King's Award for International Trade
Former ballroom dancers light a candle on international trade
Gert Schyberg, founder of Sebnini, brought hygge from his native Denmark to the UK
In 2001 the Danish-born couple set up Sebnini, which specialises in luxury fragranced candles and diffusers. It has crowned recent growth in overseas sales with a King’s Award for international trade. The inspiration began when they started bringing candles for their own enjoyment back from Denmark to the UK.
Although candles and scent diffusers are commonplace in UK homes now, then it was more of a rarity. ”We were used to having candles at home in Denmark and we thought we would bring that with us to the UK,” said Gert Schyberg (63) founder of Sebnini. “We couldn’t buy any candles in those days so we brought them over with us.
“As we had visitors everybody saw we had candles and said next time you go to Denmark please bring some candles over.” The duo had initially come to the UK in the 1980s to dance and stayed because they loved it. But when their first child came it was time to hang up their dancing shoes and try something different.
He says the mother of the invention of the business was necessity, but entrepreneurship just felt right. “We had no choice. We had a really good feeling,” he said. “We looked at the market and saw there was really hardly any candles on the shelves in gift shops, garden centres, or supermarkets at the time.
“The great thing about being young is you don’t tend to see problems. You have a lot of go and that is what we had.” Initially the business partnered with a European supplier which had - luckily for Gert - just lost its UK distributor at the time.
Launching the business from a one-bedroom flat with some samples, both husband and wife started calling into some shops and immediately picked up some orders.
Now the firm, which employs between 20 to 60 people at its factory near Gatwick Airport and a further 20 in sales and management, supplies large multiple retailers in UK, Europe and the US including major supermarkets. The establishment of the factory on a farm came later. Gert had noticed that demand for scented products was growing and was starting to outstrip available supply.
"We could early on see whilst candles became more popular here in the UK it was the scented part of the candle that was of most interest to consumers,” he says.
“It was difficult to get scented candles in Europe and we had to start making our own if we wanted to be part of that market.”
The business started trading overseas seven to eight years ago but exports have “exploded” in the last five years after son Seb joined the family firm as a sales manager. After Brexit the company opened a European office in Denmark and now trades in mainland Europe, the US and Canada. Each country has unique preferences for fragrance and the firm has turned this market awareness into a science.
Vanilla is a perennial favourite although trends change from season to season as well as over the years. Europeans prefer “basic” scents, he says: “We like to describe it as straight forward apple and pears.” However, customers in the UK where fragranced products have been more of a mainstay have more “complex” noses, what he calls “fine fragrances”.
The US market is different as well. “In the States, they are much stronger than we like them in the UK – they are quite foody,” he adds.
Following success in the King’s Awards, Gert aims to continue to focus on the growth of the business by being the best.
“We should be leading and not following. It is important that we are seen by our customers to be the ‘go to’ people for everything to do with scented candles and diffusers.”