EP 16: Art of Sucre: Founder Emily Harpel on Innovating a Traditional Childhood Treat

Mary Harcourt  0:05  
Welcome to Ready Set glow, a podcast where I interview the person behind the brand through to talk about what it took to get started, the lessons learned along the way, and the advice they have for you on your own journey. I'm your host, Mary Harcourt, founder and CEO of Cosmo glow. Today's guest is so fun. I have Emily Harpal from the art of Sukra. Her company is known for fun flavored cotton candy, and specifically the glitter cotton candy bombs. They can be dropped in any beverage, but you're gonna have the most fun if it's a clear soda or a bubbling champagne. From handling live events to a COVID pivot. Emily has grown her brand into a fun flavor cotton candy company that sends their their flavors all across the world. She's getting noticed by tons of people on social media. And today she's going to share what worked for her and growing her audience on social media. And some lessons she learned as she scaled her company from Master of one to what she is now a full fledged, amazing brand that has such a great presence in packaging and branding. And really we all can learn so much from somebody that's pioneering fun flavored cotton candy.

Emily, I'm so happy to have you as part of the show today. I'm excited for our episode.

Emily Harpel  1:28  
Wow. Thank you for having me. I'm super excited to chat with you.

Mary Harcourt  1:30  
You have such an incredibly niche product. It's wildly popular on Tik Tok, you have like a million followers, maybe more. You grew so rapidly on Instagram, I can't wait to talk to you about yourself your business. Tell us about the art of Sukra. And how did you get started.

Emily Harpel  1:46  
So 2016 I had freshly graduated from college with a degree in psychology, and was also engaged in my high school sweetheart in the middle of planning our wedding. And like really long story short, my plans were to go on to graduate school and those were put onto hold when they filled the cohort too quickly and didn't even reach my application. So throughout the wedding planning process, I was obviously on Pinterest as most people who are getting married are and really wanted to come up with something creative for our wedding favor. And I just kept seeing a lot of dessert options, things like cake pops and sugar cookies and things that were really getting this Instagrammable especially at the time upgrade that were kind of these works of art. And one suggestion that kept popping up over and over again was cotton candy. But the options were really limited and super disappointing. And I think a lot of people don't actually know is that when I first started my business for the first four years, we were actually an events based company. So my goal in the beginning was not even to package our cotton candy like you see it today, I literally took my little pink cotton candy car and spun at every different type of event that you can imagine from a dog's birthday party to Elton John concerts to professional sporting events all over northeast Ohio. And then I had to pivot during COVID. And we transition into the packaging that you see today where we ship worldwide.

Mary Harcourt  3:05  
So you started with events. How long have you kind of do you feel like you started in an event and it transformed into your brand now? Or did you kind of always have the artists who grew up as you did the events like which came first the chicken or the egg.

Emily Harpel  3:20  
So artists who grow like was the name has always been the same. The branding that you see now actually was kind of our second iteration. When I first started, I had zero money. So I took to Etsy and bought a logo. And then when I had the money, and I knew what I needed to kind of upgrade or look a little bit I could I was able to do that. And actually, we're in the process of rebranding yet again, same name, same artist Sukra just kind of giving it a more of a feel that fits our packaging a little bit more. So in the beginning, it was definitely always events base, the same name, same vibe, but we have had a little bit more of an elegant upgrade as the money has come in and be able to give it the look that matches the name and the feel.

Mary Harcourt  4:02  
Yeah, of course and your packaging is so on point. Like I can't believe you're rebranding it because it looks so good. I'm excited to see what you're doing from here on out. But yeah, do you do all of your own branding? Or is that? Did you outsource that out?

Emily Harpel  4:14  
Yeah, so definitely something that I wish that I had the skill set for but I don't really like to say that I have the eye for it. But the execution is absolutely not in my wheelhouse. I have a really incredible design team. Their name is Molly and Jackie. And when I say that they are truly the ones that have elevated the brand and have held my hand through the entire process of growing artistic or what it is today. It's all because of that and they handle everything from our packaging to our website, all of that as far as like marketing and social media goes that's still very much in house and as a matter of fact, it's mainly me that does I do all of our tic TOCs to this day, I'm the one that's voicing it over editing all of that very hands on. Well I love hearing that because

Mary Harcourt  4:54  
it gives hope for everyone else who's not so into that, that you really can't hire out and they'll do a great job. because your branding is perfect, I think Molly did Mellie. And Jackie said they did an amazing job for you.

Emily Harpel  5:06  
Absolutely. And it's all about finding that right team, for sure.

Mary Harcourt  5:09  
It is. So let's talk about tick tock you have how many followers? And how did that all start for you to start documenting your day to day thing and grow your following.

Emily Harpel  5:18  
We have just over 1.2 million followers as it sits right now. And it really started around June of 2020. When I came to the realization, I think most of us did, like, Oh, this isn't turning around anytime soon, right? Events are not coming back in the way that I think we all kind of were holding on hope that they were going to, I kind of had to sit down and realize, Hey, am I gonna pivot this business that I've already poured a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money into? Or am I gonna have to abandon it and move on to something else. And it just really clicked that packaging was the way to go. And simultaneously, it really happened all at the same time. I was like, Hey, I'm consuming a lot of Tik Tok. I'm enjoying it. My husband and I were, you know, sit on the couch sending texts back and forth of hey, did you see this video? Was this on your for you page type of thing. And it was really at the time, it was the app was still very much evolving into what it is today. And there weren't a lot of brands on there. It was just a lot of people doing dancing and trends and stuff like that. And I just realized that I had a lot of content sitting in my phone that I could splice together and start sharing what it was like to run an event based cotton candy company, and then also wrote sharing how I was in the process of transitioning to an ecommerce store and really bring people along for that journey.

Mary Harcourt  6:33  
I love it. You did a great job. And did you always have the glitter bombs? Or is that like a later adaption after you did your pivot?

Emily Harpel  6:42  
When I first started, it was just cotton candy and fun flavors like champagne and watermelon and orange bourbon, things like that. I was actually at an event, it was a charity event and a woman came up to me I was spinning champagne flavored cotton candy. And she goes, what would happen if I were to put this in a glass of champagne. And I was like, well, nothing really it would dissolve then you know, it would leave your champagne like a touch sweeter. And she's like, I want that. Let's do it. And so I spent a tiny count of cotton candy and put it in her glass for and it caught on like wildfire. This was before the glitter was even added. And I must have spent like 200 cones of champagne cotton candy to go in Champagne that evening. And when I got home from that event, I was like this. We're on to something here. But I can make it better. And started playing with adding sprinkles and edible glitter and different things into it. And it really took off. So I was actually doing the cotton candy glitter bombs that were really known for now, way before I even transitioned into packaging.

Mary Harcourt  7:39  
It's so cute. I first learned about you. I went through the museum of ice cream on Mother's Day with my whole family. And it was so fun that they offered Mimosa us and it was like oh yes, we're doing it. And they are cute little champagne glasses and we ripped open your package. It was these adorable little cotton candy with glitter in them. You watch as I put in my champagne glass, the cotton candy kind of dissolved and all the glitter came out. And it was so pretty. We all took pictures. We also have videos we like cheers it was a pretty as glass of champagne ever had. So I can only imagine how quickly this does spread when you're either at a party or on a tick tock or through your Instagram. It's something that like once you see it, you're kind of like well, I want one.

Emily Harpel  8:21  
It's very contagious. For sure. It's when you see it, you have to know more about it because it's pretty unique. Right? Have you ever experienced something like that before? When you see somebody you know have one you're like, I need that I need to make that happen too.

Mary Harcourt  8:34  
Absolutely. So where do you find that most of your customers come from? Is it like bridal parties? Is it unicorn birthday parties? What Where's where does the majority of your sales come from?

Emily Harpel  8:46  
Yeah, so it's a it's a pretty big mix, which you wouldn't necessarily think that but our direct to consumer ecommerce stores the obviously the bulk of our sales, and that can be anything from gift giving to people just seeing it on tick tock and kind of wanting to treat yourself moment, we do custom orders, which is really great. So you can actually reach out to us and we can custom design a cotton candy flavor for your company with custom branding and packaging and custom glitter and, and all of the things. And that's a huge part of what we do, too. We see a lot of weddings, obviously we do a lot of b2b. So we were working with a lot of different types of businesses that want to send out gifts to either their clients or employee appreciation or people's birthdays, whatever that looks like. PR sets we've done just about anything that you can imagine. And we're slowly starting to open up wholesale up until this point, we literally haven't been able to keep up with the demand. But now we're definitely accepting wholesale accounts, which is super exciting and new place to move into as well. That's super exciting.

Mary Harcourt  9:45  
I mean, it's such a niche and it catches on so quickly. I think a lot of our listeners, my listeners are in the beauty industry and I can only imagine when I had my salon our colors were like purple and it was classy, and we had chandeliers everywhere. We would do Mother's Day parties, open houses. If I had purple champagne glittery like glasses that I can hand out, I feel like that would have been a statement piece of the evening like, I wish I would have known about you then because it would have been such a thing. So for anyone that's listening, if you are thinking about a way to draw up some business for your salon, you want to have a little introduction or an open house, look up art Sucre on Instagram or Tiktok, or website, because you might want to bring in she has so many different colors, you have so many different flavors, and it really would be such a statement piece for that event. So let's talk flavors. How do you pick these? How do you come up with them?

Emily Harpel  10:38  
Yeah, so what's really neat about our process is that everything is in house. So literally where I'm sitting right now is my office at our studio space. And we do all of the production and fulfillment ourselves. We don't have a co Packer we don't have a filament center, my team and I do everything by hand. And that's because we want to be a part of the process that I want to be a part of the process. I'm still the one that I was alongside of my team. But I develop all the recipes myself, we sit down at a brainstorming meeting literally today about the rest of the flavors that we're doing for the rest of the year. We do everything in house and we get the ideas from obviously, you know, just in House of things that we like and things that we're eating and things that we're enjoying, but also we get a lot of inspiration from social media, we're constantly asking for, hey, what flavor of cotton candy do you want to see? Or just this week, I may have accidentally forgotten to cancel a subscription for banana flavoring. And we have a surplus of it. And then kind of as a little joke, my team like called me out on Instagram and was like Hey, someone haha, Emily ordered too much banana. What should we do with it? And the responses that we got were so creative, so incredible. And we can just go right back into our studio kitchen and mix it up and test it right here in house.

Mary Harcourt  11:49  
I love that. So do you have seasonal flavors? Or do you kind of just bring new flavors in see how they do phased them out? How's that work?

Emily Harpel  11:56  
It's a little bit of both, we have what we like to call our OG flavors that are in stock all the time. And currently those are champagne, orange, bourbon, bubblegum, pina colada, watermelon and sugar cookie. And then we have our limited edition flavors. So those are phased in and out depending on the season the holiday, but they're only here for a short amount of time. And actually starting in July, we're going to be having those weekly rotate in and out and that's part of people love so much about our brand is that it's always something new. And it's kind of limited small batch, we only you know, we have it until we don't and if you love it, we may bring it back. But we may not may go in the vault forever. So it's kind of a fun little experiment to see, hey, do you like this lever? Or do you not? And can you get it again?

Mary Harcourt  12:39  
It's interactive. It's like you gotta you gotta try it when it's hot, because it might not be there when you get back. So you went to school for psychology? Did you ever think that you'd be sitting here talking about cotton candy flavors?

Emily Harpel  12:50  
Never in a million years? No.

Mary Harcourt  12:54  
Definitely not. So interesting. You found a niche? Like, do you feel like you have any other competitors in the market? Or do you did you create and now you own the market?

Emily Harpel  13:03  
I mean, honestly, it really doesn't feel that way cotton candy is so niche in and of itself, you can't walk into most stores, at least not maybe now you can a little bit more and and I'd like to say that some of that actually has to do probably with us and our tick tock page and just it's gone with Fred, so many eyes on what we do that cotton candy has absolutely become more popular over the past two years. But as far as the innovation and how we're doing it and how we're executing it, it's really us leading in the field. And I'm sure people will continue to pop up and things like that, especially as we get bigger. But right now it's really us with the ones that are kind of pushing the movement forward.

Mary Harcourt  13:39  
But that's awesome. What a great place to be. I mean, you're kind of putting a brand name on cotton candy, because we all see the little pails but you know, it's like how fresh is that? Even really? How long has it been sitting there? But if you're in your studio making this and you have rotations of flavors that only lasts a week. I mean, you're getting super fresh stuff. And it's fun and creative. I love it. The branding, the marketing, the different flavors. I love what you're doing. I think it's great. We're all doing this ship too. Are you just in the States? How far do you reach?

Emily Harpel  14:08  
No, we ship worldwide now, which is super exciting. We had a call with someone in India today that's placing a custom order for a wedding. It's really cool to see when the orders come through about where you know steps going to be shipped to Canada on literally a daily basis. Really the same with the UK. Our cotton candy has been pretty much all over the world so far. So

Mary Harcourt  14:28  
you know this company from day one, you've scaled it from just you it's still mostly you you have a team now, what are some advice you have to other entrepreneurs that are in the middle of growing their businesses from a one person event to a team who

Emily Harpel  14:42  
growing your team is one of the most challenging things that you will do? In my opinion, I always say that there's no handbook that teaches you how to be a boss. It's a lot of hands on experience. It's challenging. It's also one of the most rewarding things that you'll do find thinking the right people to put in the right places is what really makes the team work. And sometimes that may take a little bit of trial and error. And it may take adjustment on your end of expectations and, and of what you're looking for. And you don't know what you don't know until you know, right? And then you learn from that. And the reality is, that's the only way to grow. It feels so good right now the where we're at with the team, it really feels like we have all of the right people in the right place. And I remember the day that I hired my first full time employee, her name is Emma, she's my right hand to this day, I literally just cried from the sense of relief, and also a little bit of kind of the weight of your shoulders of now you have someone else's livelihood on your shoulder. So it was a big relief and a little bit of a big pressure all at the same time. But yeah, that team can definitely be what is the turning point in the growth of your business to?

Mary Harcourt  15:55  
Absolutely, I completely agree. We talked offline a little bit and you said running a business is no joke. And it's not nearly as glamorous as it appears online. And you feel like you're on a lifelong roller coaster. I fully and completely agree. But it's like it's a fun rollercoaster you kind of go like, Oh God, I'm losing my belly a little bit. And it's like, Hey, this is so fun. And then you have your hands up going, I don't know where the next move is, but we're going for it. It's a whole roller coaster, where it was a time that you felt like you were on a roller coaster with your business.

Emily Harpel  16:27  
I feel like I haven't gotten off of the roller coaster. If I'm being honest with you. I always say that it's like it's the high highs and the low lows, right being an entrepreneur is something that I feel like in today's age is really kind of almost held on like a pedestal in some ways. And that's not neither good or bad thing. I think it does have a lot of kind of glamorized, specially with social media of what it means to be a founder and what it means to run a company. And we wouldn't do it if it wasn't rewarding, why the reality is that it's the most hard thing and the most work I've ever put into my life. But it's also the most incredible thing to think that I've created this from from scratch. But that also doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of times where I literally sit on the floor and cry because it's a lot and especially, you know, bootstrapping a business and doing it from the ground up, it can often appear like you have overnight success. But the reality is, it's lots and lots and lots of long hours and money and time and sweat and tears and, and all of the things. So again, I wouldn't do it if it wasn't worth it in the end. But I also just think it's super important to be raw and honest about the fact that it's also absolutely not easy. And it's it takes time to make a brand grow sometimes

Mary Harcourt  17:46  
well, and especially you're such a pioneer in that particular field, where you're the one going out there and investing the money to say let's do this, okay, that didn't work. Let's do this. Okay, that did work. And now we have more need that requires more financial backing to get it up and running to where it needs to go. Because you mentioned wholesale to add in wholesale means you have to get all of your products ready to go to ship into a place. And I don't know if they have terms, but maybe you don't receive payment on it for 6090, sometimes 30 days, whatever it is. So that's a lot of upfront costs versus just selling it each time someone clicks to buy on a website.

Emily Harpel  18:23  
Absolutely. There's, there's so much more to the different kind of revenue streams. And you can even imagine from a logistics standpoint, and many people have been begging us to wholesale from the beginning. And I would have loved to been able to do that. But it just wasn't a possibility those even at the time like net 30 terms, most of them are net 60. I feel like most times, it was just not possible. I have a team to pay that doesn't just the cotton candy doesn't get spun on its own. And especially because we do everything in house. It's not like I can just call up a manufacturer and say, Hey, I need 50,000 units of cotton candy. We're doing it all ourselves. So there's so much that goes into that. It's easier said than done.

Mary Harcourt  19:04  
Absolutely. Even with a pandemic supply chain. I mean, I have a manufacturer and we call all the time going we want more we need more, we want more and they're limited by how much supply is on demand. Have you experienced any supply chain issues? Or is the sugar stream been steady?

Emily Harpel  19:18  
No, absolutely. I feel like everybody's been hit by that and for us it's really been packaging. Because a lot of people have transitioned a lot of people pivoted and a lot of it was from back into packaging instead of E commerce and something that required the materials that we use things that would take a two week turnaround now take 10 months sometimes so it really means that you have to be on top of it when it comes to new flavors that are coming out what you're designing and and then even then it's kind of like a fingers crossed situation and hoping that you get it it's definitely been a challenge and we've had to rework designs and concepts and kind of baby step things because packaging wasn't ready or wasn't available and just kind of have to make it work as is you If it wasn't perfect or exactly what we wanted,

Mary Harcourt  20:02  
yeah, you get creative, you kind of go, Okay, this isn't working. Let me think about how else we could do it. If we do it like this, we could do it like that. And all of a sudden, you have a beautiful product. And usually sometimes it comes out a little bit better. But it's not what you originally had in mind when you're like, I want this well, that's not available, cool. Artists do grat Where did the name come from?

Emily Harpel  20:22  
I was driving back from my honeymoon, when I was looked at my husband who also like just graduated from college and the process of graduating college Drew's like two years younger than I am, I looked at him and said, Hey, I have this idea. What do you think fully expecting him to say go You're crazy, go get a real job, like we need to pay our bills. And he didn't need that. It's a good idea. So right there in that car ride home, we secured the name. And we both took French in high school, which is where Sucre comes from It's sugar in French. And the idea kind of came from giving it like a chic upgrade. And then art of just really flowed together, all of the handles were available. We got Instagram and Pinterest, and we got the website, domain all of that on that car ride home.

Mary Harcourt  21:06  
I mean, that alone is impressive. Because this day and age, I feel like everyone makes up words, because it's the only way to get all of your handles and websites to match. So that was a sign that you're doing the right thing right then in there. Where do you see artists super going? What's your goal? You guys are rapidly expanding right now. But what do you think in the next two years, five years, 10 years, you'll

Emily Harpel  21:26  
be? We get asked this question a lot, especially like when it comes to the event space? Like are we going to expand into events? Are you going to keep it in the packaging realm? What's that going to look like? And the reality is we have plans and so many different things. I would love to see us kind of in stadiums for events and be able to get your custom cotton candy right there at a baseball game or at a concert or anything like that. And to really what we do is an experience, even in the packaging form, really cool to be able to bring life back into that. And I would love to see us be able to expand into a larger wholesale space and be truly that household name that you referenced earlier. I also think one of the things that we do so well is the really inventive and creative uses for cotton candy. So to continue to expand on that and partner with other companies and brands to kind of, you know whether we're working with a coffee company, and we just type of you know, use the cotton candy as the sugar in your coffee, or whatever that was like the list is so long of all of the options. I think that's really

Mary Harcourt  22:28  
like, what sets you apart as well is your flavors. I mean, it's so much more than the basic pink, blue, yellow cotton candy that's out there. When you do your flavors. Do you think about where do you see these going? Is it like, do you see yourself being Hey, this would be a great fit for unicorn birthday parties. We could do silver and being weddings? Or is it kind of like, hey, we have this flavor you let's make the flavor and then it falls into the events.

Emily Harpel  22:54  
It's a little bit of both. So it really kind of depends on what we're where our head is that with everything. We have just like the most outrageous ingredients that you would find really anywhere and you're probably like why do you have like onion, you know, ingredients to make onion, cotton candy. And the reality is, at some point, somebody's going to ask for that we did like this fun, bamboozle set for April Fool's and stuff like that. So sometimes it comes from we just have stuff on hand because you never know when creativity is going to strike. And then other times we definitely dream up like, hey, if this is for a bachelorette party and the theme is last disco, what would I want my glitter bomb to look like? Or what flavor of cotton candy would I want if it's going to be a fiesta themed or something like that. So it really does go both ways. I would say probably more than anything. What we do is we brainstorm cotton candy that we would want to see or things that would pique our interest. Like, Hey, I see that you have like a chocolate covered potato chip cotton candy. Tell me more about that, like good. That's gonna make you ask questions. That's our goal. At the end of the day.

Mary Harcourt  23:56  
Do you have more products than just the glitter bomb? Or is the glitter bombs primarily your bread and butter.

Emily Harpel  24:01  
So glitter bombs are definitely what we're most known for. You can find our cotton candy, that's just the pouches that you can just snack on that don't necessarily go into drinks. But the cotton candy glitter bombs are the ones that go and what we like to say anything clear and bubbly. So it can be like a champagne a mimosa, it could really it could be a you know, dark soda to you may just don't see the glitter color as well. And then our pouches of cotton candy or we're like they're really creative flavors come in. And we're also trying to play with textures. So adding things like Pop Rocks and sprinkles and potato chips or whatever to really, you know, kick it up another level.

Mary Harcourt  24:34  
Oh, you've had such a great journey. What advice to have do you have for others starting out on their journey as entrepreneurs?

Emily Harpel  24:41  
I think the biggest thing right now especially if you are a founder and really any space is social media, right? That's kind of the buzzword you need to be on it you need to be posting and I often say to I do a lot of consulting on the side, if at all possible. And if it makes sense for you and your brand if you're the founder you should really be the face and a lot of ways you should be The one that's creating the content and, and be the one that if you want to be in front of the camera, or at least showcasing whatever your brand service product is, and I know that that sounds really intimidating. And I know that it sounds overwhelming, because there's so many different platforms out there. But it is super important nowadays that you will kind of have that hands on. And ultimately you're going to be the one that tells your brand the best and your story the best. So if you can find a way to fit that into your schedule, that's totally what I

Mary Harcourt  25:26  
recommend. That is amazing advice. I agree with all of that. And it's very, very, very true. Very, very current. I love that. Well, Emily, where can everyone go to find you?

Emily Harpel  25:36  
Yeah, you can find us at art of Sukra was Su CR E on literally everything. It's dot com all of our Instagram handles Facebook, Tik Tok everything.

Mary Harcourt  25:46  
Do you have a newsletter that people can sign up to so they can get all of the new trendy flavors that are coming out?

Emily Harpel  25:52  
We do. It's on our website. So go ahead and just head to artists sukra.com. And you can submit your email and then you'll be kept in the loop of everything that's coming out.

Mary Harcourt  26:00  
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time everyone go try her product. It's amazing. It's cute. And it's going to be a statement of any event that you're at. It's one of those things you see and you kind of just want one too, so be creative with it. Thank you so much for telling your story and giving your advice on for entrepreneurs today.

Emily Harpel  26:16  
Thank you for having me.

Mary Harcourt  26:18  
That wraps up today's episode. For more information on our guests. You can find them at Mary harcourt.com under the episodes tab. You can always find me on Instagram at Mary Harcourt underscore and at the Cosmo glowlight I hope you enjoyed today's episode and many more to come