April 24, 2015

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Nancy’s Candy Co., based in Meadows of Dan, grew from a passion with a purpose in 1987 to a successful, sellable legacy business in 2012.
The Launch Place hosted company founder Nancy Galli to share her experience Thursday. The free event was part of the Entrepreneur Network Event Series.
By 2012, when chocolate-loving Galli began passing the company reins into the hands of a new family ownership, Nancy’s Candy Company was operating out of a 30,000-square-foot facility with 30 employees. Its products are sold throughout the United States and Canada.

Now the items can be purchased as far away as north of the border or as close as Karen’s Hallmark at Danville Mall. The nearly 30-year journey to success was directed by a variety of factors, but most heavily by Galli’s persistence.

A consistent priority for Galli during this part of her career was creating and sustaining local jobs. After moving to Meadows of Dan with her husband in 1985, Galli quickly settled into the beautiful mountainside terrain. At any juncture of growth, she made it a priority to stay in the area and keep jobs.

“It was very important to me to create jobs for our community. That meant something. I always felt that I’ve been given a good mind and it was important for me to give something back. So I wanted to stay in the community,” she explained.

Persistence was an asset at other times, too.

When Galli approached her first major customer meeting with Skyline Drive, she was too naive to understand that she didn’t have a chance to make a deal.

Despite a rejection, Galli persevered and asked the retailers to identify gaps in their current sweets provider. She offered to take over those areas and present significant profits to convince Skyline Drive.

Her bet was right. Not only did she create enough profit to cover expenses, she earned enough to pay the front counter staff and more.

Locating in Meadows of Dan required dedication on Galli’s part. Being such a rural setting, public water was not available for the candy making plant. The alternative was using well water but not from the average well.

A food production company needs a well set to much higher standards than a residential well. The only well like that belonged to a local ice factory.

As many businesspeople experience, Galli’s request to rent space inside that plant was rejected multiple times. Yet she stuck with it and through her diligence managed to convince the owner to give her a small 10-square-foot area.

Nancy’s Candy Co. is an example of examining the status quo and questioning its weak spots. For candy distributors, deliveries end sometime around May and don’t restart until September. This was due to the logistical conundrum of melted or frozen goods.

Galli developed an innovative shipping method using gel ice and Styrofoam. She offered free shipping to customers, promising that if products arrived damaged there was no cost for the retailer.

“It gave me an opportunity to also sell into different channels of trade. It gave me an opportunity to sell to Hallmark stores and gift shops and florists and convenience stores. It got me away from just tourist-oriented locations, which is how we began, and it helped smooth out our business and smooth out our revenue to be year-round as opposed to having peaks and valleys,” she said.

The initial opportunity that drew Galli to make her love of chocolate into a profitable venture was when she spotted an industry hole. All candies in the sweets market were processed through a distribution center, requiring a long shelf life for products. Fudge, a high earner that Galli identified early on through research, goes bad quickly.

Nancy’s Candy Co. removed the middle man — the distribution centers — and directly sold and delivered products to retailers. Fudge being a market hit easily sold even outside the traditional holiday season, building a speedy profit.

Galli stayed firmly committed to spreading Nancy’s Candy Co. as far and wide as she could manage, making cold calls and presenting at trade shows. The growth was undeniable, but Galli explained that the road was not without its potholes.

At least twice she was denied financing by the bank as she expanded to larger spaces or facilities. A second large client, Cracker Barrel, was highly beneficial from an advertising perspective for a solid 10 years but was damaging for the profit margin.

When Nancy’s Candy Co. was forced to establish its own facility rather than rent, Galli faced many challenges. After plans were made and construction started, an unexpected fire marshal request forced the company to invest $180,000 in a water tower for a sprinkler system.

The huge, surprise cost meant that Galli had to cut costs elsewhere in the construction. The general contractor was fired and tasks such as tiling, painting and wallpapering the 5,000-square-foot facility were not contracted out to firms. Additionally, Galli sold any and all property, stock and miscellaneous items to help cover the expense.

The trials didn’t end there. The significant time and money investment for the construction of the manufacturing, delivery and outlet store facility resulted in flat sales that year. Sales didn’t restore themselves until 2001 after beginning the project in 1998.

By the time this year ends, Galli likely will be done with the company. She recently sold it to another Southwestern Virginia family, one she personally has known for years. That family’s many generations promise to sustain the local factory and its local commitment.

“I love to share my passion for business. I love to share my passion for Nancy’s Candy Co. I hope that maybe some part of what I say will be an inspiration to you,” she said.

Morrison reports for the Danville Register & Bee.