Cute, and they’ve got great ‘Candyalities’!
Or maybe it’s chewy candy you love? Well, then, “You are a tough cookie, who is durable and can take whatever is thrown at you. You’re very ‘hands on’ and take a matter-of-fact approach to every situation you encounter.”
And if you’d prefer to just grab some licorice, then “you go to the ends of the earth not only for your candy, but for your family and friends too!”
And so goes the world of “Candyalities,” at least according to Terese McDonald, founder of the Candyality stores in Chicago.
McDonald runs three stores in the Windy City these days — one in the Southport neighborhood and two on the city’s famous “Magnificent Mile,” Michigan Ave.
In addition to offering all the candies typical confectionery shops do, the shops also give a free “candy reading” with every purchase. So, as customers make their purchases, the staff reveals to them what their candy choices say about their personality.
“It’s almost as if Lucy from the Peanuts gang [was present], where the candy specialist turns into a bag reader, examining the bag and then telling them all the different characteristics,” McDonald explains.
A Chicago-native, McDonald is a vibrant woman who, within five minutes, makes you feel as though she’s always been your best friend. Donning a blue sequin tank-top on the day of our interview over a button-down shirt — a layer of fun over strong ambition — her sparkling personality is a driving force behind the company.
Candyality started in 2007 after McDonald was given an ultimatum from her job at a luxury goods company to move to New York. Rather than re-locate, she decided to start a business in her home town. The only question was what kind of business she should open.
“I kept thinking, ‘Should I do an apothecary, a beauty store?’ That was all my background. And actually, I wrote a business plan for that,” she says. “But I just had this yearning to do something different.”
McDonald ended up drawing on her company background, but in a totally different way.
“During my time in the beauty industry, I had to create training modules to teach people how to sell high-end perfumes and cosmetics,” she explains. “And I had come across an idea with candy and personality association and I though it would just be really grand to try to qualify people’s selling personalities based on their candy choices and then teach them selling skills based on that.”
The idea was a huge success at the corporate level, with the company even sending her to France to teach the concept there.
“It’s really funny how people react and by human nature people squirrel away their little piles and they always have their favorites, and ironically something that was meant to be sort of an ice breaker and to be a lot of fun was actually very true,” the entrepreneur says.
Looking back, McDonald’s glad she chose to sell something with such broad appeal.
“You really have to capture as many people as possible, so as much as I knew that, I really know that more now,” she says. “It was a good thing that I picked candy.”
Things went smoothly for awhile, but unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the Great Recession hit.
“Nothing ever means anything if it doesn’t come hard,” McDonald quotes quickly, suggesting it’s a phrase that’s run through her mind often in the last few years. “I keep telling myself that.”
The fourth quarter of 2008 was especially trying.
“Just as we started to get going and we were really picking up our steam, and then it was like ‘BOOM!’ It was like a cold slap in the face,” she explains. “I just remember walking down Southport [Street] and it was like a desert and I was like, ‘Oh My God. What happened?’ It was as if the rug got pulled out from underneath us.”
Thoughts of only opening the store on the weekends and looking for other work started to go through her head.
“The thing is, while many people walked away from their leases or whatever, I just could never think of doing it. I signed a contract, so I just felt like I was obligated,” McDonald says. “And you know what? The new year came and business just kept improving.”
Little by little, she learned the ropes of running a small business, and suddenly the idea of expanding to a second location wasn’t so scary. The folks at The Shops at North Bridge had been in touch with her before, so McDonald went to a meeting to find out if it was realistic.
“I thought, ‘To be on Michigan Ave? I could do a dance, honestly. How lucky am I?” she recalls. “I have just the greatest respect for this avenue. I just think it’s one of the best places in the world because I’ve traveled all over, and so to be able to be on this street? All the numbers worked out and we went forward with it. It turned out to be a really great opportunity for us.”
It wasn’t long before a third location loomed.
McDonald had been in talks with the folks from Water Tower Place before, but now it was starting to become a realistic possibility for her to open a third store.
The only problem was that the space they were showing her was about 6,000 sq. ft. — a huge increase compared to her stores in Southport and North Bridge, which are 1,200 sq. ft., and 1,000 sq. ft., respectively.
Not one to give up, McDonald came up with an idea for all those extra square feet — a candy museum. And, so the third Candyality opened its doors this past November, just in time for the Christmas shopping season.
As customers walk in, they can either go right, toward all the treats, or left toward displasys featuring dresses made entirely of candy wrappers and vintage confectionery ads. McDonald said the hope is to offer the space to artists looking to exhibit their work.
Meanwhile the candy store itself has been a success as well, exceeding its December sales goals.
“It’s turning out really wonderful,” McDonald says.
Part of all that success is of course dependent on the “candy readings”, which in turn require a large selection of treats. In fact all three shops are filled with an assortment of treats, ranging from retro confections such as Peanut Chews, Slo Poke and Abba-Zabba to the modern trend of gross candies, such as realistic gummi frogs.
Candyality’s number one seller though is, indeed, very Chicago — Cubbie Gummi Bears. Inspired by the Chicago Cubs, they’re a bag of red, white and blue gummi bears. Moroever, one dollar for each pound sold is donated to the Dempster Family Foundation. The treat was the brainchild of McDonald’s daughter Alexandra, who’s now at college in New York.
The company’s signature piece, however, is a $17 box of candy that contains different treats to represent the different types of confections. Shoppers can then read a corresponding card to find out how their favorite choice reflects their personality.
The entire set up for the store lay-outs is proprietary, while all the text is under copyright, McDonald says.
A fourth location probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon for Candyality, but McDonald says her business’ expansion doesn’t depend on it. Rather, corporate events are Candyality’s next big thing.
For example, the staff will set-up at parties and perform “candy readings” for attendees.
“We do that quite a bit,” she says. “We do a lot of candy buffets, but then we do this whole concept thing and... to me there’s really not that many food special events and that’s why people get so excited when they experience us or when they see us.”
Of course, with McDonald at the helm, there’s no telling what Candyality will be doing next.
“We’re constantly editing. That’s one of our secrets actually. We’re always looking and evaluating what we have and always looking to make improvements,” she explains. “We’re always looking to be better. Because, we don’t have to be the biggest, but we have to be the best.”
It’s that drive to constantly innovate that will no doubt continue to help McDonald achieve her ultimate goal.
“Part of our initial desire was to become a Chicago institution,” she says. “It is a lofty goal, but you know what, I love Chicago, so it was really important to me to make a mark. There’s so much history of candy and candy manufacturing in the city of Chicago, but yet, it’s really about carrying a torch for candy itself at the point of sale and... as we moved forward, it became more and more pronounced that it was kind of our calling.”
And what about McDonald’s Candyality? Well, she says she’s never met a candy she doesn’t like. That makes her a “Willy Wonka” type and according to the official Candyality card, it means she “mixes everything with love and makes the world tastes good.”
In other words, the perfect personality for a confectionery retailer.