Yankee Candle Village Continues Its Evolutionary Process
There aren’t many flagship stores on people’s bucket lists of places that they want to visit before they die.
But the Yankee Candle’s flagship location, which is also known as Yankee Candle Village, is one of them, and visitors from a wide variety of countries have planned trips and flown overseas just to see and experience the ‘scent-sational’ offerings in the 90,000-square-foot South Deerfield building that was designed to create memories, bring back the past, and inspire family traditions that have lasted for generations.
Indeed, the flagship is far more than a place where candles are sold; it’s filled with a number of unique areas where magic seems to come to life.
Animated figures sing and perform on stages year-round, and families stroll through diverse settings that include a Bavarian Christmas Village where it snows every four minutes on everything, including a 25′ tall indoor rotating Christmas tree; a Black Forest area that offers Christmas collectibles and a large selection of ornaments year-round; a Nutcracker Castle that contains Yankee Candle Toy; Santa’s Workshop, where he can be found almost every Wednesday through Saturday; a moat area with a 20-foot cascading indoor waterfall; a ‘Dept. 56’ section with fascinating displays of collectibles; and a fully outfitted Home Store where items for sale include candles, foods, cookbooks, kitchen accessories, clothing, designer bags, and jewelry.
Many of the activities, offerings, and merchandise are changed seasonally, so new experiences await guests of all ages who flock to South Deerfield on repeat visits.
“We see more than a half-million visitors a year at this location,” said Wade Bassett, director of Sales and Operations. “We opened in 1983, and since that time, our flagship has become a true destination. We understand that people’s experiences here have to be unlike anywhere else. Santa Claus is here year-round, we create new events all the time, and we make sure there are plenty of hands-on, interactive things to see and do.”
Although return visits are not tracked, many guests tell employees they visit frequently, especially during the holiday season, which has become an annual outing for families whose children have photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, while parents shop for gifts to suit everyone on their list.Activities for children include a candle-making area called Waxworks where the small set can dip their hands in wax, make wax figurines and colored candles, and get a Glitter Too, which is the company’s version of a temporary, glittery tattoo.
There’s also a café and area to enjoy goodies such as homemade fudge, gourmet popcorn, or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a treat which was recently added; and for those who prefer a full meal, Chandler’s Restaurant fits the bill, only a short distance away on the property.
“This location is our birthplace. It’s the platform to our brand, and what we do here translates to all of our other stores,” Bassett said, adding that families often spend two to three hours in the village.
Candles are the primary attraction, however, and the store contains more 400,000 in 200 original fragrances that change with the seasons. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes — jars and glass holders with multiple wicks, votives, wax melts, and scented accessories such as car jars, car vent sticks, room sprays, and more.
Eight to 10 new fragrances are added every season, and older ones are often retired, although scents such as Balsam Cedar, McIntosh Apple, Clean Cotton, and Home Sweet Home are traditional standbys.
“Our factory in Whately produces more than 200 million candles each year, and we have made more than a billion in the past five years,” Bassett said. “It’s a staggering number; we use 64 million pounds of wax each year, which equates to more than 175,000 pounds per day.”
The average guest spends $70 to $100 during each visit, but some purchases total in the thousands, and sales have come a long way from the company’s early years.
In the past, a small handbasket could accommodate the needs of most shoppers, but today, full-size, grocery-style shopping carriages are needed to hold a multitude of purchases.
For this issue and its focus on travel and hospitality, BusinessWest takes a look at one of the leading attractions in Western Mass., and examines not only what draws people to the flagship store, but what is done to ensure that visitors have new experiences that make them want to return time and time again.
Yankee Candle’s history began in 1969 when 16-year-old Michael Kittredge decided to make a Christmas candle for his mother because he didn’t have money to purchase a gift for her.
A neighbor saw it and asked to buy the luminary before he gave it to his mother, and a new business was born that has grown to encompass more than 575 retail stores and 35,000 authorized dealers across the world.
Kittredge opened his first store in South Deerfield and eventually sold his company in 1998 to New York-based Forstmann Little, a private equity firm.
The company has had several owners since then; the newest is Newell Rubbermaid, which purchased the company from Jarden Corp. in July.
But despite changing hands, the way business is approached in terms of the customer experience hasn’t varied.
Yankee Candle’s busiest season begins when the leaves start changing color in the fall and runs to the end of December; the fourth quarter accounts for 65% to 70% of annual sales.
“We employ about 180 people in the store at this time of year, as well as another 70 in Chandler’s Restaurant,” Bassett noted.
Employees are carefully chosen, and personality plays a definite role in who gets hired, as the goal is to make guests feel so welcome they share their experiences with employees and feel free to make suggestions, which are written down and perused each week by executives in the firm.
“We encourage our employees to get to know our guests and feel a connection with them,” Bassett said, explaining that they hear many tales of joy as well as difficulties that lead visitors to South Deerfield for the warmth they find in the store.
To that end, employees have the option of choosing a visitor or group who seems especially deserving each day to receive what they call a ‘Golden Key.’
For example, last year a family told an employee they had saved for several years for a trip to Disney World, and in the excitement of leaving for the airport, the father left his wallet on top of the car. When they arrived at the airport, it was gone, so they didn’t go on the vacation, but ended up at Yankee Candle Village, where they had a fun-filled day.
All experiences inside the village are free to Golden Key recipients, which range from eating ice cream to making candles, and Santa does his part by making special origami Christmas ornaments for them to take home.
“It’s an incredible experience, and people have talked about it and thanked us via social media,” Bassett said, as he continued relating stories about Golden Key recipients.
But the Golden Key is only one of many things Yankee Candle does to entice guests to return to the flagship store. In addition to a seemingly endless array of scented candles, special fragrances are created that are collectibles and sold only in the South Deerfield location.
In addition, members of the company’s Visual Team create displays that change with the seasons; three weeks ago they launched a new living-room display on a 10-by-10-foot platform that was designed to inspire guests to use their candles to enhance their holiday decorating in an elegant setting.
“We try to create the feeling of home and bring it to life in the store with candles and accessories that people can purchase here,” Bassett told BusinessWest.
A professional photographer is brought in during every holiday season to take children’s pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and an hour-long show leads up to the Santa’s arrival in a helicopter after Thanksgiving.
Other recent events created to draw traffic include fall photo shoots, pumpkin decorating, a Halloween Bash, and a concert by children’s musical artist Mister G planned for Nov. 5.
Two years ago, the village began hosting an after-hours event called Girls Night Out that includes local vendors, raffle prizes, and other incentives, including the opportunity to shop at a time when the store is not busy. It proved so popular, it is now held four times a year.
“We change continuously with the seasons; in summer there are displays with palm trees, sand, and beach-scented candles, and in the fall we bring trees into the store and build a scene around them,” Bassett noted.
Roughly 60% of the flagship’s merchandise consists of candles and fragrance-related items, and three buyers are employed to purchase the remaining inventory of gift items that make shopping in the store so interesting.
There is something to suit almost everyone, including sports memorabilia and Harley-Davidson signs inside a man cave that features a large, flat-screen TV, so men who don’t want to shop can enjoy their visit while their families take part in activities.
“A lot of people come here to find unusual gifts, and some get all of their Christmas shopping done in one weekend,” Bassett said.
When the flagship store opened, it consisted of 5,000 square feet that included space for the corporate offices, the store, the factory, and the loading docks.
Today, they are all separate — the manufacturing is done in Whately, while the corporate office, distribution facility, and store are in South Deerfield.
But a trip to the village is truly a sensory experience. On a recent day, adults picked up jarred candles, smelled them, then closed their eyes and inhaled deeply again; children’s eyes grew large with wonder as they peeked around a corner and saw Santa in his workshop; and cooks marveled at items they found in the Home Store.
As the holidays draw closer, business will continue to pick up, and new and old visitors alike will visit Santa and enjoy a day of merriment and wonder.
“We want to continue to evolve, so whether someone comes back once a month or every year, they will see and feel something entirely different,” Bassett said.
Such experiences have continued to generate a history of memories and traditions that people want to repeat in different seasons and different ways.