With Valentine’s Day upon us, it would seem only natural to catch up with Rosie O’Neill, the sugar-loving co-founder of California-based luxury candy boutique, Sugarfina. With a whopping eight shops sprinkled across the country (and store décor that’s equally as appetizing as the gourmet treats it houses) you could say life is pretty sweet for this savvy businesswoman who built her candy kingdom from the ground up. We sit down with O’Neill at her chic boutique in Beverly Hills and chat Sundays, champagne gummies, and the love story that started it all…
Describe your typical Sunday.
If I’m not traveling, I love to do a long yoga class or spin class on Sunday mornings (sometimes both, if I’m feeling indulgent). I typically use Sundays to shoot a week’s worth of Instagram photos… it’s the one time each week when I can have a long, focused burst of creativity.
Sugarfina has a sweet story behind it. Can you tell us how you and your business partner & fiancé Josh met?
Josh and I met on Match.com – I contacted him! – and it was love at first sight. On our third date, he took me to an outdoor summer screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original one) and after the movie, we couldn’t stop talking… why aren’t there candy stores for grown-ups? We couldn’t find anything like the dream candy boutique we imagined, so we decided to create it. We started Sugarfina as a hobby but it quickly took off and became our full-time job.
How did you come up with the idea to use Dom Pérignon Vintage Champagne for your signature Champagne Bears?
If you’re going to have champagne gummy bears, why not make them with the fanciest champagne? We use a bottle of Dom Pérignon in every batch and they’re exclusively available at Sugarfina. There’s something really fun about combining a childhood favorite, gummy bears, with a grown-up indulgence, fancy champagne.
What does it take for a candy to pass the Sugarfina test?
We’ve personally taste-tested over 3000 candies to come up with the 125 that we feature in our boutiques. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! Just like how sommeliers explore and taste various aspects of a wine, we think of ourselves as candy sommeliers. We’re looking at a wide variety of factors – the appearance (it has to be beautiful), the aroma (try smelling our Peach Bellini… yum!), the initial taste, the mouthfeel, the aftertaste – everything really adds up to create a beautiful sensory experience.
And we love candies that have a story, like our Raindrops & Roses from this tiny family-owned workshop in Italy. They’re made with fresh roses that are harvested by nuns at a nearby convent, and they’re the most exquisite, delicate, gorgeous little jewels you’ve ever seen. You can’t find them anywhere outside of Italy, and they’re one of the most magical candies I’ve ever tasted.
What are some lessons that you have learned while making your business become what it is today?
I can narrow it down to three d’s: differentiation, details and determination. Differentiation is really important when launching a new brand. We’ve created something that’s totally different from any other candy shop and that helps us instantly stand apart. Whenever we do something, the first question we ask is “how can we do this differently than anyone else?”
Details are what make the brand special and keep people coming back. Whether it’s a hand-written note in every online order, or a beautifully packaged gift that you feel proud to give, all of those little details matter and they add up to something much bigger.
And finally, determination is critical. Building a business is really hard and takes a competitive, tenacious spirit. Every obstacle and challenge can be turned into an opportunity, but only if you have the determination to make it happen. Some days you might not be feeling it, but you can always “fake it till you make it.”
You are free for a Sunday afternoon. What brunch spots would you recommend in Los Angeles?
My current favorites are Salt’s Cure (their orange-zest-infused morning bun is to die for) and Gracias Madre, which has a really fun selection of cocktails and snacks.
Your store designs are unlike any other candy shop out there. What was your design inspiration for the stores?
Sugarfina is what my house would look like if I didn’t live with a guy! We wanted the stores to be elegant and modern, with a bright white interior and a minimalist décor that allows the candy and packaging to really shine. It’s more like a jewelry store than a candy store, and we designed it to be an Instagram paradise, from the bright white lighting that requires no filters, cute quotes on the wall, and pretty paper flower art that makes for the perfect selfie backdrop.
Any special plans for Valentine’s Day?
Sleep! Valentine’s Day is one of our biggest holidays, but it gets compressed into only a couple weeks because most guys forget to shop until the last minute. It’s always a totally insane time. Josh and I like to celebrate the day after Valentine’s Day, which is when we finally get a little bit of rest.
What is your absolute favorite candy?
That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! I used to be a dark chocolate person, but now I’m 100% obsessed with gummies. My current fave is Peach Bellini, an all-natural peach gummy with a juicy peach center, dusted in tart sugar crystals. It’s sweet and sour heaven.
You recently opened a boutique in El Segundo and we hear there are many more on the way! What else do you hope 2016 will have in store for you?
2016 will be a big year for us, we’ll be opening new stores in markets like Miami, Chicago and D.C., and you’ll start to see more Sugarfina shop-in-shops too. We recently expanded into Canada in partnership with Nordstrom, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to launch Sugarfina around the world. We’d love to have shops in London, Tokyo, Hong Kong… the world is such a big place and we’re just getting started.
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