When Michael Powell sold off his famous Powell’s Sweet Shoppes back in 2010, it didn’t mean he was ready to get out of the confectionery business altogether.
Now, five years later, he and his brother, Steven Powell, have started a new kind of candy store — 30DaysOfCandy.com.
Inspired by the recent surge in subscription boxes for everything from makeup addicts to fishermen, they decided to create a box for everyone with a sweet tooth.
“My job, as the self-proclaimed candy expert, is to curate the fun little confection collection all centered around a particular theme,” Michael explains.
Every box comes with 30 little bags of candy, each about 100 calories each. The first month, subscribers get “Around the World in 30 Sweets.” It’s a collection of 30 different international sweets, like Chupa Chups lollipops from Spain, and a Green Tea Kit Kat from Japan. And it also includes an informational card explaining all the different treats.
“It’s like a global sampler pack,” Michael says.
That’s followed by “30 Flavors from Around the World.” It features treats with flavors that aren’t necessarily well known in America, like double-salted licorice, or flavors that aren’t typically associated with candy in the states, like chili peppers.
“It’s not like strawberry or watermelon. It’s like leche or matcha,” Michael says.
That box is followed by an American Nostalgia box, which features lots of regional confections. And then a fourth box called, “Candy from Behind the Iron Curtain.” And then another and another, every single month, for as long as the customer chooses to subscribe.
The service differs from some of the other subscription boxes on the market because every subscriber gets the first month’s box no matter when they sign up. So they always start with “Around the World in 30 Sweets” and then go from there.
“I’m trying to tell a candy narrative so that everybody gets the candy box in sequence,” Michael explains.
This also helps with supply issues. So, instead of say, buying enough supplies for one shipment of the first box, they can buy bulk quantities for less, and then save them to use as more people sign up.
“We get a good price on the candy because we’re going to buy more than we need,” Michael says. “If I could only buy enough candy to put in one [order of boxes] that would be silly, I wouldn’t be able to meet any minimums for anything.”
And while it does complicate logistics — different subscribers are getting different boxes each month — it’s one of the ways that the company is able to be profitable.
“I read so much about people that started boxes, and their biggest problem was the first six months they didn’t have any customers, and then what do they do with [the leftovers] the next month? Because you’re literally moving on to the next box,” he explains.
Overall, the boxes cost subscribers $29.99 a month, plus $5.99 for shipping, which Michael says is “middle of the range.” And customers can choose to purchase just the first box if they aren’t interested in getting one every month.
It’s a price point that makes it so the boxes are profitable regardless of whether or not they’re able to find candy samples for free from suppliers — a common strategy among other subscription boxes.
“In Chicago [at the Sweets and Snacks Expo] I was able to get two of the items in our first box for free, but it’s not like I was starting out from scratch,” Michael says, referencing his time in the confectionery industry. “I built the business model with the expectation that I would have to buy the candy, but eventually I would love to have a company that’s big enough that companies would approach me.’”
And the brothers likely won’t have to raise the price of the boxes anytime soon either.
“You lose customers because you have underpriced box, and you realize that, ‘I need to also make money on this,’” he says. “So find customers that are willing to pay $30 and then be happy if you can lower it.”
30DaysofCandy.com also differs from similar subscription boxes is that as soon as they get a new subscriber, they immediately ship out the first box to them, regardless of what day of the month it is.
“A lot of [other subscription boxes] say, ‘If you join by the fifth you’ll get this month’s box, and all our shipping is on the 20th,’” Michael says. “And we’re trying a different model even from that. No matter when you join, you get this box, and we’ll ship it out the same day if we get an order in by 9 a.m.”
The two brothers have split the labor based on their strengths. So Michael does all the front-end stuff — like curating the box, telling the company’s story and designing the website — while his brother handles everything after the sale — like assembling the boxes, shipping them out and customer service.
“It’s a great division of labor and it takes advantage of our skill sets,” Michael says.
The two don’t live in the same place — Michael is in California, while Steven is in Washington state — so it had to be an online company. But it was an easy decision for Michael, who’d had enough of the brick and mortar world.
“This allows a little more freedom to travel and to go to the candy shows, and to not have to have a staff at a physical store” Michael says. “Retail hours are exhausting, and you only make money when you’re open.”
However, they didn’t just want to launch what would basically amount to a website that served as a typical candy store.
“That’s a warehouse model where you really have to have everything, if you want to compete. You have everything in stock that anybody wants at any time,” Michael explains. “That was more than my brother and I wanted to take on at first. The subscription model is a little more manageable if you wanted to start small and then scale it. So if you’re the warehouse model you basically have everything in stock on opening day. This is a little bit different; we only have to have 30 products available on opening day.”
That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be open to offering on-demand shopping in the future if there was enough consumer support. Michael envisions something along the lines of where a subscriber really like one of the samples, then they could buy a full-size version directly from 30daysofcandy.com.
The hardest part though is collecting the candy for each box. They have to find products that are individually wrapped, interesting, unique, and bite-size.
For the international confections, the company works with U.S.-based importers so that they get exactly the amount that they need for a reasonable price.
“There’s a handful of bigger importers that carry stuff from Europe,” Michael explains. “The hardest has been South American candy. And I went to [the Sweets and Snacks Expo in] Chicago specifically looking for South American candy, but there isn’t a demand for it in the U.S. Therefore I would have to bring a container into the U.S., and a container is just more than I need.”
Getting the word out
Of course, after compiling the candy, the next most important thing is building up a customer base to sell it to. As of August, they already had almost 400 subscribers, and that number was growing.
The brothers have turned to a relatively new marketing strategy — online reviewers — to get things off the ground. They sent out sample boxes to online bloggers and vloggers who literally review subscription boxes for a living.
“It’s been a learning curve to figure out how to market online,” Michael admits. “So far we’ve marketed just by sending out free boxes to influencers.”
The first month they sent out 25 boxes to “online influencers,” and while some lead to literally zero orders, the review posted by My Subscription Addiction lead to 85 orders for 30DaysofCandy.com — about half of subscribers, which signed up as monthly subscribers which Michael considers a “standout success.”
Lindsey Morse at My Subscription Addiction gave readers a detailed look at how the box works and what comes inside the first one, concluding with a “Verdict.”
“I love this month’s theme from 30 Days of Candy, and I think the selection of candy is diverse and delicious,” Morse tells her readers. “I often like to eat a few pieces of candy at night after dinner, and I think these pre-portioned packs will help ensure I don’t overdo it. I also like that each baggie includes a card with information about both the candy and the country it’s from. In terms of value, the cost breaks down to $1.20 per pack. I think this is a really fun concept for a candy box, and I’m looking forward to exploring candy from around the world over the next 30 days (if the candy lasts that long)!”
As for the immediate future, Michael says he’s already planning the next boxes.
“So far I haven’t had any lack of inspiration on what the candy should be,” he says, “And I can always go back and do another trip around the world, or pick a continent, like an Eastern Europe box is 10 countries.”
Sounds like one sweet adventure for both the Powell brothers and their subscribers.