You've Got to Be Creative

Published by Professional Candy Distributor Saleman Magazine, July 1969

Creativity is the key to making money in the wholesale candy business. And the only area that allows any creativity is the candy department. If you play it right there, you end in both high profit and volume areas. Twenty percent markups minimally if the company is into bagging, which include a private label. Obviously this is the area that you'd want for a mainstay. In contrast, the standard items-- candy bars, cigarettes, sundries - bring in some plus business.

Agree or not, the McKeesport Candy company operates by these premises. The men behind this major Pennsylvanian candy house are members of the Mullen and Prince family of Pittsburgh. Ruling over the clan is Max Mullen, who has a long history of merchandising "firsts." Next there's Gerald Prince, Max's 40-year old nephew, who's eye for deals and packaging is unbeatable. And the man who finds a market for the complete set of candy is Sydney Mullen, Max's son, who is equally at home in literary and technical engineering circles. The set is witty, sophisticated, and big on imagination. And their candy business is great and completely innovative.

The men have no modesty when it comes to analyzing their success. As Mr. Prince pointed out everybody in the candy industry is afraid of making money. But not them. Their strength lies in carving out a market for their non-competively priced candies. The ones they can earn a legitimate mark up on. Things the company usually bags and packs up itself. Candy that looks great and creates real merchandising excitement.

Father Max Mullen quoted a rather measly weekly profit which he feels too many of the jobbers of the nation are willing to settle for. Then with a pleasant quiet laugh he commented "why that would barely cover our barber bills."

So the candy company comes up with the creative merchandise, then it's up to the salesman to sell it through a management concept. As Jerry Prince says, he and his group of nine salesmen perform management functions for the stores. They set up the candy departments, with unusual items and assortments which no other candy jobber has. McKeesport offers a complete selection of bagged candy, all types and all price ranges. Plus a full and ever changing supply of specialty, private label candy.

Our candy warehouse circa 1950.

McKeesport Candy Co. has operated from this building for most of its 69 years. Located 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, the city of McKeesport used to be the hub of the nation's steel industry until U.S. Steel closed its plant there in 1987.

Then there's Mix 'N Match Bulk Candy which is still going strong. McKeesport Candy Co. was a pioneer in offering bulk candy and was amongst the first candy wholesalers in the nation to do so!

Much of their success lies in merchandising ideas--like selling "HERSHEY BARS, 2 FOR 39 CENTS," or "3-FOR-A-QUARTER COUGH DROPS'.

But the brilliance of the candy distributors doesn't stop with clever merchandising deals and creations. This company is highly dependent upon signs. Everything must have a sign. Usually they're pre packed--or at least delivered with the order. That frees the salesman from any added work. The clients are usually instructed to just "stick the sign in the box" of candy or whatever.

The simplicity of the idea is deceiving. Take the cough drop deal. A case of cough drops consists of nine different brands which are mixed into a carton from standard Ludens to English imports. These sell like crazy from late November or May. An average account will turn a box of nine dozen in a week. Without the sign, without the 3-for-25¢ offer, it would take at least a month to sell that many in the management's opinions. Stores are impressed with rapid turnover and volume like this.

Sometimes salesmen help stores in creating somewhat of a discount image. Around Christmas, many sold dollar boxes of Turtles, marked down (on sign) for 88¢ . They sold them by the carloads. Playing cards and hand picked sundries are also good items for selling like this.

While the company furnished racks for Mix 'N Match Bulk Candy, some of the smaller stores starting with the Mom's and Pop's - have to pass when it comes to a rack that size--good for ten cases of bulk candy. But many of the salesmen will work out a compromise for them. Maybe they can see their way through half that number. They'll order five cases of candy and put them on the floor or the counter. "BUT WITH A SIGN, A SIMPLE HOMEMADE SIGN, STUCK IN THE BOXES. that reads, 'FIVE FOR 39¢" and the deal is gone in a few months. But without the sign, the candy bars would be dead.

One last use of the sign is simply to organize material, giving the candy a reason, a theme for being there. It doesn't have to be creative even. Like with miscellaneous Christmas items. Put up a sign saying "GET YOUR STOCKING STUFFERS HERE." And the goodies sell four times as fast. That's the power of the sign.

The nickel and dime candy bars, it's obvious, don't excite this company in the least. As Jerry Prince put it, "Sure we'll take orders on them, for a little plus business." As Sydney Mullen put it, "If someone else is selling the candy bars to my accounts, that's fine.

And as Max Mullen put it, "We're not in this business to make marginal profits."

Looking at it as it is. You make a stop. You write up an order for 20 boxes of candy. The company earns a dollar. But salesmen earn three or four dollars an hour. Then there's overhead, the trucker's wages. Obviously the end result is a loss. But if you can sell five or six specialty items, picking up five or ten dollars profit, then the bars become a plus business.

The minute a small account gets volume on an item, they're enthused. The Mullen method of merchandising works. But usually only seeing is believing.

Sydney Mullen analyzed his customers in his philosophical way, "You can't sell a person on a service and program like ours, One, Two, Three. It takes a little effort because people don't like to commit themselves. But they'll do something gradually, little by little, without really knowing it. Perhaps if they try a few of our items and see the volume, then they want to try more. Eventually, you have them carrying a complete line."

An opening special helps, too. Jerry Prince is quite liberal when he opens an account. It's quite possible that the account buying five cases of candy will receive five more free. As he said, it's worth anything to get that merchandise out on the shelf at the beginning. Because the percentage of success is quite high, and because of their impeccable customer service, they don't lose many customers. (Besides by tossing in 5 free cases, McKeesport is insured of a mass display, getting ten cases on the rack instead of five.)

As far as "salesmen's tools" are concerned, McKeesport mimeographs and prints up numerous lists. The one for bagged candy is categorized by price, from 29 cents up to 79 cents. Another lists the various candy specialty items. Both of these are subject to change every two or three weeks. Then there's the standard weekly list, presenting the "order-one-at-least" deals, listing the various ins and outs, and the current selection of Todds Candy, deals and anything else that's pertinent or unusual that week. The deals are usually written up on a separate sheet, with prices and profit clearly written out. A little unsophisticated line drawing of the item appears--so a salesman rarely has to cart any of the merchandise around. It's his task to sell his service, anyway. It's supposed that the candy is good and will sell, because of his added service and the company's merchandising schemes.

The standard lists are those for cigarettes, nickel and dime bars, and an inventory, stressing the company's return policies, use of signs, uniqueness of items.

Sydney Mullen had no reluctance in admitting that these lists are great for lazy salesmen--which he and every salesman on earth are. With the list out in front for both you and the client the thoroughness of the sale is more of a reality. As Mullens said it takes "pain and effort out of the job." and increases his sales anywhere from one and a half to two times.

And what about the other items, the cigarettes and cigars? More plus business. Things to sell once the candy is all squared away. They're stuck with selling these items as industry dictates.

Jerry Prince gave another reason for leaning so heavily on candy. It's the age of specialization. Diversification only belongs to the conglomerates. His experience with notions and sundries has repeatedly shown that there's too much effort spent in selling them, compared to the profit derived from them. Wither the items are strictly one-shot deals or move to slowly. In both cases, there's not much repeat business to be had.

As Jerry said, it's the repeats that make money. He said that they often lose money on original placements, considering the time that goes into selling the product in the first place. And all the money gone into pm's, commissions, racks, and whatnot. Like one the candy items are in, it's strictly a matter of maintenance--of restocking. What could be easier and quicker--and money making considering the turnover of a well merchandised candy department? A creative one that causes some excitement, some fun, some pleasure--and profit, even.

Speaking about pleasure and profit, there's one last thing about McKeesport Candy Co., is that they win prizes.

They're men are constantly winning prizes for their volume sales. And for the past few years, the clan has been going to Europe, on all-expense paid trips. This year they go twice. First as guests of Regal Crown in early July and then with Topps Gum in the Fall. As they say in the industry, Candy is Fun. Particularly at McKeesport Candy.

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