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Inspired by travel #7: SugarSin

How a passion for 'Scandi' pick 'n' mix inspired sisters Anna Nilsson and Josefin Deckel to open a globally-sourced sweet shop in the heart of London

Company: SugarSin
Founders: Anna Nilsson and Josefin Deckel
Started in: December 2011

Swedish-born sisters Anna Nilsson and Josefin Deckel's business adventure began on their oversees move to the UK, where they found that something important to their lifestyles was conspicuously lacking: pick ‘n' mix sweets.

The local offerings they found couldn't match the variety and quality they knew and loved from Sweden, where pick ‘n' mix is a cultural staple. So, during their final year at a London university, the pair began to toy with the idea of retailing Swedish sweets in London. After graduating in 2009, their business idea – SugarSin – started to take shape.

Now with stores in Covent Garden and Brighton and active e-commerce channels, SugarSin is going from strength to strength. The business stocks a mix of Scandinavian and British favourites as well as many unique varieties from around the globe, which the sisters have travelled extensively to source.

With a focus on gourmet confectionery for adults, SugarSin's flagship products include prosecco gummies, a cocktail-inspired range and new rosé wine gummies. The brand is stocked in the likes of Selfridges, Waitrose Gifts, John Lewis, Lakeland and more, and SugarSin's stores are famed for their Willy Wonka-esque presentation.

We spoke to the duo to find out how travel inspired their mouthwatering brand:

Where were you when you got the idea for SugarSin?

We were in our final year at university in London but, since we’re Swedish, we were still away from home and were inspired by travel.

Why were you so inspired?

In Sweden, pick ‘n’ mix is a huge part of our culture. We eat the most pick ‘n’ mix in the world and getting pick ‘n’ mix on a Saturday is just as standard as going to the pub in the UK.

When moving here to study, we couldn’t find the same assortment and quality of sweets. After years of bringing back three kilograms of pick ‘n’ mix every time we went back home for a visit, we started playing with the idea of bringing the Scandi pick ‘n’ mix to the UK capital.

Were you actively looking for a start-up idea or did it just seem too good to pass up?

We’re sisters and we grew up with parents running their own business. It wasn’t a massive company but it gave our family a freedom that most of our friends’ didn’t have. We went to university but neither Josefin or I ever had the intention to go and work for someone else.

We always wanted to do our own thing and get the same freedom that our parents had. We moved to London together and did the same course at university, and all we talked about was different business ideas we wanted to do.

How easy was it to start the business?

We started working on our business plan in summer 2009 and we didn’t open our store until December 2011. If we knew it would have taken such a long time we probably wouldn’t have done it.

It took ages to find the right premises, and to find a landlord who believed in two inexperienced Swedish girls who wanted to sell sweets…

What research did you have to carry out to learn more about the sector and the market opportunity?

Since we stared working on our business plan straight after university, we did everything by the book.

However, after a couple of years we learnt that the best research is to work in the industry and speak to people who know what they’re doing.

How did you replicate what you’d seen overseas or use your experience there? Did you modify the idea for the UK market?

We used the candy store in the Swedish version of Pippi Longstocking as our inspiration, and twisted it with a modern touch. At first pretty much everything was Scandinavian but we learned quite quickly that we had to mix some traditional British sweets too.

The concept has changed a lot over the years and we now source sweets from where they originate. We travel every year to find new sweets, which has given us a really unique assortment that we’re super excited about.

How much did you invest in getting started?

We invested £130,000 when we first started. It may sound a lot but it really isn’t when setting up a store in Central London.

How quickly after starting did you experience what you’d describe as ‘success’?

We noticed quite quickly that people loved our concept and products but it took five years before we could take out decent salaries and hire an office team. It’s been really tough at times; we worked every day at the shop for years so we never really had the time to develop and grow the business.

This was extremely frustrating but our passion, and our confidence that we could build something huge if we just gave it more time, kept us going.

Where did you go for business advice?

Our biggest mistake when setting up SugarSin was that we didn’t seek any business advice. We didn’t realise how important contacts and mentoring are for succeeding with your business.

We have a fantastic relationship with our property agency and they have helped us to really understand retail and the UK high street.

However, for production and wholesale, we haven’t had anyone and that has caused loads of inefficiency and mistakes that we've had to learn from.

What advice would you give to others who travel looking for start-up ideas?

Ask for help, be patient and be prepared for things to go wrong. Everything will take longer than you think!

If you’re setting up a business abroad, try to get advice from people in that country. There will be a lot of cultural differences and regulations that can hold you back.

What are your future plans?

We are opening a second store this year and hopefully more within the next few years. We also have loads of new product developments going on, both for our stores and wholesalers.

We’re also launching a new sister brand to SugarSin this summer. We’re super excited!