It's three days until the grand opening of the latest IT'SUGAR candy store, and it's time to dress the mannequins. But instead of the latest looks from Calvin Klein or Abercrombie, the store's sexy and colorful display shows off candy couture.
IT'SUGAR wants to sell customers candy the way Victoria's Secret sells lingerie -- a little cheeky, a little rebellious and with lots of flairs.
These stores are the brainchild of Jeff Rubin, the self-described "chief gummy bear," who said the brand is meant to be "tongue-in-cheek" but not too naughty.
Selling candy is not exactly a new idea, but it's a $30 billion market in the United States, which is why Rubin has decided to get his share. He said sales need to depend on something more than product -- it's attitude.
"I think we've seen junior retailers do it successfully," Rubin said. "There are two ways to play it, you could just disguise it, or it's what it is. It's sugar, we're fun, we're cheeky, we're irreverent, it's a place, it's an experience."
The company is opening stores almost as fast as one can get a sugar high: 60 by the end of this year and 100 by the end of 2014.
The stores are an overwhelming experience, with nearly 8,000 different edible items for sale at each location. They range from the old-fashioned standbys like Necco wafers to random Japanese fruit candy to video game-inspired treats from Pac Man and Super Mario. Lollipops alone come in at least five different sizes and flavors. For gummy bears, there are more than a dozen different flavors, with sizes up to an enormous 5-pound bear.
Rubin is placing a big bet on oversize versions of those all-time favorites, including selling giant boxes of Nerds, huge packages of Hot Tamales, several feet of "extra long" Twizzlers and Rice Krispy Treats as large as cookie sheets.
Starting on Oct. 1, IT'SUGAR will offer a special pink "One Tough Chick" Peeps pop, featuring four pink marshmellow Peeps, for $2.50 with 20 percent of proceeds going to breast cancer education, treatment and research. And for the Christmas season, Rubin is toying with a new product: a half-pound gifted chocolate bar for $9.99.
While these big box sizes might make New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg squeamish, Rubin argues customers should be able to enjoy the super-size candy over time -- if they want to.
"It's OK to have a few gummy bears, it's OK to have a little candy," he said. "Matter of fact, you should be the one who decides how much you want. You could have one little gummy bear, you could have 100 gummy bears. It should be your choice."
At a time when Bloomberg, first lady Michelle Obama and other high-profile officials are leading public fights against obesity, with campaigns to ban sugar, it seems like a risky time to get into the candy business. But Rubin doesn't see it that way.
"I don't believe that IT'SUGAR stands for giving huge amounts of sugar to children," he said. "But if that child wants to have a few gummy bears or wants to have something while he watches a movie, have a little box of Raisinets, then he should be entitled to and have fun. There's nothing wrong with candy. It's not a bad word."
Aside from the candy, which includes a small sugar-free section in each store, there are more than 2,000 different gift items, such as headphones, iPhone covers, lunchboxes and, of course, candy-flavored lip glosses also line the shelves.
"We're actually one of the ultimate gift stores," Rubin said. "This is our attraction, everybody loves candy, and they come in."
And despite the criticisms, Rubin and his rebellious band of employees believe sugar is a natural selling point. How can you not like sugar?
"You're told how many glasses of water you need to eat and drink, you're told how much sleep you need and you're also told how much sugar is the right intake for you, if any," he said. "And so we like to poke fun at not just sugar but all of society's rules in a fun-hearted, good-hearted way."