| Always in Season |

Always in Season: Duvid Weiss

How holiday businesses stay lucrative year-round

Name: Duvid Weiss
Position: I’ve done everything from accounts to working in the warehouse. I also came out with the kids’ hotline and the Izzy and Dizzy characters. Right now, I’m working in marketing and graphics
Business name: Ner Mitzvah, a company that manufactures and produces Chanukah and year-round candles as well as hundreds of other specialty and seasonal items
Busy season: The craziness really starts in Cheshvan because all the stores and supermarkets want their orders to hit the shelves by Rosh Chodesh Kislev. Then after Chanukah, all the grocery stores order refills on their regular Shabbos and yahrtzeit candles, their year-round supplies, and we’re busy with that for another month or two
Location: Bayonne, New Jersey
Years in business: Ner Mitzvah started in 1965. I joined the company six years ago


How did you get started?

One of the company’s first items was the famous bedikas chometz sets. Mr. Lauber, the company’s owner, had some connections to a slaughterhouse. He picked up bags of feathers and he and his kids cleaned them in the bathtub. Then they packaged them with wooden spoons and dipped candles he’d made himself.

Once he got the hang of dipping candles, he started making Havdalah candles and soon expanded to other candle options, and all the wicks and oils associated with Chanukah. Now the company’s considered the King of Chanukah — we produce around 900 Chanukah related items.


When do you start preparing?

We start right after Chanukah. We’re always getting oil samples from companies around the world, and we need to test how well they’ll burn with the wicks. Then we need to put in orders and start bottling the oil once it arrives.

For the candles, obviously, we need wax. We search bee farms around the world for the perfect color and quality beeswax, and once it’s delivered, we produce the actual candles on site. We have about 25 workers dipping candles and bottling the oil by the middle of the summer. When everyone else is in the country, we’re busy making thousands of beeswax shamashim.

For each item we produce, we need to find the right factory, handle negotiations, and send samples back and forth. Production alone can take two to four months, and then it can take another 30 to 60 days till our containers actually reach us. (And this is before the current shipping crisis.) We ship our products to our distributors worldwide already in July and August, so they can deliver it to their stores on time. And we aim to start delivering our goods to bigger stores after Succos.


What’s it like at peak season?

Hectic, but we’re prepared. We know that for two months things are going to be crazy, busy, and exciting. We stock the conference room with food, and we try to focus on the fun, not the stress.


What do you do with the leftover stock?

Menorahs and candles are put aside for next year, and we donate leftover chocolate coins and Chanukah candies.


When is downtime?

Right after Shavuos, for about a month.


What do you do the rest of the year?

We have a big line for all year-round plus all Yamim Tovim. For example, for Pesach we have Seder candles that burn for a long time and even bechers. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we’re busy with yahrtzeit candles — three days, seven days, nine days, everyone likes something else. We also have a large line of Shabbos candles, and we’re always coming out with new items like the kashering stone and the menorah kits, which includes a 30-minute timer. We’re never bored.


How do you make it work parnassah-wise?

Chanukah is definitely our shining moment, but sales continue year-round, baruch Hashem.


How do you staff the business?

We definitely need to bring in extra staff for peak time. The warehouse alone has 35 workers, but during busy season, that doubles.


What do you make sure to do in your off season?

My boss takes all the workers on a two-or-three-day getaway after busy season. There’s an indoor pool, skiing, and a kumzitz.


Things you didn’t know about the business before you started:

I didn’t know a boss could be a friend. Everyone is so nice that it feels more like a family than a workplace. I also didn’t know that it takes a whole team to bring an idea to fruition.


Recommendations for someone who wants to enter the business:

The company was built from the bottom up, and we’re learning and growing all the time. It’s harder than it looks, and it’s a lot of work. It takes time. It all comes down to hard work, consistency, creativity, and listening to others.


Most memorable customer:

When Trump became president, we put together a really nice Chanukah package of candy, crafts, and toys for his Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and eineklach, and shipped it off to the White House. We were eagerly watching the tracking information, and suddenly we see “Returned to Sender.” Apparently, packages need to be approved by White House security. Too bad for them, they would have loved it.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 892)

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