“We have big ideas,” says Marketing Director David Robinson. The 45-year-old Englishman explains that the Midwestern candy retailer is trying to move away from a late 1990s image of bulk candy stores to a more technologically intriguing experience. “Kids today are more technologically oriented and that’s what we want to do.”
The company has placed touch-screen televisions in their two new Omaha, Neb., stores where customers can browse through the various areas to find their favorite treats. These televisions also allow kids to play games and learn fun facts about different confections.
The company’s latest design elements place a heavy emphasis on technology using multiple digital signs and color-changing ceilings. The new stores are really open, says Robinson. They have ceiling lights that change colors as a patron walks into the store. “We’re trying to be as fun as possible,” Robinson says. “No one really knows they want candy until they walk in the store.”
The privately held candy retailer, headquartered in Oklahoma, now has 14 mall stores and plans to open a few more next year. “The way the company is expanding, we want to do it slowly and steady,” says Robinson. As hard times push some candy companies to the wayside, Candyopolis looks at this as a new opportunity for growth.
For the opening of the 13th location at Westroads Mall, in Omaha, this past August, the company gave free Wonka bars to the first 1,000 visitors and four winners were awarded free candy for one year. Its 14th store opened at Oak View Mall, in Omaha, September 22, and free prizes were given away during the month-long grand opening festivities.
“We want to expand out into the country,” says Robinson, noting plans to open in three large metropolitan areas next year, including one in Tulsa in February.
There are now five stores in Kansas, two in Wichita, and one each in Salina, Manhattan and Topeka, and seven in Oklahoma, three in Oklahoma City, and one each in Enid, Shawnee, Lawton and Norman.
The Candyopolis chain began more than 30 years ago as an original Mr. Bulky franchise, says Sid Gupta, the company’s owner and ceo. He acquired the chain of 11 stores in 2007 with a substantial investment in both finances and enthusiasm for the industry and company, he notes. Although only 30 years old, Gupta had made his mark on Wall Street as a financier, but wanted to try something different, according to Robinson. Sid’s father, Raj, also works in the business on the accounting side.
After taking over the chain, Gupta decided to restructure and redesign the original stores, emphasizing its large product selection, and making it a “fun and vibrant company.” By 2009, company executives felt it was time to add to the chain with a store in Norman, Okla., and then added the two Omaha stores this past fall. “The stores have been an outstanding success both in financial terms but also in the customers’ response to our concept,” Gupta adds.
He attributes his company’s success to the stores’ design and layout. The design and layout make “the stores a fun place to visit for the customer as well as being a very easy place to shop in,” he says. “We believe it should be the whole experience when buying candy,” adds Deb Harken, regional manager. “Our customers love to be part of picking out and scooping their picks. But this way we can have more interaction with fun tidbits they may not know about that old time favorite, or even just the sights and sounds that come with being in a candy store.”
“We rely on repeat mall customers so for us it isn’t enough to just greet our customers,” says Harken. “We want them to know we appreciate each and every trip they make to our stores: We will do whatever it takes to give them the ultimate experience in candy shopping.”
There was also a substantial investment in staff training. “We want the customer experience to be a fun and enjoyable one and this starts with our staff,” Gupta continues. “We like to think all our staff enjoys their job as a fun and happy work environment, we encourage them to be knowledgeable about the products we carry … and because of this it is reflected in how our staff interact with customers.”
All 14 Candyopolis stores are located in indoor malls, ranging in 1,000 to 1,800 sq. ft. All of the new stores will have the same color scheme as the Omaha stores, with some modifications on a few things, according to Harken. The idea of the touch-screen televisions and color-changing ceilings are being tested in the new stores with the intention of revamping some of the older stores and making them more technologically driven as well, Robinson adds. The televisions really help customers learn about the items they are looking for.
“With a name like Candyopolis we wanted to create boroughs within our ‘city’,” says Harken. There’s Yummy Gummi Zoo, Licorice Lane, Chocolate Riverwalk, Gumball Stadium, Sugar Free Parking, M & M Arena and Jelly Belly Market. “All places you would typically find in a city just with our candy name,” she continues.
“We wanted to add some excitement to our stores and also make it easier to locate your favorite product.” For instance, all of the gummi items, whether they be gummi spiders or gummi alligators, are located in one place, whether they are bulk or packaged. “Our selection of gummi candies is, we believe, unbeatable,” adds Candy Buyer Danielle Wilt.
There’s even a Candyopolis Museum, offering favorite nostalgic candies from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s an area where you can find Sugar Daddy, rock candy, Rocky Road, Slap Stix, SkyBar and more. In another area, kids can create their own sugar “art” at the Pucker Powder machine. Or maybe young ones would like to pick a giant sucker from the lollipop tree. Other interactive candies from CandyRific LLC are throughout the stores.
“There are some new candy concepts we’re looking at,” Robinson says, refrained from giving any additional details just yet.
Candyopolis offers a broad assortment of both popular and hard to find candies and chocolates, most of it in bulk form. These stores have over 1,000 unique candies and gifts. Each store has about 12 to 15 different varieties of fudge, truffles by Sweet Shop, bulk chocolates and chocolate bars, and gummies from various sources. “We have as broad of spectrum of candy as possible,” Robinson says. “You can’t get that from just one supplier.”
As the candy buyer for Candyopolis, Wilt says more than 50 companies supply different products to their stores. “We have strong relationships with many manufacturers and several strong distributors, including Nassau Candies and Albanese Confectionery,” she continues.
“As our candy store has such a large and varied selection of candy, we tend to specialize in hard to find candies, be it rock candy from Dryden and Palmer to old time candies such as Mary Jane, Big Hunk or Abba Zaba,” she says.
And if the company hasn’t been busy enough, it is revamping its website, Candyopolis.Com. “Our old website was limited as to what was available to the customer,” Robinson says. “The new website (which will be up and running in a few weeks) will give the customer access to our product ranges with fun facts and figures whilst allowing them to purchase online.”
“We have begun to embrace the power of social media,” as well, says Robinson pointing to their use of Facebook. “… (It) seems to us to be a very effective tool to communicate with our customers and unlike traditional advertising we have the benefit of a two-way dialogue.”
The company is just starting to use Twitter, and has had “outstanding” results with Groupon, he says, noting it as an effective advertising tool. “It’s a great way to promote business and get people into your stores.”