As a child, Dylan Lauren's favorite candy was anything red--red gumballs, red licorice, or red gummy fish. At Duke, she kept a supply of gumballs on hand, and her mother would ship boxes of Bazooka bubble gum to provide a sugar boost at exam time.
"It was great study food," she says.
Seven years after graduating, Lauren has parlayed her love of sweets into a successful business on Manhattan's Upper East Side that has brought the candy store into the twenty-first century. The two-story, 10,000-square-foot store, just across Third Avenue from Bloomingdale's, offers 4,000 different kinds of candy, including twenty-one colors of M & M's, sixteen flavors of Skittles, and an assortment of chocolate roses, as well as candy "accessories" such as crystal Pez dispensers.
In a store where the dècor changes with the seasons and items are packaged in a style that Lauren, an art history major at Duke, deems "fashionable and hip," there are also 300 flavors of ice cream and plenty of old-fashioned cotton candy. "We attract all ages," says Lauren. "Kids like candy, because it's fun and sweet. For adults, it's comfort food and reminds them of happy times."
Lauren, who keeps in shape running a seven-mile loop in Central Park, says she eats candy--in moderation. "It's a feel-good product, and when your metabolism kicks in, it makes you energetic."
Lauren says her father, designer Ralph Lauren, provided sage advice as she embarked on her retail career. "He told me if you have a dream, do it, because you'll do your best, and find the energy to do the things that you are passionate about," she says.
And Lauren is passionate about sweets. While in Europe during her junior year, she collected candies from all over the continent. After graduation, she began doing her own artwork, using candy as the medium for sculpture. She found artists who sculpted with chocolate and showcased their work at special events. She attended national candy shows to learn about the industry.
In June 2000, she met Jeff Rubin, who had set up a candy department called FAO Schweetz inside FAO Schwarz, the famous toy store. They teamed up and developed the concept of a store that offers expensive, beautifully packaged candy such as Belgian chocolates, as well as bins full of nostalgic favorites like Bazooka bubblegum and Tootsie Rolls.
With only nine employees, Dylan's Candy Bar is still a small company, but expansion is on the way. This summer, the company went national, opening stores in Long Island and Houston. Another store was scheduled to open in Orlando in September. Lauren is considering new stores in other cities across the United States, as well as in London, Paris, and Toronto. And she is expanding offerings of her own candy label, while developing a line of spa and bath products that will also be sold at Dylan's.
Lauren works with the company's buyer to select the steady stream of new products that keep the store fresh. She also helps design the interiors and plan events held in the candy store's party room, where Manhattan's elite throw kids' birthday parties and bar-mitzvahs or young sophisticates gather for bachelorette sendoffs. As Entrepreneur.com put it, Dylan's shop "has made candy cool."
So far, her passion for sweets is undiminished. "Sure, there's pressure," she says. "It's a lot of responsibility, and we have to sell things. But it's a creative outlet for me, and it doesn't feel like work."