My story: From helping out in a gift shop to my own Incense brand

I am proud to announce that I’m finally holding it in my own hands – my own brand of Incense!

Bunte Premium Räucherstäbchen in der Verpackung

Premium Räucherstäbchen in der Verpackung

Even though it had been my dream for eight years to have my own brand, I wouldn’t have thought for it to take that long. But at least it proves one thing: patience is a winner.
No matter what other people say. No matter what you think.
If there’s something inside you, something that you really want, it will stay and come back and back again.
This wasn’t my first trial. But the first one with a real chance:
Even though I’m still not as far as I am dreaming. But I never want to stop to have bigger visions and dreams, so that’s okay!

I can already imagine big boxes full of Incense, coming with containers from overseas. Fair Trade seals. Several ranges of Incense. An Incense Stick making machine that is able to produce the Incense right here in Germany, with a paste made by me. Where I know exactly what’s inside. The experiments to make only the best Incense, from real Sandalwood*, Frank Incense* and Myrrh*.

But until these dreams will come true, I am already proud of what I’ve achieved today, my own brand of Incense
Papillon Premium Incense!

Papillon Premium Räucherstäbchen
A rough texture. Hand rolled Masala Incense Sticks from India.

But this is supposed to be my story and not only about my fancy new product, so here we go:

The beginnings

I am quite sure that in my last life, I must have been a merchant. Having imported scarves, fabrics and spices from India’s coast, wheat at the harbor in Hamburg and Flowers in the Netherlands.
Being a merchant just makes me happy.
Even as a young boy, I had a “Toy Travel Agency” (with many real catalogues) and sold wedding trips to my poor sister. She bought a new one every day. Back then, a husband was missing, but I didn’t care!
In school I traded everything that I could, from print-outs of wrestler to toys.

Things got more serious around the age of 17. At that time, I began to help in a very small Shop in France. They sold all kinds of gifts and crafts from India, Indonesia and South America – quite evidently, Incense was one of their products. Such a shop has to be hippie, it needs to smell of Nag Champa*. Otherwise it’s not a true hippie shop 😉
And even though I’m not attracted by a hippie lifestyle, I had an interest in Incense products. Not personally, as I prefer oils and raw Incense, but as a sales product. Incense is a product that is bought again and again, on a regular basis. And when those customers are already passing by, they might buy something else as well. But even if not, they’ll come again. And then there’s those customers that will need bigger quantities. Aromatherapists and spiritual or religious people.

Some customers will always buy the same quantity and scents, others will try out something new from time to time. Those customers asking for consultations are my favourite ones, as there’s always something new to discover and show. Many people are attracted by Incense and the scents, but most of them have very little knowledge and it feels great to explain the difference between Charcoal and Masala Sticks, Dhoop, Raw Incense, the different cultures, the plants used by the natives of North America and those used in Asia – and the history of Incense being used in Europe. That’s what I love to do. Not only to sell a product, but to give even more value and to create a personal relationship with my customers.

Anyways, after a short time, I was responsible for the “Incense Department” in the store. The Display, choice of brands & fragrances, buying, sales, …
I decided to make the department grow. I couldn’t find pictures from the early days, but we only had around 5 different kinds… But soon, it looked a bit more promising:

Kleines Räucherstäbchen Display
Around 2006.
Langsam wachsende Präsentation
Spring 2008: we got Nag Champa Candles, Dhoop Sticks, Cones and a few mor varieties.
Und weiter wächst die Auswahl
More scents, Dhoops and Cones in Summer 2008.
Große Auswahl an Räucherstäbchen
Two months later, the shelf is way too small. Many more “normal” scents had been added, some Nepalese ones and some over sized garden sticks.
Shrinivas Sugandhalaya neuste Nag Champa Sorten auch im Sortiment
One month later. The new scents from the producer Shrinivas Sugandhalaya had been imported from the US, as no wholesale company in France had them. They sold very well!
Did I mention, that the space was a bit limited? At the end of Summer 2009, we had Japanese Incense Sticks, a full display of Nepalese ones, Incense Charcoal, raw Incense like Myrrh and Frank Incense and a good variety of Incense Stick Holders.

At the end of my time there, the shop had the biggest choice in the whole region and it was well known. For me, it was just a beginning. The shop was tiny and there was no more place for growth. But I’m glad that I had the chance and time to start there!

Further steps and my first blog

I wanted to do more than just “Choose variety – order – display – sell”. I wanted to know more. I searched for all the available varieties. Checked the different qualities. Ordered single packages from retailers to find the best ones – and tried to get them from wholesalers afterwards. Which wasn’t an easy task, as my budget was very limited. Most customers were not very educated and not willing to spend a little more for some decent quality sticks. After some time, I tried to index my collection. I made pictures and started to blog about them, which attracted quite some visitors. Even today, almost five years after the last real post, there’s visitors coming almost daily.

I made a huge step when I discovered a blog called  “Olfactory Rescue Service“. The blog is made by several Incense enthusiasts who want to help other people to find the best ones and to get more knowledge on the subject. There’s lots of Agarwood Incense sold all over the world, but in most cases, there’s no Agarwood inside!
I read about the different methods to make Incense and on the many changes of recipe in the latest years. On the massive increase of raw material prices and that some natural products are getting more and more rare. I read about prices of up to 50.000€ per kilogram of raw wood! Unbelievable!

I learned a lot about the differences between the countries of origin, about the transparency from the producers and that some big companies produce almost identical Incense for some bigger brands. That it’s often difficult to make “pure” smelling Incense, as the base paste is often the same – and that the base paste often contains heavy smelling ingredients like vanilla, that will almost always overtune the finer smells. I found Incense that had all the ingredients listed on the package (Pure Incense, which I recommend a lot!). I learned about the Indian and Japanese Culture and that the same kind of Incense can smell very different, depending on the age, how long and how it has been stored and the huge differences between different batches.

The following pictures are always the same variety (Super Hit from Shrinivas Sugandhalaya*), from different packages. If you look close enough, you can spot quite some differences.

Super Hit Räucherstäbchen Proben 2 Super Hit 10g Packung Räucherstäbchen Super Hit 10g Räucherstäbchen Packung Super Hit Räucherstäbchen 15g Packung Super Hit Räucherstäbchen 40g Packung Super Hit Räucherstäbchen Probe 1

But the most important lesson that I learned was, that most of the Incense that you can buy in the shops is really poor and bad stuff.
In discussions, I read about prices of 250$ per pack. And that you can’t get good quality under 20$ per pack.

That’s not what I think, but my horizon changed. I took part in Incense exchange boxes that were sent over continents. I smelled Incense that was made to make whole quarters smell “good”.

Laxmi Dhoop Räucherstäbchen
Would you like to annoy your neighbour or your next town? Try Laxmi Dhoop.*

I took a sniff at the Incense Logs from Incienso de Santa Fe, made from north american woods. Tried japanese sticks*, that were so thin that every one of them broke when I took them out of the package. Had a sampler with 10 sticks worth 25$ – unbelievable for me, as in the shop, people weren’t willing to spend more than 4€ on a pack.

Myrrh Stock Photo
Pure Myrrh in drops

From a supplier, I got samples from raw Incense products like Frank Incense, Myrrh and Red Sandalwood, the usual stuff. But I had never tried them before, so I researched even more. I wanted to find out if there was a possibility to make almost pure Incense sticks with them, as I didn’t like the charcoal burning method, especially not for closed rooms.

My first imports

I wanted more. More than just reading and a bit of selling. I wanted to discover and try more. I was dreaming of my own line of Incense Sticks. I had no money and the minimum order quantity from most producers was around 2000-6000$. I didn’t care and tried to contact them anyway. I searched for every Indian producer that I could find and asked them to send me (paid) samples of their products. I got no response from the biggest part. From some, I got the contact from their importers in Europe. But a few did send me samples, in big and small parcels. The courier services had lots of fun, as back then, I really lived at the end of the world. We had no door bell and no house number. Well, after a while, they knew where I lived. But several times they wanted to know what kind of weird stuff I was getting?

Räucherstäbchen Proben aus Indien, direkt vom Hersteller
Incense Samples from India

I had lots of fun. It was great to unpack these parcels and to take pictures. So many different kinds of Incense. I was finally able to use my gathered knowledge “Okay, this one only uses Charcoal dipped Incense” or “He was right, this stuff surely isn’t made for the European market!”. I even got some pieces of Aloeswood from Malaysia (price per kilogram: 3000$). They are still buried in my shelf, my precious! 😉

But I didn’t find “the one”. Most of them were cheap and bad. Nothing new, just the kind that we had in the shop (we also had some better stuff, but most of it was the stuff that made money – the cheap and bad ones). Even though I discovered one cheap Incense that wasn’t so bad, “Yatra” from Parimal Mandir*, the producer – what a surprise – wasn’t willing to sell my just a few boxes. I would have needed to take at least 100 boxes, each containing 12 smaller packs. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge neither the money to sell them, back then. I got more knowledge, but I still had no plan. I had my fun, but my business was unsafe, with no plan and no money. But after a while, I got samples from one supplier that I liked and the quality was good. And he was even willing to supply “sample” orders. But even for such orders, I wouldn’t have had the money, I was living on a tiny budget back then. I had a good life, but money was scarce. Looking back, I am happy that I didn’t order. What would I have done with 100 cartons of Incense, with no plan?

But I was so desperate to start, I did another sample order from a different supplier. I got 4 kilogram of loose Incense sticks. The quality was really poor, the stuff smelled… bad. Really, really bad. But I still designed a package and placed them in the store. Nothing happened. I think in one year I sold one package. No wonder with this stuff. But it showed me that quality is the key. And I got another thing: the logo one my packages back then is the same as now: a butterfly with a flower – papillon in french.

Erste eigene Räucherstäbchen Marke
The first trial with my own brand. The design was okay, the content… forget it!

Time went by

Several years passed by, between working in the shop, blogging and now. I didn’t pursue the idea of having my own brand, but it was somewhere in the background, other things were more important. But somehow, it was always there. Together with my girlfriend at the time, we made a living selling arts, crafts & jewelry on Ebay – raw Incense and Incense Sticks from the HEM brand were some of our products. Tulsi, Patchouli, Myrrh, Frank Incense, Eucalpytus, … It was a great time.

Through our Ebay shop and working in the local shop, I got the idea to sell certain products to other retailers. In both shops, I was responsible for buying the products. After some time, I found them for more than half the initial price that we paid at the beginning. And I was sure that I was able to get them for even less, if only I could take bigger quantities. I started with a very unusual product, the Rose of Jericho (selaginella lepidophylla).

Now I’ve got many different customers, Market sellers, Online shops, Deal of the day Shops, other Wholesale companies, Aromatherapists, Massagers and single customers who are in need of big quantities for wedding gifts and similar stuff. And if one of them wanted to get some raw Incense products, I was able to supply them. So I thought: if I have to take the pictures anyway, why not sell them as Stock Photos? A bit of money as passive income is always great! That’s why you can find a good choice of Myrrh, Sandal Wood, Frank Incense, Sage and Arabic Gum pictures on Shutterstock*.

Weihrauch in einer Steinschale


Even after two years, I still got messages from the one producer who was willing to supply tiny quantities. He really wanted me to sell his stuff. And I wanted to buy, as I liked his Incense sticks.
And I was still convinced that they were a fantastic product for me to sell.
As I sold on Ebay for a few years, I got a lot of experience and more courage to start bigger projects. And especially in the last two years, running a wholesale business. I created my own website and read lots of stuff about Marketing. But whatever I read, I promised myself to stay true to myself and to keep my own style pure. My biggest goal as a seller is not to make tons of money. My goal is to make business personal again. And it’s my customers feedback that counts! I love being a merchant 🙂

Well, some time ago, I had the money to place my first order – and I even had my first customer before I got the goods. That’s because I already had my Rose of Jericho customers. They had gotten some samples and were very excited. And the price was fine. They could clearly accept, that good quality has a higher price.

But it still took a few months between the phase “I got the money” and “The design and packaging is done, they can be shipped”. But now they’re here, my first real brand of Incense Sticks!

Papillon Premium Incense. Available in the varieties “Sandalwood”, “Nag Champa”, “Natural Rose” and “Vanilla”.
Real Masala Incense sticks, hand rolled with herbs and plants (the fragrant ingredients are 100% natural).
You can see how dark their colour is. With a rich and clear fragrant.

There’s just one thing I’d like to improve: a packaging made from paper would look better. But the price would be so high, I just don’t want to. So I went for ZipLock Bags, at least they’re reusable.

Now have a look!

Räucherstäbchen ganz nah dran
Very close! I like ’em 🙂
Sandal Woods Räucherstäbchen in der Verpackung
Sandal Woods Incense Sticks in their package – ready to be shipped! 🙂
Natural Rose Räucherstäbchen schön präsentiert
Natural Rose Incense Sticks from Papillon Premium Incense

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