Dining Dialogue: Bailey loves candy and mentoring

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 534 views 

Tim Bailey’s first job was in a nut house.

Not that kind of nut house.

Bailey, who is now president of Fort Smith-based Candy Craze, began working for Inell and Joe Newman in their The Nut Hut franchise. He was 16 and took a job as a stockboy. That was the mid-1970s.  The franchise grew and Bailey moved up the ladder.

In the early 1990s, The Nut Hut stores were located in many malls owned by the family of Ed Warmack, including Central Mall in Fort Smith. James Warmack, one of Ed’s sons, told Joe Newman that the bulk candy store business was growing and “would likely kill The Nut Hut” business model, Bailey explained.

“He (James) convinced Mr. Newman to get into the bulk candy business and even said he would help get the stores in their malls,” Bailey said. “Then he (Newman), looked at me and said, ‘This is your project.’ … That was May 1993, and I was suddenly in the candy business.”

It turned out to be a good project for Bailey. Candy Craze now has 31 stores – including one in Fort Smith and two in Northwest Arkansas – in 10 states and employs about 150.

Continuing, Bailey noted: “I really give James Warmack, and the Warmack family, a lot of credit and gratitude. And James really pulled them (the Newman’s) to Fort Smith.”

The first Candy Craze was in Fort Smith, and about nine stores were added in the first year, and they expanded by adding about two stores each year. The most recent store was opened 18 months ago in Beaumont, Texas. Bailey said the company “has resources” to open two more stores “but we just can’t find the right opportunities.”

Store success has been a function of refusing to deviate from a formula, according to Bailey. That formula includes finding the right space within a mall, a certain mix of competition, and locating in a mall in a region with a certain demographic profile.

“We’ve learned the hard way. If we compromise on what works for us, we won’t survive,” Bailey said.

A location within a mall is one of the most important factors, Bailey said. The store needs to be where the traffic is highest, but not so high that the rent is also too high.

“We want to be between the 30-yard lines,” Bailey said.

And what works in the stores often varies by geography. White chocolate sells better in the South. And any candy colored purple and white sells well in Port Arthur, Texas – colors that happen to be the school colors in a town with a loyal fan base, Bailey said.

What’s the biggest seller among all stores? A one-fourth pound gummy snake.

“They’re just really cool,” Bailey said with a laugh when asked why the snakes are top sellers.

The business is growing “slowly and steadily,” Bailey said, because the employees “really execute well.”

“Nine times out of 10, when sales drop, it is because of execution,” Bailey said.

When Bailey is not selling candy, he’s mentoring students at Chaffin Junior High School in Fort Smith. Candy Craze is a Partner in Education member at Chaffin, and Bailey is one of about 30 men and women who mentor students as part of the “Edge” program. The program works with students who teachers and administrators believe are in need of guidance from someone other than educators.

“These are good kids, but they are often walking close to the edge of failing. They are close to failing personally or academically,” Bailey explained.

The benefit of the program is that the Edge mentors “are non-threatening” to the students, he said,

“As a mentor, you can’t do anything to punish them. You are not an authority figure in that respect. … So they realize that the only reason this guy, this mentor, is helping them is because he wants to help. So what you see is an openness and a willingness to respond,” Bailey said.

Bailey joked that sometimes students in the Edge program respond better than his children at home. Bailey and his wife, Connie, have four adopted children, T.J. (21), Tabitha (17), Jamin (16), and Richa (14).

Bailey said he has been involved in many events and programs outside of work, but the Partners in Education work and the Edge program are his favorites.

“This program, and what we’re able to do, that really caught me off guard. It is the most fulfilling outside activity I’m involved in. I really believe it is making a huge difference in our local schools,” Bailey said.