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Cashing in on candy

Arti Sharma | December 18, 2004

It took Vrinda Rajgarhia three years of planning to start Sweet World -- a candy store -- in 2002.

The duty structure was prohibitive and the market for gummy candy non-existent, but today she is looking at setting up her first franchise, taking the total number of stores to 10 and a turnover of Rs 4.5 crore (Rs 45 million) by the year end.

Sweet dreams

I was in the US for my management degree when I got introduced to the concept of candy stores. I was quite aware we associated candy with only hard boiled sweets in India, but the thought of introducing another option was very exciting. I came back to India wanting to do something new, but wasn't very clear about how to go about it.

Business background

I was brought up by my maternal grandparents who owned the consumer goods company Geoffrey Manners. Ours was a conservative Marwari joint family and I could have easily joined the business. But I wanted to experience the thrill of building something from scratch. My grandparents were extremely supportive.

Small beginnings

While I was doing my masters in commerce, I took up an apprenticeship with a chartered accountancy firm -- Bansi S Mehta & Co.

They were family friends who let me train with them for a short while. I was in the process of deciding to go abroad and study when my grandfather fell critically ill.

He died the following year and I left for the States. When I came back, Mumbai was in the midst of the 1992 riots. Things were difficult and the family was extremely concerned about my venturing out to start something new. I thought I would start manufacturing of hosiery garments. We tied up with Italian companies for machines and I had registered a company -- Vrinka Overseas.

Initial hiccups

I had to abandon the idea of the hosiery because the quality of Indian yarn wasn't up to the mark. I then thought of setting up the candy business but duties for importing candy were too high at 70 per cent.

So I decided to bide my time and joined a family enterprise -- Prasad Agents. It was an investment company and I worked there from 1993-2002. We even dabbled in leather planners under the brand name Flexifil. But we couldn't continue because of the large unorganised market.

Big break

I could finally start on the candy store project when duty structures were brought down to 30 per cent. The duty rationalisation meant I could offer gummy candy at affordable prices to children and adults alike. All our candies are priced at Rs 60 for 100 gm.

I identified 10-15 different vendors across Europe to supply the candy. We put a cold supply chain in place  to avoid wastage. Setting up the first store was extremely exciting because there were no benchmarks and a lot of creativity involved.

I had to design everything from the external look of the store, the interior, the acrylic bins to store the sweets and making sure that the store remained cockroach-free. We opened our first store in Lokhandwala market in a Mumbai suburb. The store was made colourful to attract attention.

Eye openers

There was a lot of learning involved. I had to be careful about small things like humidity, temperature or sharp edged corners of the acrylic bins. I had to figure out what customers liked and disliked. So the first year I learnt from my mistakes.

Growth path

I'm looking at an aggressive growth plan and will be opening 10-12 outlets in the next three months taking the total to 22 outlets by March end. I have recently opened my first franchise in Chennai.

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