It would sound like a dream to any kid. The Stier brothers and their cousin, Jordan Rosenbaum, grew up around a candy factory. Talk to any of them now, and they’ll share fond memories of enrobing chocolate, dipping cherries, working in the kitchen, and of course, taste-testing the merchandise.
They may not have realized it at the time, but the kids were actually getting invaluable hands-on experience, learning the ins and outs of a growing business that was on its way to becoming the nation’s leading private-label and branded manufacturer, importer, and distributor of specialty confections and fine foods.
“As kids, we loved the excitement of a candy business,” says Travis Stier, who officially joined the company in 2012 and now works as an operations associate. “As we grew up, our interests evolved to the business itself. We would ask questions every night when our father got home from work. As we got older, our father began introducing us to the many aspects of the business.”
Travis didn’t start his career in the family business. He majored in finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and worked as a mergers and acquisitions analyst for the Blackstone Group, where his first deal was advising on the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Travis and his three brothers, Lance, Spencer, and Garrett, along with their cousin Jordan, have all joined Nassau Candy since 2008—but they each started their careers elsewhere.
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“My dad and uncle encouraged us to secure our first jobs after college outside of Nassau Candy in order to gain knowledge and understanding of what it is like to work for an organization that is not your family business,” says Garrett, who went through Syracuse University’s business program and worked at a Wall Street brokerage firm.
Jordan says his outside experience as a financial adviser with Merrill Lynch will help Nassau Candy grow. “Our goal is not only to sell candy and food, but to be a partner to our customers, offering assistance and guidance at every turn. My background in finance is beneficial when working with our customers to increase the efficiency of their businesses,” he says.
Now, each member of the Stier/Rosenbaum tribe is finding his own niche in the family business. While growth has been steady, family members saw untapped potential in the company. “We all have unique sets of skills and abilities, which allow us to employ the ‘divide and conquer’ method,” Spencer says. “Combining our talents with those of the talented Nassau team allows us to continue to grow while still exceeding customers’ expectations every day.”
The story of Nassau Candy began in 1984, when Lesley Stier bought the New York-based candy distributor. Two years later, Barry Rosenbaum joined him, and together they made Nassau into a candy powerhouse, with custom manufacturing capabilities, thousands of products in stock, and nationwide distribution. When the global recession hit in 2008, the company that Lesley and Barry worked so hard to build was in an unusual position to weather the storm.
“Candy distribution is recession-resistant because people eat candy when they’re happy and when they’re sad,” Lance says. “Our private-label business was doing well because people were trading down from known brands to more cost-effective private-label alternatives, and our gourmet foods were selling because people were dining at home more.” Although he had been working as a private equity investor helping strategically build companies in the food and beverage industries, Lance saw an opportunity to help grow the business in a unique way at a unique time, and stepped into a business development role. Nassau had been growing, and he wanted to help accelerate that growth through acquisitions, real-estate investments, and strategic growth initiatives.
The Right Products and the Right Team
Since 2009, Nassau Candy has purchased four companies, including three in the promotional products industry, to form Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant (of which Lance is now the managing member). Combined, these acquisitions have made Nassau the largest supplier of custom food-based promotional items in North America. The company now supplies custom products to thousands of corporate customers, from big banks to Fortune 100 companies.
Nassau has implemented new and important strategies that have helped drive growth over the last five years. In addition to a robust M&A schedule, the company has doubled its number of distribution centers—with new locations in Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco—to take its candy, gourmet foods, and promotional products from coast to coast. The company also recently acquired a state-of-the-art, 127,000-square-foot distribution center, with ten additional acres for expansion, in Hicksville, New York, as its new distribution hub. Altogether, Nassau has built a top-notch infrastructure to enable it to grow to the next level.
Driving the company’s consistency in execution is a daily effort, led by Nassau’s best-in-class team of associates. Many key senior team members have been with the company for a decade or more, providing invaluable experience and perspective as the company continues to grow. Nassau also continues to hire top talent to help the company reach its goals. “We believe our people are our most important resource,” says Lance. “We know that nothing gets done without a team effort, and like the acronym TEAM says, ‘Together Everyone works together to Achieve More.’”
Nassau’s team has been resolute in good times and more challenging times. When Hurricane Sandy struck Nassau Candy’s Freeport production facility in October 2012, blanketing the facility in five feet of salt water and thereby destroying millions of dollars of inventory and equipment, the team sprung immediately into action. Within twenty days and with the full team’s effort, the facility reopened with machines in working order, inventory replaced, and customer orders once again being fulfilled.
“I have never been prouder of our team than in the days after Hurricane Sandy,” Lance says. “We never stopped moving. We got together, we cleaned up the facility, we got our machines fixed, and we kept executing for our customers.” Two years after Hurricane Sandy, Nassau Candy’s Chocolate Inn/Taylor & Grant business is strong and a category leader. “Our motto, while it might sound cliché, is ‘Failure is not an option.’ We would not let ourselves fail, and we’re stronger than before Hurricane Sandy because of it.”
Ripe for Expansion
Each year, Nassau produces about 20 million pounds of candy under private labels for major retailers and also imports gourmet and natural foods like quality cheese, pasta sauces, and health bars for upscale independent stores. Nassau has enjoyed many good years over the last three decades but is now experiencing a new burst of energy supplied by the second generation of family members.
“We want to grow aggressively, but properly manage it,” says Lance, who is just thirty-two years old. “We must always deliver on our customer expectations and never get too far in front of ourselves. If we do things the right way, the smart and conservative way, I think we can double business again in the next five to seven years and then do that again through a combination of strategic growth and acquisition initiatives. We have a lot of years ahead of us, and our goal is to take our fathers’ business and continue making this the gold standard in the industry.”
In addition to mergers and acquisitions, recent steps toward organic growth include a strategic partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS, Polyconcept North America (a $1 billion promotional-products supplier), and the purchase of a machine that prints directly onto candy—making Nassau Candy the only company other than M&M Mars to print on candy at the national scale.
While they’ve handed parts of the company over, Lesley and Barry are still actively involved. Lesley is chairman and CEO, while Barry is president. “They have an amazing relationship that we all try to mirror, and they’ve tutored us in all parts of the business,” Lance says. Properly maintaining balance is the key to any family business, and these relatives say it’s their varied backgrounds that drive success.
“We all have different interests, and none of it overlaps, so we don’t really step on any toes. We have the space we need, and we trust each other,” Jordan says. Garrett calls the patriarchs idols for the younger leaders. “We all watched them build a company from nothing. They’re great businessmen and great dads,” he says.
Nassau is differentiating itself in the market with a strong commitment to excellence. “We work extremely hard to keep all items in stock and to ship orders right away, have a national footprint and a large number of items, and can service retailers in every way from known brands to Nassau-produced items to custom products,” says Lance, whose goal is to make Nassau Candy the right choice for every customer, win business, and repeat the process.
Customers often choose Nassau because it’s a large company with a mom-and-pop feel. “We know the distribution business is all about the relationship a local supplier has with a local business,” Spencer adds. “Our strategically located distribution centers
allow us to maintain these relationships while still being a major player with buying power on a national scale.”
Nobody in the family has been given the keys to the company—they’ve all started at lower positions and worked to earn more responsibility. “We’re all held accountable for our actions, output, and input,” Garrett says.
Every day, the relatives come together for lunch to discuss what’s happening with the family business. In those meetings, they talk about the immediate and long-term future of the company, and both are looking bright.
Sales continue to trend upward, and the Nassau legacy looks safe—Lance has a two-year old daughter, Elizabeth. And one day, perhaps she will carry on the family business.