story by Josh Taylor Souza
special to The City Wire
Keith Hoelzeman wasn't looking for a career change. He was just looking for a decadent box of chocolates for his wife Amanda and suddenly found himself in the same position as most married men - scratching his head in an aimless search for the perfect gift.
"I use this story all the time in my pitch, but it’s actually true," he said of the incident that led to a startup business, Treatsie.
"I had already gone through all the local candy stores and had a very hard time finding a solid filter for quality candy online. I thought there was an opportunity for a business to act as a filter for, what we call artisan confections. Basically we find the best candy we can, pair it in a sampler box and deliver it to your door," Hoelzeman said.
In the 18 months after the search for chocolate ended, the birth of Treastie had come full circle. He partnered with friend Jamie Walden to start the subscription-based e-commerce service that provides its members with a different box of "artisan confections" each month.
The boxes feature a wide range of confections from across the United States that are coordinated and sold from Treatsie’s simple operation in Little Rock.
Walden and Hoelzeman have worked with top vendors from New York to Missouri, constantly in search of the rarest and highest quality candy for its service. The duo continues to add Arkansas candy artisans to their vendor list as well.
Treastie launched their website in April and got 120 subscribers in three days from word of mouth and social media sharing.
“We couldn’t believe the quick response. Want-to-be subscribers had to join a waiting list as we were still working out the heat-resistant packaging and other logistical details, Walden said.
Since the first round in April, Treasie has sent two more orders to its growing subscriber base. Walden said In May membership rose to 250 and in June Treasie shipped more than 300 boxes of candy. In the first 90 days of business Treatsie has garnered memberships from every state except Alaska.
"We are getting ready to unveil the fourth order in July," said Walden. "We like to keep the contents a secret until the box is opened by the member themselves. It is all part of the subscriber process with Treatise. We want our customers to look forward to the surprise each month."
Walden handles the marketing and web operations for Treatsie, while Hoelzeman oversees the financials and logistics. It is the first project undergone by the co-owners.
The company was bolstered by a successful Kickstarter.com campaign, that helped Walden and Hoelzeman boot-strap their young business, while testing it in an active market. Kickstarter uses crowd-source funding via online pledges geared to give startups initial seed money for their ventures.
The first two boxes endorsed by Treastsie were in circulation as part of a Kickstarter campaign, which helped give invaluable feedback to the owners who have since, taken the ball and run with it.
Hoelzeman said Kickstarter provided investors and potential customers.
"Our goal I think was $5,000 to cover legal fees and get the ball rolling. We surpassed that goal earlier than expected and we are thrilled with the way things are going just three months in," he said.
The Kickstart campaign raised nearly $7,300 for the startup.
The company also is waiting to get additional funding from the angel investor network Gravity Ventures who heard their pitch and voted to invest. Just last week they also pitched their business model to Natural State Angel Investors in Fayetteville.
Jeff Amerine, an entrepreneurial advisor in Northwest Arkansas and director of technology licensing for the University of Arkansas, said he likes the niche premise the guys have pulled together for offering a “guilty pleasure” type of higher-margin product on an e-commerce platform.
“It’s very early, but I think these guys are doing a great job with their venture, it will be interesting to watch their growth,” Amerine said.
Treasie sells its memberships for $15 per month, which includes about a 30% profit margin at this time, according to Walden. The boxes are shipped around the 15th of every month.
Walden said the company is on track to launch a completely redesigned website next month that will offer users the ability to buy more of the candies they love directly through the online store.