If anyone that is currently in business would be so kind as to answerthese questions, your answers would be so helpful to those of usstarting out! No dollar amounts are needed unless you are comfortablesharing, as they can be so helpful!
1. How did you get into chocolate and when did you actually start your business?
2. What was your original strategy?
3. How did that change and why?
4. What did you think would happen vs what really happened?
5. What is your vision?
6. Who is your target market?
7. How did you figure out how much money you needed to start?
8. Was it enough?
9. How long did you think it would carry you? Did it? If not, why?
10. How long before you were in the black?
11. What was the best advice you received regarding your business?
12. What are the most important lessons you learned about the business side?
13. How big a price did you have to pay to learn that?
14. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
15. What do you like the most and the least about your job/business? Was that a surprise?
updated by @shelley-fields: 06/25/15 08:00:16PM
Working Chocolatier Q&A
"Make products to your exact taste... if someone else doesn't like it, they are not your customer, failing to adhere to this and you're just a whore, the industry would be better served without you. If you love it, really love it, it is not possible for it to be a bad product, no matter what anyone else thinks."I really but really like this paragraph.
1. For me, it all began with the bees. My husband and I decided to become beekeepers. I ran into a problem feeding the bees. Standard operating procedure is to feed them sugar water. Problem is if bees aren't careful, they will drown. I started experimenting with making a solid honey and sugar based candy I could insert into the hive. I made hard candy. And while the bees couldn't benefit from it, it tasted good. I handed out pieces to people, just to get rid of it. My brother stated, "This is really good, it needs a stick." Thus I began to make honey lollipops and selling them at the local farmer's market. After a few weeks, I got the comment, "You know, if you were selling chocolate, I'd buy it." Thus, my fate was sealed. LOL I began experimenting with truffles and found out I love making candy. I still make the lollies as well as my chocolates. I've added pralines and caramels. There is more in the works. I made an official business out of it 2 years ago. Fortunately, I can, in my neck of the woods, do this from my home. I also am unusual in that I am supported by my husband while I make a go of this.2. My original strategy was to sell at the farmer's market and local craft fairs. The response has been positive, but it's certainly not enough to make a living at it.3. I am finding that selling that way is not enough. I am currently looking into what it would take to do the business online as well. The funding required for a brick and mortar retail location is beyond my budget. Since my initial investment, I am strictly a bootstrap operation.4. Other than the dearth of craft shows for 6 months out of the year, things have gone pretty much as expected. I have, during the time when I have no external venue available, taken to going "door to door" at local businesses with my brochure and order forms. I am providing a service. They order candy for the holiday (Valentine's, Easter, Mother's Day). I make it and deliver it to their place of employment. It saves them time and I get sales. This works particularly well for Valentine's Day because then they can bring something special home for their significant other without having to go out and shop.5. My vision is a sweet shop on Main Street, 2 doors down from the theater. It would take pages to describe the whole thing. I'll just leave it at a basic level for here.6. My target market is, right now, the locals. Tho' as mentioned, I'd like to expand beyond my local area. I have regular customers who want certain items that I sell. They don't want to try anything new, they just want their coffee truffles, or their honey lollipops, or their chocolate caramels.7. Here is where I failed Business 101. I didn't figure, I guessed.8. No, it wasn't enough, but again, that was my fault because I guessed.9. While it was a bit slim, with chocolate arriving only 2 days before a craft show, and having to share booth space at craft shows, I managed. Since I only guessed, it's not really surprising.10. I'm not in the black because I can't support myself with the business yet. On paper, I'm in the black because more money is coming in than going out. But, that doesn't tell the whole story.11. Don't give your product away. Really, even to family and friends. They'll steal you blind. They come to expect that you will provide them with your product and then you'll find yourself doing them a favor and providing truffles for 200 wedding guests at their best friends wedding, free of charge. Don't do it. The only person who gets my candy without charge is my husband. Everyone wants to be taste tester. What they really want is free candy. As Robert posted, you have to please yourself, not the masses.12. See the above post. I ignored it to my detriment. I lost a lot of money letting people taste before buying.13. Fortunately, I figured this out fairly quickly and only lost a few hundred dollars worth of product rather than thousands.14. I'd have started this years ago. Making candy is so much fun. I realize it's not about art, it's about business, but I just have fun making the stuff. I also enjoy selling the candy.15. What I like the most, is, as I said, actually making the product. The house smells of caramel or chocolate or honey. I have a smile on my face and life is good. The least favorite part is keeping track of everything. And I mean everything. The bookkeeping is a chore. It's not just money in and money out. It's figuring out how much it costs to make a given batch of candy, ingredients, time, utilities. Then there is figuring taxes and as a business collecting sales tax for the state. All this has to be figured out. I always prided myself on being good with math. But, I find the whole thing tedious. And yes, that was a surprise.
In my opinion and experience (and I have a LOT of experience), if you are making confections for your own consumption I agree. However if you're making confections to earn a living, this is the absolute worst piece of advice a person could give and/or receive.Business is about money. Period. Money is made by finding out what people like, will buy, and what price they will pay, and then giving them what they like, will buy, and at the price they feel comfortable paying.Case in point: Personally, I hate coffee and anything related to it, but my customers LOVE our espresso truffle centers, made with a recipe I designed and tested on focus groups. This month my staff will most likely sell several thousand espresso truffles, and at $1.99 each I'll happily call myself a whore.Why?Because while other chocolatiers are barely scraping by, or struggling to sell their wares at every rinky dink farmer's market in their area (no offence to Debby. I added this post and then read hers below. She has some good advice!), I'll be skiing, snowmobiling, hiking, and generally enjoying life. And then when I'm done playing, I'll have enough money from whoring my espresso truffles, to pay a staff to do the grunt work of my business for me, blow on a $160 15ml bottle of Rose Atto to experiment with Turkish delight, and then maybe I'll impulse buy $1,000 worth of cool silicone molds to experiment with too, just because I can.Yup. I'm a whore, but I'm a happy whore, and I still get to make whatever I want, whenever I want, and let my staff clean up the mess!Cheers.Choklat's Happy 'Ho!
"Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." Albert EinsteinPerhaps much depends on what one considers "a satisfying and enjoyable life". And, of course, if making lots of money is the focus, why, there really are many ways of doing that..."If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut." Albert Einstein
Wow. Such rudeness.The original question was to incite advice from people to help those who are starting out in the business.I gave advice, and it's VERY GOOD advice.I love chocolate. I love making chocolate. I love the fact that people rant and rave about how good my company's products are. Just google "Choklat" and "Calgary" and you'll find hundreds of unsolicited posts of people saying it's the best they've ever had - even better than one of the most prolific chocolatiers in Canada - Bernard Callebaut. It's a feat to be proud of. In fact my little shop has been named as one of the top 25 food destinations in Calgary (a city of over a million people) for 2009, whereas Mr. Callebaut's was not.I reiterate that business is about finding out what people like, and then giving it to them.I also believe that life is about balance. As long as a person understands where the line is drawn, there's nothing wrong with making money. I've burned the candle at both ends on businesses, and have looked back at the 5 years that have passed, and asked myself: "Where did it go?"I take a very different approach now: I design the recipes. I test the recipes. I get customer acceptance (or rejection) from them. Then, I have my staff make them for the customer, and go practice a life balance exercise by playing in the mountains.A person doesn't have to make every single truffle to be equally proud of what they've created.Remember: THIS THREAD IS ABOUT HELPING PEOPLE SUCCESSFULLY SELL THEIR WARES.
Well written Robert! I went to chocolate making after burned out from the corporate world at a mature age. Guess what: I am extremely happy! 7 years part time, and 3 years full time - you start wiser. My goal is not getting rich, but recharge by giving entertainment and a fantastic product to appreciative people.I like this the most: "A spectacular product marketed averagely or worse will fail in the face of a garbage product marketed averagely or better." Just moved to Melbourne Australia after a big success in sleepy New Zealand , so I am starting again. This time in with a Fitzroy (like Tribeca in Manhattan) shop. My first shop. Yes I need my own saved money. Yes I have to work day and night again. But I intend to have "A spectacular product marketed better." Which means success to achieve a balanced goal: happiness doing artistic high quality trendsetting truffles. Watch the space for Mamor Chocolates.Good luck to start-ups. I am happy to talk to anyone - see my website. (Right now I am moving into my new abode and shop!) Hanna
If you'd like to learn a little more, here's a good video and links to others about my business. The video is at the bottom of the article, and starts after a 24 second commercial. http://www.calgarybeacon.com/2009/10/video-inglewoods-choklat-an-ex...
1. How did you get into chocolate and when did you actually start your business?I got into the industry because I was a disgruntled chocolate customer. It seems that every chocolate shop I walked into had their product on display, but didnt give me the ability to select what I wanted for my purchase. Everybody had the Henry Ford mentality when it came to selling: Well sell you any color of car you want, as long as its black..When I tried seeking out a chocolate company that would let me buy what I wanted, I then found out that nobody actually made the chocolate I thought they made. It was then I decided to make my own.2. What was your original strategy?My original strategy was simply home recreation. I found John Nancis site, purchased some equipment and beans and for the next several months had fun making chocolate. I had a number of other business ventures on the go at that time, so this was my life balance activity.3. How did that change and why?A number of things came together. I sold my furniture manufacturing firm. However before I did that, I used my fabrication shop in my furniture company to designed a better home melangeur similar to the one that Mr. Nanci sells on Chocolate Alchemys website. I also began making contact with some people very high up in the world chocolate scene. At this point however I was still treating my passion for chocolate as recreation. I have a book called El Toppo Secreto, which has recorded in it all of my recipes and versions of each both for the chocolate my company makes today, and also for the confections Ive tried. Some were successes while others have big red NFG written over them4. What did you think would happen vs what really happened?As a software architect (that was my primary career), I had hoped to design The Home Chocolate Machine an iteration of a Santha lentil grinder except all computerized with a number of features that are needed to properly conche chocolate. However, it was going to cost me somewhere in the range of $3 million to get the machine finished, CSA and UL approved and into stores. I didnt want to spend or raise that kind of money, so I looked at other options. I assembled a team of advisors colleagues with specialties in various areas and bribed them with all the chocolate they could eat for some candid advice. We sat down over a couple of evenings, drank wine, ate chocolate and I listened to what they had to say.In the end it was decided by all, that I would shelve the home chocolate machine idea for the time being, and focus on opening a business that had some incredibly unique offerings, unheard of in the chocolate industry.5. What is your vision?The vision for Choklat is very simple: Use only the finest and freshest ingredients that money can buy. Make ALL of our chocolate in house. Celebrate the flavour of the cocoa bean, and make a dark eating chocolate from each variety that we import. Let people taste the difference that the cocoa bean plays in the flavour of chocolate. Focus on truffles, and make them fresh only when the customer orders them. Find out what people want, design recipes that the like, and then give it to them.6. Who is your target market?Our target market is an affluent adult clientele. We never offer novelty products, such as molded bunnies, or hearts, or Santas, or anything like that. We focus on two things only: flavour and service. We do offer a very limited selection of truffle toppings for kids, but other than a couple, everything is the best that we can get, and if we cant get it, we make it in house (such as our graham wafers and marshmallows).7. How did you figure out how much money you needed to start?Lots of planning and research about a year of it, 8 hours per day. Mid Six Figures.8. Was it enough?Yes. More than enough.9. How long did you think it would carry you? Did it? If not, why?The money carried the business until the day we opened our doors. I actually saved money by planning all my purchases and vendors prior to approaching them. Instead of going back multiple times, I put together equipment lists for each vendor and negotiated discounts from all of them. This approach saved me approximately $30,000.10. How long before you were in the black?We had a soft opening on August 8, 2008, and generated profit day one. All equipment and inventory was paid for in cash in advance, so the company carried no debt, other than to me directly.11. What was the best advice you received regarding your business?The best advice? LOL, Ive already been attacked in a very nasty fashion on this forum for giving it. All I can do is reiterate that if you are independently wealthy and dont care if you sell a single confection, make whatever the heck recipes you want and proudly flog them. However if you NEED to make money and CHOOSE to make chocolate confections to pay the bills, you are at some point going to have to compromise and make something which caters to tastes that differ from yours. If people dont like what you sell, they wont pay for it at any price. Thats just the simple, harsh reality of life.12. What are the most important lessons you learned about the business side?Lesson 1: Nothing takes the place of sound, pragmatic, planning and research. When planning a business, set your emotions aside and be realistic.Lesson 2: Business is about making money. Period. The bills HAVE to get paid.Lesson 3: When it comes to your business, put a dollar value on your time, then closely manage and track that time. For example: When I was working in the software industry, I billed my time at $100 per hour. I needed a fence made, and paid someone $15 per hour to make my fence, while I sat in the house and wrote software. My father thought I was crazy, having someone build my fence while I was at home. I had to explain to him the economies of making $85 per hour while my fence was being built for free. YOUR TIME IS WORTH MONEY. If you dont think it is, try and find someone to do your job for free.13. How big a price did you have to pay to learn that?In 2001 I took an Internet company public on the NASDAQ stock exchange, and because of bad hiring practices, and bad management decisions, I lost everything and had to start over in 2003. My losses were in excess of $15 Million dollars. When I moved back to Calgary, I had $150 in my pocket to start over with. The last 7 years has been a very hard road and a lot of hard work, but Im back to having fun with life. Some of that fun even makes me money! By this loss, I learned that life is too short to burn the candle at both ends in pursuit of that big pot of gold the big win. Plan a bunch of small wins, and have fun building on those.14. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?I will never give control of any of my companies to anyone, unless it is to sell it to them lock stock and barrel. At that point Ive got my money, and they can drive it into the toilet for all I care. Until that time however I will always have the final say in all business decisions related to that venture.15. What do you like the most and the least about your job/business? Was that a surprise?What I like the most: first of all, I dont look at my job/business as a business. I take a whole life approach. I wake up every morning with the intent to have fun and make the most of the day. I understand however that at some point in time I have to make some money, so I figure out how to have fun and make money at the same time. Case in point: I have fun making chocolate, and make money doing it. I have fun racing motorcycles, and make a modest amount of money doing that too (it pays for itself). I also have fun snowmobiling and skiing, but those dont make me money. I also have fun with my daughter. In a nutshell, I look at life with the understanding of balance. My daily focus is to have fun. Some of my activities pay the bills, and other activities are simply fun.What I like least: Nothing. If I dont like something I simply dont do it.
Thank you everyone, for giving your perspectives. It is very helpful and gives me much to think about!
I feel it's important to add that I appreciate the diversity of honest opinions, but that there is absolutely no room on a forum of this nature - or in any community, for that matter - for personal attacks.
Brad. I always like reading your posts. On this forum and others. I've learned a lot in 3 yrs from you and other countless people as well as Ecole, and will be getting my first inspection on my own shop tomorrow. As far as the espresso goes it it's amazing, for coffee that is, lol. I don't drink coffee and I really enjoy your recipe. It couldn't come at a better time because I just booked a wedding and was asked to do a coffee filled confection. The ganache is the best I've ever made, lite, smooth, and a shine. The sweet/ espresso is balenced. My wife delivered the samples to the client today and she said it was a hit. Thank you so much.
What a great concept. I just found this stream and have really enjoyed your comments. Great video you posted as well. I am starting to understand your business now. Truffles made per order while the customer waits...with chocolate you made...that is incredibly fresh and you are the first I have seen do this. You need to write a book...or have you?
You know.... I had to chuckle when I read your post Wendy. In the past couple of years I've had a lot of people tell me I should write a book about my career path and how I've arrived at where I am today. I might even do that some day!Until then, I'll keep playing with my daughter, playing with chocolate, playing on the computer, and playing in the mountains.Life's too short to "work".Cheers everyone!
@slaviolette • 3 years ago • comments: 0
Created a new discussion "Cost of goods produced":
Created a new discussion "Cost of goods produced":
@chocolatelover123 • 4 years ago • comments: 0
Created a new forum topic:
New Chocolate Brand - "Palette"
New Chocolate Brand - "Palette"