Like a kid in a candy store.
That’s the feeling you’ll get when you walk into the Candy House in Springfield, Missouri. And, boys and girls, are they ever getting ready for Valentine’s Day!
So, come on in and look around.
First, you’ll see row after row and jar after jar of candy, in such beautiful colors and wrappings that you’ll just feel like lifting the lid and grabbing a handful. Or two.
Turn, and you’ll find displays of boxed and bagged chocolates of every kind. Dark. Extra dark. Milk. White. Combinations of all of the above. With cream fillings, ganaches, nuts, and more.
Read the signs that say things such as, ‘Chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays,’ and ‘A little too much chocolate is just about right.’
Turn again, and gaze upon the display case of hand-dipped chocolates. English toffees. Chocolate with liquors. Chocolate with caramel. Chocolate with raspberry. Bite after bite after bite.
You become a kid.
In a candy store.
And, these days, candy is big business. Especially chocolate.
Candy House owner Terry Hicklin recognized that potential back in 1999, when he and his wife, Pat, purchased a 30-year-old candy store. He recalls, ‘They had no automation; everything was hand-dipped. So they had to limit turtles to one pound per customer.’ The Hicklin’s started listening to what the customers asked for, adding greater capacity and new items as they grew.
‘They wanted caramel apples, so we added them for the fall,’ he says. ‘We do candy bars for weddings.’ He points to his latest item, a block of fudge packaged in a cupcake wrapper. ‘That’s the hottest thing right now,’ he says. ‘We debuted the idea at a candy clinic held by RCI (Retail Confectioner’s International), where you have an opportunity to show your ideas.’ The fudge cup is available in six flavors—chocolate, chocolate pecan, vanilla pecan, rocky road, peanut butter, and tiger, which is a peanut butter and chocolate mix.
Of course, when it comes to big business, it’s all about Valentine’s Day at the Candy House. ‘I’m always surprised how much we sell out of the case,’ says Hicklin, but they are also prepared with boxed chocolates, baskets, and ideas of every sort. And, it doesn’t take a trip to the store to pick up a Candy House treat—they happen to be the largest supplier of chocolates to the Sam’s Club Web site.
‘We’re in our sixth year of an arrangement with samsclub.com,’ says Hicklin. ‘We have 90-100 items that we rotate through all year.’
For Valentine’s Day, it’s chocolate-covered strawberries. Thousands of them. In fact, last year, Hicklin’s crew dipped 43,000 of the luscious bites in one three-day period. Now multiply that by the number of days leading up to the holiday, and you’ll see how busy the people at the Candy House really are.
‘We always dip the day they are sold,’ he emphasizes. ‘We start as early as midnight and work through the next day.’ It’s a chocolate lover’s dream: thousands of luscious, large, beautifully ripe strawberries, dipped in perfectly tempered chocolate, packed carefully in custom-made boxes, and shipped off to make Valentine’s Day happy in many households.
The detail is important to Hicklin, which is why he uses what he calls egg-crate style boxes to protect the berries. And, it’s why he uses only real chocolate. ‘If they call them â€˜dipped,’ it may be they aren’t real chocolate,’ he says. ‘We can call ours â€˜chocolate-covered,’ because we temper our own chocolate.’
The tempering process is fairly involved (see our video, link below) but essentially destroys some of the sugar crystals and reintroduces them with chunks of cold chocolate, so that the chocolate will hold its shape. ‘If you see chocolate that is gray,’ he says, ‘it’s out of temper.’
Candy House goes through 12,000 pounds of chocolate every six weeks or so, with dark chocolate the fastest growing segment of the business.
In fact, Hicklin has created ‘The Ultimate 72’ brand for what he considers the perfect dark chocolate. It’s dark chocolate mixed with other ingredients that have antioxidant properties—like blueberries, nuts, cranberries, cherries. He says, ‘Eat two ounces a day and drink a glass of wine and you’ll live forever. And, if not, you’ll die happy!’
For someone who a short ten years ago knew little about candy-making, Hicklin has become an expert, able to give a lesson in the basics of chocolate and the various percentages of cacao and what they mean.
‘I was a food broker, and went through a corporate buy out,’ says Hicklin (who, by the way, has a master’s degree in Opera Performance). ‘Through a series of mergers I basically got merged out of my own company. I went to look for something to do, and almost bought two fishing resorts. Then I happened to notice an ad for a confectionary company that was actually making money. Three days later we had a contract on a candy store.’
He adds, ‘I knew nothing about the candy business, so I went to a 15-day school sponsored by RCI.’ That’s how it started, and it has now grown into four locations, including a factory in Joplin, MO.
‘When we bought the company we made money in February and December,’ he says. So they set to work coming up with marketing ideas and what he calls ‘mini-holidays,’ adding chocolate-covered strawberries for Mother’s Day, the caramel apples in the fall, and a full selection of sugar free chocolates. ‘We create demand,’ he says, ‘and we want to create our own trends.’
That’s why they are adding new items such as raspberry caramels, sea salt caramels, and a chocolate pecan caramel. ‘I don’t think anybody has a better caramel than we do,’ he says. They also have a new caramel nut corn that has become Hicklin’s personal favorite.
Hicklin’s expansion plans don’t include more stores at this time; instead, he is moving into private label work. ‘Our direction is to work with other people, not create any more of our own.’ He is also serving on the RCI board and lending his expertise to other young candy entrepreneurs.
Right now, he’s all about the packaging. ‘We want fresh, new looks,’ he says. ‘We developed a chocolate tray, for example.’ And, since the orders for Sam’s Club are shipped direct from his shop, he cares about the shipping. ‘If you could see how much cardboard we own,’ he says. ‘But we’ve never had one customer complaint on something we’ve shipped.’
The Candy House offers a variety of unusual items created by the Hicklins, including the Missouri Walking Stick—a pretzel rod dipped in caramel, rolled in pecans, then drizzled with milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate.
They offer a package of ‘duets,’ with a selection of milk and dark chocolates. And, you can get the chocolate-covered strawberries—just get your order in 24 hours in advance.
So, what are the guys buying for their Valentines this year? Hicklin grins at the thought. ‘Men still walk in with their stashed 100-dollar bills, ready to buy some candy,’ he says. ‘Our first Valentine’s Day, we went to the bank six times for change!’
Like big kids. In a candy store.
Follow the Candy House: twitter.com/candyhousechoc
or on Facebook.
See the Anti-Valentine story, here.
See our video, here.
This is a Raves & Faves Featured Location.