Dylan Lauren’s hip take on the corner candy store is giving trendy New Yorkers a fabulous sugar rush.
As far back as she can remember, Dylan Lauren has always loved art, design — and candy. So in 2001 she decided to combine her passions to create a unique candy emporium that has everyone from New York hipsters to tourists of all ages eating out of her hand. Dylan, who graduated from Duke University in 1996 with a B.A. in art history, first got the idea of getting into the candy business in her junior year, when she studied abroad and observed how stores in London and Rome sold “all these amazing candies with all this cool packaging,” she recalls. Upon graduating, she started her own promotional marketing and events company, which eventually evolved into Dylan’s Candy Bar. With stores in Manhattan (Third Avenue and 60th Street), Roosevelt Field, Long Island, Orlando and Houston, Dylan’s now caters to some 1 million customers and hosts approximately 800 parties annually, from movie premieres to baby showers to corporate events. Dylan, the daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, took some time out last fall and chatted with Report editor Robert Levin about the ups and downs of the sweet tooth business.
RL: When I was a kid, my friends wanted to be firemen, ballerinas, and baseball players. Not too many kids said, “I want to open up a candy store,” although I’m sure many were thinking about it. How far back does this idea go?
DL: I was always into the arts, even as a kid, and I was always doing arts and crafts. One of the mediums I used in my work was candy, and I thought I would become a major artist of pop art, using candy as my medium. I was thinking of creating a pop art gallery kind of venue. But then I spent my junior year abroad, in England and Italy, and noticed that a lot of different countries had all these amazing candies that not only were great to eat, but had really cool packaging. I just started collecting it. And then I started to think, “Wow! This could be part of the gallery,” and I could showcase all of this fantastic packaging. When I was doing event planning, I would use candy as centerpieces, or use it as the invitation itself. I just started seeing a whole new world of candy as entertainment, and that evolved into the idea of a shop where I would display candy art and of course also sell the candy to eat. And a place where we could also host parties, using candy as decoration. It just kept evolving.
RL: How much research did you do on the business end to see if this would make economic sense?
DL: Actually, I didn’t do a lot of research. I just went with my gut feelings here. I grew up seeing my dad creating experiential stores, and I felt that the reason his stores or places like Nike Town were successful was because they are more entertaining than others. So instead of sort of looking at numbers, I looked at those kinds of places and thought, “All right, these places work from a business standpoint]. I’ll research how they work.” And I saw that some of the reasons had to do with design. I think if I would have studied the numbers first, it would have made me nervous. The first time I actually looked at numbers was when I started designing the store. I knew that what I wanted was going to be expensive, because I was looking to create something modern and different. So I budgeted for that and compromised on other things. I have to admit, I am not a numbers person. My strengths are more on the artist and marketing side, so my philosophy was, “Don’t tell me the numbers. I don’t want to know. I’m just going to go for it, and you can stop me if I’m crazy.”
RL: So you felt strongly about the concept, you studied other well-designed retail outlets, and then you just went for it.
Robert Levin is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The New York Enterprise Report. Levin has extensive experience with midsize and small businesses, having previously held CEO, CFO, and COO positions with companies in several industries. He is also a contributor for The Huffington Post. Levin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (212) 307-6760.