While many small businesses struggle to stay afloat, one family-owned candy shop has found a new market in online live streaming.
Set in a vibrant candy store, with the smell and sound of molten sugar bubbling on the stove, this story has a happily ever after. But, like all fairy tales, this cast of characters had to climb a few beanstalks to get there...
Likened to a modern-day Willy Wonka, David King is as much a performer as a candy-maker.
He’s been making handmade rock candy since he opened his very first store in Sydney in 2001.
“It's a little bit unique in its theatrical nature, and it's not just a product, it's a story,” David King told The Feed.
For almost two decades, David and his small team of candy makers would make rock candy from scratch in front of a live audience, consisting mostly of tourists visiting The Rocks.
“About 30 percent of our business was people who come in and see what we do, enjoy the show and then buy some, but then the other part of business, and it's probably close to 70 percent seasonally, is customised candy for weddings...corporate promotional things, company logos, parties, events, things like that,” he said.
“Until Covid it was pumping, we were busy, we were really busy.”
The impact of Covid-19
Like many small businesses, Sticky felt the financial impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures instantaneously. “Business fell off a cliff,” Mr King said.
“We went from busy and working at capacity to...maybe one person coming past a day who might buy some lollies, but that was it.”
“I was devastated, I didn't actually cry but I kind of got close. I thought 20 years of effort that we put in was probably not going to make it through to the other side.”
Candy-maker Nicolas Diaz-Knights feared the worst.
“All customised candy stopped, online orders stopped, we were about to get laid off...nothing was going right,” Mr Diaz-Knights told The Feed.
“It was slightly scary because if this company goes under and Covid continues for ages, I'm not going to get a job anywhere because everywhere is not hiring anymore, everywhere is shutting down.”
Facing closure themselves, the Sticky team turned to social media for a lifeline.
“We kind of just thought we'd throw a Hail Mary pass and see if there was some way we could take the theatrical side of what we did and turn it into more of an online live streaming presence,” Mr King said.
“We had 20 people watching the first couple of times we streamed, and we were feeling really enthusiastic about that because the same people were coming back.”
Those numbers slowly grew.
“We did a few live streams with only 30 people joining and then it sort of gradually went to 50 people joining, and then 60, and then 100, then 150, and then 100,000,” Mr Diaz-Knights said.
The views translated into sales, not just locally, but staff were inundated with international orders to the United States.
Sticky’s online following reached new heights when David’s daughter Annabelle insisted the shop get a Tik Tok account.
“I was like dad, you have to start a Tik Tok, what we do would work so well on Tik Tok,” Annabelle King told The Feed.
“I had to hassle him so much, I had to be like dad, dad, make it, make it, make it… he gave up one day and he let me do it.”
Four months later, Sticky’s Tik Tok account has more than 2.1 million followers and a view tally exceeding 30 million on some videos.
“I haven't had any experience with big social media and all of a sudden I'm big social media,” Ms King said.
Moving their candy-making online didn’t just save the shop, it started an online community of people from all around the world that now join together to watch the candy-making live streams.
Almost five thousand people have joined the associated ‘Sticky Friends’ Facebook group.
“They're a bunch of weirdo nut-jobs, every single one of them, and if I thought they'd be offended I wouldn't say it, but they've embraced it, they love it,” Mr King told The Feed.
“The feedback I get is that it's calming, people can watch us and engage, not just with the process and watch something that's kilos and kilos of molten sugar turned into something small and delicate, but they can engage with us as people.”
“Whether you're in Florida, or you're in Copenhagen, or you're in Sydney… we're like the local business.”
“We might be on the other side of the world, but we're your local lolly shop and you know us.”