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Business Spotlight: Season of Sweets

Corporate sales fuel Bon Bon's Candy House activity beyond holidays

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While households might be running low on post-Halloween sweets, there’s no shortage of sugar-filled concoctions at Bon Bon’s Candy House.

All Hallows’ Eve doesn’t even rank in the top two busiest holidays for the shop owned by husband and wife Adam and Bonnie Nolen. Bonnie Nolen says that distinction belongs to Christmas and Valentine’s Day. While Christmas technically ranks as Bon Bon’s biggest holiday by sheer length of its season, she says the store’s annual production of chocolate dipped strawberries make Valentine’s Day the busiest.

“We do more transactions on the 13th and 14th than we do any day in December,” Nolen says of the February holiday. “It’s back-breaking work. I go to the chiropractor before and after.”

The 2,500-square-foot shop handles nearly 1,000 orders of strawberries over a three-day period, she says, typically resulting in 18-hour days during that span.

It’s just a part of the job selling sweets, says Nolen, who bought and rebranded the former Richardson’s Candy House business five years ago from her parents, Terry and Pat Hicklin. The Hicklins purchased Richardson’s Candy House in 1999, but had to change the name because a candy mint company trademarked Richardson’s in 1924, according to a Tulsa World article.

Bon Bon’s Candy House pays homage to the filled chocolate candy bonbon and is a play on Nolen’s first name, she says.

Nolen began working for her parents in 2001 at their Joplin store and talked them into opening a Springfield shop the next year at 3857 S. Campbell Ave. She managed the local store up until their 2015 retirement, and moved Bon Bon’s to Brentwood Center North last year.

“With the Bon Bon’s Candy House name, we can do something totally different,” she says.

Sweet variety
Aside from bonbons with flavors such as tiramisu and caramel macchiato, the candy shop sells gourmet popcorn, gummies, truffles, 40 flavors of saltwater taffy and 48 flavors of jelly beans. A 14-foot display case holds its chocolates and caramels.

Nolen estimates roughly 50% of the candy is handmade, with the remainder brought in from companies around the country, such as Madelaine Chocolate Co. and Jelly Belly.

“I don’t carry Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups or Tootsie Rolls,” she says. “You’re not going to find the things that you can find at Walmart at my store.”

Its candy creations include caramel nut corn, divinity, fudges and seasonal items, such as chocolate dipped pretzels, Santas and snowmen. The most popular products are English toffee and sea salt caramel, she says.

“There are some days where I could just have a store that only sold those all day and I think we would be sustainable,” she says, declining to disclose annual revenue.

The sales volume of those two items? It’s roughly 2,000 pounds of English toffee and 1,400 pounds of sea salt caramels sold each year, she says.

Corporate connection
Retail is king at Bon Bon’s.

Nolen says in-store sales make up roughly two-thirds of revenue, followed by nearly one-third for corporate accounts. The remainder comes from Etsy sales, a growing component Bon Bon’s began two years ago. She says the Etsy customer count has risen to over 700, with sales this year increasing 818% over 2019. The jump was largely fueled by online orders at Easter and Mother’s Day, she says, as stay-at-home mandates were in place amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our sales on Etsy increased significantly over those two holidays just because we were able to ship them out quickly,” she says.

Nolen says corporate sales were always a focus of her parents, and it’s a segment she devotes attention to as well. She estimates close to 500 corporate clients, mostly local, such as JMark Business Solutions Inc., Legacy Bank & Trust and Harmony House. The companies place annual orders with the shop to give chocolates to clients or staff. Some orders are customized with chocolate molds using company logos on the candy.

BancorpSouth Inc. (NYSE: BXS) has been a customer for three years, says Nickie Bland, a vice president. The bank purchases customized gift baskets and branded chocolate bars for the holidays, she says, declining to disclose order sizes or costs.

Dr. Chad Carter, director of clinical services at Missouri Eye Institute LLC, said the surgical group annually orders 200 1-pound logo chocolate bars for the holidays – a tradition it started around 15 years ago with Candy House. Each bar costs $13, according to the shop’s website, but discounts are offered for early orders.

“It’s hard to figure out a corporate way to show appreciation to clients that generally pleases everyone, but chocolate is not usually a problem,” Carter says.

The advance corporate orders provide income during the periods in between holidays, when business is slower, Nolen says.

“Having the corporate income in the summertime already coming in helps me project how much I need to make for Christmastime and get started on it,” she says. “That sustains us throughout the year.”

For Nolen, running a candy shop is largely a mix of sweet, with some occasional sour thrown in. Stress still exists as bills have to be paid and deadlines have to be met, she says.

“The good part about it is we’re providing something that makes people happy,” she says. “You can’t have too bad of a day if you’re helping customers that are getting chocolate or candy. It’s something I could do forever and I wouldn’t want to do something else.”

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