Dylan Lauren is an artist. Her medium? Chocolate, gumballs, licorice and anything and everything else that is sugary and sweet.
"My mission is to mix candy, fashion, art and pop art," Dylan Lauren, CEO and founder of Dylan's Candy Bar, said. "I really want to ignite the inner child and creative spirit in everyone. I want people in their 30s and 40s in the store to go in and feel like a kid again like they do at Disney. I want them to feel happy and I want them to leave thinking their visit was worthwhile."
Not only has Lauren always loved being an artist, she's also always wanted to be an entrepreneur.
"I have always wanted to do something entrepreneurial," Lauren said. "Even when I was in high school, I was always doing things for student government like running for class president. I always liked the idea of leadership and being a captain."
That inspiration was strengthened through the years while Lauren watched her father, Ralph Lauren, build the Polo brand into one of the most notable companies in the world.
"Watching my dad being an entrepreneur inspired me greatly," Lauren said. "Watching my dad and his experience, I learned to follow your gut."
By following her gut, Lauren has been able to transform herself into the "Queen of Candy." Ten years after opening the first Dylan's Candy Bar, the store has expanded to three locations. Another two stores are scheduled to open in 2012. The 15,000-square-foot flagship store, at 3rd Avenue and 60th Street, is largest candy store in the world.
Candy was always something I gravitated toward
Lauren's reign as candy queen may have officially began in 2001, when the first Dylan's Candy Bar opened in New York, but her inspiration came decades earlier. As a child, Lauren began her obsession with candy after watching “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Her newfound love of candy was soon mixed with another passion.
Because of this, Lauren studied art at Duke University and set up her own event planning company after graduation. Dylan’s Creative Events taught Lauren many useful things, however, the most useful lesson may have been that her true passion was in candy and the creativity that came with running her own company.
"I loved event planning, but it became frustrating to work based on the budgets of other companies, since I felt I wasn’t able to be as creative as I wanted to be," Lauren said. "Candy was always something I gravitated towards as a medium at the party, whether it was the invitation, a centerpiece, the favors or a decoration. At these events, the crowds always loved the candy aspect."
With knowledge of how to run her own business, Lauren began to apply her personal touches to a new venture. [10 Strange Businesses You Didn't Know Existed]
"I decided I wanted to open up a pop art candy shop, because I loved the graphics and colors of candy," Lauren said. "That evolved into this giant store that showed candy as pop art, whether it was candy I found, pop artists who designed using candy as their medium, or candy fashion I had seen. For me, it was a passion to window shop and find things all over the world related and it evolved from there."
The timing of Dylan's Candy Bar opening in New York threatened the nascent business.
"It was a month after September 11th," Lauren said. "It was a tough mood in New York at the time."
Lauren and her business were able to overcome the tough opening and 10 years later Dylan's Candy Bar has expanded to open stores in East Hampton, N.Y., and Houston, Texas. Stores in Miami and Los Angeles are slated to open this year. Dylan's Candy Bar can also be found in select Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Sephora, Alice + Olivia, Urban Outfitters and Juicy Couture stores. The stores feature more than 7,000 varieties of candies.
If a decision is not sitting well with you, don't make it
Lauren credits the founding philosophy of Dylan's Candy Bar with being the main reason behind the company's success. That vision, however, would not have been possible without what has become the guiding principle for Lauren.
"My parents always told me do what you love because that is what you will do well in," Lauren said. "They told me to make sure that you are happy. From watching my dad and his experience I learned to follow your gut. I think that is the best advice I can give to others. The best thing in business is to follow your gut. If a decision is not sitting well with you, don’t just make it."