We meet the two brains behind the British confectionery brand Candy Kittens, founder Jamie Laing, and director Edward Williams. Having founded the brand 6 years ago, Jamie at 29 has established his profile as a serious modern day entrepreneur outside side of Channel 4’s hit reality TV show Made In Chelsea. With Candy Kittens already securing stockists such as Waitrose, Sainsbury, and Tesco and having just previously launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £300,000, Candy Kittens is for sure on the up. We discuss hard work and team ethics, having female investors on board and never taking no for an answer.
Can you take us through the Candy Kittens journey?
J: So I went to New York about 4 years ago while back and I saw Dylans Candy bar which is Ralph Lauren’s daughter’s sweet shop and I went there and based on this awesome idea I wanted to create sweets and I’ve always loved sweets. I met Ed, and he was at university and had his own design company and I wanted him to design the packaging for the sweets and from there we just decided to make sweets together. It took us 18 months to develop them and we finally then got it into Selfridges and into Waitrose. That was the starting point. We got into all of those sorts of places and we always from the beginning have always stayed true to what we believe in and wanted to make it a fashion-conscious brand, very cool and sexy and have continued down this route.
E: For us, it has always been about creating that niche, so there were sweets for kids such as Haribos and everybody loves them, and there is the type of tinned sweets that your Grandma has. So for us, it was about developing a sweet that was for people of our age, that was cool, fashionable and fun and also making them as good as they could be.
Are they manufactured in the UK?
J: No the sweets are manufactured in Spain and then packaged in the UK, but they are all natural flavours and made from real fruit juices. Apple flavour is delicious.
How much research did you do prior to starting Candy Kittens and did you feel like it was enough?
J: Erm, I wouldn’t say we went on to do lots of research, I think everybody who eats sweets knows what they like as consumers. For example, you like fashion, you know what you like to wear its the same for us when we tasted the sweets, we know they tasted good and that people will like it. You have to have confidence in your self, if you’re trying to do something, you have to believe in your product. There are so business and brands out there, that don’t actually believe in their own product but they just do it anyway. With us, we can sit and talk about sweets all day long about Candy Kittens and be passionate about it, which is what is important. You just have to kind of go for it and see what happens, I love that spontaneity. You strike lucky most of the time.
E: We didn’t really do a lot we just kind of went with our instinct, which is what I believe is the best thing to do. Sometimes it better to just do stuff and make mistakes as opposed to doing loads of research and spending the whole year working out what you’re going to do and then doing it wrong. So for us, we do stuff, do it wrong then quickly change it and do it better the next time.
So why the name Candy kittens?
J: At the time I quite like the fact that it rhymed and I sitting in a drama class at Leeds University and I hated it. I was arguing with one of the girls there about wanting to work for myself and I would choose a name like that which was kind of spontaneous. At the time I had my vision fixed on this Abercrombie and Fitch style, and I was thinking cute and sexy and this name was cute and sexy and its what works. The kittens were the face of our company from the beginning, so we had fun, cute girls selling sweets and then the name really stuck.
Jamie, what were you studying?
J: Theatre, I always wanted to be a performer and do some kind of entertainment for sure. I think as well I really wanted to delay working in the real world, my friends were all going and I didn’t want to miss out on university life. University life, I’m not sure I completely agree with degrees and all that, but I do think it a great place to network and meet great people, really grow up as a person. Which is what I thought I needed.
So in terms of competitors or people in your field who would you say they are?
J: There is a company called “Goody Good Stuff,” they are a sweet brand and Wholefoods who also have healthy sweets, natural sweet companies say they are natural, but I’m not sure if they actually are! I think we are competitive with everyone as its a tough confectionary market right now, and you want to be top of it. Its just what we want to do is, we are pretty much about the brand and the whole experience, we want to create something where people love it and enjoy not just the taste, but the brand. We want them to think its cool.
E: To a certain extent it is difficult to pinpoint competitors as such, as we are doing something really new and not really many other brands are doing this. We have only one flavour per bag of sweet, nobody else does that. Nor do they have a mixture of all gluten-free and real fruit juice sweets, we are a premium brand and we are the most expensive range in Tesco. We are our own in many retrospects. We run our own race.
What is your price point and do you do any exclusive ranges?
E: We are £3.00 for a larger bag and £2.00 for a smaller bag. We have just gone through our collaborative process with Maybelline and also Hello Kitty. We do, do some season products but not huge amounts as you have to get rid of the stock, and we do try to stay away from that as it can be a nightmare to manage. For example, if we do sweets for Christmas, you can’t really sell any after that so you have to make sure you sell it all in that period time.
J: We kind of like to try lots of different things, and we sponsored London Fashion Week which is cool.
Where can you see Candy Kittens in the next projected 2-5 years, as we assume you are in it for the long haul?
Ed: For us, it’s about brand awareness now, we are at that stage where we have a really great product and we are in lots of amazing stores. Now it’s about getting that message out there so that everyone knows that we are stocked in certain places. Start selling more sweets really, we want to be a real big player in confectionary and be a real household name. We want people to identify Candy Kittens as the best sweets ideally
J: Also we are very proud of the fact of being British and I think that’s key for us. Everyone thinks about jumping from here to America, of course, that is the dream and spread around the world, but we want to make sure that we conquer here first and then we sort of start spreading.
How many are part of the Candy Kittens team?
Ed: Yes it’s us both and we have a team of people, of about ten people.
How was the Crowdfunding campaign?
Ed: That closed 2 weeks ago roughly, that was a success. We actually took the investment from a private investor to public.
Are you looking at a Candy Kittens IPO listing in the future?
Ed: Possibly but that seems a very long way away yet, that would be great but there is a long way to go before we get there I think.
How do you feel about the gender pay gap?
Ed: We have an office full of girls and we believe that everyone should be treated fairly. Male or female.
J: I think the same, I know its a big issue and lots of people are talking about it at the moment but at the same time at Candy kittens, we wouldn’t ever think…You know for us at Candy Kittens it’s about hiring the best person for the job it doesn’t matter about gender.
How many of the Candy Kitten’s board of directors are female?
Do you think it makes much difference working with a team of both men and women?
J: I think it’s better, even on TV it’s actually full of women and it’s really interesting to see both sides. It probably makes your business work better sometimes, girls have different opinions to guys so when it comes together it makes a really good mix. My mother works in an office! Which is great she nags everyone not just me now!
Jamie, would you say being part of the MIC cast has worked in your favour or against you in terms of being taken seriously as an aspiring entrepreneur?
J: I think it’s definitely helped both for the business side of things, as when we first started I have a profile and as a start-up that’s exactly what you need when selling a product. So you can get the word out there about it. In terms of reality TV, we were the first, pretty much and it was a big leap, because of what reality TV stars are like they can be quite diva’ish and it’s really hard to break that perception. You have to make people change peoples opinions, that’s a challenge that I like to accept. If you make the decision to do something you have to accept you have done it. At the moment it’s a good thing and we have slightly turned that around.
How on hand are you at Candy Kittens?
J: It’s a difficult one, ever since a kid I always wanted to be a performer, then growing up I didn’t think that was going to happen for lots of different reasons. So at the same time, I’ve now got this choice to do both things and its amazing. Doing two things at once can seem almost impossible, it’s so hard to do. In the TV world, you constantly have to be promoting your self and be seen doing lots of things in order to step up the ranks. What you need to do is create that perfect team or partner, so having Ed its life-changing. Without Ed, none of this would have ever happened, because its impossible to do the two. That’s why in business it’s so important to know the team you surround yourself with.
Ed: Jamie is very much involved, as the Founder and one of the Directors and he is around as much as we need him to be.
So you are pro celebrity endorsements?
Ed: Well we have done that with Jamie, I don’t think we will do this with anyone else and I will kind of dilute what we have already done.
J: Also brands, think that straight away if you have a celebrity on board that it’s going to work. If you have people like Kylie Jenner, of course, you will have your name out there in a heartbeat, people have to believe in it. It is so fascinating. People think that just by having a celebrity name it will work alone, it just doesn’t. It needs to be believable from the consumer otherwise it just won’t work. That’s why Youtube bloggers are so good.
Lastly, what are your ultimate 5 tips for success?
- Ed: Hard work, everyone says it but its very true.
- Ed: Not taking no for an answer, for example with Jamie’s perception, changing peoples minds/opinions.
- J: Believe in your own brand, if you feel its right for you then do it.
- Ed: Team, it’s so key. Having everyone bringing something unique to the table.
- J: Business relationships, just the way you are with people. Make people remember you and keep in contact with business relationships. Be nice to people on the way up, they will want to work with you again.
Twitter: @candykittens @JamieLaing_UK @Edward_Williams
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