Our favorite source of sweetness Dylan’s Candy Bar is now open on the fourth floor at the breathtaking new Hudson Yards development. In advance of their new store launch, we talked to regional visual manager Dina Rodrigues about setting up shop, what they’re excited about, and what being in Hudson Yards means for Dylan’s.
Downtown: What does a visual manager do?
Dina Rodrigues: Really my role is to take Dylan’s vision and create it, bring it to life. I create the displays and the moments that when you walk into the stores as a customer really wow you in the way that Dylan hopes all of our customers feel when they walk into any of our locations. A lot of Dylan’s vision is to inspire creativity, really getting at the inner child, and that’s what we try to do in terms of displays. We create that magic without necessarily having a sales associate walk you through it holding your hand, it’s really creating that magic without anyone having to tell you.
Downtown: How does one get to do that with candy?
DR: Honestly, I fell into it. When I was around 16 years old I started working at The Gap and I fell in love with doing merchandising in terms of apparel. I knew somebody who had worked at Dylan’s Candy Bar and told me, “you need to do this, you would be so good at it.” So I went from folding and merchandising jeans to the candy world and I’ve loved it ever since I’ve got here.
Downtown: What’s it like working with candy?
DR: People always look at it as Dylan’s Candy Bar, it’s just a candy store, it’s just gummy bears, your job can’t be that hard, but it’s so much more when you get here. It really is a lifestyle. We have apparel, we have bags, we have so many items, so what’s really great and challenging from my perspective and for my visual team is being able to create this lifestyle with it. So taking a Candy Spill Robe and being able to decide that as a gift you could put this with a pre filled gummy bear or you could do all these different things mixing in different textures of apparel and candy and bags and jewelry and really just playing off these bigger ideas of what you can do with candy.
Downtown: What are you most excited about with the new store?
DR: With Hudson Yards, the location is gorgeous. Our store literally faces the Hudson; you can see Hoboken on any clear day. It’s beautiful, and what’s really great is that we’ve been setting up for a week now and everyone is excited that we’re going to be there. We’re taking in shipments, bringing them from the loading dock at street level to our store on the fourth floor, and what we’ve seen is we’ll bring up our shipment and we’ll pass our fellow retailers or other construction workers and they’ll see Pez or they’ll see oh my god you have this or that, I haven’t seen this candy in a long time. They’re getting excited about it without our store being open, and it’s just so satisfying to know that we matter in the retail business. People get excited about these things, and we’re going to experience that in a new location.
The other thing with Hudson Yards is there’s a lot of luxury. There’s every brand that you can think of; the whole first floor is your Prada, your Tory Burch, Tiffany’s, everyone is down there and to be amongst those retailers is so exciting. We get to kind of showcase what we have to offer in terms of how you can turn candy from “I need a little snack from my desk, let me grab some Swedish Fish” to your corporate gift. How can we expand this and make it so much bigger and grander? I don’t want to say that people don’t necessarily think of us that way, but I think for people who are not aware of our brand they get so amazed. It’s really broadening our audience within Manhattan. Everyone has been super excited that we’re there, and they’re waiting for us to open so I’m very, very excited for the launch.
Downtown: What candies should we look out for at the Hudson Yards location?
DR: Dylan was very adamant about what the assortment contained, and we definitely have the best of the best. It’s not our flagship, so it’s not three floors, but we did make sure it’s the best of the best. We do have our full nostalgia section, we have our Chocolate Wall, we have our new Gold Collection, which is a beautiful black and gold fixture. We have all of that at the location and we really went big with the best of our Easter items.
Downtown: How important are trends for Dylan’s?
DR: You know, you always want to have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there. You have to stay relevant in retail, so it’s very important. We’re always looking for what’s new and what’s different, that’s really the most important part. You see all these commercials about products like Kinder Eggs and this is that and that’s important that we have it in our assortment, but we also want to be two steps ahead of it and that’s really what our Gold Collection did. We really took our time and sourced candy from around the world. These are things that you aren’t going to see at your drug store or any other type of candy retailer. We want to have that balance of having unique and interesting items while still being on trend so you can go shopping for yourself as an adult and get sophisticated candies from our Gold Collection, for example, and you can bring your five year old who wants the Kinder Egg he saw in the commercial. We kind of try to broaden it out for everybody, so it is important.
Downtown: How important is social media to Dylan’s Candy Bar?
DR: We are in such a social media heavy environment as a nation and as a world so we always we want to make sure that our social media is really focusing on what we are looking at and what we are really focusing on in the store. We want to have that connection that if we showcase an item on our social media page on our Instagram or Twitter that that’s what the customer is going to see when they walk into the store. For me, if I know our social media director is really focusing on the Gold Collection or our truffles, I want to make sure that all of my stores are going to showcase that as one of the first things so customers aren’t looking for it, they aren’t searching for it.
The last thing you want is for a customer to come into the store and look for something they saw on Instagram and not be able to find it anywhere because, just the way that retail in general works, that customer won’t stop and ask the sale’s associate or manager about what they saw on Instagram, they’ll look for it and if they don’t see it right away they’re going to walk out and that’s the last thing we want to do. We want to make sure that if we’re focusing on something on our social media that we are also focusing on it in the store and that it is present for the customer so there are no questions about it.
Downtown: What products could you never take off the shelves?
DR: There are so many ways I could answer. Every season has its hero item, so that’s always important. Right now we’re getting ready for Easter, and our hero item is 100% our Chocolate and Vanilla the bunny plush. Our bigger stores do have Chocolate the bunny who greets you when you walk into the store. We carry both Chocolate and his sister Vanilla year round, they are brother and sister, but it’s really Easter time when they get showcased. So this time of year as stores were getting their transfer orders of Easter products I had to make sure everyone has bunnies everywhere because we want to showcase this item.
In terms of everyday, there’s two items that I really think I use in almost every display. One of them is our signature hat box, and it’s just an empty vessel. It’s a hat box, if you remember from the ‘80s when that was a big deal, it has our signature stripe on the sides and it comes in two sizes: there’s the small, which then has the black top, and then the large that has a turquoise top. The reason why I love that item so much is it just kind of goes back to the idea that you can gift anything at Dylan’s Candy Bar and it creates that sensibility that, okay it’s a fillable or it’s a chocolate bar, I’m just going to hand it to somebody, but you can make it so much more, and I think doing it in a hat box as opposed to our shopping bag with tissue paper just elevates a gift so much. Again, it just becomes that silent sale’s associate, so when you add it to a display it just kind of entices customers to say, “Oh, I can do this, I can make my own,” which is so important to what we do.
The other item that I love and I don’t think I could ever, ever take off the shelf, and it’s in every single store assortment, is our signature chocolate wheel. It’s just all of our signature candies in a wheel, little bite sizes of it. It’s such a great gift, we always call it our sharable gift, so when offices call and say they need something that’s chocolate and that’s sharable it’s our go to item. It’s just a visually stunning item. It sits in our chocolate wall, which is a brown wall that has chocolate drip and so much going on and so many other visual elements, and that’s the one item that always sticks out. I think that speaks such volumes, there are so many great things going on and then you have this one little circle that just takes everything away. It’s one of my favorite items, it’s all of our signature bars, so it’s little squares of our milk chocolate, s’mores, almond and other flavors, you get six squares of each of our signature bars.
Downtown: What are some of your favorite candies?
DR: We just introduced back our dirt balls, which was one of my favorites and then they went away for a little and now they’re back. It is a cookie crumble malt ball almost, it’s so good. I also love our OMGS, specifically the vanilla. They are crushed up graham crackers with almonds dipped in chocolate, we have a peanut butter based one. They are just absolutely delicious. Starburst are an oldie but a goodie, and everyone makes fun of me for eating them, everything except the orange, I do not like the orange one. I remember when I used to get two pinks I was like, “Okay, today’s going to be a good day guys.”
Downtown: How do you decide what to put together? Are you looking for color, texture, or flavor more?
DR: It’s kind of a combination. When we do any type of display, we try to keep the flavor profile similar, really more like chocolate items always together versus non chocolate items. Then it’s kind of a mix of if you love a biscuit tin here’s also these chocolate dipped crack cookies, for example, and we would merchandise something like that together. The packaging is very similar so you want to pay attention to what the packaging looks like. There is kind of a sense of just flavor profiles, so if this customer likes this they will also like this. Unfortunately, I have a terrible habit of trying everything. You just want to have an idea of what everything tastes like! Also for my role, and what I think is very helpful, is I love to actually be in the store and just see and talk to customers and see what they react to, what they like, and how they shop. All of our locations obviously have a different customer, and they all react differently, so it’s just important to see what they’re looking for. That’s a lot of how I build a display as well, taking that into consideration.
When we open up Hudson Yards, besides it being a beautiful complex, I will definitely spend a lot of time there just to see how people are shopping because there is kind of this unknown with Hudson Yards, if it’s going to be more of a tourist destination or it’s going to be more locals and the businesses that are close by. I personally think that it’s going to be a combination, and a lot of corporate business are moving in to Hudson Yards or are already there, and I think we’re going to get a lot of business. We’re going to have a great opportunity to really showcase what we can do as a company and what we have to offer to those businesses. I also think you’re going to have people who are going to the observatory deck or just walking the mall and are going to lose their minds because you walk in, we’re a corner store and you see all of our bulk against one side of the glass. You see our lollipop tree, you see all these iconic pieces to Dylan’s Candy Bar, and it’s just going to be this wow moment, so I think we are going to have a great combination, it will be very interesting to see.
Downtown: How do you keep sugar interesting?
DR: You know, I always say you can never be upset when you work with candy. It’s just mixing things up, trying new ideas. I think again, going back to how customers shop, you get a lot of inspiration from customers, just talking to them and seeing what they’re looking for. If they’re looking for one thing and they also pick something else that maybe I would have never thought of merchandising together and it kind of prompts a new task of let’s try it, let’s see and maybe it resonates with somebody else as well.
Downtown: What other Dylan’s projects are you excited about?
DR: Treat Yourself is something that we’ve been working on. It is a collaboration that we did with Whole Foods. We are featured in a bunch of Whole Foods across the country. I think what’s interesting about that program is I think that there is a negative connotation when you think of candy, you know it’s diabetes, it’s sugar, it’s going to rot your teeth, it’s all these things and everything in moderation is fine, you know we should say that because everyone should be able to indulge a little bit, but with Treat Yourself it really looks at allergens and healthier options to candy so you can indulge a little bit and not feel as guilty. We have had our bulk items, so you can scoop them and put them in your bag and take them home, but we have also created these “good to go” bags, so we have them in chocolate and regular gummy and we are now going to introduce them in Treat Yourself. It kind of just takes it to another level, you can be health conscious and you can not worry about calories or sugar and still have fun with your candy. I love to sample that program because every time people taste it they’re like, “Ugh it doesn’t have milk in it, it’s going to be disgusting,” then they try it and go back for a whole handful.
Downtown: Tell us a bit more about the Gold Collection.
DR: We launched that at the end of December with great results so far. There are four tiers to everything, so we have these little guys called tiny treasures and they’re all gummy based. They’re all just very interesting different types of gummies, so we have a mojito gummy, gummies that are in the shape of Eiffel Towers, gummies from Spain and from all over Europe. Then we have truffles, and then we have our classic bites, which are just elevated versions of bulk candy but you will never see it in our bulk walls. Lastly, we have duos which brings together a pairing of very interesting candy.