Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Throwback Tip #48 Set a Thermometer Alarm Below Desired Temperature

This week’s tip helps you manage your time and maintain the quality of your candies, which is especially important with the busy holiday season ahead.

Set your candy thermometer with an alarm for one or two degrees lower than your cooking time to ensure you don't overcook.

When you start a batch of caramel and walk away to work on packaging, you’ll be alerted to the candy cooking process with enough time to remove it or begin the next step before it gets even one degree too high.

Source: CDN

Programmable candy thermometers like the one pictured on the left are available on Amazon starting at $21.99.

Looking for other supplies? From thermometers to taffy. Chocolate to caramels. Moulds to mixers and peanuts to packaging solutions, RCI's Buyer's Guide is your all-in-one resource for products and services needed to run your business. Remember, RCI members can login to access RCI Buyer’s Guide on the member side of the website or call the RCI office to be connected to a supplier.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tip #244: Stand Out on Small Business Saturday

Photo source: American Express
Start preparing now for Small Business Saturday on November 25, 2017. Unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are typically held at the big box stores, this is a day to celebrate small business and encourage holiday shoppers to visit the brick and mortar businesses that serve their local community. According to American Express, 112 million shoppers spent a reported $15.4 billion at their local small businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2016.

Tips for a Successful Small Business Saturday

Create a Special Offer
Use this day as an opportunity to reach not only your current customers, but gain some new ones. Create a special offer that involves a discount for one-day only or free samples with purchase. Make your customers feel special by going above and beyond, enticing them to keep coming back throughout the holiday season. While you want customers to visit your brick and mortar store don’t forget your e-commerce customers. Create a special offer that could be redeemed online as well.

Use the Tools Provided by American Express
Since 2010, American Express has offered free marketing materials to businesses promoting the holiday.  The Shop Small® Studio offers tools and templates for small businesses to create customizable marketing materials for their retail shop, website and social media sites in less than two minutes. Visit americanexpress.com/ShopSmall to find event ideas, inspiration and signage templates available to help small businesses spread the word at no cost.

Get Social
Use all aspects of social media to engage consumers, but make it about more than just a special offer. Think of creative ways to engage with customers and friends the week leading up to Small Business Saturday. Offer a special discount for liking the Facebook page, a drawing if the store reaches a certain number of likes, or unique specials to those that check in while shopping at your store. Use Instagram to post new products or specials throughout the week. Tweet store discounts, new products and special store hours for the day.

Make it a Party
Customers will want to be a part of your Small Business Saturday event if you make it like a party. One idea is to create a countdown in your store leading up to November 25th. Offer small incentives to get customers in the door on the day of the event. Having samples, coupons and a party atmosphere will really get people excited to be a part of this shopping day.

Involve Entire Community
Involving your community is a great way for local businesses to promote each other, driving traffic to multiple stores. Many communities are taking advantage of Small Business Saturday by having their own community-wide promotion or special marketing efforts surrounding this day. Contact your CVB or Chamber of Commerce to see if your city/town has any shop local, shop small efforts to promote this day.

Make your business stand out in your community by preparing for Small Business Saturday now.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tip #243: Create Holiday Emails That Drive Sales

Imagine trick-or-treating as a kid and coming home to find out your neighbors were passing out items from their junk drawer instead of candy (old batteries, a stray sock, an unpaid bill).

Sound a bit like your email inbox? Every once in awhile you'll come across a real "treat" among a slew of marketing emails that evoke similar feelings to the time when the neighborhood kids toilet-papered your house (delete, delete, delete...).

For retailers, creating marketing emails that delight your customers, rather than make them shriek, can be tricky...If only there was a checklist to ensure you deliver perfect emails that engage, inform and drive action from your customer base this holiday season…

Below we've highlighted expert marketing tips (no tricks) from RCI partner, Constant Contact, from their easy-to-follow Holiday Email Template Checklist. Click here to read the full article from Constant Contact.

1. Holiday header
  • From Name and Email
  • Subject Line
  • Preheader Text

These three elements could be the difference between your email getting opened or sent straight to the trash!

2. Holly, jolly email body
  • Company Logo
  • Text/Images
  • Call to Action

According to a 2015 study performed by Constant Contact, email campaigns with a combination of 20 lines of text and three images resulted in the highest click-through rate.

3. Festive footer
  • Social Media Links
  • Address/Contact Information
  • Unsubscribe Option

Don’t underestimate the power of making your business easily accessible. Make sure to include your contact information, such as a link to your website and a phone number, as well as links to your social media sites.

Check your list twice to create business-driving emails that delight your customers this holiday season!

RCI Members: Constant Contact Email Marketing offers a fast, effective way to get your message out to customers and keep your organization top of mind. Start your email marketing today and receive an RCI member discount of 20% for purchasing the 6 month prepaid option or a discount of 25% for purchasing the 12 month prepaid option. Already use Constant Contact? Contact RCI to begin receiving the member discount.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tip #242: Implement a Mystery Shopper Program

According to an American Express survey, 70% of shoppers state that they are willing to spend up to 13% more with companies they believe provide excellent customer service.

How does your customer service measure up? One way to find out is to develop a mystery shopper program for your business. According to Inc.com, “mystery shoppers provide objective quantitative and qualitative feedback about their customer experience and conditions.”

7 Benefits of an Effective Mystery Shopper Program
  • Monitors and measures service performance
  • Improves customer retention
  • Makes employees aware of what is important in serving customers
  • Monitors facility conditions
  • Ensures product/service delivery quality
  • Supports promotional programs
  • Identifies training needs and sales opportunities

Many experts would advise you to hire a third-party to work with you to develop and implement a mystery shopping program that suits your business and in some cases offers consulting for how to best use the results of your findings. If you do choose to hire a third party, beware of mystery shopper scams. Look for a certified mystery shopping provider near you through the trade association Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA).

If you’re considering bypassing a third party, here’s three points to consider when creating your own mystery shopper program.

What do you wish to accomplish by employing a mystery shopper program (view the list of benefits above for ideas)? Use your goals for the mystery shopper program to determine the direction of your shopper evaluation. If your goal for the program is to measure service performance, your evaluation should focus on customer service.

It is difficult to make improvements based on results to subjective survey questions such as “did you enjoy your shopping experience?” Instead, specific questions like “Did an employee greet you with ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening within five minutes of entering store?’” If the answer to this question is an overwhelming “no,” a corrective action should be easy to come up with.

Experts agree it is best for mystery shoppers to visit your retail shop at least two to four times to set an accurate performance benchmark. "One shop every six months is so random that it reveals little," says Bob Phibbs with The Retail Doctor. "Over time, patterns emerge that make managing your customer experience much clearer."

A mystery shopper program can be a powerful tool to fix, change or improve your business, but the true value in an effective program is putting into place actionable steps to help you reach your end goals.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tip #241: Go Mad For Plaid

Plaid is not just for lumberjacks. From bold buffalo checks to traditional plaid patterns, the plaid trend is everywhere! Consider incorporating plaid into your fall and winter merchandising themes to create dynamic displays and gotta-have-it gift ideas.

Image source: Target 
If the just the sight of the word “wallpaper” makes you cringe, consider a more temporary solution to getting your plaid fix while creating a dynamic merchandising display with peel and stick wallpaper. Check out Devine Color’s buffalo plaid Peel & Stick wallpaper, available at Target. As the name suggests, it is self-adhesive and removable. It is available in a roll that covers a 27.5 square-foot area. Click here to learn more.

Image source: Zulily
 Aside from being their own kind of eye candy for display, a vintage or like-vintage plaid thermos could be a fun vessel for your hot chocolate mix or hot chocolate truffles.
Another idea to add some plaid to your store front, would be to snag a variety of plaid fabric, preferably flannel, to make your own garland with rustic charm. Use up your remaining scraps of fabric by tying them around your boxes, bags and containers to “dress” them for the cool weather.

By incorporating a trendy plaid look into your merchandising plan, your sure to make customers feel warm and cozy this fall and winter!

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Throwback Tip #165: Celebrate Sweetest Day

Photo credit: Cristopher Rodriguez (left), Patrick Doheny (right), Flickr

This year, Sweetest Day will take place October 21, the third Saturday in October. While the holiday is more significant for candy makers in the Great Lakes region (Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit being the biggest Sweetest Day cities), the holiday is gaining in popularity throughout the country every year. Some RCI members even report sales from Sweetest Day exceeding Mothers Day.

Al Herz, RCI Board President 1929-1930, poses with the Little
 Rascals as they treat orphans in his local community with boxes
of chocolates and entertainment on Sweetest Day in 1928.
The history dates back to 1922 when Herbert Birch Kingston, a candy maker from Cleveland, decided to give candy and small gifts to the city’s orphans and shut-ins, all who are often forgotten and neglected. With the help of friends and neighbors, he distributed these small remembrances on a Saturday in October. For years to follow, other Clevelanders began to participate in the tradition, which came to be known as "Sweetest Day.” 
In time, the idea of spreading cheer to the underprivileged broadened to include everyone from family and significant others to coworkers and acquaintances with a kind act or a small remembrance. With a little help from movie stars in the 1930s, the idea quickly spread to other cities all over the country.

Sweetest Day is not based on any single group’s religious sentiment or on a family relationship. It is a reminder that a thoughtful word or deed enriches life and gives it meaning.

For many people, remembering takes the form of gift-giving. For this reason, Sweetest Day offers an unique opportunity to offer all kinds of gift items. Falling midway between Father's Day in June and Christmas in December, Sweetest Day provides an occasion for the opening of fall merchandising programs and the promotion of various products, not the least of which is candy and boxed chocolate.

Other Ideas to Promote Sweetest Day 
  • Remind your customer of Sweetest Day through social media, email and in-store signage.
  • Send press releases about Sweetest Day to your local media and let them know of ways your business can help customers celebrate.
  • Be prepared to explain Sweetest Day and to make suggestions regarding appropriate gifts, keeping in mind that the possibilities are limitless.
  • Create a prominent display of merchandise for Sweetest Day.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tip #240: Make the Holiday Sweet for those on the Naughty List

Recipe and photo courtesy of LorAnn Oils.

Create some laughter in your stores that is sure to generate impulse purchases this holiday season, with this recipe for cinnamon-flavored Candy Coal from RCI member, LorAnn Oils.

2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon LorAnn Cinnamon Oil or 1 teaspoon (1-dram bottle) for a hotter cinnamon flavor
1/4 teaspoon LorAnn black powder food coloring or 1-1/2 teaspoons black gel food color*

Use of a candy thermometer is recommended

  1.  Have all ingredients and tools assembled and within easy reach of the stove. Line a 9" x 6" loaf pan or 8" x 8" baking pan with aluminum foil allowing foil to overhang sides. Spray with non-stick cooking spray, such as PAM.
  2. In a 2-quart saucepan, mix together sugar, corn syrup, water and black powder food color (*if using gel color, add at step 4). Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Insert candy thermometer if using, making certain it does not touch the bottom of the pan.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, without stirring. Early in the cooking process, you can "wash down" any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.
  4. *If using gel coloring, add when syrup reaches 260º F. Do not stir. Boiling action will incorporate color into syrup.
  5. Continue to cook and remove from heat precisely at 300º F (temperature will continue rising), or until drops of syrup form hard, brittle threads in cold water. After boiling action has ceased, add flavor and stir. USE CAUTION WHEN ADDING FLAVORING TO AVOID RISING STEAM.
  6. Pour syrup into prepared pan. Do not refrigerate. Cool completely. Once candy is cooled, lift from pan and remove foil.
  7. Break candy into small chunks to simulate coal pieces (see tip). For best results, store candy at room temperature in an airtight container.

For an eye-catching merchandising display, consider placing a clear candy bag of coal candies into cute Mini Glavanized Metal Pails from Oriental Trading Company. Add a chalkboard sticker like the photo above or a cute kraft paper label tied with ribbon or scraps of fabric for a rustic-chic look.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tip #239: Get Pinning! Create a Pinterest Account for Your Business

As of today, there are 59 days until Black Friday. For many shoppers, Black Friday is the official, un-official kick-off to the holiday shopping season! "With 82 million searches for gifts on Pinterest and pinners spending twice as much as the general public, it’s time for you to make Pinterest a priority," says business2community.com.

If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, it is a social media platform that allows users to share and save content to virtual collections called “pinboards” or “boards.” A 2016 study by the Pew Research Center found that 31% of adult internet users are on Pinterest—which ranks the platform #3 behind social media giant, Facebook (79%) and just barely behind Instagram (32%).  The same study also reported “nearly half of online women use the virtual pinboard (45%), more than double the share of online men (17%) who do so.”

According to Pinterest for Business, it only takes 15 seconds to create an account. If you already have a personal account, Pinterest recommends converting it to a business account to take advantage of additional features like Pinterest Analytics and advertising. Click here for four simple steps to help you get started.

Once you’ve created your business account, consider creating a few holiday gift guides as boards to leverage Pinterest for your holiday marketing. By using existing product photos, this can be a relatively easy way to expand your reach of holiday shoppers. Don't forget to promote your gift guide on your website, social media sites, blog, in-store, etc.

Sweet Pete’s holiday-themed Pinterest board features 10 of their top-selling holiday gifts.

Group popular products together that make great holiday gifts or create guides based on fun themes that will help shoppers find the perfect gift from your candy shop. For example, if you carry an assortment of products that feature nuts, group them together in board titled “Gift Guide for Nut Lovers.” Even better, partner with a local nut roaster or even a local grocery store by featuring some of their products and perhaps they’ll return the favor by sharing your gift guide with their social media followers.

Gift guides can also focus on various price ranges. Depending on what makes the most sense for your business (don’t forget to consider shipping expenses), consider featuring a collection of items that fall into the “Under $25” range or the $50-$100 range.

For retailers looking to increase their holiday sales, Pinterest could represent an untapped potential for your business to reach new customers. See below for additional resources available to help you make the most out of your Pinterest account. Happy Pinning!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Tip #238 Turn Caramel Apples Upside Down

If you love caramel apples, but you hate how apples don’t always set straight and level, then this super simple tip of the week is about to turn your world upside down, literally.

Instructors at RCI’s Caramels, Toffees & Brittles course, recommend turning apples upside down before inserting caramel apple sticks into the base of the apple.

Thanks to this tip, long-time RCI member, Fascia’s Chocolates of Waterbury, Connecticut, started flipping their apples after 53 years of practicing the traditional method of inserting sticks through the top of the apple, near the stem. Carmen Romeo, of Fascia’s Chocolates, says their apples now set more steadily and less caramel seems to gather on the bottom.

Try this tip yourself and let us know which method you prefer in the comments below.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Tip #237: Celebrate El Dia de los Muertos

Merchandising is an important component to increasing sales. It is a way to grab your customers’ attention, stimulate emotions and give buyers a reason to make a purchase. This fall, take advantage of a traditional Hispanic holiday and the theme of the latest Disney movie, when adding to your merchandising displays.

El Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated between October 31st and November 2nd, and is similar to Halloween with its themes of death and the spirit world. Not to be morbid or scary, instead this holiday is a fun, family-based celebration of life and death, a time to honor lost relatives with flowers, favorite foods and treats, even trinkets and toys.  In addition November 22, Disney releases its newest movie, Coco,  which takes place in this spirit world. Coco is the story of aspiring musician Miguel and his extraordinary journey through the Land of the Dead.

For inspiration, here a few ways to incorporate Dia de los Muertos into your fall merchandising. 

Decorate a display with various bright colors including paper flowers, colorful banners and painted skulls.  Source: Party City

Source: Party City
As a play on the holiday’s sugar skulls, create sweets such as painted moulded skulls, decorate caramel apples and skull pops in their likeness.
Tomric Skull Mould

Caramel Apples from CraftyChica.com

Sugar Skulls Source: Oh! Nuts

Ideas for gift items source: smart-retailer.com

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tip #236: Join RCI in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico is the destination for Retail Confectioners International’s (RCI) Fall Regional Conference. If you’re a candy maker, chocolatier or industry supplier, keep reading for the top 4 reasons why you should join RCI in the “Land of Enchantment” October 4-6, 2017.

1. Experience the most photographed event in the world.
Extend your stay to experience the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta—the largest hot air balloon festival and the most photographed event in the world. Conference goers can take advantage of a special partnership between RCI and Tour New Mexico to receive a discount on general admission and avoid the congested traffic and parking conditions of an event that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Visit retailconfectioners.org/balloonfiesta for more details.

2. Turn up the heat with the flavors of New Mexico.
Discover the distinctly local flavors of New Mexico, such as red and green chiles and piñon nuts, while touring innovative businesses who have distinguished themselves by utilizing these local ingredients to create unique products, during RCI’s popular behind-the-scenes tours. Long-time RCI member, Buffett’s Candies has developed a reputation for their use of piñon nuts, which is unique to the southwest region. Other tours will include the Buffett family’s Popcorn Cannery, where they manufacture over 20 flavors of popcorn. Attendees will also tour one of the largest coffee roasters in the state, New Mexico Piñon Coffee, praised for their sweet and nutty custom pinon-flavored blends. During tours, attendees will experience the production sides of these facilities in order to gain perspective and inspire new ideas to use in their own businesses.

3. Learn how to look at your business with fresh eyes.
Learn how a taking a different approach toward common business and industry concepts such as growth, leadership, communication, flavor development and sales can help you take your business to the next level in this thought-provoking lineup of education:

  • A Fresh Look at Growing a Business
  • Leadership: New Mexico Style
  • Learn the Language of Chocolate
  • Local Flavor: Truffle Demo
  • Optimizing Sales by Targeting Mobile

4. Watch authentic Flamenco come alive.
Experience the passion and energy of flamenco come alive during a private performance at Tablao Flamenco Albuquerque. Attendees will are sure to delight in the authentic Sevilla tapas served at this unique farewell reception Friday, October 6.

Although RCI has traveled to 35 states (plus Washington D.C.), 16 countries and four continents over the trade association’s lifetime, RCI  has never traveled to New Mexico. Making this a long-awaited destination for many members looking to gain inspiration from the state’s distinctive culture and heritage.

“You never know what will spark the next great idea. At RCI, we enjoy creating event experiences that encourage the generation of new ideas,” says Angie Burlison, RCI’s Executive Director. “We support many small-to-midsize businesses who can use flexibility to their advantage to implement such ideas as a means to standout in their communities, as well in the industry.”

Registration for RCI’s fall regional event is welcome to members and non-members online at retailconfectioners.org/fall. Additional event details such as schedule, registration and hotel information may also be found there.

Stay connected with RCI through Facebook for more tips and inspiration dedicated to the retail candy maker. Not a member? Click here to learn how RCI can help you build your sweet business.