Starting a Candy Gift Business

Interview with Rosemary Lab Walters, Owner and Chief Manager of Training Treats for Husbands

Rosemary Lab Walters was looking for a unique angle to make her line of toffees stand out from the rest. That's when she came up with Training Treats for Husbands. She shares her story with us in this interview.

Interview with Rosemary Lab Walters, Owner and Chief Manager of Training Treats for Husbands™.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Training Treats for Husbands™ is a product line of delicious hard toffee candy playfully packaged in an entertaining gift box featuring clever narratives on front and a reward guide and testimonials from satisfied users on the back. The line includes Training Treats for Husbands, New Husbands, New Dads, Retired Husbands, Boyfriends, and Golfers. And for that one-of-a-kind man who is perfect and needs no training (good grief, what a find) there is Husband Treats. They're ideal for any occasion - birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, retirement parties, bridal and baby showers, and those "just because" occasions. They are sold in specialty stores in 24 states and online, retailing for $11.99.

Primarily we wholesale our products to retailers. We recently created a retail online store to sell our line of Training Treats.

When did you start the business?

1999, in Nashville, TN

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I am a registered nurse by profession and was working as a physician's assistant for a group of neurosurgeons when I started this business. I am also a painter and have been involved in solo and group exhibits where I sold my paintings but this is my first real business.

How did you come up with your business idea?

It started with a wedding anniversary gift that my neighbor Judy Dishman (initially my business partner and later my creative partner) gave me. She thought I had such a well trained dog that I must have used the same techniques on my new husband. I thought it was such a cute idea and was sure we could sell Training Treats to lots of women. As a nurse I had trained men my entire adult life and I guess I thought I could train the rest of the world.

Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?

We had an attorney do a trademark search and help us form an LLC. As we knew nothing about business he made sure we did everything legally to protect us and our business. When we did the initial search for Training Treats we received a letter from Kellogg because they thought they had a similar trademark but a further investigation by our attorney proved this not to be the case. He still works with us whenever we need something and it gives us a sense of security.

We also hired an accountant to do some part time work such as helping us set up Quick Books and now just does our yearly tax forms. We have had 3 different graphic designers in the past 10 years. The first two retired and the third still does design work for us. All three knew each other so it worked out well.

Did you have a partner when you started your business? How did you select a partner?

I was very lucky with my initial partner, who actually came up with the idea for the product; she was already a good friend. After several years she asked that I buy her out as she was single and did not want to worry about financial risk. I was happy to do that and she now serves as my creative partner, going to the Atlanta Gift Market with me and helping to come up with ideas for new products.

I would not take on a new partner although my husband is my "silent" business partner and advisor as he has had his own business for over 30 years. From friends who are business owners we have both seen the difficulties of having a business partner. Although the individual owner has perhaps more of a financial burden, he/she does not have to consult anyone else when making a decision about the business. And if the two parties have a falling out it can be a disaster for the business.

For women entrepreneurs, what specific advice would you have for young women who would like to become an entrepreneur? Are there specific advantages, disadvantages to being a women business owner?

I certainly had a distinct advantage with my husband's business expertise. Although our business was so different from his I had to learn a lot about retail on my own. Man or woman, you need to learn as much as you can about starting a small business and the terminology and basically how it all works. We were fortunate early on that everyone we spoke to was very willing to share information. As it happened, all the people we were involved with including the printer, candy salesman, graphic designer, and shipper were all men and they were wonderful about helping us and were very good sports about the idea of "training" men.

Perhaps the advantage of being a women is business is that women network very well and can really help each other. Being a young woman today may mean that they are more technologically savvy and more adept at the "social networking." But they must treat their business as a "business" if they want to make money. Most women have usually been on the buying end but in business, they need to determine who they are appealing to and who is going to purchase their goods or services.

Have you outsourced any portion of your business? Has that worked for your business?

The one thing that we outsourced from day one was the fulfillment and shipping of our product. We decided early on that we were not going to be packing hundreds of boxes of candy and shipping them from our home and it was the best decision.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

I would recommend reading a few business books, doing a trademark search if it seems appropriate for your product, and talk through a lot of scenarios before you start. Decide how much capital you can afford to invest in the business, how you will manufacture your product and how it will be sold. Be sure you are not surprised by "hidden" costs. I recently read Buzz Marketing which is a great book with great tips on low cost marketing strategies.

Rosemary, it's been great to talk with you today. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

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