as proud of the social media effort as the business behind it, he said.
“We now have the largest Facebook community around candles, like ever,” Love said. “We have a big Facebook group that’s staffed 24/7 with volunteers who help support people and direct them to suicide hotlines if they need it. We’ve become this weird mix: a for-profit company with a big reasoning behind everything that we do and matters more than candles.”
Joy in a box
2018 will be a year for organization — and expansion, Love said.
“Since we do everything in house, we get to experiment at our own leisure,” he said. “Growing bigger, I want to design all sorts of really cool things like plastic figurines, unicorn plushies, a T-shirt line — because I think we’re more than just candles, which is why we are rebranding to an aroma company. And I think we’re more than just aromas, which is why eventually we’ll just be ‘Crumble Co. — A Joyful Company that Sells Joy in a Box.”
The business is testing lotions, scrubs, bath salts, lip balms, lip scrubs and body sprays, Love said.
Having never taken any investors besides the initial $50 from his mother, Crumble Co. now makes use of PayPal Capital Loans to launch new product lines, he said.
“I don’t have to piggyback it on the top of our profits anymore,” Love said. “I can just say, ‘OK, here’s some money tucked aside from PayPal. It’ll pay for itself and we’ll see if this product pans out.'”
“This was really built around not being in debt,” he added. “I’m too young for that. I’m skipping out on college. I don’t need to be carrying debt around.”
Along with hoping to move the Olathe operation closer to his home in downtown Kansas City, Love wants to ramp up production to eliminate gaps in availability and shipping delays, he said.
He also dreams of opening a physical location for Crumble Co.
“I’d love to have one of those murals on the side of it where people take selfies — with a huge painting of an exploding unicorn!” he said, flashing his big smile.
Crumble Co. has the potential to go wherever the joy takes it, Love said.
“You lift up the lid, and it’s just endless.”