Like many modern entrepreneurs, Heather Kelly got her start on Etsy. In 2008, the full-time working mom was making fortune cookies, caramels, chocolates, and marshmallow confections at night and weekends, and posting them on her Etsy retail pages. As sales grew, she enlisted the help of her sister, Cheryl Carr, and their mom Carol Poindexter, to help her make, pack, and ship goods all over the world.
Looking to expand offerings and experiment, Heather purchased a few commercial candy molds, and tried her hand at making and selling shaped lollipops and chocolates. Interest from Etsy customers was gradual, but steady, which encouraged Heather to keep experimenting. She started creating her own custom molds, stamping on lollipops, and drawing inside molds to match customers’ party themes.
A few months into experimentation mode, Heather uploaded filigree alphabet and numeral pops on Etsy. Shortly after, she got a call from an editor at Martha Stewart Weddings magazine asking for samples. Heather’s hot pink “D” and “P” filigree pops landed in a story about Dylan Lauren’s candy-themed wedding shower, celebrating her engagement to Paul Arrouet. Heather says customer interest in the filigree products skyrocketed, and images of these pops were pinned and re-pinned hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
In early 2012, a lightbulb moment hit Heather when she saw edible images on cakes at her local grocery store. She thought there could be application with lollipops. After much R&D in a small 600-square-food commercial kitchen in Clarendon Hills, Ill., edible image pops were born. During this process, Heather’s son suggested that she use images of planets, which led to the wildly popular Planet Lollipops®. The 10-pack of sphere-shaped lollipops includes Earth, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the sun.
“The Planet Lollipops went viral in September 2012,” says Heather. “I was still working full-time with two kids, and Cheryl had her hands full with three small children. We were stunned.”
At that point, Heather made the decision to leave her full-time job and work full-time at Vintage Confections, alongside her sister and mom.
“It was a really tough decision for Heather,” says Cheryl. “I supported her either way, but we both decided we didn’t want to look back and say that this business could have hit it out of the park if we had given it our all. It is a ‘quit-your-job’ success story.”
Sales of Planet Lollipops have not slowed, and interestingly, the pops have a cult-like following with Chinese customers who collect and gift them for display purposes.
“Chinese students studying in the US often come into our shop to bring back gifts for their families,” says Cheryl. “They ask if we realize how popular our brand is in China and take photos of themselves in front of our shop. We really are famous in China. It’s crazy!”
Along with the major success of edible image pops, the candy business outgrew Etsy, leading to the launch of the online shop VintageConfections.com. The 600-square-foot kitchen became too small as well. Luckily, a space across the street opened up, which doubled the company’s kitchen size and allowed for a small retail shop.
The new commercial kitchen now operates with three shifts and 25 employees. Cheryl and Heather’s little sister, Nicole Fries, was recruited back to the Midwest from Las Vegas to handle all of the buying, merchandising, store graphics, and sales for the retail shop.
“Nicole has a graphic arts background and was working in retail in Las Vegas. She was a perfect fit for this” says Cheryl.
Since landing in suburban Chicago, Nicole has transformed the retail space into a confectionery wonderland, and the larger kitchen has allowed Vintage Confections to ramp up production. The line of edible image pops has expanded into personal photo #Selfie Pops, Magic 8 Ball Pops (lick the back of this lollipop and your answer will be revealed), Anime Eyes Pops, Minecraft Creeper Pops, Gender Reveal Pops, and more. A large window in the retail shop allows customers to watch as lollipops are hand-poured and personalized in the kitchen.
If you are in Chicago and love to find a “find,” Vintage Confections is that place. For store hours, online shopping, and more info, visit VintageConfections.com.
p.s. – Vintage Confections just launched 3D lollipops, which have potential to create bigger waves in China and North America. Here’s a peek at the new Planet Lollipops in 3D …