How Sugarfina Bridges the In-Store and Online Experience

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Originally an online-only, high-end candy brand, Sugarfina has found innovative ways to connect its brand to the customer and reach new audiences both digitally and in its stores, the company’s co-founder and CEO told attendees at eTail East in Boston.

“We wanted to do something that was very different [and] targeted to the adult customer designed around sophistication, creating this beautiful gourmet gift experience,” said Rosie O’Neill, who owns Sugarfina with her partner Josh Resnick.

Sugarfina works with artisan candy makers from around the world to create an exclusive line of candies. Sugarfina took in sales of $47 million and sells wholesale to hotels and luxury retailers as well as in its stores and direct to customer. Sugarfina opened its first store in 2013 and now has 40 in the U.S. and one in China, as well as 12 shops inside Nordstrom locations.

“We’ve been tripling in size every year, and we’ve been able to drive that growth primarily through non-paid marketing,” said O’Neill.

Standing Out and Telling Your Brand Story

O’Neill told attendees it’s important for brands to be dramatically different and offer a fresh approach. He said creating engaging experiences should be top of mind, a great tool for building long-term brand value.

“Times like these when retail is challenging are big opportunities for brands to do things differently, stand out and capture market share,” she said. Tactics for drawing customers to the stores include holding charitable events as well as product launches. Customers can also create and design their own candy bento box in the store by choosing from various pre-packaged candy.

Telling a brand story also connects customers to a brand. Customers love to connect with the people and the story behind the brands they love, to learn why they’re so passionate about what they’re selling and where it came from.

“Josh and I have our Willy Wonka origin story,” O’Neill said. “We put that love story in every boutique. Our customers love that. You can relate to this idea that something was created out of love.”

O’Neill said brands today cannot afford to be boring and need to create a personality, not just a corporate voice. “Our brand personality is an intersection of luxury and fun,” she said. For instance, Sugarfina launched “Candy for Breakfast” a cereal-inspired line with a tongue-in-cheek approach, with breakfast events in all its stores.

Personalization, Special Touches Matter

In a digitized world, adding a personal touch can set a brand apart, O’Neill said. Showering and rewarding customers can lead to generosity and reciprocity from them. Sugarfina associates include personalized, handwritten notes with every ecommerce shipment.

“Your customers will post pictures of this on Instagram,” O’Neill said. “It’s really the smallest of details that brings that personal touch to life,”

Sugarfina launched its first rewards program, offering a set of gifts for loyal customers aimed at generating repeat traffic.

“It’s not necessarily, ‘Earn X points, get X gifts,’” O’Neill said. “Instead you earn different membership tiers. Every month you get something you can come into the store and redeem.”

She said these types of initiatives – including a birthday gift program that includes the opportunity for in-store parties – make customers feel special and valued.

Be Shareable, Ride Trends, Attract New Audiences

Making the brand shareable through social media helps brands in an Instagram world. Sugarfina is designed so that customers will want to take photographs in the store.

O’Neill said Sugarfina connects the online and in-store experience through its digital “CandyDrop” gifting option. Customers choose the gift size and send an email note to the recipient, who chooses what candy they want and have it shipped to them. This can be done online or as a last-minute gift from a store.

Sugarfina searches for trends that will help the brand go viral and be shareable, identifying new audiences it had not tapped into before. For example, it collaborated with Tito’s Handmade Vodka by making vodka-infused candies.

“Titos’ fans probably haven’t heard of Sugarfina – that’s an audience we haven’t yet gotten into,” O’Neill said. “By collaborating with Tito’s and making these cool candies and gift boxes we were able to [reach] a whole new audience. It’s a great way to continue to have that innovation and newness in our retail stores.”

Sugarfina is best known for its collaboration with Whispering Angel Rosé, where they create a Rosé candy collection. “The entire year’s production run sold out in two hours online,” she said. “It didn’t even make it to our retail stores. We decided to start a waiting list and it reached to 18,000 people.”

Another collaboration was with X Pressed Juicery. Green juice gummy bears launched originally as an April Fool’s joke, but the overwhelming response led Sugarfina to partner with X Pressed Juicery, creating vegetable juice-infused gummies. It generated a sold-out product and wait list.

“These are the kind of things that tie into trends and really can go viral quickly if you time them right and bring a new audience,” O’Neill said.

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