Sweets in the City moves up a gear with Lord Alan Sugar
Claiming victory on the Apprentice reality TV show offered a huge boost to Sarah Lynn, owner of Sweets in the City, who is taking her business to new heights. Neill Barston speaks to her ahead of a major product launch this autumn
Gaining the chance to set up in business with one of the Europe’s most well-known entrepreneurs, Lord Alan Sugar, has seen a wealth of candidates come forward from all walks of life.
The reality TV show has been successfully syndicated across the world, everywhere from Africa and Australia, through to Indonesia, Italy and even a Russian version was briefly produced.
While there were plenty of eager young candidates eyeing the lucrative financial prize for the UK version of the show, it was London-based confectionery specialist Sarah Lynn who emerged as a joint winner of the ruthless business entertainment show.
Millions of viewers tuned in to see the ambitious businesswoman sell her business concept, Sweets in the City, producing confectionery for corporate events special occasions.
By her own admission, there had been areas of the company she wished to improve upon in terms of its marketing, but she believed there was a significant gap in the market for her firm.
While Lord Sugar appeared initially skeptical of her business model – largely because the company did not actually make its own, all that is set to rapidly change.
Speaking exclusively to Confectionery Production, Sarah reveals it had been hugely fulfilling to see her business gain the backing of the hard-talking man at the centre of the TV series.
As she explains, before setting up her company, she had done corporate design work and business development projects, yet was left feeling somewhat uninspired.
In 2010, Sarah makes the decision to start her business, shortly after her son was born, and decided ‘to go for it’ five years ago in laying the groundwork for the company.
“After going travelling with my partner, I came back and realised that I wanted to set up in business on my own. I ‘d been around my father’s packaging company which was in the ‘food-to-go’ segment of the market.
So, it’s something that I had always had an interest in, and it was nice that I’d had that experience of seeing my dad’s work, which helped in understanding the industry.
Recalling how the Apprentice came about, she explained that it had simply been a case of sitting down with her husband and firing off an application, barely thinking she would be selected.
But when the call came, it was something of a shock to be selected from the thousands of budding business stars.
“I think at first there was a sense of shell shock with it as you are put in there with 17 people who are all looking for the investment that is the prize – so it is very competitive and tough. You just have to get your head down,” said Sarah, who admitted it was difficult leaving her young son during filming of the show, but she says the experience ultimately paid off for her.
Though Lord Sugar, famed for his blunt “You’re fired” catchphrase typically pulled-no punches with all the contestants, including Sarah, she says that being put through the mill and testing to the limit has actually had its benefits.
“As Alan has seen so many businesses, I think he gets what we are doing and we have monthly board meetings for my business now.
“His advice to us all was that when you’re starting out, you need to do your research with your company and start it out on a small scale. If it works well at that level, then investors will support you. As well as being good, you have to make sure that it’s different from what else is out there already.”
During the tough 10-week show, contenders were put through a series of business tasks that put their business acumen to the test – which made for highly entertaining television as the competitive edge came out in each of the contestants.
But being a little more mature than some of those on the show, Sarah steered as clear as possible from the petty arguments that had bubbled to the surface during the fiercely contented series. Did she have a favourite moment?
“For me, my favourite task was definitely the Wembley football stadium task where we were given a corporate box that we had to market. I’d been in the girls’ team and was asked to move into the other group and I had just found it really good fun. It was the first task that I had really had the chance to do what I wanted and we ended up winning it as well. I think the thing about the show is that it tries to put everyone outside of their comfort zone.”
During the show, and its final stages, Sarah concedes that she came in for some criticism over her company’s website, which was somewhat basic and lacked style – a critical element that she says has now been fully addressed with her business.
The company, which works from a base in Croydon, London, now employs a team of 15 people, with Sarah commuting to lead the business from her family home in Kensington, North London.
It has extended its range of gift offerings, and according to the woman behind the business, it is going from strength to strength.
She adds: “One of the things that came out of doing the Apprentice was that although we stock a wide range of sweets, it was highlighted that we didn’t actually have our own range – which is about to change as that’s happening this autumn, which is an exciting prospect.
While it’s hush hush at the moment, we can say that it will be in the form of grab bags of sweets, which is something that we have already done, but just not our own products.”
As Sarah explains, there are of course plenty of challenges in driving a business forward, including sometimes knowing when to take a step back and take a broader view of how it is performing. But with plenty of plans in the pipeline, she believes the confectionery sector is in a strong position.
She adds: “I think this is an exciting time for the confectionery market. There are definitely challenges ahead with customers wanting products without gelatin and less sugar, as well as natural flavours that have to be developed. But people still love sweets and there is definitely a market for them.”