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By Sara Hodon


A selection of candy available from Kennywood.










pparel and accessories may be the biggest sellers for most gift shops, but smaller items like candy and snacks can give a nice boost to an operation’s bottom line. While some operators recommend a wide selection of sweet and salty favorites, others stick to a limited inventory of tried-and-true items with a few trendy offerings that fit their particular niche with a proven record of sales.

Chereyl Spink, supervisor and merchandise coodinator at Birch Aquarium at Scripps in La Jolla, Calif., said that a “less is more” approach has worked for them when it comes to selling candy and snacks in their 1,200-square-foot gift shop. “We really only sell three main types of candy—individually-wrapped chocolates in the shapes of fish, Swedish Fish and Sour Octopus gummies,” she explained. “We also sell mints that come in decorative boxes, but people seem to buy them more for the boxes than the mints. It’s hard because there’s not a lot of food out there that’s marine life-themed. If we see something interesting, we’ll try it; if it sells well it’s something we’ll continue with.” Spink says their gift shop started selling freeze-dried ice cream, which seems to be gaining popularity. Doug Williams, owner of Kim’s Hallmark in Brunswick, Maine, also relies on a few items rather than a broad selection. “Stonewall Kitchen and Haven’s Candies are both Maine-based, and they are steady sellers,” he said. “Eighty to ninety percent of our customers are local residents and they like those brands. The balance of our other items are national brands, like Jelly Belly jellybeans.”

Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, owner, Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy, Carlisle, Pa., photographed holding up one of the 100-plus glass soda bottles from a cooler. In the background is a candy display.

Easily-recognizable names, whether locally or nationally-known brands, appeal to consumers who treasure the familiar, yet operators strive to balance the longtime items with new products, so staying current with trends through industry publications and monitoring social media is important. Stephanie Patterson Gilbert, owner of Georgie Lou’s Retro Candy in Carlisle, Pa., said that over 80 percent of their annual sales comes from candy, so choosing the right products is critical. “We focus as much on retro and nostalgic candy and gifts as we can, so our top sellers tend to be retro when talking about candy,” she said. “Candy cigarettes, Zotz, Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, 10 cent, and so on.  We do carry modern lines of candy and gourmet candy and truffles and sell our own store-made fudge, which also sells very well.” Careful about striking a balance, Gilbert said that along with the old favorite retro products, Georgie Lou’s keeps up with trends and said, “Just like birthday cake was a popular taste trend a couple of years ago and cookie dough before that, anything sea salt caramel or bacon is selling well right now.”

Consumers also respond well to products that are made in-house, whether behind the scenes or in real time. Both Gilbert and Amanda Horner, Food and Beverage manager at Kennywood Amusement Park in West Mifflin, Pa., said that their homemade candy items are among their biggest sellers because, in a way, the customer is part of the homemade process. “For us, the fudge, hand-dipped candy/caramel apples, cotton candy, and specialty chocolates are our top sellers,” Horner said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that everything is made right in front of you. It says a lot when guests can walk into your establishment and watch the process from start to finish. Our homemade fudge is the Kandy Store’s number one seller and that has a lot to do with it. It’s a popular item for guests on the way out to take home and continue to enjoy their Kennywood experience. And who doesn’t love cotton candy or a caramel and candy coated apple?” Candy stores often inspire good memories and feelings of nostalgia for customers, not just provide a quick sweet or salty fix. “ In our store, people come to us specifically for candy and retro, hard-to-find candy specifically,” said Gilbert. “Sure, we do sell candy to people just looking for a quick sugar fix, but most of our customers come knowing we’re a dedicated candy store, and in today’s retail world, that isn’t as common as it once was. Most people come to us for candy and the experience of remembering their childhood corner candy store and want to share that with children and grandchildren. We honor old candy memories while making new ones every day in our store.” Candy in particular has a sort of timeless quality that makes certain items as popular today as they were generations ago. “Swedish Fish appeal to a wide range of ages-parents remember them and buy them for their kids,” Spink said.

Amanda Horner, food and beverage manager, Kennywood. "For us, the fudge, hand dipped candy/caramel apples, cotton candy, and specialty chocolates are our top sellers," she said.

Operators consider a number of factors when choosing which products to sell. Again, they stress a good balance of trendy and tried-and-true. “As our main focus is retro, we start by trying to find as much nostalgic candy as we can. Then, we try to find unique candy not sold in big box stores, so we go to food shows a couple of times a year,” said Gilbert. For more seasonal businesses like amusement parks, building and maintaining strong relationships with vendors is essential. “I meet with multiple vendors every winter to discuss upcoming trends and possible new additions to the Kandy Store,” said Horner. “They leave me with samples and, taking into consideration the demographic that regularly visits our park, I decide what I think would work best for our guests. [Customers] want something that they can’t get everywhere. That’s part of why I think our store is so popular. We offer a wide range of treats that can’t be found at the supermarket. Offering seasonal fudge flavors is one way we try to do that.”

Items with unique names or eye-catching packaging can often bring in additional sales, particularly if the customer finds the novelty appealing. “The Sour Octopus gummies sell well for us, because they look kind of unique so customers want to buy them,” said Spink. Williams stresses the importance of displaying the brand names, especially if you have a large amount of inventory. “We put the national brands on our shelves as more of pickup items,” he says. A standalone or end cap display of new or unique items can help to draw customers’ attention to those items rather than shelving them in an aisle. “Make sure you keep strong sellers and anything trending well-stocked,” said Gilbert. “Second, feature those items prominently - make an entire bacon flavored display, for example, to encourage selling across lines and product categories. Third, make sure you get the word out using social media and make sure you diversify across platforms.”

Rachael Petrelli, food and beverage supervisor, making fudge at Kennywood. The fudge is the store’s number-one seller.

Although buying candy and snacks is not quite as special as it once was, operators still look for ways to make displays exciting and enticing in order to create a positive, if not nostalgic, shopping experience for customers. “Because most people’s interaction with candy now is almost as an afterthought at the grocery store check out, we’ve lost the idea that candy is a special treat,” said Gilbert. “If you look back at the confectionery stores of the early 20th century, they were palaces of marble, crystal, and ornate woodwork built to honor sugar and chocolate. Flash forward 70 years, and mall candy stores displayed candy in Plexiglas, self-serve bins on cheap, laminate shelves. Recently, there has been a resurgence of dedicated candy stores who are working hard to recapture the specialness of candy by displaying candy in glass, shelving it on beautiful wooden fixtures, and dressing their stores as boutiques with true branding and design forethought. We are one of those stores, and our customers appreciate the effort we put into creating a beautiful environment within our store and in our featured displays and in our windows.” Since candy and snacks are more of an indulgence, it makes sense to appeal to customers’ sense of fun when arranging displays, but it’s just as important to make products easy to find. Spink said that location is especially important for smaller gift shops like theirs, where a limited candy selection is more of an impulse buy. “It’s important to have the items in plain view,” Spink says. “We have ours right by the register so it’s noticeable.”






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