How the Founder of Dylan's Candy Bar Built an Irresistible Brand

Founder Dylan Lauren explains how she broke through a sugar-stuffed market to build one of the most beloved sweets brands in the world.
Source: Photographed by Robert Maxwell; Grooming, Matt Fugate for Exclusive Artists using Kerastase Aura Botanica
Photographed by Robert Maxwell; Grooming, Matt Fugate for Exclusive Artists using Kerastase Aura Botanica

Oh my God, that’s terrible!” Dylan Lauren has just taken a bite out of an organic peanut butter cup, let out a sound almost identical to Lucille Ball’s signature “uugh,” and promptly spat out the barely masticated substance into a napkin. She then slides one across the table and suggests that I try it for myself. So I do, and she’s right -- it’s terrible, and tastes every bit as you’d expect a sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free Reese’s-cup facsimile would.

Related: The 6 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Building a Brand

I’m sitting in on a biweekly licensing meeting at the Upper East Side headquarters of Dylan’s Candy Bar, where buyers Lauren Ulstad and Michele Polito present Lauren, who is the co-founder and CEO of the eponymous confectionery empire (and is intent on tasting and testing every single thing her company sells), with samples of products from manufacturers around the world that could sit alongside signature items such as the Whirly Pop lollipop and chocolate-covered Swedish fish. There have been some winners today -- from a bar of strawberry-almond nougat to a candy glow stick for the upcoming Halloween season -- but one thing’s for sure: The “peanut double chocolate honey patties” ain’t happening.

After all, Lauren didn’t build her candy queendom by selling yucky product. Founded in 2001, now boasts 21 store locations across the U.S. -- including eight “minicandybars” at major airports, such as JFK and Houston George Bush -- which carry more than 7,000 different types of treats and see more than six million visitors a year. Sales have grown 20 percent year over year for the past three years, executives tell me. Fans of Lauren’s emporium include Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Hello Kitty clamor to partner with the company for cobranded treats, toys, trinkets, and other commemorative items. Lauren herself has been immortalized as a collector’s Barbie doll, and appeared as a mentor on ABC’s for tykes, .

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