Lance Paine, president of Goo Goo Cluster, LLC, always believed that a flagship store was exactly what the brand needed.
He knew that having a go-to shop in downtown Nashville would do wonders for the candy brand, which is owned by the Standard Candy Co. And he also thought it would be a great profit driver.
Now, a year and a half after the store first opened as a pop-up shop in July 2014, Paine is getting to see the fruits of his labor. The store has been more successful than they even hoped, and it’s driving the business forward in new and innovative ways.
“From a personal satisfaction level... this is the most pleased I’ve been in the six years I’ve been here, just because it was something I felt strongly would succeed and we needed to do,” Paine explains. “And it took us a long time to get it off the ground, so it’s very gratifying to see it now and see like Woo! I’m glad we did that. And frankly, had we not done it, I’m not really sure what the world would look like for us. It would be pretty daunting, you know?”
The building itself, which was originally law offices, feels almost like a gift of fate for the company.
Paine and Beth Sachan, Goo Goo Cluster’s director of marketing, as well as Heather Barber, Goo Goo Cluster’s retail director, had originally been looking at a location more on the outskirts of the downtown business district. Moreover, they were ready to present the plans to the heads of Standard Candy Co. for what they were going to do with that property.
Then, less than 24 hours before that planning meeting, they got word that the current location was up for sale, and they jumped at the chance to have a store just off the famous Lower Broadway, where honky-tonk bars and cowboy boot stores line the street. And, the shop is literally across the street from the Johnny Cash museum.
“The family that owns the [Standard Candy Co.], I tip my cap to them for buying this building and realizing that location was valuable,” Paine says. “It’s been very helpful for us strategically to have a successful launch.”
They bought the building in May 2014, and launched a pop-up shop in July 2014, which was open for five months. Then, they made the retail site permanent, and eventually expanded to open a chocolate kitchen in Nov. 2014. And this past January, they added on the dessert bar.
They’ve since stripped away all of the law offices — although they did leave behind the office markings on the hardwood floors — creating a large, open floor plan. And, the overall decor is very rustic meets modern, with subway tiles, exposed brick, and industrial metal displays.
“Heather did just a phenomenal job with the selection of materials and integrating the authenticity of the heritage brand into the fabric of the whole location,” Paine says. “You walk in and see the types of things we’re offering to sell from just a merchandising standpoint, it just fits so well.”
As they walk in, shoppers are greeted with huge displays of the traditional Goo Goo Clusters, and a new bulk candy selection. But there’s also various merchandise, like aprons, stuffed animals, and T-shirts, including one that says, “What a Cluster!”, which Keith Urban recently wore on American Idol. It wasn’t a planned marketing stunt though.
“He just did it on his own,” explains Sachan, adding that it helped rocket the shirt to the store’s number-one selling clothing item.
There’s also a historical display that runs along the right wall and details the history of the 100-year-old candy brand. The company even worked with Jeff Sellers, a curator from Tennessee State Museum, to gather rare artifacts and all of the information.
As visitors make their way through the store, the next stop is the Chocolate Kitchen, where Lauren Garcia, the confectionery kitchen manager at the Goo Goo Shop, creates premium Goo Goo confections.
The kitchen is behind glass plates, so visitors can actually see the candy being made — something that was especially important to the company because they can’t offer factory tours, so this is the next best thing.
The candy includes items like the Premium Goo Goo Snowman Jack, which was created when the brand partnered with local beer maker Jackalope Brewing Co. to create a premium chocolate confection that features Jackalope’s mocha stout beer, crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, dark chocolate ganache and peppermint nougat inside white chocolate.
And, they recently partnered with Southern Living magazine to create a limited-edition Hummingbird Premium Goo Goo to celebrate the publication’s 50th anniversary. The confection was, “inspired by a very Southern dessert and the most requested recipe in Southern Living history — the Hummingbird Cake.” The new 4-oz. Premium is made of pecan butter, pecans, banana chips, caramel, vanilla wafer and whipped pineapple white chocolate cream cheese ganache, all covered in dark chocolate.”
And, they have recently started selling Goo Buttons, which are like little truffles and feature surprising flavor combinations like dark chocolate, caramel and marshmallow.
The Classic Collection includes flavors like:
- Salted Caramel in Milk Chocolate
- Peanut Butter in Dark Chocolate
- Dark Chocolate Ganache in White Chocolate
- Marshmallow in Milk Chocolate
- Dark Chocolate with Marshmallow and Caramel Swirl
And the company also released a limited-edition Celebration Collection of Goo Buttons over the holidays, created in collaboration with Belle Meade Winery that included more unusual flavors, like:
- Belle Meade honey apple spice jelly and vanilla bean caramel covered in milk chocolate
- Belle Meade Blackberry Wine, blackberry, lemon, and ginger white chocolate ganache, covered in white chocolate
- Belle Meade Iroquois Red Cabernet cinnamon spiced dark chocolate ganache covered in dark chocolate
- Belle Meade Muscadine Wine with cranberry, orange, and jalapeno dark chocolate ganache covered in dark chocolate
- Belle Meade Celebration Riesling with cherry, vanilla, cinnamon, and spiced dark chocolate ganache covered milk chocolate
The treats are especially enticing because most of them can only be purchased in the shop, where they are made fresh daily in the chocolate kitchen.
“We want a visit here to be something special,” says Sachan. “And we also wanted a reason for locals to come in.”
But the real excitement is the dessert bar in the back, which is also overseen by Garcia and is only about a month old. It offers guests the chance to grab a cup of coffee and a Goo Goo Cluster-inspired dessert and then sit down and enjoy it at one of the cafe-style tables.
The dessert menu includes items like TheGoo Goo Brew Shake, which is made with Goo Goo Brew coffee ice cream, banana, cinnamon, topped with fresh whipped cream and house-made salted caramel. Or the delicious The Salty Southerner Shake, which is made with vanilla ice cream blended with house-made salted caramel, then topped with fresh whipped cream and even more caramel.
There’s also the Cumberland Ridge Pecan Pie, which is a Southern pecan pie featuring chopped Supreme Goo Goo Clusters and topped with fresh whipped cream.
The entire store has been a great way to lure in both locals and newcomers to the brand, who are especially important seeing as how Nashville is experiencing a huge tourism boom.
“This shop has really helped us strengthen our foothold in Nashville,” Paine says. “Nashville’s having this kind of crazy, cultural renaissance. Everyone wants to come to Nashville now, and it’s the center of tourism activity.”
In fact, Sachan says many of the people who come into the store don’t even know what a Goo Goo Cluster is, which means it’s a great way to get the word out about the brand. However, while the shop has no doubt helped raise the Goo Goo Cluster profile, it’s also been extremely profitable.
“This is the most profitable aspect of the business right now,” Paine says. “We’re not two years old and it’s already on its way.”
That doesn’t mean they are going to stop selling Goo Goo Clusters in retail shops any time soon, but Paine did say they are really trying to focus on specific retail partners that make the most sense for the candy.
“In the last year, year and a half, Beth and I have really started to focus on where we sell the wholesale candy. We’re trying to just really be in the South, in terms of who we’re going to really invest time and money in, in terms of promoting,” he explains. “The goal is not to compete against the big three [Mars, Hershey and Nestle] and every candy brand in America. Ubiquity is not the goal. It’s selection and as a heritage brand, you get much more mileage out of being selective about who your retail partners are.”
The store has turned out to be a great place to perfect that strategy.
“This is a good vehicle for us to move the brand into not just the heritage aspect of it, but then also into a premium level product as well,” Paine explains.
There’s no doubt that Paine is leading the way with the store and the brand overall.
“Lance is the idea man. His mind is constantly going to the next thing and the rest of us are trying to keep up,” says Garcia.
However, he has an amazing and enthusiastic team around him, to help get things done. Sachan Barber, and Garcia are all just as passionate about their work as Paine, and they are ways looking to move things forward.
Which is great, seeing as how Paine has a lot more big plans he wants to put into place — he’s already looking at opening other locations.
“It’s like, how many more of these can we do? In my mind,” he says. “A couple more in Tennessee for sure. There’s some sort of obvious places I think we could go.”
There’s no doubt that if he follows his vision, more of Paine’s Goo Goo Cluster dreams will come true.