The Candy Queen Store: A Story of Struggle and Perseverance for Entrepreneurs

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Have you ever noticed that children have a universal desire to play dress up? Kids love to be creative with their sense of fashion: they cover themselves in stickers, wear tutus with rain boots, adorn their heads with flowers and princess crowns. Mel Buchanan, owner of the Candy Queen Store, took notice.

With drive and vision, Mel responded to this need by creating the Candy Queen Store to serve fashion-adventurous girls ages three to 10.

Candy Queen sells customizable t-shirts with a selection of candy shaped fabric icons that can easily be snapped on and off.


Candy Queen Store’s Creations

Mel’s clothing line has been sold in high end departments stores and was even displayed on the wildly popular Dragon’s Den—the UK equivalent of Shark Tank.

Creating a “sweet” clothing line:

Candy Queen’s story began when Mel and her two children moved to Thailand from England for her ex-husband’s work. While caring for her children, she had time to indulge in her creative pursuits. She saw that her children loved to creatively express themselves by making their own toys. If you’ve ever traveled to England, you’ll know how popular the Build-A-Bear Workshops are with children.

The real inspiration however, came when Mel noticed children were accessorizing their Crocs shoes with an assortment of charms. She realized that could design t-shirts using a similar pick-and-mix method.

The next step in making her entrepreneurial dream a reality was taking the designs from her drawing board to the factory. Creating a business abroad and not knowing the local language was not an easy task. However, Mel realized the great opportunity that came with living in close proximity to quality clothing manufacturers.

“I had great factories right on my door. I could literally go with sketches and designs and then go and get them produced right in my backyard.”

Once Mel had products to sell, she built out her web presence and reached out to a number of retailers, such as Selfridges—a prestigious British department store—and even across the Atlantic to the Sugar Factory, a chain of US based specialty boutiques.

Unfortunately, not everything was smooth going.

Misfortune hit her and other clothing companies when the clothing factory took her money and went into liquidation. It was a huge blow. However, Mel hasn’t let it stop her or take her off the map for that matter. She has stayed determined to find investors.

Her resilience has landed her on the pitch-focused reality show Dragon’s Den, and she is presently using LivePlan to create a professional business pitch and business plan in order to attract investors.

Here are a few lessons that Mel has learned as an entrepreneur:

1. Have short-term goals driven by a long-term vision

First, make sure you are are mixing your passion with an opportunity in the market. Mel combined her love of fashion with the demand for customizable clothing for children. This will ensure that when times do get tough, you’re still interested in seeing things through.

Next, create a long-term vision that helps create a roadmap to your own enterprise and be prepared for obstacles along the way. Mel had no formal education in business or fashion but her simple vision inspired her to create a unique brand. However, once she started to put her plan into motion, she met with obstacles she had to overcome, such as doing business in a foreign country and going through a divorce while managing her fledgling business and raising her children.

During those difficult times, Mel focused on her short-term goals which made success feel that much more obtainable.

2. Don’t be shy—be proud of what you sell


The Candy Queen Store’s merchandise on the set of Dragon’s Den

Mel is soft spoken and modest, but she knows the value of being bold and outgoing. Mel explains, “We’ve got a saying in the Northeast of England, and it’s ‘shy bairns get nowt,’ which basically means shy children get nothing if they don’t ask.

Mel is a firm believer in the idea that you will obtain the needed resources and relationships in business if you are willing to talk to others and to ask for help, all the while staying confident in the product or service you are selling. Conveying that confidence is important too. This means she won’t hesitate to ask for business and for investment capital.

Mel’s drive and her belief in her own products has served her well, and she has proved her methods work through her success in reaching out to and establishing relationships directly with high-end retailers such as Selfridges and The Sugar Factory. Her ambition gave her courage to ask for investment from the “dragons,” the intimidating investors of the TV show Dragon’s Den.

3. You can’t do it all yourself, all the time!

The process of turning an idea into a functioning business is a full-time responsibility, as is overseeing every aspect of the business.

Mel says: “Be kind of yourself too, it’s easy to put all of you in a business in the early days. But the last thing you need to do is neglect yourself, crash and burn. I can speak from experience. When Selfridges & Co. took on Candy Queen, it was the run up to Christmas, and the line was doing so well in Oxford St that the buyer put another order in for their Trafford Center too. I had just given birth to my third child, Bo. I had a C-section and had no time to recover; my partner and I were painting Candy Carts (merchandising stands) and packing icons on no sleep, just days after our girl was born.”

She kept going because her clothes kept selling so well. And one day, she placed another order with the factory, who after weeks of avoiding her, got in touch and told her they had gone into liquidation. Mel got none of the money back.

“We couldn’t even afford to heat our home at the time and with a newborn baby in a cold, dark house, it was bleak, to say the least. Eventually I crashed and burnt out.”

Fortunately, family was there to make it possible for her to endure those trying times. A good family support system has allowed her to manage her business through the ups and downs while raising her three children and giving her the ability to maintain her own physical and mental wellbeing.

Mel has focused on the design and development of her clothing line while managing almost every aspect of the Candy Queen Store. However, like any great leader, she knows that she needs the knowledge and assistance of others. She depends on a knowledgeable financial advisor to help her keep a finger on the financial pulse of her business. She has also found support from other entrepreneurial women, including Palo Alto Software’s own CEO, Sabrina Parsons, and VP of Business Development, Caroline Cummings. Both Sabrina and Caroline have provided Mel with guidance on how to approach investors through LivePlan.

4. Remember your goals and the reason you work so hard

At times, things seemed to fall into place for Mel and Candy Queen. That said, there have been times when she questioned why she didn’t choose a structured and stable nine-to-five job.

Sometimes Mel thinks to herself “‘Oh, I just need a pension, and a salary.’ Then the voice inside me won’t let it go, because I know that if I just get that big break, that I’d find the right financier, the right backer. It could really go, really take off. I think my vision is so clear, that I just can’t let it go.”

Every so often she reminds herself of how far she has come. “Seeing my clothing line on the shop floor in Selfridges & Co. next to Prada, Marc Jacobs and other big brands was the best moment ever.”

As a business owner you must be your own coach. Don’t forget why you succeed and struggle.

Mel candidly says “I’m not going to lie, there are days you just think, ‘What am I doing?’ But you can’t let it stop you. You have to tell yourself it’s going to get better. Then be positive and keep sight of the bigger picture. And that’s really what keeps me going. I’m not ready to give up yet!”

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Anton Fraga
Anton Fraga
Anton is a customer service agent at Palo Alto Software. He is interested in international small business development and Latino business growth. He has an academic background in international business with a focus on Latin America.
Posted in Customers' Stories

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