In the wake of struggling to find a caterer for candy cart hire and candy favour treats for my own wedding I spent many years dreaming of the opportunity to create a business that provides candy and homemade chocolate treats for special occasions.
During my maternity leave, having moved from England to Northern Ireland a few weeks after giving birth I felt that it was my chance to really give my business concept more thought and to dive in head first into making my idea a reality. I started out by creating gifts for family and friends to test out the market for a viable business and soon had a lot of people contacting me to create bespoke gift ideas for all occasions and The Candy Wagon was born.
Once I purchased the candy cart I began to see my vision coming to light. With the addition of showcasing at Wedding Shows upon their return in recent months The Candy Wagon is now trading at a wedding supplier providing candy cart hire, candy buffet tables, sweet and handmade chocolate wedding favours, centrepieces and bridal party gifts.
Whilst The Candy Wagon still provides the perfect bespoke sweet and chocolate gift for every occasion, it is moving towards the wedding field with a key aim of engaging couples getting married as a key customer base. It has been a delight to attend Wedding Shows recently and engage with my client base face to face which had been put on hold during the Covid pandemic.
Our aim at The Candy Wagon is to ensure that we provide that final special touch to your day that makes your occasion whatever it might be the absolutely best day possible.
Why did you decide to set up my own business
I decided to take my business idea forward during my maternity leave. As I was due to come out of maternity leave Covid was just starting to find its feet and I knew it could become difficult to find employment in my own field due to the world as we knew it closing down. I had wanted to start my own business for many years, having initially discussed the idea during my own wedding planning in 2016 but focusing on my own career in the meantime until the time was right.
Given the fact that we were all stuck at home in the early months of the covid pandemic and essentially all shopping went online I felt it was the ideal opportunity to test the market and begin to create my sweet and chocolate treats. I knew that it would be quite a while before I could fully engage in the main aspect of my business which was catering to events including candy cart hire and candy buffets etc. So I spent time getting my brand established and creating a client base in my local area which has now benefitted my business now that I am finally trading in the events arena.
What is your business’s key strength
I believe the key strength to my business is my passion for everything that I create. I started the business with the ethos of creating ‘candy for every occasion’. I wanted to add that little final touch to every special occasion whether that was a birthday, christening, anniversary, hen party, wedding or simply a special treat to say thank you. Every product that I create is handmade and hand crafted and full of love. I always want to ensure that my products are at the highest standards they can be and I hope that this translates to my customers through my products.
What challenges have you faced to date
Starting a business during the covid pandemic has been a challenge in itself. Without the face to face sales of market places and craft fairs it has been difficult for any small crafting/gifts business to really establish a client base and showcase its brand. The Candy Wagon has been no different. Whilst covid has provided us with the ideal opportunity to encourage online shopping and custom orders for special occasions where clients have not been able to go to shops it has also posed many challenges.
One key challenge also being that we couldn’t start out doing what we intended the business to do from the start which was to cater to events. Events were cancelled, weddings were not happening and therefore a wedding caterer was not essential. We took the challenge as an opportunity to build our brand and financially get us to a point of purchasing equipment to enable us to cater for large scale events and once covid restrictions were released we were in a better place to move the business forward in the right direction.
How has the business plan programme helped you
The business plan programme has helped me immensely as it has enabled me to really focus on my brand, my customer base and my products. I started the process with far too many products and not enough strategic focus on the business being viable. In a sense I was ‘winging’ it and seeing how it got on. Which of course is not the best way to approach a new business idea.
The programme has helped me to reduce my products down to focus on a set package of products which best suits my business brand and customer base. It had helped me to focus on my finances and to ensure that my business is financially viable including ensuring that I am actually making a profit. It has also given me some peace of mind to know that my business has became well established, is financially stable and has got the possibility of becoming a well established sustainable business given the right direction, support and will power to succeed.
Describe your business adviser
Catherine has been amazing throughout the process. I was shielding due to covid and also have a very young child in the house, I also work 2 days per week for a dementia charity and she worked around those obstacles and made the process so much easier than I ever imagined when commencing the programme. She was an amazing help in understanding my business profile and customer base as well as enabling me to really focus on what I wanted to gain from developing my business to ensure that my business plan met my needs. I really could not recommend her more and am immensely grateful for her patience, understanding and continued support.
Any key achievements to date – 1st product line; major customer; geographic market; branding sorted?
My branding seems to have really taken off locally – it is a good thing when you go into Hobby Craft at the Abbey Centre and the girl behind the counter asks you for your business details to sign you up to a newsletter and they say ‘oh I’ve heard of your business, you do sweets and chocolates and hire a candy cart don’t you’. I walked out of that shop feeling like I had won at the Olympics because it meant that for the first time I really was aware that my brand had reached out past family and friends
I have got a regular client base that has been established over time. Whilst I get orders far and wide I have a client base that comes to me for every occasion, whether that is a family birthday, special anniversary, a wedding, they will come to me first before getting gifts or ideas elsewhere.
A major step forward for The Candy Wagon has been gaining shelf space in Mrs Bubbles a local craft and gift store. I have been selling chocolate and sweet treats in store for a couple of months now and it has provided a welcome base within the local town for me to share my brand, my products and gain a regular customer base.
Another key achievement I believe is my customer base across the UK through my Etsy store. Whilst I get orders from clients within NI via my own website and social media I find that my Etsy store orders are mainly mainland UK. This has enabled my brand to reach out across the UK. Due to very positive feedback and reviews on Etsy (never lower than 5 star ratings) I have been able to showcase my gifts to a far wider audience and my products are regularly showcased as top picks on the Etsy site.
Where do you see your business going in the next 6 months
My focus for the coming 6 months is to build my wedding brand. I am attending a number of Wedding Shows over the coming months and hope to promote my brand on the wedding scene. This includes providing candy cart hire, candy buffet tables, sweet/chocolate centrepieces, bridal party gifts as well as providing wedding favours which have became my biggest selling products in the past few months.
I would like for The Candy Wagon to be added to recommended supplier lists with local hospitality for weddings and events and also to ensure that my business is the go to for wedding planning businesses. I am already on the Perfect Bliss Wedding Show supplier lists and am attending a number of their Wedding Shows.
Anything else you wish to say
I would just like to say thank you so much to Ledcom and the Go For It Programme for providing me with the support, advice and encouragement that I needed just at the right time. I was at the point of deciding whether to push the business further and look at taking it forward FT and the programme has provided me with the skills, knowledge and business plan to really look at my business going to that next level.