How Two Friends Built a Gourmet Licorice Business Together

By Lynne Strang, Late Blooming Entrepreneurs

Elizabeth Erlandson and Ardith Stuertz

Elizabeth Erlandson and Ardith Stuertz

Some of the entertainment industry’s biggest hits have been about enduring friendships.  Like Laverne and Shirley.  Thelma and Louise.  Kate and Allie.  And of course, Lucy and Ethel.

Now, meet Elizabeth and Ardith.  They haven’t received any television or movie offers (yet), but they’re enjoying life as best friends and business partners.

Known locally as “The Licorice Ladies,” Elizabeth Erlandson and Ardith Stuertz own Licorice International, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based business that ships 10,000 candy orders annually and has an almost equal number of in-store sales. With 160 types from 14 countries, Erlandson and Stuertz have the largest selection of imported licorice in the U.S.

Licorice International’s clientele tends to be older and includes some candy lovers with childhood memories of buying real licorice from the corner drugstore (most “licorice” candy sold in the U.S. these days actually gets its flavor from anise).

“Nostalgia is the real product we offer our customers,” says Erlandson. “They’re 70 when they walk in the door and they’re 10 when they walk out.”

Fundamentals for Success

The co-owners attribute their business achievements to their strong work ethic and a desire to learn, as well as prudent fiscal management and a good staff (they have five full-time and four part-time employees).  In addition, both had good mentors earlier in their careers and came from entrepreneurial families.

At the heart of their success, however, is the fact that these friends – who have known each other for 22 years — work well together and have complimentary strengths.  Erlandson has marketing and communications expertise cultivated from 25 years as a professional writer.  Stuertz worked for 23 years with a heavy construction equipment auction company, where she was responsible for the accounting and human resources departments.

“We admire and respect each other and know each other’s core values,” says Erlandson. “If one of us doesn’t want to do something, we don’t do it.”

“Money is not at the bottom of it.  Our friendship is core,” adds Stuertz.

Making It Happen

For several years, Erlandson and Stuertz had a tradition of meeting on New Year’s Eve to map a strategic plan for the coming year.  That exercise led to their first joint venture:  a consulting practice that provided fundraising, administrative and other support for non-profits.

While the practice lasted only 12 months, it served an important purpose. “Without that experience of working together for a year, we would not have succeeded later,” says Erlandson.

At ages 52 and 57 respectively, Erlandson and Stuertz became Licorice International’s owners when they bought the mail order business from New York confectioner Larry Ring in 2002.  They moved the company’s headquarters from Manhattan to their hometown of Lincoln, where they developed a website and began filling orders from their homes.

It didn’t take long for their business to flourish.  By mid-2003, orders reached a level where the owners needed more space.  Within three and a half years, Licorice International moved three times, adding a retail operation along the way.  Its current location is a 4,450 square-foot facility with a store upfront.

Since its launch ten years ago, the company has had its ups and downs.  While the recession affected its Internet business considerably, the retail shop has grown consistently.  It now provides approximately 40% of total sales, which have increased five fold since the business moved to its first commercial location in 2003.

“We were able to start very economically by running the business out of our homes,” says Stuertz.  “Since we weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, we did not go into debt and used personal resources.  It was a very wise thing.”

A Can-Do Attitude

Going forward, Erlandson and Stuertz want to extend to younger markets, so they’ve begun adding product variations that appeal to families with children.  They also plan to grow their current selection of gluten-free and sugar-free treats to accommodate more people with special dietary needs.

Now in their 60s, The Licorice Ladies say they have no current plans to retire and are “in it for the long term.”  Given their can-do attitude, there’s no reason to doubt them.

“We are both big thinkers,” says Erlandson.  “Between the two of us, we can implement just about anything.”

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About Lynne Strang

I'm a writer who blogs about 40-and-older business owners. I am also the author of "Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40." Outside of work, I enjoy reading, cooking, vegetable gardening and exercise (especially cycling).
This entry was posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

105 Responses to How Two Friends Built a Gourmet Licorice Business Together

  1. My mother would love this! Just went to their site. Every page looks delicious and yes, even healthy with delight. You bring up the most interesting partnerships and ideas.

  2. lbstrang says:

    Thank you, Georgette. One other tidbit to mention: Licorice International’s best seller is Kookaburra, which is from Australia.

  3. Such an inspirational story. I love the clear sense of mission that Elizabeth and Ardith have. It’s great to see their appreciation of each other’s strengths and their focus on friendship first. You’ve done a wonderful job illustrating the partnership as well as the wise decisionmaking on the financial front.

  4. Pingback: Details Licorice Five

  5. abactuna says:

    Very good effort. Keep it up. Best of luck.

  6. April F says:

    Reblogged this on CE and commented:
    Isn’t this what America is made of? A story that will be told for generations!

    • lbstrang says:

      Even in a struggling economy, creating a successful business remains a primary goal for many Americans –and for people all over the world. Thanks for the reblog!

  7. wanderfool says:

    Great article. I am a first time visitor to your blog and find this story a unique way to highlight achievements of risk takers. This surely is big motivation for many others 🙂

  8. so good to have friends who are willing to work together on something they are passionate about. I am still looking for that friend who will do that with me 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  9. Heide Kley says:

    This “late” entrepreneurship is really great!!!!

  10. aFrankAngle says:

    Thanks to the ladies for doing their part of “Long Live Licorice”.

  11. Vividhunter says:

    That’s awesome. A smart business idea, based on friendship, respect and careful finances, now employing 9 other people. Great stuff~

  12. This is extremely inspirational to me. I am a young baker myself, and have often dreamed of starting up my own bakery business. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful life experience, it has truly motivated me. Thank you!

  13. lbstrang says:

    You’re welcome. I hope you pursue your dream!

  14. Your story was a Burst of inspiration for me…Thanks for sharing!!!!! 🙂

    • lbstrang says:

      You’re welcome. While I’m sure it’s hard work, I imagine the soap business provides opportunities for fun and creative marketing. Thanks for reading.

  15. urbannight says:

    This is one of my favorite stores! I don’t get there often because I live in another city. I know I could order online, but I have trouble remembering the types of licorice I really like unless I see it and sometimes have to sample it to make sure it is the correct one. Some types that taste different look alike. I’ve been wanting to make another trip down to Lincoln soon. Just to go there!

  16. urbannight says:

    Reblogged this on Urbannight's Blog and commented:
    This is my favorite shop in Lincoln NE!

  17. lbstrang says:

    I haven’t been to Lincoln — but from the photos, it looks like Licorice International has a beautiful storefront. Thanks for the reblog.

  18. What a great story and I love the fact that they are proof that a can-do attitude can achieve anything whatever age you are. Inspirational.

    • lbstrang says:

      While other things need to be part of the mix, the right attitude does have a lot to do with your odds for success. Thanks for commenting.

  19. Reblogged this on Dermatology Tami and commented:
    Amazing, and beautiful thank you for sharing your story~ Tami

  20. skip hire says:

    It’s never too late to start a new adventure! 🙂 Good on you.

  21. Me again….just had a look at their website.I love it. Such a great idea to capture the licorice market.

  22. Lotto Results says:

    Very inspiring story! Thanks for sharing.

  23. let's go crabbing mum says:

    Reblogged this on let's go crabbing mum.

  24. KarenCooking says:

    Really enjoyed this story and what it represents . . . so much so I shared on my Facebook page. Nice article!

  25. Like a fine wine or in your case licorice, some business models take time to develop. My book and business didn’t happen until later in life but everything I had done before made what I’m doing now so much better. Brava ladies!

  26. Though I’m not over 40, I am inspired by older folks giving new things a go. My Grandmother began learning the keyboard at 60. I look forward to what I might be starting at 60!

  27. It’s wonderful to read that a new phase in your life can begin at any age. And congrats on being freshly pressed.

  28. lbstrang says:

    The best part is that it may not be just one new phase. Sometimes people go through several, even when they’re past an age once considered “old.”

  29. Cora Vasseur says:

    I opened a loose leaf tea shop with my mom. It’ll be our one year anniversary in June. I found this very encouraging and nice.

  30. This is a wonderful place and the licorice is amazing! If you’ve never been to downtown Lincoln, I recommend going and checking it out! Thanks for covering this great store…

  31. Joe Labriola says:

    Wow, sounds like difficult work. Licorice doesn’t come easy!

  32. Feit Can Write says:

    Licorice International is one of Lincoln’s retail gems – a unique shop that few cities worldwide can claim. The ladies do an excellent job running the store (just TRY to get out of there without sampling many delicious varieties) and are very friendly and knowledgable.

    Thank you for shining a spotlight on a true success story!

  33. fireandair says:

    Makes me think of my dad. He LOVED licorice … 🙂

  34. Not only is this a good post, but a smart business move.. Lots of international exposure. Congrats!

    • lbstrang says:

      International exposure is a very good thing, especially when your business has the word “international” in its name. Thanks for commenting.

  35. nazarioartpainting says:

    Wow. Nice

  36. This is a wonderful story! Congrats

  37. lbstrang says:

    Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading.

  38. twintrons says:

    Goes to show you, age is just a number. And, with the economy in the stinker, you ladies weathered the storm. Nicely done! I applaud your tireless efforts. ~Josh

  39. Go girls! Love to hear of us later bloomers doing so well – hard work I know but fantastic. Well done.

    • lbstrang says:

      As another entrepreneur told me recently, the hard challenges are good challenges when you love what you’re doing. Thank you for commenting.

  40. Kiprotich says:

    Awesome great spirit. – kiprotich, Canada

  41. Kiprotich says:

    Reblogged this on Creative Writing – Composed by: Kiprotich Arap Rut and commented:
    It is never too late, to be who your born to be.

  42. Tynesha says:

    Wow. This is such an inspirational story. I mean who ever would have thought about creating healthy candy. It’s awesome. I love the fact that she said their customers come into the store age 75 and leave being 10. That was adorable.

    Thanks for sharing and Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  43. Excellent story! I’ve been to Licorice International and have sampled(and bought) so much licorice that reminded me of my childhood. It is a wonderful store!

  44. Captivating Lingerie Boutique says:

    Congrats! great post…Best of wishes with your goals

  45. lijiujiu says:

    An inspirational story. I appreciate your efforts behind that. Have a great day!

  46. leowfactor says:

    What an amazing story! It’s not only inspirational to read about business success which has grown organically like this, but to read about such a strong and enduring friendship! Thanks for sharing!

  47. edgeledge says:

    Next time I come to the US I will have to try your liquorice, I am a liquorice fatale, my one and only vice…from sambucca to liquorice roots to bullets and soft eating liquorice I just love, love, love liquorice..
    Great story, thanks for sharing, and congratulations on all of your successes.
    \

    • lbstrang says:

      From what others have written, Licorice International’s brick-and-mortar location is an enjoyable place to visit. You can also order online, or course. Thanks for commenting.

  48. shannmark says:

    what an enjoyable story to read! Congratulations on your success and best of luck as you continue to grow your business! Now I am hungry for licorice and will be checking out your website! 🙂

  49. Rebekah says:

    That’s awesome. It’s never too late to begin anything! Good for you Licorice Ladies!

  50. Ben Erickson says:

    Hurrah & Huzzah! This type of story just pumps us right up! Success for the little guy (er… girl) Risk taking can pay off and this just acts to encourage it!

  51. I love this I recently came up with an idea for our blog greenbackgrazers with a friend as the result of a financial crisis in our lives and our goal is to make a business out of it as well. Any advice? I love that you put your friendship first. If you have time I’d love for you to take a look at ours. Thanks a million and congrats on you amazing business! You go girls! I am going to check out your site now:)

  52. What a wonderful story. I love that they are keeping traditional licorice alive.

  53. Wow, such an inspiration! Especially for those of us just starting out with our business. Me personally? A little apprehensive and nervous. But reading this post helps me regain some lost courage. Great story!

  54. Thank you for the encouragement! I run my own Scentsy business and have struggled with getting it off the ground. This gave me some inspiration! Ordering some licorice tonight!!!

  55. Alyssa says:

    I really love the candies featured on your online store. By the way, I found this post on freshly pressed. Congrats! 🙂

  56. ConfusedDi says:

    This is my 1st drop by visit and may I say : Great Post ! Well done!

  57. lovethehomeyfeeling says:

    Such an inspiring story! Really emphasizes the importance of friendship which has kind of disappeared in the past years with such a strong emphasis of revenues as the priority of businesses. 🙂

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