Hospitality Mints, a small company nestled in the North Carolina hamlet of Boone, doesn't make fancy candy. Yet amid a broad industry slump, the $20 million company remains consistently profitable and growing at 6% to 11% a year. How? It's less about the candy inside than the wrapper outside.
Hospitality Mints focuses relentlessly on a niche: individually wrapped vanity mints doled out by restaurants and motels, car dealers and real estate agents. "We figured out how to individually wrap and consistently shape buttermint," says chief financial officer Walter Kaudelka. "It is hard to duplicate."
Need a case of mints in wrappers printed with bride and groom's name as wedding favors? Hospitality Mints does a lot of those (price: $141.50 for 500 pieces). A case of 1,000 goes for $21 to $25—and even less for big orders from restaurants such as Arby's and Sizzler, motels such as Holiday Inn, and corporations such as Merrill Lynch. Tins of "Almighty Mints" cater to Christian groups.
Stay in the niche—that's why Hospitality Mints has never made a serious run at the consumer market. Even with a narrow mix of product and distribution, it figures it can expand for years to come. And that's a very sweet ending.