5 June 2017
Johanna Bjarsch Follin
SugarSin is the ultimate sweet experience for people who are young at heart. Founded by Anna and Josefin Nilsson, two sweet-toothed Swedish sisters, this sweet concept brings together the best of Swedish and British treats. With one shop in central London and another recently opened in Brighton, the sisters’ desire to provide a treat for everyone seems to be a winning recipe. The LINK caught up with the sisters to hear more about how they got the idea of opening a sweet shop, and about their entrepreneurial journey towards becoming the candy queens of England.
“We wanted to bring our own cultural take on the pick ‘n’ mix concept to the UK, envisioning a niche in the market for an original, more sophisticated brand of confectionery retail. We used the sweet shop from Pippi Longstocking as an inspiration to create a pastel coloured shop that feels both fun and contemporary,” Anna tells The LINK.
The sisters have always aimed to create a sweet experience for grown ups rather than just kids.
“This is why we focus a lot on packaging and design. Sweets are so colourful and visually appealing and we want to reinforce that in everything we do; anything from shop fittings to packaging and social media. We are currently working on a lot of new product developments and we always ask ourselves; would we buy it again and would we put it on Instagram? All our new products need to tick both boxes,” Josefin says.
The use of Instagram as a vital part of one’s marketing strategy is indeed on the rise. The idea behind their own sweets, the Cocktail Gummies, was to make sweets into something fun, and something that influencers would want to share through social media, and thus brand awareness.
“We started with the Prosecco gummy a couple of years ago which turned out to be extremely successful and have continued to develop flavours that are alcohol inspired but also go well in sweets. It might be a bit of a culture thing, but alcohol and sweets in a sophisticated format really works on the UK market. Plus, they are really tasty too!,” Josefin tells The LINK.
“The SugarSin concept is built on pick ‘n’ mix as well as gifts, and our mission is to have something sweet for everyone. We source all the sweets from where they originate (hence the pick ‘n’ mix is mainly Swedish!), and we have recently teamed up with factories to produce our own sweets. These are sold in our own stores and to retailers all over the UK; from department stores to fashion retailers, independents and some supermarkets,” Anna tells The LINK.
Opening a sweet shop, filled from floor to ceiling with colourful and mouthwatering pieces of delight sounds like a dream come true. However, the sisters say that it hasn’t been their lifelong dream.
“We both have a tremendous sweet tooth and we always wanted to start our own business, but maybe a sweet shop wasn’t what we thought we would do growing up,” Anna tells The LINK.
The sisters moved to London in 2006 to study, and already back then started to play with the idea of selling Swedish pick ‘n’ mix here, simply because they couldn’t find any good pick ‘n’ mix places in London.
“When we graduated we never really had the intention to go and work for someone else. The plan was to set up something simple to make some cash that we could use for a bigger business. We came up with the name ‘SugarSin’ with a friend over a bottle of wine, made some mood boards on cardboard (mainly with images of colourful sofas and bedspreads because we liked the pastel colours), made some queries for premises and managed to get a meeting with one of the biggest estate agencies in London. After sharing our passion for pick ’n’ mix and showing our amateur mood board of bedspreads and sofas, they asked for a proper presentation with a logo. We said that we didn’t have one but were planning to get one while setting up the shop. They sort of looked at us as if we were aliens and said ‘we took you in because we liked your name but you need to get your concept ready before we can take you further’,” the sisters tell The LINK.
The estate agency gave them a long list of things to do, and that’s when they realised that if they were going to do it, they had to think big from the beginning.
“We never really doubted; we believed in the concept and the estate agency said we had a great name. We were flying. This was September 2009, and from that meeting, it took two years until we had the keys to our first shop which we opened in December 2011. During that time, we constantly had friends asking if we actually thought we would ever open, and we kept saying (and believing) yes. If you want to start a business, you can’t overthink. The most important thing is that you have a vision and that you act on it. It’s never going to turn out the way you think anyway,” Anna says.
The reason it took two years from that meeting until their first store opened was because SugarSin is self-funded. For the sisters, location was key and very few landlords want to sign an independent retailer with no track record on a premium location.
“Rents and rates are high everywhere in London so we needed a location that had enough footfall with the right type of pedestrians. Looking back, we started in the wrong, and most expensive end. We should have started with selling to other retailers to build up more capital and get brand awareness. That way we would have progressed much quicker. When we started, all our funds went into shop fitting. It was just the two of us working in the shop for the first few years, and we didn’t have any working capital to actually develop the business, all the money that came in went into developing new products and hiring staff. The problem was that it was never enough to do it properly and it’s only in the last year that our business has really taken off. If we would do it again, we would do it differently,” they tell The LINK.
Taking a typically Swedish concept to the UK required the sisters to adapt it to the local market in order to gain market traction.
“The sweet culture in the UK is certainly different to the Swedish. The way British people eat, buy and perceive sweets is completely different and something that took time to learn. We can tell within a second whether someone is Swedish when they walk into the shop. Swedes know exactly what they want whereas the British customers are much more curious. For them, sweets is something nostalgic that they buy in small portions or as a gift. They like to be served and they are used to traditional sweet shops where they have to buy 100g of each flavour. They can ask for a certain flavour and if we don’t have it, they leave. It’s very rare that a Swede leaves just because the red Ferraris are out of stock. The majority of our customers are British and 50% of our sales is pick ‘n’ mix, but we have tweaked the concept and product range a lot since the start in order for it to work on the UK market. Our new Brighton store will be a great test to see how the concept works outside of London,” Anna tells The LINK.
Besides the cultural clashes, the sisters have also experienced other challenges and bumps in the road as the on their way to where they are today. Inevitable when you do something that has never been done before one might say, but the sisters say there are many things they wish they had known when they started.
“During our first few years we rented a self storage in Clapham that we used as a warehouse and we used a Zipcar to take it to the shop. As we grew, we upgraded our space and eventually ended up with two units on a top floor at a self storage in Acton where we had to wear ear defenders to protect us from the air con sound. We thought it was such a good deal and even installed internet so we could set up a combined office, packing centre and warehouse. We stayed there for nearly a year until we realised that there had to be a better and more efficient way to run the business,” Josefin says.
“Another mistake when setting up SugarSin was that we didn’t seek any business advice. We didn’t realise how important contacts and mentorship are for succeeding with your business. We have a fantastic relationship with our property agency and they have helped us to really understand retail and the UK high street. However, for production and wholesale, we haven’t had any support which has caused a lot of inefficiency, delays and mistakes that we had to learn from. We had to learn the hard way not to trust a forecast and to ask for a retailer’s payment and delivery terms before giving them a price list,” Anna adds.
Looking back, the sisters have managed to ride out the storms, overcome the challenges and can now proudly call SugarSin a success. With their second second store opening in Brighton this spring, we are eager to hear their thoughts about this experience.
“As an entrepreneur, it’s difficult to specify success. We have had some very successful moments, but we also know that just because one store opening was successful doesn’t mean that the next one will be. And just because the products sell well in one retailer doesn’t mean that it will sell as well at another retailer. It’s so easy to tip over. Someone said ‘success is something that you have had and that you can get again’. It’s so true”.
A SWEET(S) Q&A
What is your favourite sweets?
Our favourite sweets are probably a good bag of Swedish pick ‘n’ mix. We have pretty much the same taste although Josefi n tend to go for the sour (e.g. Sura skum S and Hallonshots), whereas Anna usually go for the granny sweets (Rababerbitar and Violgrodor). Having said that, we are soon to launch a new brand with organic gummy sweets, and that whole range is absolutely amazing.
How much sweet do you eat?
Hahah that’s a secret… Maybe too much on days we’re in the shop.