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“Sweets gave me a purpose”: How’s founder whipped up sweet success online – and why the business saved his life

William Hale -

Wilmslow-based online sweets store has proven to be a recipe for success for its young founder, who has now discovered the sweet side of life.

Founded in 2020 by William Hale, the business generated revenues over £1.15m last year selling around 100,000 bags of handpicked sweets online.

But in 2014, Hale was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a mental health condition where an individual may experience intrusive or obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

After dropping out of school at 16 when his battle with OCD left him housebound, he went on to build up a successful career as a web designer and developer and set up Milkshake Creative, an inclusive company shaped around his struggles which had started to become more manageable. Business was “booming” after he shared his OCD journey on Channel 5’s documentary series My Extreme OCD Life.

But things suddenly came to a halt when businesses stopped investing in new websites during the pandemic. By the end of 2020, he had attempted to take his life twice.

“When the pandemic hit, I developed depression,” he tells Prolific North.

“It led to suicide attempts. It really was a difficult time for me. I was stuck at home, trying to work on websites. With everything that was going on in the world, I was just in pieces. I needed a much bigger project to try and sink my teeth into and just distract myself from this never-ending cycle of depression, and then back to OCD.

“I just thought that was it – my mental health was in tatters forever. I tried everything, nothing worked.”

After seeking support for his mental health and looking for a distraction, he spotted a gap in the market for an online sweets store. Although you’ll now find plenty of pick and mix style shops online, only a handful were around during the early days of

“Setting up the sweets business was a way to completely distract myself and give me something to focus on,” he explains.

“As we went into the first lockdown, all the corner shops selling pick and mix were all forced to close. A virtual pick and mix shop had never been done before. 

“I used my know-how with building websites to then create a virtual sweet shop. That’s where it all started.”

Within a few days, armed with 150 different variations of sweets from Haribo to fizzy cherries, his new online business was already up and running and he moved quickly to fight off competition.

“It is quite an easy business to get into because there aren’t many liabilities when it comes to a sweets business. The worst case scenario is if you don’t sell a sweet, you can just eat them!

“For me, it’s all about the experience. I want it to feel like they’re in an old fashioned sweet shop. We try to stay above all the competition by keeping the website as modern, as accessible as possible. That’s where buying the domain name came in, because there are a lot of other businesses starting in this industry now. Buying made it very clear!”

With seven staff, the business now has a warehouse in Northwich which houses around two tonnes of sweets every week. Although the company is listed as the very first online pick and mix store after a quick Google search, not having a physical presence comes with its challenges too.

“Advertising can be a killer. We are reliant on all of these platforms generating business, rather than having a physical presence. That’s always something we have to watch out for by making sure we’re bringing in the right amount of business.”

With future plans to ship to the EU – pending Brexit shipping troubles – and to take into mini pop-up shops across shopping centres, he reflects on how crucial the business has been in transforming his own life.

“Sweets have given me a purpose. Having a business that’s grown over time feels rewarding and I think, whilst I’ve been distracted with the business and when I look back and think about how bad I was, it helps just knowing that all of that hard work has paid off.

“It has lifted me out of a hole that I was in with my mental health and it’s just carried on getting better and better.”

He hopes by sharing his own struggles with OCD and depression, it’ll help others in a similar position.

“That’s why I’m quite open about talking about mental health because I really didn’t see a way out of it. Then this was the thing that did it for me.

“Having people to listen to and hearing other people talk about it, to know that it is okay and can happen to anyone, it does help. Every time I read a story about someone that’s had a difficult time with mental health and overcame that barrier, it does give me a boost. The more business owners that talk about mental health, the better it can be.

“If it helps, even one person out there by listening to this story, I’ve done my job.”

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