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Giftability Is Core to Sugarfina’s Strategy

Sugarfina designed its retail stores with Instagram in mind, according to founder and chief executive officer Rosie O'Neill.

“You eat with your eyes first,” said Sugarfina founder and chief executive officer Rosie O’Neill.

That is why the company, which makes candy in fun shapes housed in clear, minimalist, square boxes, maintains that vibe for its clean-looking storefronts. The idea is to offer a grown-up alternative to the kids’ candy store, O’Neill said.

Sugarfina has opened more than 50 boutiques in the five years since it launched, including a Southampton, N.Y. storefront. The brand also sells through department stores, including Nordstrom, as well as high-end hotels. Sugarfina posted $3 million in sales for 2014, O’Neill said, did $40 million in sales for 2017, and is poised to do around $60 million for 2018. Sugarfina is expected to pass the $100 million revenue mark in 2019 or 2020.

While the brand is best known for candies like Champagne gummy bears, Sugarfina has done many collaborations, including Hello Kitty, Tito’s Vodka, Whispering Angel Rose and Green Juice Gummy Bears for Pressed Juicery.

“Create a brand with personality,” O’Neill advised the crowd at the summit. “You cannot afford to be boring in today’s day and age, customers just will not accept that. If you can make people smile, if you can be witty in an authentic way, those are things that keep people coming back.”

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Sugarfina’s customers are mostly women between the ages of 25 and 44, and many of them are shopping Sugarfina as a gift, O’Neill said.

Packages ordered online are personalized with notes from Sugarfina’s fulfillment team. That custom touch is one O’Neill advised beauty brands to take on, noting that while bigger brands may say, “that’s not going to work for me, that’s not scalable,” they are wrong, O’Neill said. Brands need to choose to make something like that scalable and commit to it, she added.

Being different has been core to the company’s success, O’Neill said. “If everyone is going right, don’t be afraid to go left,” she said.

She credited Sugarfina’s store experience as one reason behind the brand’s growth. Instead of a traditional, “how can I help you,” customers are greeted with a candy sample and told the story of how that candy came to be. That step takes the relationship between customer and salesperson out of a transactional place and makes it more genuine, O’Neill said.

The business also designed its store with Instagram in mind. From the paint color to the lighting scheme, the retail experience is crafted so shoppers can take photos that look good without filters, O’Neill said.

Sugarfina is focused on an omnichannel experience — sales online, through retail partners and in its own stores — O’Neill said, and bringing digital offerings into stores is a key part of that. In its stores as well as online, the company offers a service called Candy Gram that allows shoppers to send candy as gifts — even when they don’t know the recipient’s address or flavor preferences. The candy gram sends the gift receiver an e-mail asking them to customize a bento box with their favorite flavors, courtesy of the gift giver.

“What’s great about this is it’s a second purchase,” O’Neill said.