Expanding the Corporate Sweet Spot
Written by: Neil Cote
Having honed his business acumen in private equity, Lance P. Stier learned early how to hedge bets. There’s always risk in mergers and acquisitions, but diversification generally stands the test of time, he says.
In 2009 he brought that mindset to the family business, Nassau Candy, then primarily a Long Island-based wholesale manufacturer and distributor of specialty sweets run by his father, Les Stier, and uncle, Barry Rosenbaum. Since then, it’s much diversified, acquiring other companies and opening what’s become a thriving customization products business, NC Custom.
“I left the private equity business to learn from the people I love how to operate and lead a company,” the friendly Stier tells Terra Firm in October as operations rev up for the always-busy holiday season. “They chartered a pretty good path for me to follow.”
He’s blazing his own trail as a co-owner and head of business development while three brothers also have roles: Travis in distribution, Spencer in gourmet foods and Garrett in manufacturing. His cousin, Jordan, is also active in sales. How helpful they all have been, he says, in assisting him in in-house and M&A growth while overseeing new lines, some of which have exceeded expectations for reasons nobody could have anticipated.
Case in point: the Lanco Corp. acquisition of 2018 as part of NC Custom.
A healthy move
That would have seemed an advantageous transaction at any time, Lanco having 3,000 products that includes sweets, apparel and health and beauty aids. How those health aids would prove indispensable come March 2020.
As Stier explains, around 10 percent of Lanco’s sales had come from hand sanitizers, but when COVID-19 arrived, it could no longer get the bottles it needed to package and sell it. That’s something its new parent company, Nassau Candy, and the team, quickly solved.
“We had a good inventory of [plastic] film, and as other companies were struggling for bottles, we produced the gel packets and set up a national network of co-packers,” he explains from Nassau Candy’s headquarters in Hicksville, New York. “Once the supply chain for bottles reactivated, we were ready to pick up with the bottle business.”
The product in much demand from the get-go, NC Custom took it to a new level, branding those FDA-licensed packets and bottles on behalf of corporate clientele that included banks, retailers and transit. The national parks being the exception to an otherwise collapsed tourist industry, NC Custom enabled companies to literally get their names into the hands of countless potential customers.
“We’ve always had a fundamental belief to grow the businesses we merged with,” says Stier, who’s played a prominent role in around 20 acquisitions during the past dozen years, along with each of his brothers. “Some of our clients have grown to become national players.”
Nassau Candy grows with them, the company having assembled the facilities for NC Custom to serve a greater clientele through logo and graphic design for apparel, hard goods, edibles, accessories and other items. The company also has opened distribution centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas to augment its bases in New York, Florida and Michigan.
“We believe we can be a value-add partner to our customers during a very challenging time,” Stier says. “Our customization business has been a real strength, as has the distribution business across specialty grocery and manufacturing in the mass markets.”
Diversification drives success
The candy and gourmet food lines certainly haven’t suffered during the pandemic and with more clients in need of marketing savvy, NC Custom keeps busy.
“It’s one of the beauties of the diversified business model,” he says. “As some lines struggle, others pick up the slack.”
As for how to sustain growth, Stier says it’s about finding specialists for whatever new area the company undertakes. Another strategy is taking a traditional product and reformatting it. And father seems to know best.
“He always says, ‘you don’t have the market on good ideas or creativity,’” he says of his mentor, Les Stier. “You need other smart people to grow your business.”
Stier has earned his creds since coming to the family business after stepping away from the private equity world. A 2004 University of Pennsylvania graduate who’s now enhancing his executive skills through online courses at the Harvard Business School, Stier worked for Lehman Brothers and a pair of multibillion dollar private equity funds, Wellspring Capital Management and Paine & Partners, prior to Nassau Candy.
Should he want an in-depth letterhead, it might well consume half a page, Stier being CEO of, at last count, four company entities under the NC Custom banner: Chocolate Inn/Lanco, AmuseMints Sweets & Snacks, ACE USA and Shoreline. Nassau Candy always looking for new partners, that list could grow.
That should keep Stier quite busy, but he won’t neglect his roles as a husband and father. He met his wife, Rachel, at the University of Pennsylvania, and she went on to graduate New York University School of Law and founded the software company EmCard+, along with her own customization business, It’s Your World, along with her sister-in-law, Allison.
When not riding horses or playing tennis, 8-year-old daughter Lizzie has been manufacturing hot cocoa bombs—a new not-for-profit business “Kid in a Candy Store: Community Edition” which she has spearheaded with her father’s help. Proceeds go to Supplies for Success, an education-based charity.
Five-year-old son Ethan gives indication of being a baseball player, with his father as coach. He also enjoys soccer, tennis, basketball, flag football and drawing. Then there’s another daughter, 3-year-old Lucy, who’s into everything and anything, including the latest dance moves.
“Family’s most important and then comes community,” says Stier. “I’m blessed at home and at work.”