Family-run home fragrance company Sebnini is the proud recipient of the prestigious King’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade.

Sebnini founders Gert and Carina Schyberg

This coveted business award is presented annually in the UK and honours UK businesses that have demonstrated exceptional success in international trade, including exporting goods, services and expanding into new international markets.

The Surrey-based company has enjoyed spectacular export growth of more than 500% in the past three years. It is one of the first home fragrance companies to be granted the honour, and the first for the new King’s Award.

The luxury candle and diffuser specialist is a major player in the multi-billion-pound global market, supplying customers all over the world. Despite massive expansion and a burgeoning worldwide reputation, Sebnini has remained a family business where staff are at the heart of everything.

Founder and managing director Gert Schyberg said: “We are delighted to receive the King’s Award. It is a real honour. The most important thing for me is that it’s recognition for all our staff. They have worked so hard to make the business a success and we couldn’t have achieved this without their endeavours and expertise. It’s a real tribute to them.”

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It’s all a world away from the company’s humble beginnings when Gert and his wife and co-founder Carina moved to the UK from their native Denmark. Daily use of candles was already incredibly popular in Denmark, and friends in England were always asking for them. Sensing an opportunity, they began selling candles in the UK in 1987.

Gert recalled: “We started importing them as we needed to put food on the table of our one-bedroom flat in south-west London. We’d be out visiting every gift shop, garden centre and stationery retailer we could find during the day, and then packing orders and typing up invoices at night. It was hard work carrying round heavy suitcases with samples, but we knew there was a market, as we got an order from almost every retailer we visited.”

The Sebnini brand was established in 2001 as a real family affair. The name is a combination of the names of son Sebastian, known as Seb, and daughter Selina, who used to call herself Nini.

The company base is now on farmland in Smallfield, a couple of miles from Gatwick Airport. Around 20 staff, from sales to a dedicated in-house design team, work in the office right next to the factory which opened five years ago. Employing up to 60, it uses state-of-the-art machinery to automatically fill diffusers that make up around 40% of the business which has spread its wings far and wide.

Seb, now international sales manager for Sebnini, said: “The global market is forecast to reach over $27 billion by 2027, and we have contracts to supply 32 countries in Europe. We also supply the US and Canada as well as having contracts in place for Australasia, so our reach is 100% global. The UK and Ireland remains our main market, with the US and Europe the next largest.”

As a leading private label business, Sebnini’s products appear under different brand names in many of the biggest retail names in both the UK and around the world. Demand for mass consumer private label candles and diffusers has grown significantly in recent years, and there was a huge lockdown boost as people sought to make their houses seem more homely.

“Big supermarkets know they have the potential for better margins while offering their customers a better price,” said Seb. “We were one of the first companies to offer private label home fragrance to UK mass retail and it’s really taken off. You don’t see our name, but we supply the large supermarkets and high street retailers, and our growth is such that we have decided to focus all our attention on this being our company strategy. Several of the products are household names and many have gone viral through the enthusiastic endorsement of influencers.”

The trend-driven products with a designer appeal have won admirers abroad due to glowing reviews on home shores. “The UK is very much at the forefront of trend-driven home fragrance markets,” said Seb. “The diffusers and candles on sale in the UK tend to be a few years ahead of those in Europe and the US. Buyers there were amazed at what we could offer. It let them move away from a basic offering that had become stagnant, and the intense level of interest really accelerated our growth enormously.”

This comprehensive strategy of increasing overseas sales has paid dividends with the stellar 500% export boost, leading to the recognition of the King’s Award – the process of which has been a lengthy affair.

Applications closed in September 2022, with detailed scrutiny of commercial figures following and confirmation only coming at the end of March. Everything had to be kept strictly under wraps until the official announcement on April 21.

Gert commented: “It was such exciting feeling when the email arrived. To know that we would be invited to Buckingham Palace after starting this in such a small way over 30 years ago was quite surreal. It’s more than we could ever have imagined when my wife and I were just trying to put food on the table. We couldn’t even tell the staff at first, but it’s great to be able to celebrate this with them.”

The King’s Award is valid for five years and decisions about how to proceed and what it will mean for the business are still being finalised. However, it’s sure to make the future smell even sweeter for a British company that has made its scented candles and diffusers a worldwide success story.

Minister for Enterprise Kevin Hollinrake said: “I congratulate the first ever recipients of The King’s Awards for Enterprise, who exemplify the talent, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit of British business. I wish them every success and commend the invaluable contributions they make to communities both at home and overseas, helping to grow the UK economy.”

The King’s Awards for Enterprise was previously known as The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, and the new name reflects His Majesty The King’s desire to continue the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II by recognising outstanding UK businesses. The Award programme, now in its 57th year, has awarded more than 7,000 companies since its inception in 1965.

Eligible businesses are free to apply for one or more categories. The recipients pass a robust assessment process, judged by experts from industry, academia, the voluntary sector and senior officials in Whitehall. On that basis, each year, The King’s Awards for Enterprise recipients are recommended by the Prime Minister.

Images ©Sebnini

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