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Remember Debbie Ball, owner of The Candy Lady in Albuquerque, N.M.? She grew wildly popular for creating fake meth candy for the first two seasons of the TV series Breaking Bad, then selling it in little dime bags for a dollar at her store.
It’s hard to imagine that in the four months since Candy Industry last spoke with Ball, her Old Town business of 30 years risks having to close down.
Her innovative ideas have not ceased though — even as she says she faces having to pay either double in rent or get evicted. Ball says she can’t afford either scenario.
On Jan. 4, after receiving her third eviction notice from her landlord since November, Ball launched a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, with the help of the company that runs her business’ social media. It’s called “Candy Lady’s New Location.”
“We put a goal of $500,000 on there,” Ball says. “The money will go towards helping me move and retrofitting a new building and purchasing a new building.”
Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding website, which was founded in 2007, allows individuals, groups and businesses to create campaigns to fund causes and raise money from willing contributors. It also enables campaign owners to offer perks to supporters as an incentive while simultaneously demonstrating appreciation for the “investment.”
News of The Candy Lady’s turn to crowdfunding for financial help didn’t sit well with many of her followers.
An outcry of passionate responses was posted to the business’s Facebook page following the half-million dollar campaign launch.
Alicia Ruiz posted, “I’m surprised with all the profits from Breaking Bad you are asking for money. I’m not understanding?”
While Amy Coughenour Parsons wrote, “This definitely seems wrong. I’m sure you can find a new location…But asking customers to buy your product and give you a donation?! Bad business.”
This prompted Ball to post a letter to her followers on the Facebook page on Jan. 5.
“We were getting such backlash about everything that was going on,” she says. “My goal was to talk to everybody about what was really going on and to relieve some of the negative attention and why we are doing what we are doing.”
In the letter she writes: “Since my current landlord took over the property, in September of 2001, I have had a month-to-month lease. His decision to [ask for] a new lease agreement was the busiest time of the year for our business.”
It was her hope that her landlord would allow her to continue month-to-month payments until the beginning of the year, when she’d have more time to negotiate a new lease agreement. Ball explains that she has continued to pay rent through January, and that the eviction all started with postponing the lease agreement — not because she failed to pay rent.
Another point Ball wanted in emphasize in the letter is that just because she owns a business, it doesn’t mean she’s wealthy.
She says The Candy Lady did capitalize from its Breaking Bad connection. In fact, it’s still contributing to sales. “For January, where normally I would have no business this week, my sales are still normal,” she says.
But, Ball says, that same popularity has also had a negative impact. “My rent has been decided because of who I am and how much money I can bring in,” she says.
As she sells more, Ball says labor costs, the price of goods sold and ingredients go up as well. “People say ‘You’re begging for money as if you don’t have any’. Your profit margin may not be as high as when you didn’t have as good a business.”
As for why she’s asking for $500,000, her letter suggests it will cost at least that much to move the business: “A new commercial kitchen by itself costs between $100,000-$250,000. Then let’s figure in the price of a new building (if we were to buy), this price ranges from $250,000 to over $500,000.”
As of Jan. 15, The Candy Lady’s Indiegogo campaign has received a mere $185 from just six funders.
Ball says she’s so busy it’s hard to keep track of contributions coming in, but that she definitely notices a new trend toward crowdfunding in general.
In fact, she isn’t the first in the confection industry to use Indiegogo. ZEGO— the first ever line of gluten-free, allergy-friendly energy bars made from sunflower seeds — started on the crowd funding site. It raised more than $50,000 from more than 500 funders this past summer. Now it’s selling in places including Amazon and San Francisco Bay area stores.
As far as expectations, Ball says she really has no idea what will come of it.
“It’s something we tried. We were stepping into an unknown area. If it doesn’t work, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” she says.
One thing she says she wants to get straight is that her crowd funding campaign should not be confused with a donation campaign. “When you see the word ‘donation’, you think you’re not receiving anything in return.”
When contributors give to her Indiegogo campaign, they will receive something in return, Ball says.
For example, $25 contributors can choose between five blue ice dime bags or chocolate covered strawberries. As for someone who gives $50,000, he or she will be given ten pounds of Blue Ice Candy, a photo opportunity with “the candy lady” as well as be cited in each interview as a major contributor. They will also receive a 36-in. engraved plaque with their name and their donation amount will be displayed in the store.Looking back, Ball says she has no regrets about turning to Indiegogo or writing the letter to her followers. Since sharing her circumstances, she says a number of building owners in Old Town have reached out and offered to help with the moving process.
“The positive comments far outweigh the negative,” she says. As for the negative comments, she says, “Everyone’s allowed to have their personal opinion.”
Moving forward, Ball says she isn’t quite sure what she’ll do without help but that it will all work out. She plans to stay in Old Town, a historical district frequented by tourists, and to keep the hands-on business she’s created alive.
Wherever The Candy Lady ends up, it will always be her home, she says.
“When [customers] come in I want them to feel like they’re home… My legal residence is at that house even though I don’t live there.”