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Success tastes sweet for family enterprise

Raglan’s Puklowski family are like kids in a lolly shop these days as their fledgling business United Sweets spreads its wings around New Zealand and abroad.

Not only are they launching their Aussie website in a fortnight, but they’re also opening another store — their fifth — in Porirua near Wellington at the end of next month.
That’s not bad for a family venture that started out selling about 130 products online back in December 2011. The Puklowskis are now selling online or through their stores more than 750 lines of American and British candies and sweets, including the big names like Hersheys and Reese’s.

Yes, business is going “very, very well”, admits 20-something Micah Puklowski — better known around town as a budding film-maker after studying media arts on leaving Raglan Area School.
The 13-month-old family business, its full name United Sweets NZ, has its origins in her own sweet tooth. “I brought back Big Red chewing gum from America,” explains Micah, after being hooked on the cinnamon-flavoured gum as an American Field Scholar.

Her family — who’ve run United Video in Frankton for close to a decade, with Micah’s younger brother Finn managing the shop — started selling the candy from their store several years ago.
Fast forward to 2011 and “we went bigger”, says Micah, “selling a larger range (of imported sweets)”.

The siblings, along with parents Mike and Suzy, then realized they had the opportunity to go online with their products and decided to go quarter-shares in the sweets business.

“I built the first few websites and launched with a GrabOne (deal),” she told the Chronicle last week. The 1000 vouchers sold out in a few hours and crashed the Wellington server. “It was huge!”
Half the product awareness seems to come naturally through the American movie market they’re dealing with at United Video and the other half is generated by social media, says Micah.

Customers, for instance, want to try a Twinkie — marketed as a “golden sponge cake with creamy filling” — after seeing the iconic candy in the American comedy Zombieland. And they want to try Baby Ruth bears after watching The Goonies.

Within six months of launching lollies and drinks online, the Puklowskis opened their first shop in Frankton village. It was followed a few months later by two more Hamilton shops, in Te Awa and Centre Place malls.

And another month or so down the track, early last November they broke into the Auckland market with a store at Sylvia Park shopping centre. At the same time they secured a large commercial space in Duke Street, Frankton, for circulation and distribution of their online goodies.

That’s where the Puklowskis and a growing number of staff, including their social media marketing agency, now spend much of their time.
Two smart, black United Sweets cars were parked outside when the Chronicle called. And two months ago the company also got its own labelled boxes which was an exciting milestone, says Micah.
“At this point our United Sweets team is just hitting 34,000 likes on Facebook,” Micah says proudly.

And on the retail side the plan is to open six new stores this year all up — then the world’s the limit, she says, for a business that’s even looking at malls in South Africa as possible new outlets.

Edith Symes

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