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Two years ago, Sticky was on the verge of disaster.
The family-owned-and-operated candy shop opened its doors in 2001, and up until 2020 was doing quite well for itself. It had a prominent retail spot in The Rocks, a historic and touristy neighborhood in Sydney, Australia, and owner David King and his employees did the vast majority of their work right at the front of the shop, where intrigued passersby could stop and watch the candymaking process (and maybe buy a treat or two, if they were so inclined). Things were good.
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Then COVID hit.
Australia closed its borders: no more tourists. Brick-and-mortar shops shut down: no more foot traffic. And Sticky’s other sources of revenue, like birthday parties and weddings, disappeared too.
Within two weeks of lockdowns, Sticky’s income dropped to “literally zero,” King tells Tubefilter.
King knew they had to do something, but wasn’t sure what. One night, “just for the hell of it,” he says, he and Sticky’s manager Lilly Stephens decided to try making a lolly live on Instagram, where they had around 13,000 followers. Thirty people tuned in to the stream, which was more than they both expected.
So they did another stream. Then another–and another and another. Each stream brought more viewers. And soon, those viewers began translating into online sales.
With things going strong for Sticky on Instagram and Facebook, King’s daughter Annabelle suggested he try uploading to another platform: TikTok.
King had no idea what TikTok was, so left Annabelle in charge of bringing Sticky to short-form.
That turned out to be a good move. With Annabelle at the wheel (er, smartphone), Sticky has grown to more than 6 million followers on TikTok, and nearly 2 million subscribers on YouTube.
Social media helped save Sticky–and now it’s a core part of the company’s future.
Check out our chat with King below.
Tubefilter: So first, tell us a little about you! How did you become a candymaker? I know Sticky is a family business, but did candymaking run in the family from your parents, grandparents…?
David King: I was formally trained as a lawyer. Six years at university studying arts and law, four years in practice with a large commercial firm, but I was a little disillusioned by law as a career path. I had always wanted to run my own business, and I enjoy working with my hands, so when I saw someone doing something similar, I kind of fell in love with the process and thought there might be an opportunity to take something sculptural and traditional, but present it in a modern sophisticated way.
Tubefilter: When did you open Sticky? Were you fairly confident starting your own business, or was it an anxiety-inducing venture?
DK: We opened the business in December 2001. I didn’t actually have any anxiety at the time. I was 30 and cocky and didn’t really fear the future very much. All the anxiety came later on as I learned what running a business, any business, is all about. Cashflow, staff, landlords, suppliers, customers. The entire thing can feel pretty fragile sometimes. The rewards and satisfaction can be great, but the lows can be brutal. The investment of time and energy and emotion can take a massive toll, but the sense of achievement when things go well does often make it seem worthwhile.
Tubefilter: You started making content on YouTube and TikTok because COVID-19 had a significant impact on your business. Can you talk a little about that?
DK: COVID wiped us out. Entirely. The business here in Australia was doing well, but our store is in The Rocks, a precinct in Sydney that caters for tourists more than anything else, and it became almost instantly a ghost town. Our business has always been reasonably diversified, but our other markets, weddings and events, all disappeared too.
In the space of about two weeks in March of 2020, as Australia shut its borders and shut down gatherings, our revenue dropped to literally zero. Having nothing to lose, we just thought that, with a small social media presence already in place (70,000 followers on Facebook and 13,000 on Instagram), perhaps we could translate some of the theatre in our process into an online offering.
Tubefilter: Your daughter Annabelle was the one who had the idea to take Sticky on social media, is that right? How did you feel about it when she proposed the idea?
DK: Not quite, but she was instrumental. Our manager Lilly Stephens and I were standing in the shop finishing off a couple of things, and just for the hell of it, decided make a lolly and press the Live button on Instagram. We had maybe 30 people watch us, which seemed positive, tried again on Insta, then tried one on Facebook.
Every time we did a live, it seemed to grow. We started getting a few online orders almost immediately. Not much in those first weeks, but enough to give us some hope. Within a few weeks, I was packing the car up twice a week and driving the orders to the post office, sending lollies all over the world.
Suddenly the Facebook algorithm just started sharing us everywhere. We were doing lives with up to 20,000 people watching that would go on to get hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of views.
That’s when Annabelle suggested we start a TIkTok. I said “What’s TikTok?” And that just catapulted the whole thing to a different level.
Then I got hacked on Facebook. We lost our page and what felt like our entire business. It took two weeks and the help of some good friends who had some connections, but I got it back. It seemed clear that having all our eggs in one basket was a mistake, so we started spreading ourselves around, focused on building the YouTube audience, and we now have significant followings on all four platforms (1.2M followers on Facebook, 6.4M on TikTok, 1.8M on YouTube, 340K on Instagram).
Tubefilter: What was the growth of your YouTube and TikTok accounts like? Gradual? Fast? Were there any specific videos that took off and really helped grow your reach?
DK: The TikTok grew pretty quickly to start with. It was about 13K after the first week, and kept growing, but then one weekend some celebrity with a large following in the States duetted one of our videos and it just blew up. We got something like 1.5 million new followers in a couple of days. Our website melted down. It was kind of crazy.
The YouTube was a bit different. It grew slowly at first, but has really exploded in terms of followers in the last six months with the introduction of Shorts to the platform.
There was a video of us making a unicorn candy that really blew up on Facebook early on, but it is hard to pick and impossible to replicate. All the algorithms are so opaque. So we just keep doing our thing, try to be entertaining, mix it up as much as possible.
Tubefilter: What has been the impact of social media on Sticky? Has it increased direct-to-consumer sales? Foot traffic in your shop?
DK: It is no exaggeration to say that social media has transformed our business. We still do what we always did, but we do it three times bigger now. Triple the staff, a new commercial kitchen, packaging and logistics facility, and three times the revenue.
As people have emerged from Australia’s strict lockdown and started filtering back into the store, our foot traffic and in-store sales are up by perhaps 50% on where they were, but 80% of what we sell now is through our website, here in Australia and to countries all over the world
Tubefilter: What’s the single most difficult thing about candymaking?
DK: The heat. Easily. What we do is at once delicate sculptural work and hard bloody graft. We work with 15 kilos of molten sugar over an electric heating table, and in an Australian summer it can be genuinely brutal.
Tubefilter: Every single time you make candies with images or words in them, I am fascinated at how you pull it off. Is getting the images/words right more of an art or a science? Do you have a layout you follow, or are you “drawing”/adjusting the image as you go?
DK: The words and letters are time-consuming and fiddly, but there is a process that you can master with practise. Once you have made the letter “A” fifty times, it becomes a skill.
The images are sometimes much trickier. There is planning involved, visualization of a two-dimensional image and projecting each “element” of that image into three dimensions, all built with a view of their relative relationship to other elements, including the white candy as negative space. That moment before the “reveal” when we see if what we have made is really any good, is genuinely sometimes nerve-wracking, particularly if there are 8,000 people watching live online.
Tubefilter: How much of the shop’s focus is on making videos? Has it been wrapped into your overall business strategy?
DK: It is now a core part of what we do. It is in a real sense a marketing tool, introducing us to new customers and maintaining connection with existing customers. We aren’t just candy makers anymore, but content creators as well.
The core business is and will remain selling beautiful handmade things, but the extension of that into an online offer and various entertainment channels offers both exposure for our product and the opportunity for new revenue streams.
Most interestingly, it is also a genuine and wonderful community. We have a private Facebook group called Sticky Friends, which was originally my response to being inundated with friend requests early on, but it is now 38,000-odd people from all over the world, from all walks of life, backgrounds, religions, ideologies, but who share this unimportant and whimsical thing, lollies.
Social media is so often a nest of vipers, but not always. The opportunity to make an online space that is worthwhile is humbling, so nurturing that community has become fundamental to who we want to be as a business and as people.
Tubefilter: What is your filming and posting schedule like? Do you try to film every day? Do you film videos in batches? Do you pre-plan, or film spontaneously? Do you have a set posting schedule?
DK: We go live on Fridays (Facebook and TikTok), Saturdays (Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube) and Sundays (Instagram). These are also the days we do most of our process filming for short-form content. All of our shorter-form content is pre-planned and edited (mainly by Annabelle). Generally speaking, our livestreams are entirely spontaneous and improvised, apart from knowing what lolly we are going to make, but we do often do special, pre-planned lives as well. Live from the International Space Station. Live Candymaking Fantasy lollies from Mordor. Halloween cosplays or superhero cosplays.
We had long conversations early on when people strangely seemed to enjoy watching us, because the whole thing is kind of marketing tool, that we wouldn’t really try to sell people product. We consciously set out to make content that people could enjoy and engage with interactively whether they bought anything or not
Tubefilter: Have you had any cool opportunities come up because of YouTube? Things like sponsorships, partnerships with other companies…?
DK: The thing I’d love to do more of is a kind of extension of what we do that I call “Yeah, but can you make candy?” where people come on to make a lolly with us for an hour and talk about what they do. Vance Joy, a wonderful Australian singer/songwriter, was a recent guest, comedian Christian Hull, artist Tahlia Stanton. It is a great, low-pressure environment to chat about really anything. And given our TikTok lives can regularly have 300k+ views, it’s a great way for artists to reach an audience.
We have also made a candy Xbox for Microsoft, Rocky Road with Darrell Lea, Elder Scroll lollies with Bethesda, and we are currently working on partnerships with Blizzard and The Sydney Fringe Festival.
The most rewarding things are the collaborations with charities and causes we believe in. We have raised about $150,000 for things like muscular dystrophy and cancer research, NGOs in Afghanistan, men’s health, mental health, food for Bali, and a heap of awareness for things like autism, Friedrich’s Ataxia, and others.
Tubefilter: Do you and your family have any plans for Sticky and its channel for the rest of this year? Any goals you want to reach?
DK: Currently our social reach is continuing to grow quickly, about 230K new followers on YouTube alone this month, but the monetization of our content isn’t what it could be, so we are working on that.
As far as business expansion is concerned, we have grown in size significantly already, and I think the next 12 months is a bit of consolidation, building of skills (because what we do is based almost entirely on skills), getting proper processes in place, managing change, and making the team environment for the people who work with us rewarding and satisfying.
And it may sound a bit trite, but we really do want to make people smile. The world is a brutal place sometimes, and literally hundreds if not thousands of people have reached out to me personally through social media to tell me that our silly little lolly shop, where it seemed like nothing was wrong for an hour or two each week, has saved them and given them connection during a time of real isolation and fear. We aren’t important, at all, but we are an escape. That in itself is a pretty lovely thing, so we want to keep offering that if we can.
Jellysmack is the global creator company that powers multi-platform social media growth for video creators, media companies, brands, celebrities, and its own online communities (Beauty Studio, Oh My Goal, Gamology, House of Bounce and more). The company’s proprietary technology optimizes, distributes, and promotes video content, resulting in meaningful audience growth and increased revenue in record time. Jellysmack is currently partnered with hundreds of talented creators including MrBeast, PewDiePie, Like Nastya, and Bailey Sarian. Looking to Go Bigger on social? Visit jellysmack.com.