The Innovative Science Behind Beamer's Odor-Killing Candles
It began as a way to avoid an “ass whooping.” It evolved into a wildly successful business with a nose for innovation.
By Matt Weeks
Steve Jobs had a garage in California. For Mark Zuckerberg, it was a Harvard dorm room. Ryan Salem found the inspiration for his company in the basement of his parents’ Detroit home.
That’s where he used to huddle beside his older brother to toke up. In a timeless teenage tradition, the boys would blaze, laugh, and then feel those nagging bites of paranoia cloud their good time. One whiff of the weed smoke wafting its way upstairs could land them in a world of trouble. That’s just the way it is when your parents are Catholic immigrants from Iraq.
If the Salem brothers wanted to enjoy their evenings without fear of punishment, they needed a way to deodorize their den of iniquity.
“Smoking is against the old school. Our parents hated it. So we couldn’t smell like weed. We just had to figure out how to mask it when we smoked,” Ryan Salem says. “We did the little toilet paper tube trick. We covered the door openings. We tried everything.”
The no-smell gimmicks ranged from not working at all to helping a bit, maybe. They led to near misses, for sure. But even when the Salem brothers managed to smoke without getting caught, their problem never got solved. The smell of ripe bud stuck to everything: furniture, clothing, carpets, hair—everything.
It seemed like there was no hope until one day an idea struck them like a club. As they were sharing a joint and watching the smoke rise, they suddenly realized that something else could help them: candles! But not a regular candle—one that wouldn’t just mask the smells but diffuse it completely.
Beamer Candle Co. was born. Some companies don’t simply name their values. They live them. That’s the case for Beamer. If you look closely, the Salem brothers’ life story is all over their products. Their journey of growing up in a scrappy Detroit neighborhood glows with every flick of your Bic.
Take the candles themselves. They’re 100 percent made in the USA, a reliance on American manufacturing that echoes the work ethic of Detroit, the birthplace of the nation’s home-built auto empire.
Then there’s the company. Keeping with their close-knit values, the Salem Brothers employ almost all their family in some capacity. Even their parents, who were once so against the thought of their sons getting high, find that working beside their children is worthwhile—even if it helps people smoke. They bring their own business expertise, honed over 40 years of running a small grocery store, to the candle making enterprise. But even the regular employees feel like family.
“We’ve had people with us for years, and we always make sure to take good care of our staff,” Ryan says. “It’s very important to us and something that we’re proud of, being able to pay fair wages and make sure our workers are well taken care of.”
Then there’s the ingenuity and innovation that comes from staying ahead of the market. The Salem brothers inherited the entrepreneurial gene from their parents.
“I dropped out of college to make this work,” Ryan says. “When you own your own business, it’s just crazy hours. I couldn’t do school and the business. And when you’ve got a product like candles, it’s even harder. It’s not like a product where you can sell hundreds of thousands of units per month. When you buy a candle, it’s going to stay with you for a while. It takes time to use it up. That’s a tough part about this business.”
Now offering over 60 scents, ranging from standard nose-pleasers like Blueberry High Pie to the funky mashups like 70s Lovin’, the company is growing. Backed by a money-back guarantee, the candles don’t simply cover up smells. They’re made with natural enzymes that cling to odor molecules and break them apart at a microscopic level.
But some things never change.
The next big steps for the company—the new sizes, new smells, new marketing campaigns, and in-store displays—often come from the same kind of brainstorming session that sparked the company to life in the first place.
“Really, we smoke a joint and have a two-hour creative meeting,” Ryan said with a laugh. “That’s the magic, I guess.”
For nearly a decade, Beamer Candle Co. has been growing the same way their candles burn—slow and steady.
“Everything we did took a lot longer than we planned because we had to learn how to produce candles,” Ryan says. “We didn’t want to rely on the quality of a product from China, so we had to learn how to manufacture everything ourselves. And that wasn’t easy. A lot of people can make a candle and sell it cheap, but can you make a high-quality candle? That’s the difference that we provide.”
Taking the time to do things their way has paid off. Beamer continues to expand each year. Now, it offers three sizes of its Smoke Killer candles—4, 7, and 12 ounces—with the big one boasting an industry-leading 90-hour burn time.
“The most important thing for us is trying to have every shop give us a chance,” Ryan says. “We offer a lot of benefits. We pour everything fresh. When we shipped candles, they were almost always poured within the last week or two. That’s one big thing we pride ourselves on, even though it does take us some time to produce things that way.”
Taking extra time is worth it, he says, even if he wished he could’ve bought a Beamer candle 20 years ago, when he was still lighting up in the basement.
“It definitely would have saved a lot of ass whoopings for kids.”