Steal These Sweet Success Secrets From Dylan's Candy Bar Founder Dylan Lauren
By: Cindi Leive
Tragically, we can't all work in the candy biz. But we can all learn from Dylan Lauren's clever career strategies. Glamour's Cindi Leive gets them for you here—listen in.
I love Dylan Lauren, and not just because she served me malted milk balls during our interview. No, I love her because she has the kind of raw enthusiasm for her job that reminds you that, at its best, work can be amazingly good fun. The force behind the Dylan's Candy Bar empire (which sees its tenth store open in August), founder and CEO Lauren, 41, famously fell in love with Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory at age six—and today projects the joy of someone living out her childhood fantasy. But make no mistake: This new mother of twins is a killer businesswoman, with skills she picked up from her father, designer Ralph Lauren. I met her by the gummy bears to learn more.
Cindi Leive: You're about to open a store in New York City's Union Square, your company is going gangbusters, and all of a sudden you're a mother of two. How's your stress level?
Dylan Lauren: It's a weird, unexpected, happy stress. Like, how do you keep this together? But my husband and I sort of have a joke: He does 70 percent, I do 30 percent. I'm like a kid—I don't want to discipline anyone. I want everyone to have fun and eat candy. He's a more serious, mature person. [Laughs.]
CL: You saw Willy Wonka at age six. But then you did other things until you returned to candy. What brought you back to your childhood dream?
DL: I started an events company, and I kept finding that the favors, the centerpieces, the goodie bags—I kept using candy. I made tabletops out of gumballs! I kept coming back to candy. I thought, You know what? I'm going to do this.
CL: When you figured out what Dylan's Candy Bar was going to be, who were the doubters? Who were the supporters?
DL: The supporters were all of my friends who saw that I would spend most of my time in college at the supermarket. I got bored at keg parties, and I would buy Froot Loops to cut out the bird to decoupage. So people were like, "It figures!" But there were business people—and men more than women—who were like, "How are you going to make a business out of selling gumballs? They're five cents!" They didn't understand my vision of the Disneyland of candy. No one understood that except for the visionaries—like my dad.
CL: What advice did he give you in those early days?
DL: He got it right away. He was like, "Make it bigger. It's a whole business — it's not just candy; it's the environment."
CL: It's ironic that you were told, "Nobody needs Dylan's Candy Bar," and now you've been widely copied. How do you feel about that?
DL: I get frustrated — frustrated I can't move faster. We pioneered this concept, and I know we have to get to Japan, to London, before our competition. And that sort of propels me to keep going. But I've seen a lot of these [imitators] go out of business. If your heart's not into what you're selling, you're not going to make it. Everyone here is passionate.
CL: Managing people can be difficult —
DL: Ugh. [Laughs.] Some people like telling people what to do. I don't like telling people what to do.
CL: How did you learn to do it?
DL: I've learned it helps to really be honest with people. And I watch my dad a lot—he's had his company for nearly 45 years, and he's had employees for like 30 years. It's inspiring to watch people love my dad and want to work with him. I feel that same investment in making sure people are happy.
CL: What would you say to a reader who has an idea about a business she'd like to start?
DL: Do it. Surround yourself with supportive people. Keep a journal—whether you do Pinterest or get Glamour, and cut tear sheets up—so you're feeding your creativity. I look at my tear sheets from college! They help you go back to the gut impulses that got you going.
CL: Did you ever expect your job would matter so much to you?
DL: Being in meetings—that feels like work. But finding candy, being in the store—that's fun, and it drives me.
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Photo credit: John Sciulli via Getty Images