Company News

Philadelphia Candies Thrives Online with eBay Storefront

By Josh Medore
HERMITAGE, Pa. – There was a time when the Macris family knew exactly where their customers hailed from and how they knew Philadelphia Candies. For almost all the chocolatier’s 100-year history, customers were the families that called the Shenango and Mahoning valleys home.

Now, thanks to the rise of digital sales through a partnership with eBay, the Hermitage-based candymaker has reached new customers around the world, some of whom have never even been to the United States.

“It’s been transformative to how we do business online. You can purchase any of our products just as you would in our retail stores,” says John Macris, who handles Philadelphia Candies’ business development and is the third-generation of his family to help run the business. 

“There aren’t many food or gourmet gift sellers, so we’re proud to be at the forefront of that. It’s been great for our business,” he continues. “We’re able to retain more of our staff than we have in recent years because we need to support that channel.”

Earlier this year, Philadelphia Candies was named one of eBay’s Shine Award winners, which recognize “the most inspirational sellers” on the website. The company was one of eight winners, beating out some 1,600 other nominees. 

“I was able to fly out to Las Vegas and meet with the CEO. He tried some of our chocolates, which he loved, of course,” Macris says.

John and Spyros Macris are the third and second generation of the family to run Philadelphia Candies.

Just ahead of Cyber Monday, the 50-person staff at Philadelphia Candies who work at its Hermitage production center and stores in Hermitage and Boardman, Ohio, were busy preparing everything customers could demand. In-store sales were slated for Thanksgiving weekend, while the warehouse was busy preparing the orders that go out of the company daily.

The big weekend concludes today with the launch of its Candy-dates line, chocolate representations of President Donald Trump and Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. 

The holiday season, Macris notes, is when the company is at its busiest, with “up to and over 100 [shipments] per day.

“We’re shipping both consumer and B2B orders here, as well as a select number of wholesale customers. We do ship to all 50 states, Canada and a few customers in the UK,” he says. “Our [chocalate] eggs, especially in the springtime, are popular in western Europe. We’ve shipped to Germany, England and France. The creams are really popular internationally and a lot of customers say they compare favorably to their domestic products.”

The Candy-dates line was introduced in 2016 and returns to the Philadelphia Candies stores Dec. 2. Here, John Macris displays the Bernie Sanders chocolate.

The company acquired its trademark with the European Union about three years ago, he notes, and is currently working through the same process in Canada. 

The recipes for such products are largely in line with what the company’s founders, Greek immigrant brothers John, Jim and Louie Macris – Philadelphia is Greek for “brotherly love,” the current John Macris observes – created in 1919. When Macris was remodeling his office earlier this year, he found a copy of the original formula for Philadelphia’s pecanettes.

“We were making them 100 years ago fundamentally the same way we are today,” he says, including making caramel from scratch. “That’s something special. It’s something timeless that’s been passed on.”

There’s often a nostalgia factor that contributes to sales, says Spyros Macris, president of Philadelphia Candies. It’s especially strong around holidays, as families reunite from near and far.

“People have said to me that it’s not Easter without Philadelphia Candies even though they live in Arizona. Like any other thing you want to buy, [the internet] makes it very easy to buy,” he says. 

James Stenander is part of the team responsible for shipping 100-plus orders per day. Those that come through the eBay storefront are given a special sticker (inset).

But those old recipes and longtime customers don’t mean everything is written in stone at the chocolatier. Earlier this year, the company introduced two new varieties of dark chocolate: 72% and 90%. Each is available as bark, with inclusions like coffee and cranberry available. 

The 72% dark chocolate, John Macris notes, also available as a bar, with $1 from each sale through the end of the year donated to the American Heart Association. Dark chocolate between 70% and 85% has been linked to improved blood flow, a lower risk of atrial fibrillation and can help control cholesterol levels.

“We have a 72% dark chocolate bar that was designed according to Cleveland Clinic guidelines,” he says. “That 72% has just the right amount of cocoa solids while maintaining that chocolate flavor. Above that, it gets quite bitter and you lose some of the mouthfeel.”

During the holidays, the retail stores also keep a stock of prewrapped boxes of chocolates and candies. All purchases can also be gift-wrapped, John Macris adds, an offering created as an extra layer of customer service.

“These are our all-time best-sellers for assorted chocolates,” he says, gesturing to a display of prewrapped boxes in the Hermitage store. “They’re grab-and-go, so you can come into our Boardman store or Hermitage store and pick up a box with gift wrap and a bow. … Maybe they need a last-minute gift. You can come in, make a choice and be out in a couple minutes.”

With the combination of in-store service and the online storefront, Macris sees new ways for the company, founded in 1919, to stay relevant and expand its customer base. The expansion to eBay’s small-business platform helped Philadelphia Candies maintain more staff during the summer than previous years, he says, to keep up with demand that usually drops off during warmer weather.

“EBay’s been a great partner to us. Our success is their success; they don’t compete with us for customers,” Macris says. “They don’t introduce private label versions of our product or try to mimic it to take business away from us. It’s truly a one-on-one relationship.”

And as eBay works its way through an online retail world thoroughly dominated by Amazon, the company has invested heavily in fostering small businesses. In addition to helping companies established storefronts on the site, eBay last year launched its Retail Revival program in Akron and Warren to help companies in the cities better use technologies at their disposal.

“Small businesses like Philadelphia Candies are at the heart of eBay and bring unique inventory to our marketplace for our millions of buyers,” says Marni Levine, eBay vice president of seller operations and engagement. “We are committed to providing business owners the tools and technologies they need to grow and thrive.”

Moving the business from a primarily brick-and-mortar retail operation to one that adds in digital shopping hasn’t been a simple task, Macris says, but it’s one that was necessary for the 100-year-old candy maker.

“It’s taken thousands of hours of work on my part. It’s not something you can do overnight. There have been many late evenings and early mornings,” he says. “EBay does provide the tools to help you with your business, so I don’t want to send the message that it’s too difficult. But it always takes effort to grow and expand.”

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.