by Mark Carter
Posted 12/1/2013 12:00 am
Updated 8 months ago
Artisan sweets: The phrase rolls off the tongue like butterscotch. Or perhaps caramel. Little Rock startup Treatsie aims to roll off the tongue like the sweet treat of your choice.
Treatsie co-founders Keith Hoelzeman and Jamie Walden want to turn their Innovate Arkansas venture into a high-end sweets destination that puts the local makers of artisan candy on the map.
Founded earlier this year, Treatsie sells $15 monthly subscriptions for sample boxes of artisan candy and other treats from all over the country. For example, its November sample box included salted caramel dark chocolate from Sweeteeth of Charleston, S.C.; a variety of macaroons from Danny Macaroons out of New York City; and something called a “naughty ginger” lollipop from Das Foods of Chicago.
Those with a sweet tooth who aren’t quite ready to buy in to a monthly subscription can try a one-month Treatsie taster box for $5. Treatsie partners with roughly 30 vendors across the country on its monthly subscriptions with more represented in its online store, so there are plenty of choices.
Hoelzeman hatched the idea for Treatsie last year while trying to come up with a gift idea for his wife, Amanda. (Disclaimer: Both Hoelzeman and Walden have ties to Arkansas Business Publishing Group. Amanda is managing editor of ABPG’s Little Rock Soiree and Walden is a former reporter for Arkansas Business.)
“The idea came to me when I was looking for some candy to get Amanda as a gift,” Hoelzeman said. “Something unique and higher-end. When I started looking around, I found that while there are a lot of options out there, most are expensive. It was hard to justify spending a lot on candy that I didn’t know if she would enjoy.”
The “aha” moment came when he noticed his wife’s monthly sample boxes for makeup.
“I started looking around and talking to confectioners to gauge interest, and the response was positive,” Hoelzeman said. “Most had websites and were searching for ways to drive interest in their products. I knew that I needed help, so I discussed the concept with Jamie one night at dinner and he was in.”
Hoelzeman pitched at a G60 contest in Conway a few months later, received positive feedback, and Treatsie was up and running. Hoelzeman and Walden are both in full-time now, and they’ve hired a freelance developer and a freelance writer for the Treatsie blog.
Treatsie raised more than $7,000 through Kickstarter earlier this year and recently received a $300,000 investment from Gravity Ventures Arkansas and the Fund for Arkansas’ Future.
Hoelzeman and Walden perform their own research — i.e., taste testing — and reach out to vendors about being included among Treatsie’s offerings. Sometimes, they don’t need to do the reaching out.
“We’re getting to the point where vendors are reaching out to us,” Hoelzeman said.
Currently, Treatsie is sending out about 330 boxes of artisan treats per month. That’s 330 paid subscriptions from customers representing all 50 states. Interest in the startup’s unique delivery model has spread beyond U.S. borders, and Treatsie plans to go international beginning next year, starting with Canada. Its online store, launched about three months ago, has been a big hit as well.
“We’ve always been on a road map to get to e-commerce as fast as we can,” Walden said.
Treatsie’s subscription model allows customers to sample high-end treats, discover what they like and then order more without getting stuck with products they don’t like. Walden said that’s how the firm solves what proves to be a barrier to the market for many customers.
And through its blog, Treatsie wants to tell the stories behind these local treats, whether the setting is Little Rock or Los Angeles, while helping small confectioners break out of their local geographic market.
“We want our content to be relevant,” Hoelzeman said. “When people think of artisan sweets and the stories behind them, we want them to think of Treatsie. We want to be that trusted resource.”
Treatsie’s customers think of it around the middle of the month. Each month, Hoelzeman and Walden recruit wives, family members and friends to fill orders at Treatsie Command Central, retail space located in a strip center just off the Markham/Rodney Parham intersection in Little Rock.
Walden said it takes about four hours to fill the orders, some of which are shipped in cool packs to prevent potential melting. The team packs on Saturdays and then ships out the first Monday after the 15th of each month.
For now, plans call for growing monthly subscribers and the online store. Soon, Treatsie will launch a line of themed boxes such as chocolate, coffee and even bacon (yes, Virginia, there are bacon-flavored treatsies) as well as a four-tier executive gift plan. Plus, it’s exploring the addition of sugar- and gluten-free products.
Bringing candy to the people: a noble and just cause. Turns out, one customer discovered through Treatsie that she loved a sweet treat produced by a maker located just blocks from her home in Portland, Ore.
“That’s the opposite of how we expected it would work,” Walden said. “But it’s kind of become like culinary tourism for treats. We’re excited about the potential there, where instead of just ordering candy or giving a gift, you get an experience.”