Going for a sweet ride

Peter J.C. Young gave up a promising position directing the international business affairs of a global glass manufacturer to make candy for a living.

With a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a law degree from the University of Michigan, Young took his career in an entirely different direction when he married into the family that owns Harry London Candies Inc., and became its third-generation leader in 1994.

Then he took the company in entirely new directions.

Under Young’s leadership the past several years, Harry London has enjoyed compounded annual growth of about 25 percent, says Young, although he won’t disclose actual revenue figures. After moving into a new 90,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in 1995, Harry London quickly outgrew the space. An addition to the plant, expected to open in July, will more than double the original floor space.

“This will be the first year that we won’t be quite as capacity constrained,” says Young.

Indeed, capacity has been the company’s only obstacle to growth over the past several years. With the expanded capability, Young expects Harry London revenues for the current fiscal year, which runs through April 2000, to jump about 70 percent.

Young credits a number of factors with the company’s enviable growth record:

  • Broad product line — Aside from the industry’s “big three” producers — Hershey, Nestle and Mars — most other chocolate makers have limited product lines focused on narrow product categories, says Young. Harry London makes some 2,000 different products in several categories and does so with an unusual measure of efficiency for the industry.
  • Broad distribution channels — The company’s six specialty retail stores in Ohio sell only a fraction of Harry London’s output, Young says. A well-developed wholesale business ships candy all over the world, which also is unusual in the chocolate business, where smaller producers tend to be more regional, he says.
  • Balanced customer base — In an industry that often struggles with seasonal variations, Harry London has evened out the speed bumps with a booming contract business that accounts for about one-third of all production. Disney, for example, contracts with Harry London to produce Disney-brand specialty chocolates for sale at resorts, retail stores and by catalog. In addition, the elimination of seasonal fluctuations enables the company to employ a more stable, professional work force instead of relying on temporary help around the holidays.
  • Solid management team — Harry London has lured top executives away from Disney and Riser Foods to form the core management team that has fueled much of the growth, says Young. “Our success has been a companywide effort, and I don’t mean for that to sound cliche,” he said. “I could never have achieved this kind of growth alone.”

Tammy Whitehouse