The Candyman

A Sweet Situation

27-year-old son faithfully continues family business of distributing snack, pop and candy products to New Ulm-area customers.

Photo by Kris Kathmann

It’s a blazing hot summer afternoon. Not a single cloud in the sky and not even the tiniest hint of relief in the thick breeze moving through the air. Outside the door of a pole barn on the shadeless side of Valley Street in New Ulm, temperatures are soaring above 90 degrees. But inside the barn, which serves as Jeremy Drexler’s shop, it is comfortably cool.

Drexler has no alternative but to run the air conditioner full blast on days like these. If he didn’t, almost his entire inventory would be lost—melted, actually, into sticky piles of sugar and gobs of gooey chocolate. The candyman, you see, must always keep his cool. And Jeremy Drexler, the 27-year-old native of Searles, Minn., is indeed The Candyman.

Drexler officially accepted the title in January 2005, when he took over the candy, snack and pop distribution business that his father, Al Drexler, started back in 1992. Now he’s the one hauling candy bars and Pepsi products to vending machines, concession stands, bars and other businesses within a 25-mile radius of his pole barn in New Ulm. He’s the one taking orders for Tootsie Rolls to be tossed at summer parades. He’s the one wearing the white T-shirt with the bright red Candyman logo, towing a trailer emblazoned with the same eight letters.

“Everybody knows me as The Candyman,” Drexler laughs. “A name like that makes you pretty popular.”

But Drexler isn’t trying to win any popularity contests. He’s trying to make a living running his own small business. And on a day like this, his living depends on keeping the candy cool.

“I’ve got the air conditioner running pretty much constantly,” he admits. “And the dehumidifier—I’ve probably emptied it twice a day. I’ve got to keep it nice and cool in there.”

Al Drexler started The Candyman in 1992. He had been a farmer forever, it seemed, and it was time for a change. So he bought a small snack business. Soon, he was filling many of the candy machines in and around New Ulm. For ten years, he did it all on his own until he found himself sick and in need of surgery. So he asked son Jeremy, at the time a student at Minnesota State University in Mankato, if he could help. Jeremy dropped out of school to come home and drive his dad’s truck.

“I basically learned everything on the fly,” Jeremy Drexler remembers now. “Dad took me out the week before he had surgery so I could learn the route. That was about it.”

Jeremy was only intending to stay with the business long enough for his father to recuperate. He was two years into his college education and intended to continue studying elementary education so he could one day be a teacher. But before long, being The Candyman took precedence. “At the time that I quit school, I really thought that it would be for just a short time,” he says. “But then I just fell in love with this job.”

What’s not to love? He sets his own hours—usually starting his day around 6:00 or 6:30 a.m. and wrapping it up between two and three in the afternoon, which allows him to help coach the football, basketball and baseball teams at his alma mater, Cathedral High School in New Ulm. He’s his own boss, which means he gets to choose the radio station that plays in his truck during his daily drives. And in the process of doing his job, he gets enough exercise to keep him in fighting shape.

So when the opportunity arose to take over the business, he decided to go for it. Although he had little business experience and no expertise to speak of, he was up for the challenge. “I was very excited about it,” he remembers. “I don’t know how ready I was, really, but I knew that if I had questions, my dad would still be around.”

And he still is. Although the elder Drexler stays out of the day-to-day operations of The Candyman, Inc., he’s always available to give his son advice or help out with a service call when needed. “He likes to throw ideas at me,” Jeremy says. “He’ll give me ideas for public relations stuff and help me handle certain situations. And he likes to give me his advice.”

For the most part, however, Jeremy is doing just fine on his own. The business, he says, is pretty much “maxed out.” Although he’s always open to calls from new clients—he’s brought on about 15 since taking over almost two years ago—he wants to be sure to take care of the almost 150 customers already on his list. “I’ll always listen,” he says. “If I can help them out, I will. Or I’ll send them somewhere else, somewhere I know they’ll get good service. My priority is to take care of the people in and around New Ulm. I don’t want to get so big that I can’t do that.”

Nor does he want to get so busy that he can’t stop and chat with friends and acquaintances along his daily routes. He rarely goes more than ten minutes without making a stop and never gets through a day without stopping to talk for a few minutes along the way. “Especially at the concession stands,” he reports. “They always like to talk sports, and so do I.”

But even when he’s deep in discussion, Drexler has an eye on the time. He’s gotten his routes down to such a science that he tries to be at the same places at the same times each day. “I get irritated with myself when I’m running ten minutes behind,” he admits. “Even though it probably doesn’t matter to anyone else, I just get used to being at certain places at certain times.”

There is one small complication in being The Candyman: the candy. Boxes of sugary tidbits and cases of candy bars, not to mention beef sticks, sunflower seeds, chips and popcorn, are always around. And so is the temptation to try a bite or two.

“It was dangerous at first,” Drexler admits. “I definitely have a chocolate fetish.”

But now Drexler walks among the boxes of sweet confections without flinching. On any given day, there may be upwards of 50 different varieties of candy in his shop. Tootsie Pops, M&Ms, Tootie Frooties, Snickers and Twix bars—none of them even make his mouth water anymore. “Once you look at the same stuff all day every day, you kind of lose your appetite for it,” he admits. “I don’t even think about it anymore. I’d much rather go to a local bar and have their home-cooked special for lunch than eat any of my candy.”

The good news is that plenty of other people still want to eat his candy. Besides the regular clients that he visits each week, he also fills a number of special orders. He trades bags of candy for airtime on such local radio stations as KNUJ in New Ulm and KXLP in Mankato. In his shop on this particular July day, there are 11 cases of Tootsie Rolls that will be thrown on the ground by the staff of New Ulm Telecom at an upcoming parade. He also supplies sweets and snacks to graduation parties, family reunions and other gatherings. “We try to accommodate as many requests as we can,” he says. “But if someone could get it cheaper somewhere else, I’ll tell them. Sometimes it just makes more sense if they go to Target and get it themselves.”

The more he sells, of course, the more he makes. Competition within the candy, snack and pop business is fairly fierce; there’s no wiggle room to mark up prices in an effort to increase profits. Instead, Drexler has to think in terms of volume: more clients, buying more products. “I can’t compete with the bigger distributors in terms of price,” he says. “So my profit comes from volume. I have to stay competitive and keep my prices reasonable, but ultimately, it’s about selling more product to more clients.”

But that’s not all that drives Drexler. There’s also the sheer satisfaction of being The Candyman. Drexler knows that many people are intrigued by both his title and job. “But mostly,” he says, “I get grief about the fact that I don’t have to work very hard. And anybody who says that just has to ride along with me one day to see how hard I work. It isn’t easy moving 200 cases of pop.”

Which reminds him of the one thing he doesn’t love so much about his job: hauling 100 cases of pop around on 95-degree days. That, and the paperwork. “That’s my least favorite thing to do,” he admits. “But really, it’s pretty minor stuff.”

The Candyman Can

When Jeremy Drexler enrolled at Minnesota State University Mankato, his plan was to pursue a degree in elementary education. He wanted to be a teacher, he says, because he wanted to work with kids.

“I’ve always had a connection with kids,” Drexler says. “I think that’s what drew me toward teaching. Kids have always liked me, and I really like them too.”

Drexler temporarily gave up his dream of teaching when he came home to New Ulm to help his father with The Candyman business. Now that he’s taken over the company, he’s not sure if he’ll go back to finish his degree. “My dad and I have talked about that,” he says. “Maybe someday I will. I can always go back. But right now, I love what I do. I’m very content doing this.”

Although he’s no longer on the teaching track, Drexler has made it a priority to stay involved with kids. That’s one of the reasons he continues to coach at Cathedral High School. And it’s one of the biggest benefits of being “The Candyman.”

“I’ve always related well to kids,” he says. “It’s even easier now that I’m The Candyman—especially when I have a bunch of suckers in my hands.”

Coach Candyman

Almost daily at 3 p.m., Jeremy Drexler trades titles. For a few hours, instead of being The Candyman he becomes The Coach. He runs drills with the football team. He practices three-pointers with the girls’ basketball team. And he pitches batting practice for the baseball team.

The hours he spends working with high school athletes are among his favorite hours of the week.

“I really love it,” he says. “I’ve been coaching for a long time. I did some junior high teams right away when I graduated from high school and have just worked my way up. Now, I’ve been an assistant coach on all three teams—football, basketball and baseball.”

His goal, he says, is to earn a head coaching position someday, preferably for the basketball or baseball teams. And definitely, he says, at New Ulm Cathedral High School, where he himself was once a three-sport athlete. “That’s really the only place I want to coach,” he says. “I love it there. I love the people there.”

Drexler makes regular visits to his alma mater even when he’s not coaching: the school is one of his customers. “I fill their candy machines,” he says.

Well Adjusted Lifestyle

Every day is different for The Candyman. Jeremy Drexler has a different route each day, each one carefully mapped out to be as efficient as possible.

Mondays, for example, start with an early morning stop to fill the vending machines at the Vogel Fieldhouse in New Ulm. Then he drives up to the hospital to replenish the supply of candy and chips at the gift shop. Next comes a stop by the Liquor Mart, where he leaves a fresh batch of cigarettes before heading out to fill several small vending machines in town. By early afternoon, he’s made his way to New Ulm’s downtown, where he stops to service several bars.

On Tuesdays, he drives down to Mankato to make his weekly pickup from Hermel, the candy and snack distributor from whom he gets most of his product. Once his trailer is loaded, he drives back toward New Ulm, making several stops in Nicollet, Courtland and Cambria along the way.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, he circles around the city, restocking concession stands at ballparks, filling candy machines in company breakrooms, and dropping off snack foods and munchies at small-town bars.

Fridays, he says, are slow days. He stays at the shop to catch up on paperwork and organize for the coming week. Hermel makes a delivery, which he arranges on the shelves of the shop and in the back of his trailer. And then, sometimes, he has time to check in with his chiropractor.

“This job can be hard on the knees and the back,” Drexler admits. “It all depends on if you do it right. You have to lift with your legs. But sometimes I forget. So I see my chiropractor every now and then.”

Tacos In A Bag

Jeremy Drexler sells lots of Doritos. If there’s one thing he can count on, it’s calls all year long for cases and cases of individual bags of Doritos. And he knows why. “Tacos in a bag,” he says knowingly. “Everyone wants tacos in a bag.”

He’s right. Tacos in a bag are simple, delicious and the perfect refreshment for almost any large gathering. All you need is taco meat, lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheese—and, of course, Doritos. Crush the chips, open the bag and load in the toppings. The whole thing is eaten out of the bag.

“They’re so simple,” Drexler says. “All you need is a fork and a napkin. That’s it. I get a lot of calls for Doritos.”

© 2006 Connect Business Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Sara Gilbert Frederick

A freelance writer from Mankato.

3 thoughts on “The Candyman

  • August 9, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I love to read small business success stories. It seems like there are so many opportunities out there to build success through your own small business. Good for Jeremy that he is able to find something that he enjoys doing and make a living from it.

  • November 22, 2009 at 11:04 am

    A real nice feature about the snack business! My father in Fairmont, Mn did it for a number years as Chris Sales. I have subscribed to your magazine as a result. Thanks

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