Elisabeth Vezzani never really planned to start an online candy company. She was perfectly happy working in business development for someone else.
But alas, a fateful day on the sidelines of her child’s soccer game changed all that. That’s where she started talking to fellow mom Leslie Lyon about life, family and her troubles with finding professional gifts to send within the corporate world.
“I was just complaining about the amount of clever options out there and that I wanted something that was simple to send — in many cases in business, you only have an email address — but I wanted it to also be clever and stand out,” she recalls.
Meanwhile, Lyon was lamenting about the lack of street-style candy shops in Colorado, where the two lived.
“She was talking about how she used to live in New York and how there were candy stores on every block. And how it was about the candy, but it was also about the choices,” Vezzani says.
Then, it hit them! What if they could create an online gifting service that lets people send candy to someone else, but then let’s the recipient pick out which specific candy they’ll get?
And thus, Sugarwish was born.
“I was doing full time business development, she was at home with three boys,” Vezzani says, recalling that the two weren’t exactly planning to start a business together. “We really created the business because we thought it was such a good idea.”
It took a year from them to develop the right software for their vision, but when they finally got up and running near the end of 2012, they saw immediate success.
“The first day beta launched, we saw someone send from California to Arizona, and then the person in Arizona turned around and sent one to Massachusetts, and then the person in Massachusetts sent one to Florida, and they hadn’t even received the gift,” she says. “Right from the beginning, I just felt really confident that if we gave it our all we had something.”
More than three years later people are still sending Sugarwishes all over the country. Moreover, the company has seen sales more than double from last year (2014- 2015), as well as the need for nine staff members helping to run everything.
Part of the appeal is no doubt the fact that it’s a very simple process. All someone needs to send a Sugarwish is an email and a credit card, and then the recipient gets to go through a virtual candy store and pick exactly which treats they will receive, and where they’d like it shipped to. Or as it says at the top of the Sugarwish.com website, “You send. They pick. We ship.”
Recipients can choose between a wide range of classic confections, like Mary Janes, candy necklaces, and Bit-O-Honey’s. And then, as soon as they make their choices and verify their address, Sugarwish sends out the package that same day.
“We wanted picking candy to be a fun experience,” Vezzani explains. “We feel like when you’re gifting candy, you’re sending a little bit of happiness. We wanted the interactive experience of the virtual candy store to be fun. We just wanted it to be like a little break in your day.”
A few days later, the recipient gets a beautiful sky blue boxed filled with candy, featuring the classic candy-inspired red and white stripes inside, all tied up with a red bow.
“We wanted it to be beautiful when it arrived. Even if it was the old fashioned candy — we wanted to have everyone’s favorites — but we also wanted it arrive in packaging that people would feel proud to send,” Vezzani says. “We wanted it to feel like a candy bag, but upscale.”
While they offer more than 80 different selections, the most commonly picked candies are candy corn, Swedish Fish andSour Patch Kids.
“We basically went through everything you’d find in a boutique candy store in New York City, and we’re always open to adding more, and local choices and fun choices, but we always want to keep the favorites,” Vezzani says. “People, when they get to pick, they do like to pick things that remind them of their childhood. We’re always adding more based on what people tell us.”
One issue that comes up with a business model like the one Sugarwish uses is that the company doesn’t specifically know what the gifter is actually buying until later, when the recipient picks out the specific candy they want. That makes for some challenges when it comes to pricing, but Vezzani says use averages to work that out.
“[We] constantly review, but we wanted to have our pricing include everything from shipping so it was just an easy price. We started with three and now we can do two more,” she says.
Specifically, those looking to send a Suagrwish gift can choose between:
- The Duet: Two 1/4-lb. bags of treats for $16.50.
- The Petite: Four 1/4-lb. bags of candy for $25.
- The Classic: Eight 1/4-lb. bags of candy for $45.
- The Ultimate: 16 1/4-lb. bags of candy for $70.
- The Wish & Dish: “A quintessential candy dish that is delivered with 4 full ‘fills’ of their favorite sweets” for $95.
Vezzani says a huge part of their growth has been organic — people passing along a Sugarwish after receiving one themselves — but they also rely heavily on social media, where adoring fans are happy to spread the love.
In fact, catering to such a happy customer base has been one of the most surprising facets of running the company for Vezzani.
“Everybody who receives it is happy. We don’t get complaints. We really luck out and get to deal with people in pretty much good moods,” she explains. “That’s where I didn’t feel like we realized in the beginning that it was about spreading a little bit of happiness.”
As for Vezzani and Lyon, the two were only soccer mom acquaintances before they decided to go into business together, but Vezzani says they make the perfect business partners.
“We couldn’t have lucked out more,” she says. “We’ve worked together now for 4 years, and we just work really, really well together. I cover sales, technology, customer service, and she covers fulfillment and accounting, and the split has just worked out really nice.”
And now, as things settle into place, they’re looking toward the future.
“We’d like to expand into more products, more options, we’re really happy with the path we’re on,” Vezzani says. “We want to add more options for our customers, and just create the best experience possible we can provide.”
Concept: An online confectionery gifting company that lets the recipients pick which candy they receive
Founders: Elisabeth Vezzani and Leslie Lyon
Headquarters: Denver, Colo.
Staff: Nine people