Sugarfina, the gourmet candy brand, recently opened its first brick-and-mortar location in Beverly Hills. “As far as we know,” says cofounder Rosie O’Neill, “we’re the first sweets brand” to transfer an online presence into a brick-and-mortar one.
O’Neill–who founded Sugarfina with boyfriend Josh Resnick, and was named on of our Most Creative People in Business earlier this year–notes a trajectory that other companies, like Warby Parker, have followed: “from clicks to bricks,” as she puts it. A retail location was always her and Resnick’s dream, but success online was needed to prove the concept. “Retail is very expensive to get into,” says O’Neill. “It’s hard for new brands to do.” But by starting online first, O’Neill and Resnick debuted their brand with only $60,000 of bootstrapping investment (by the end of this year, they expect to hit about three quarters of a million dollars in revenue.)
“We were able to test a lot of different candies, go through different iterations of packaging, and really fine-tune what the brand stood for. It was also a great way to drive a lot of awareness,” she adds, noting that hundreds of people–many of them online fans–arrived to the store on day one in November.
O’Neill and Resnick hatched the idea for Sugarfina on their third date, after seeing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory al fresco in L.A. Both gourmands, they wondered why they could find fine wine, food, and even chocolate in abundance–and yet there was no similar place to go for the discerning candy connoisseur. They wound up building a brand around fancy, often imported, candies: some 40% of their offerings are exclusive to Sugarfina in the U.S.
They also wound up focusing on candy-as-gift. Small tasting packets retail as low as $2.50; gift boxes (complete with “tasting menus”) go for $25, while “bento boxes” containing eight two-inch cubes filled with candy go for $60. A feature called “Kid in a Candy Store” offers a tasting packet of every candy in the store for $250; Sugarfina is currently working on a concept gift item that would be a giant acrylic steamer trunk filled entirely with candies. “That will probably be around $5,000,” says O’Neill, who hopes to have the concept ready by Valentine’s Day for deep-pocketed lovebirds.
O’Neill and Resnick spend a considerable amount of their time globetrotting in search of the next hit flavor (current favorites already include “champagne bears” and “pumpkin pie caramels”). On a recent truffle-hunting excursion in the Piedmont region of Italy, the team stumbled upon a winery that also made candy on the side. “They barely spoke English,” recalls O’Neill, who had trouble communicating exactly what she meant when she wanted to buy “a lot” of candy. “They thought we meant a few bags–when we really meant as much as we could carry on the plane that day.”
They are confectionary diplomats, seeking audiences with old and distinguished candy-making houses around the world. They have a partnership with the candy-maker for the Italian royal family; and the “Kyoto blossoms” they sell are “the same that the Imperial House of Japan serves to dignitaries and important guests,” says O’Neill. When she and Resnick travel to sample candy, they take it very seriously. “We treat it like a wine connoisseur does with wine,” she says. They note the texture, aroma, appearance, mouth feel, finish, and tasting notes. “You can approach it as you would any fine food.”
The pair recently returned from a trip to Morocco, Hong Kong, and Indonesia (where they found–and rejected–some “really bizarre, gross” candy derived from the notoriously smelly durian fruit), and they plan a trip to Japan soon. “We’re so European-centric in our sourcing right now,” says Resnick. “It’s a big planet out there, and we want to broaden our reach.”
Their plans go beyond terrestrial: the company plans to send the first gummy bear into space aboard the Virgin Galactic next year. And they don’t hesitate to pull cute publicity stunts; at a recent public screening of the Breaking Bad series finale, O’Neill and Resnick wore yellow hazmat suits and distributed blue rock candy to the 2,000 attendees.
If their lives seem like a dream, then surely there are at least occupational hazards to running a candy store. How many cavities have they developed since going into the sugar-slinging business, I ask? “Zero,” says O’Neill. “The funny thing is, Josh and I have lost weight since we launched. We eat candy every day! But with high-quality gourmet candy, you’re satisfied with a small amount.”