I wish someone had told me that… David King, Sticky
David King’s business became an online sensation overnight. Here, the co-owner of family-run lolly shop Sticky shares how he harnessed his social media following of millions to become a thriving international business.
This is the 6th installment of Prospa’s ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, where we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Click here to read the rest of the series.
It all started when…
I left my career in corporate law to go into the lolly business with my wife, Rachel. While I enjoyed some aspects of working in a big firm, I always thought running my own business was the way I wanted to spend my life.
I also fell in love with the process of making lollies. It’s very artistic, akin to sculpture, and I enjoy working with my hands. I scraped together some money from different sources and got someone to teach me the basics of artisanal candy-making.
Sticky first opened its doors in The Rocks, Sydney, in late 2001. We started out really strong, so a couple of years later we set up shop in Westfield Bondi Junction, followed by Chatswood.
David King, co-owner of Sticky. Image credit: Adam Crews
When the Global Financial Crisis hit, we decided to consolidate in Australia, and dabble in overseas markets, opening a franchise in Singapore and a shop in Hollywood.
Everything was coasting along quite nicely until 2020.
We expanded online when…
Our revenue streams dried up in March 2020. There were no tourists walking by our shop, and weddings and corporate events ground to a halt.
We already had a healthy social media presence, with 90,000 followers on Facebook and 18,000 on Instagram, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to reach out to our existing audience with some theatrical content.
We whipped out an iPhone and started to film the lolly-making process, and within a couple of weeks our following exploded. Our local and international orders started to ramp up to the point that we were at capacity within a couple of months.
Image credit: Adam Crews
My 17-year-old daughter Annabelle convinced me to set up a TikTok account in June, and when a friend of Snoop Dogg’s dueted one of our TikTok videos – which Snoop later shared on Instagram – we watched our account numbers grow by the tens of thousands.
We now have a following of 3.2 million on TikTok, 655,223 on Facebook and 116,000 on Instagram, and 90% of our business is generated by the US market. That’s the wonder of social media – all of a sudden we became an international supplier, even though we’re still just a little lolly shop in Sydney with eight employees.
The secret to social media success is…
Working across multiple platforms. Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok each have their own age demographic. And while most of our paying customers are still on the more traditional platforms, our younger audience on TikTok will tell their parents about us, who then become Facebook followers and potential customers.
Annabelle capturing the lolly-making process. Image credit: Adam Crews
We also repurpose content across all three platforms. An hour-long TikTok live will disappear after the session, but we can then post it on Facebook, and still capture an interesting moment for a short TikTok video and an Instagram post.
When it comes to the formula for success on social media, what works for us is a combination of personality and process. We document the entire lolly-making operation from start to finish, and we’re not afraid to goof off or dress up in silly costumes for events such as Halloween. Sometimes the content that generates the most engagement is when we drop a lolly in a crucial stage of the production process. It shows that we’re human, and therefore, relatable.
Adapting to running an international brand required…
An upgrade to our systems. It was pretty clear that handwriting shipping labels and fitting them to boxes wasn’t going to work, so we developed the backend of our website to integrate with Australia Post’s eParcel system, which provides automated booking and tracking services. We also rented a space above our lolly shop devoted entirely to preparing our overseas orders.
Because we’re currently at capacity, the next step for us is a new manufacturing site, equipment, staff and training.
David and wife Rachel. Image credit: Adam Crews
I wish someone had told me that…
Cash flow means more than profit in the end. When we developed our business plan and looked at the best- and worst-case scenarios, we didn’t factor in how we’d pay wages, suppliers and landlords when we had a slow month. When you don’t have a reserve to meet these obligations, your stress levels go through the roof – which is something we found out the hard way.
We first opened just before Christmas, so business was booming. But just six months down the track in the middle of winter, no customers were coming through and the situation became pretty dire.
Image credit: Adam Crews
It would also have been helpful to know that as the business owner, you’re last in line to get paid. You can’t forgo paying an employee to pay yourself, it just doesn’t work like that.
My advice for using social media to market your business is to…
Give it a go. The cost of entry is so low and you know your business better than anyone else, so share the parts of it that you think are great.
Five years ago, engaging a social media expert was absolutely necessary if you wanted to enter this space. But today, the quality of content you can produce on your phone has increased exponentially, and part of what makes our approach appealing is that it’s not highly stylised or produced.
It’s all about capturing the life and personality of what you do. If one of your employees is making a delivery or baking a cake, encourage them to document the process and see what happens. Who knows who you’re going to reach – I certainly didn’t.
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