A 19-year-old girl saved her family’s unique lollipop business from bankruptcy after sharing behind-the-scenes videos of the Sydney store and attracting worldwide fans.
Before Covid reached Australia in early 2020, Sticky, a family-run confectioner in The Rocks, drew crowds to the front windows almost constantly, while tourists and passers-by were fascinated by staff making hard-boiled lollipops from scratch.
But when the pandemic forced the closure of the country’s international border in March 2020, Sticky — like countless other tourism-based businesses — saw its revenue plummet to “literally zero” in three weeks.
Annabelle King, daughter of owner David, 50, turned to TikTok, YouTube and Instagram in a desperate attempt to save the store from destruction, live streaming videos of the theatrical lollipop making that used to draw crowds to the storefront on Playfair Street.
Sticky was on the brink of collapse after the pandemic severely affected sales. We went from busy to bust. Desperate to turn things around, I took to social media to save the struggling company and it worked,” the teen told Business Insider.
That last-ditch decision not only propelled Sticky into the international spotlight, with viral videos reposted by stars including American rapper Snoop Dogg, but made it more profitable than ever with sales hitting “well into the seven-figures” for 2021.
When sales dropped to ‘zero’ after Covid hit Australian shores in early 2020, lollipop shop owner David King (right, with daughter Annabelle) turned to social media to save his business
Mr King (pictured) opened Sticky with wife Rachel in 2001 after they quit their respective jobs in corporate law and pharmaceuticals
The Sticky TikTok account had over a million followers in its first month of launch and now has a tidy five million viewing all of their candy creations.
The store is once again hiring new candy makers and retaining staff, instead of letting anyone go and they will turn $1 million.
“I spend about three-quarters of my week taking pictures of the candy-making process at Sticky for Instagram, or videos for TikTok and YouTube,” Annabelle said.
“I spend between two and five hours a day making something interesting out of what I film in the store.”
Annabelle also cleans, serves customers – now returning in the hundreds – packs lollipops and juggles the copious online orders.
The small team of dedicated professionals produce 60kg of candy a day and none of it is wasted – with UK and US customers in particular buying the Sticky goodies until they are sold out.
“I spend about three quarters of my week taking pictures of the candy-making process at Sticky for Instagram, or videos for TikTok and YouTube,” Annabelle said (pictured)
The small team of dedicated professionals produces 60kg of candy a day and none of it is wasted – with UK and US customers in particular buying the Sticky goodies until they are sold out
“I’d like to say what we did was genius, but it was more despair!” Mr King told Daily Mail Australia in August.
What might sound like an obvious marketing strategy to millennials and Generation Zs was totally outlandish to Mr. King and his wife Rachel, 47, who opened their candy store in 2001 after quitting their respective jobs in corporate law and pharmaceuticals.
I was sad, I was devastated, I was in a daze. I thought it was the end.
They had a website, but in the 19 years before Covid hit its online presence, they were taking in just 10 orders per week on average.
But when the virus wiped out physical commerce as we knew it, they had no choice but to put their lollipops completely online.
“Not only have all the tourists gone, everyone has canceled their weddings and corporate events,” King recalls.
“I was upset, I was devastated, I was in a daze. I thought it was the end. We stood staff down, we were about to pull down the doors.’
Mr King and his team started live streaming videos of the theatrical lollipops that used to draw many people to the Playfair Street window (pictured)
Determined to go down fighting, the kings used JobKeeper’s payments and the money they’d borrowed from an old friend to invest in cameras—and started filming.
Their first Facebook live stream drew only 60 viewers, but just over a year later, Sticky has 581,000 YouTube subscribers, one million followers on Facebook and a monthly reach of about 45 million.
A comedian associate of Snoop Dogg stumbled upon the feed and shared one of the videos on his own account, after which the rapper later reposted it to Instagram himself.
Determined to go down fighting, Mr. King (right) used payments from JobKeeper and money he borrowed from an old friend to invest in cameras – the rest is history
Sticky’s TikTok fame is due to Mr. King’s daughter Annabelle, 19, (pictured) who created the account and drew 1,000 fans in its first 24 hours
That support alone caused the number of followers to increase by 1.5 million in one weekend.
“We were almost full again when we got to TikTok last July, but when my daughter convinced me it was a thing, we went viral in a way we hadn’t done on other platforms,” King said.
“It melted the website.”
Just a year into the digital age, Sticky’s sales have increased by a whopping 230 percent.
The store has 10 employees who ‘work around the clock’ and products often sell out 10 minutes after they are posted online, and 80 percent of the inventory is now shipped around the world.
By taking his business to social media, Mr. King has reunited with the international clients excluded by the closure of the Australian border, with significant sales also coming from Germany, Italy and Canada.
Thanks to viral videos re-shared by the likes of American rapper Snoop Dogg, Sticky now has 4.3 million followers on TikTok, 200,000 YouTube subscribers and 980,000 Facebook fans.
Million dollar idea: Doing business online made Sticky more profitable than ever, with sales well into the seven-figures for 2021 according to Mr King
The website is replenished twice a week on Friday and Saturday mornings, with products selling out in ‘about 40 minutes’ each time.
“I hate to say it, but right now we’re disappointing customers all over the world!” Mr King said about the constant sales.
While anyone with a smartphone and a 4G connection can promote their business on social media, the lollipop boss believes the key to success lies in focusing on the people behind the brand.
“What has worked for us is focusing on the social part of social media,” King said.
“You have to be sincere and be ‘you’ – I think you have to share the human being in your company.”
The pastry chef has had extraordinary success amid the most catastrophic public health crisis in modern history, but not all small businesses have been so lucky.
Sticky has had extraordinary success amid the most catastrophic public health crisis in modern history, but not all small businesses have been so lucky.
Tourist-dependent shopping areas like The Rocks have been decimated by the pandemic, with hundreds of shops – including many of Mr King’s neighbors – unlikely to ever reopen.
‘The Rocks is like 28 Days Later – it’s worse now than when it started’ [of Covid]’ he said.
“We saw people come back, the fear went away a bit, but this lockdown is probably the toughest in terms of trade for everyone here.
“I look around at the people I’ve worked with for 20 years and it’s hard to imagine how they can open again. I don’t know what the future will bring, it’s so bleak.’