Marek Čermák, founder of The Candy Store, is a man with a serious sweet tooth and a canny instinct for a lucrative business opportunity. Since opening in 2011, his Prague-based shop specialising in hard-to-get American candies has been a runaway success. Now the ambitious young entrepreneur has taken over the imports arm of the Robertson English speciality grocery stores. We tracked down the Czech Republic’s candy king and got him to reveal the secrets of his success…
LA: First of all, tell us how your business came into being. How did you know there’d be a market for your products in Prague?
MČ: Having traveled to the US on many occasions, I came to love their treats, especially as the combinations of tastes tend to be more diverse than those in Europe. There already were quite a few specialty shops that carried French, Italian and British groceries so there definitely was a demand for imported goods. American groceries are even rarer in Europe, so it seemed like an idea with potential.
LA: Can you tell us exactly what would-be customers should expect to find in-store?
MČ: In our original Na Rybníčku shop, it is mostly sweets, chocolates, candy bars, drinks but also now a larger range of chips, baking products, cereals and many more general groceries as well.
LA: I see from the website that you now have retail outlets in Brno and Ostrava and of course, the online part of the business. When did they open and how did the decision to expand come about?
MČ: There is actually only a store in Brno: in Ostrava we only supply a store that focuses on imported cheeses and delicacies with some of our products. We never actually planned to expand outside of Prague as I do not know the cities and markets well enough. However, in Brno we found a great partner who decided to open up a franchise. He did so right before Christmas and has been going strong ever since.
LA: You’re quite young to be running your own business: I understand that you opened the shop straight after leaving university. Where did your entrepreneurial spirit come from? Do you think it’s unusual for Czechs to have this outlook?
MČ: It was not right after I finished my studies at AAU, but a few months after, yes. I did not always want to go into business by myself, but I realised that working your way up the corporate ladder takes a very long time and the competition between young and educated people nowadays is very strong, especially if you wish to go abroad.
When my father and I started looking at some retail spaces for a different project and found the one on Na Rybníčku, things just sort of skyrocketed and a few months later the shop was open!
As for whether this is unusual for Czechs, I wouldn’t say so. On a daily basis I meet people my age who have started up something on their own or are putting together a project. Young people here are motivated and ambitious. I think the only reason why we don’t have more people like this is that going into business on your own doesn’t have such a long tradition here and peoples values often lean more towards finding a stable job and settling down, although with the new generation I feel this is changing drastically as well.
LA: What kinds of challenges do you encounter on a daily basis?
MČ: That the day is only 24 hours long! For me, probably the largest barrier or frustration is my age which can be an issue when dealing with other business owners. I think they have a harder time dealing with me than they would with someone who is, for example, 35.
LA: I understand that your business has taken over the Robertson English speciality grocery stores. Can you tell me more about how this decision came about and how it will impact on the business? Will the store(s) look any different?
MČ: We took over Christopher’s shops in Dejvice and Vinohrady as well as the e-shop on August 1st, leaving the meat business to him.
The decision came about after we started supplying the two shops a couple of months back with a number of products. We were looking to expand anyway, especially in Prague 6, where we get a lot of demand, so to do so into shops that were already established and shared a lot of the same clientele made sense. Especially, as I know that abroad, there are several successful shops that combine US and British products, I believe somehow these two groups of products go hand in hand.
The shops will not be impacted much at all–all the products, including the meat, that used to be there before will remain and of course for the same price. All that we will do is rebrand the shops to fall under our name and add more US products into the shops, so that there’s a bigger selection. We have already changed the setup of the shop in Dejvice and will do so a little in Vinohrady as well. There will also be fresh cakes and cupcakes in Dejvice as of the end of the first week of September plus a couple more surprises.
LA: You’ve achieved a good deal since you first started your business but what are your short-term and long-term goals?
MČ: We will be expanding both the British and American lines in all the shops, especially the more gluten and dairy free products from the UK, as it is not easy to find these sorts of products in the Czech Republic. The same goes for the US products – we will focus more on healthy products as well as everyday type groceries for cooking, baking and so on.
Our long term goals include one or two more shops, but most likely these will not be in the Czech Republic but in neighbouring states. There are many projects that I would like to realize, but I’m keeping them to myself for now.
LA: What does it really take to succeed as an entrepreneur in the Czech Republic? What advice would you offer to others looking to open small businesses?
MČ: Persistence, patience, and most of all time management. It is easy to lose yourself in day-to-day activities – running here and there, buying supplies etc, but if you don’t focus on the big picture and try to keep moving the business forward with new ideas and innovations, it will stagnate and you will have to do more work to get it going again.
LA: How do you approach the marketing and advertising of your business?
MČ: We mostly do online marketing, the absolute most being done via Facebook. It has become one of the main channels of communication with our customers and we feel this works really well. Plus, we have a ridiculously pink car that drives around Prague with another one coming next week Just to make sure people don’t forget about us.
LA: Your slogan is ‘Everyone’s got a sweet tooth’. Does that include you?
MČ: That, unfortunately, also includes me. I grew up on sports so I have to admit that the weight I have gained ever since I started this business is a big frustration for me, but not quite enough to stop eating Reese’s!
LA: What’s your favorite part of being ‘The Candy Man’?
MČ: The fact that I have the ability and flexibility to realise a lot of the ideas that pop into my head in regards to the business. That for me is by far the most fulfilling part.