If there is one thing that can be said with certainty about Jeff Rubin, CEO and founder of IT’SUGAR, it is that he has grand visions and the indomitable drive to see them through.
Both of these traits are on display as the 2018 Candy Hall of Fame inductee’s long-time revelation of building a candy department store will come to fruition on October 24, when IT’SUGAR opens a three story, 24,000-square-foot shrine to sweets. Located in the new American Dream entertainment center, right outside Manhattan, the IT’SUGAR department store will be the largest non-manufacturer branded candy store globally, Rubin tells Candy & Snack TODAY. In addition to confections, the store will sell cereals, sodas and desserts.
“This has been a long-time dream of mine. It started when I was with FAO Schwarz and I would think ‘How cool would this be if the whole store was candy?’ After 25 years of keeping notes next to my bed, the dream is finally coming to fruition,” he explains.
In true department store fashion, the location will be segmented with brands having their own sections and visitors will be welcomed by a 60-foot replica of The Statue of Liberty made entirely from candy.
“What we are trying to do is take advantage of the fact that candy is so popular right now, probably as popular as I’ve ever seen it, and I’ve been in the industry since 1989,” he says. “We are just riding that wave and creating a retail-tainment concept around confections.”
Rubin adds the mobility of the concept really excites him, explaining: “I can put all the U.S. candy brands in one house and take it across the pond. The world is going to love the candy department store.”
It’s All About Location
Since opening in Atlantic City in 2006, the IT’SUGAR concept quickly spread across the country and now there are 100 locations and nearly 1,000 employees. The key to that rapid expansion, according to Rubin, is prime positioning near restaurants, resorts and amusement centers rather than more traditional specialty candy store locations such as shopping malls.
“Real estate that is centered on entertainment is perfect for this concept,” he explains. “When we started out there were a lot of lifestyle and resort centers being built in the country and we took advantage of that with fast expansion.”
The IT’SUGAR concept “lives at the intersection of attitude and fun,” according to Rubin, who explains the key is getting consumers in a particular mindset that is much different from when they are shopping more traditional channels.
“We try to form a store where shoppers can laugh, and enjoy the products and creations we’ve made. All we exist to do is poke fun at a lot of society’s rules that are restrictive and get in the way of treating yourself and having a good time,” he says. “We don’t take ourselves very seriously at IT’SUGAR, and that resonates with a population that is constantly looking for an escape.”
Part of meeting this demand is playing into pop culture trends, whether it be Saturday Night Live-inspired Pete’s Famous Schweddy Balls during winter holidays, an IT’SUGAR best seller, or its collection of Stranger Things confections ranging from chocolate bars to Scoops Ahoy ice cream cone gummies.
Another factor to the format’s success is its strategy to zig when the competition zags. “When everyone was going petite, we increased our pack sizes. We put out a 100 percent gluten chocolate bar,” he gives as examples. “Our motto is ‘treat yourself,’ and that is what candy is, a wonderful treat that is embedded in our culture.”
This is what makes IT’SUGAR resilient to ecommerce threats, according to Rubin.
“Consumers still take vacations, they still go out to dinner, the movies, bowling, and we are positioned to capitalize on that. We relish in the fact that we have a concept that isn’t threatened by the online world,” he adds.
While on one hand IT’SUGAR has a buffer against ecommerce, on the other the company leverages the channel to increase the reach for its exclusive items, such as the Stranger Things line.
In addition to exclusives driven by entertainment licenses, IT’SUGAR works with candymakers for special limited-edition items that fit the retail concept, Rubin tells Candy & Snack TODAY.
“When we meet with manufacturers it is very concentrated on products,” he says. “Not that pricing isn’t important, but we are focused on exclusivity and differentiation. Manufacturers look at us and realize if they can get in our stores, they can demonstrate how these one-off products do, and that opens them up to sell to a much wider audience.”
The Candy Hall of Famer explains that after IT’SUGAR’s exclusive rights to an item expire, the items often become everyday offerings for manufacturers, citing as 18-inch Twizzlers.
“That’s an example of how IT’SUGAR can start with a product and later it goes everywhere else,” he notes, adding: “This first every candy department store will take that to all new levels. Now we are talking about exclusives in nearly all departments.” C&ST