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“There is no secret skill to running a business that others have and you do not.” with Sarah Hannington and Phil Laboon

There is no secret skill to running a business that others have and you do not. I always thought that there was some skill or ability that I must not know about because it surely couldn’t be that simple running a business. And sure it’s not always simple and it’s highly stressful. But there’s no […]


There is no secret skill to running a business that others have and you do not. I always thought that there was some skill or ability that I must not know about because it surely couldn’t be that simple running a business. And sure it’s not always simple and it’s highly stressful. But there’s no secret like I thought there was. You just come up with a product, market it and deliver quality to your customers and you have a business.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Hannington, founder of MyCustomCandy who offers custom printed candy hearts through her website starting at $48 for 350 pieces, and has gained popularity quickly, attracting clients like J.Crew and Google and celebrity clients like Kim Kardashian.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had the idea of printing my own phrases on candy hearts as part of a Valentine’s marketing campaign for the company I worked for. I looked and looked online and couldn’t find anyone that offered this service so I decided I was going to figure it out myself. I spent over a year talking to different machinists trying to figure out how to print on candy hearts and even purchased a machine that I could never get to work until I finally chanced upon one that after several customizations could print on the candy. I purchased blank candy hearts from a candy manufacturer and started printing on them for customers in a small rented shop using edible ink.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Oh goodness. There were SO many almost impossible times. Originally, before we had our own equipment to print on the hearts, we outsourced everything including the printing to a large company. They were unionized and they had very set hours and there were no exceptions. One year we had a huge order for Victoria’s Secret and this manufacturer refused the job because of the turnaround time needed. We had to turn down this huge project because our manufacturer flat out refused to fill the order. That is when I realized I had to figure out how to get my own machinery to print my own candy hearts. After a year of what seemed like endless back and forth with a dozen different companies I finally found a machine that would work. Then fast forward two years and our candy hearts manufacturer has a fire that wipes out their entire facility two months before Valentine’s Day. That same year the only other manufacturer of candy hearts in North America went bankrupt. I had Valentine’s Day coming up in just weeks and no where to buy candy hearts. I called my best friend who is a brilliant business person and told her how screwed I was. She didn’t flinch and told me to start calling every candy company in the US and she said don’t worry you’ll figure it out. So I did just that, I started dialing every candy manufacturer in the US and after 28 companies told me that I was not the only one freaking out looking for candy hearts this year (and confirming that I was absolutely screwed), I found a small candy factory who said they might be able to do it. I went back and forth with them and a company who created custom molding to create a custom piece for their machines to be able to create a heart shaped candy that matched the shape we needed exactly. Then we went back and forth with food scientists developing the color, taste and most importantly ability to print on the candy without it smearing off. We received the candy 2 days before our season began — it was ridiculously stressful and somehow we pulled it off.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I guess when you know your success or failure is 100% dependent on only yourself, you just do what you have to do to make it happen because there is no other choice.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

Because we are seasonal and the majority of our business comes in in a 6 week period, we have highly stressful situations every year that HAVE to be solved or it costs us a lot of money. Grit is needed in high doses almost every day to pull off rush orders for large companies and celebrities like Kim Kardashian who expect the highest standards and want things done almost immediately. During season we work 12–15 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So, how are things going today? 🙂

Ha, thanks for asking! They get better every year. We figure out a few new things and it reduces the stress of the next season by a little bit. We still have new challenges every year but it’s getting easier and easier to deliver more business every year. We’ve had challenges like a machine going down and putting us out for 3 days during our busiest season, and have handled those by adding back up machines. We’ve had challenges finding enough seasonal workers and have solved those and can use those solutions every year going forward.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that? We accidentally sent an order that was placed by an angry divorcee that said “go f*@k yourself” to a lovely girl scout troop leader who had ordered butterflies and “troop 132”. Needless to say we have since put into place several quality control standpoints to ensure the right order goes in every box.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We offer quite a unique product, however in addition to that we will do anything to make our customers happy. When Kim Kardashian ordered 100,000 candy hearts for her perfume launch and we received a phone call from her assistant at midnight saying that one of the phrases was done on the wrong color, we opened the factory, reprinted the job all night, and had it on a plane the next day to get to her in time for her PR campaign.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I would say just keep going, be consistent and know that there really isn’t anything that you can’t figure out if you try hard enough. When I started this business I knew nothing about printing on candy or manufacturing my own candy and I just called enough people, asked enough questions until I had figured it out. We are lucky to have access to anything we want online and that includes information about almost anything you want to figure out.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Yes, my best friend helped me at the beginning when I started this company (she has her own company now) and she is a real bulldog. Anytime I wanted to give up she shoved me forward. She is super smart and she has given me so much great advice. The first lesson I learned from her was in college when we were at a nightclub and wanted to go into VIP but didn’t have access. She said just watch and learn and walked right in like she owned the place and no one stopped her. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that as a life and business lesson and how many times it has worked hahaha.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We really support anti-bullying and consent campaigns and have worked with a number of colleges and schools to distribute candy hearts with supporting phrases during Valentines. Its become a growing problem and we do what we can to help battle it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. There is no secret skill to running a business that others have and you do not. I always thought that there was some skill or ability that I must not know about because it surely couldn’t be that simple running a business. And sure it’s not always simple and it’s highly stressful. But there’s no secret like I thought there was. You just come up with a product, market it and deliver quality to your customers and you have a business.

2. There is nothing that you can’t figure out. If you have a business idea but you think you don’t know enough about some facet of it, go get a book or do a google search and start reading and talking to everyone you can find on that subject. Before you know it, you’ll realize you have quickly become an expert in that area and now know 10 times more than the average person.

3. It’s going to be stressful and you’re going to want to quit. There have been numerous times something highly stressful had happened and I’ve wondered if it is all worth it. I wish I knew that this happened in every business so when it did happen I realized it was just a bump in a long road and was a learning lesson.

4. Your income is solely dependent on yourself when you own your business, it just depends on how hard you’re willing to work. This wasn’t clear to me until I started my own company. I always fought with the ceiling on what market rate was for that particular position (understandably so). I was always a top performer at work and now I see that putting that same energy into my own business has unlimited earning potential if I am willing to work very hard. When you own your own company your success or failure is only dependent on yourself which is a plus for anyone who has always been a top performer wherever they work.

5. You have what it takes. I can’t tell you how many times I freaked out that maybe I didn’t have what it took to have my own business. When I jumped in head first I realized that I really did and that I shouldn’t have questioned myself for so long. You’ll figure it out if you just jump in 🙂

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would want to show kids from any economic background that it does not depend on where you came from, your connections, your college degrees. You can choose to learn anything and create any business you want to. There is no secret and no skill that you don’t already have and there is no one but yourself that is holding you back. Just start and you will be surprised it will work out for you if you work hard and deliver an honestly good product.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On instagram @mycustomcandy

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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