Fresh Candy Shipped Fast (CandyWarehouse) is one of the country’s largest online retailers of sweets. Christopher Pratt, CEO and founder of CandyWarehouse, started the business in 1998. “It started as mostly an experiment in learning about the Internet,” explains Pratt.

With a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University, Pratt started his career building electric cars. However, he always wanted to start his own business. Pratt recalls popping a gumball in his mouth one day and thinking: If I could actually sell bubblegum on the Internet, that would demonstrate the huge potential of online commerce.

Pratt then built his first website. After having it online for nine months, he was making more money selling candy than as an engineer. “Back in 1998 the sky was the limit for valuations of Internet companies, and I wanted to become a dot-com billionaire,” laughs Pratt.

Pratt and the other pioneers of online retail experienced the dot-com boom, as well as the 1999-2000 bust. According to Pratt, the bust was a reality check for many Internet entrepreneurs. “I realized that building a successful business was going to take old-fashioned hard work, ingenuity and endurance,” says Pratt.

Fast-forward to 2012; just 14 years after starting CandyWarehouse in his 600-square foot bachelor pad, Pratt now employs 30 in-house, full-time employees and operates out of a 34,000-square foot, fully temperature-controlled warehouse in El Segundo, Calif. The strategic location is just a few miles from Los Angeles International Airport and the Pacific Ocean.

Creating a New Way to Shop

CandyWarehouse has grown by leaps and bounds since the early days, and is constantly in a state of transformation. “Currently, one of the highlights of our website is shop-by-color,” says Pratt proudly. “When a customer visits the website, he or she can select criteria from a drop-down menu to view a specific set of products. For example, if a customer selects Blue Candy, 141 results appear, all blue, from jelly beans to licorice strings.”
The customer can then narrow the search further and look for only blue candy that is also chocolate-flavored, and 36 items will appear. Creating a function on the company’s website where customers can search for products solely by color was a concept Pratt pioneered in 2006. “I noticed a trend from our sales that many of our customers were buying a variety of candy in the same color,” he explains. “So in order to make their shopping experience more efficient and effective, I created the shop-by-color functionality, which I had never seen before on any other website.”

The website’s advanced technology not only enables customers to sort by color, it also allows customers to shop by Theme, Flavor, Brand and Candy Type, just to name a few. The website also has a candy buffet-builder tool to help event and party planners create a virtual candy buffet online, which Pratt says is a unique shopping experience his company provides.

CandyWarehouse also offers quality content in design, photography, video and product descriptions, which also sets the company apart from competitors. “When a company sells products solely online, it is critical for its product images and descriptions to be clear, concise and accurate so customers feel like they can almost touch, taste and smell the candy before they buy,” says Pratt. To achieve this end, the company employs a full-time staff photographer, writer and creative director to maintain the highest level of brand quality and consistency.

“We have created a business that is a unique combination of fashion and flavor,” says Pratt proudly. “Our customers not only buy our products for their taste, but also because they are aesthetically appealing. Candy has become an artful tool for designing colorful, bright and bold centerpieces, candy buffets and party favors.”

Over 200 candy manufacturers around the world supply CandyWarehouse. “We tend to stay with our suppliers long term,” explains Pratt. “That, of course, depends on consistency of quality and sales.” New products are constantly being added to the website, many of which are custom-designed by Pratt and the creative team, and then sold under CandyWarehouse’s custom candy label, YumJunkie.

“A new product takes approximately three to six months to design and make,” explains Pratt. “We come up with the idea and work together with various manufacturers all over the world. We specify the packaging and the concept, and they produce it.” CandyWarehouse recently acquired the license to create Gumby-themed candy, and has already introduced a line of Gumby Gummies.

Sugar High

As for the future of the company, Pratt is looking to expand on all fronts. CandyWarehouse opened a new warehouse in 2010 to make room for its growing inventory and staff. According to Pratt, he would like to open a second warehouse. He then notes, “Larger online companies with distribution centers all over the country are swallowing up small businesses. They have warehouses all over the country so can deliver everything within two business days via ground shipping. It’s a challenge.”

The company recently hired a director of marketing, who will work closely with CandyWarehouse’s in-house creative department, as well as various designers, animators, writers and video production companies to execute, as Pratt puts it, “some exciting and colorful marketing initiatives.” Pratt is also considering hiring a food scientist to develop colors and flavors for new products, and he plans to collaborate with event planners to create some bold and unique candy colors to complement and enhance color schemes for weddings, parties and all special occasions.

CandyWarehouse’s emphasis on high-quality content produced by a team of professionals translates to a more informative, effective and fun shopping experience than any of competitor. By offering a host of unique and wide-ranging products through an imaginative and user-centered website, CandyWarehouse acquired a strong base of savvy, satisfied customers who frequent the website time and again. The team is always ready to respond to online retail industry shifts, through expansion, specialization and innovation. These qualities will allow to remain a leading supplier of chic confections for all types of events.