The Chocolate Life

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Fellow shop owners, what have been the most effective and cheap/free ways to get customers to your store?

It's time to pay rent and I'm feeling the pinch!

Things we have tried: Craigslist, Facebook fan pages, Constant Contact email marketing, various business networking groups, advertising in small local papers, donating to silent auctions, showcasing at I missing something?

Tags: advertising, business, economy, marketing, publicity, recession

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get some writers to write a story on you in a local paper or magazine.
Try not to limit your Facebook advertising only to fan pages. Facebook ads have very specific targeting options, but those limit the scope and reach of the ad.
In my experience, the most successful Facebook campaigns have just targeted adults over 18 in the specific city or county I want to advertise in. I have had 0.2% click-through, and of that, 10% converts into a sale. By any measure this is quite good.

Another cheap, effective way of making yourself known is flyers. They are very inexpensive to print and cheap (or free if you do it yourself) to distribute.
Thank you for your's hoping it works!
One challenge with social media marketing (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) specifically with respect to getting people in to your shop (to buy stuff) is that 99.999999999999% of Facebook members live nowhere near you. Trying to find the ones who do is nearly impossible. If you have an online store, then less than .001% of Facebook members are interested in your business and trying to find them is next to impossible. In my experience, Fan Pages work when you already have an established presence and you have more friends than Facebook allows you to have on your personal profile. Otherwise, it's a lot of repetitive work (you have to spend time every day) for little or no return. The same is true of Twitter and Craigslist. To be effective you have to develop a reputation and doing so requires daily activity. If you want to do some B2B (business to business) online marketing and promotion try LinkedIn. Or Plaxo. But concentrate on one.

E-Mail Marketing

E-marketing (through services like Constant Contact) enables you to reach out to people you already know about and are on your e-mail list. To be truly effective, you need to constantly grow this list AND you should be sending them out on a monthly basis AND when there are special events, holidays, or when you have other news about your business or special promotions to share.

One effective use of your e-mail list is to offer incentives that get people to come into the shop. If you're mailing out monthly, include at least one coupon for each week of the month. Rather than give stuff away, offer discounts or something "free with purchase." Try a different type of offer each week and keep track of the coupons that are turned in so that you can learn what kinds of offers work best with your customers.

You should also keep printouts of each month's newsletter/coupons in the store and offer them to customers as an incentive to sign up for your e-mail newsletter.

Finally, have a "refer a friend" coupon in every newsletter. In this coupon, the recipient writes their name on it and gives it to a friend. The friend comes in to the store and gets something (must also provide e-mail address), and then the referrer gets gifts based on the number of new referral customers. Refer 1 friend a get a free cup of coffee. Refer 10 friends and get a 4-piece box free. (These are wimpy incentives but you get the idea.)


If you purchase ingredients from a local business to use in one of your products is there a way to turn your supplier into a wholesale customer? Say you buy coffee from a local roaster to turn into a truffle. Is there a way to get the roaster to sell that product (or some other one you create just for them)? Other co-marketing partners are event and wedding planners. Make sure that all sales to planners (other than in-house corporate planners) earn them a commission (give chocolate as a thank-you gift after teh event to those) and encourage them to bring their customers into the store for consultations and sample your product (see below).

Farmer/Local Markets

Believe it or not, these can be a very effective form of marketing while generating some sales. Pick a market in an area where you want to grow your customer base and commit to at least 6 weeks. Use this as an opportunity to find local co-marketing partners (above) and be sure to give out the newsletter coupons and sign people up for the newsletter.


Sampling is the way to introduce people to your product. Use seconds and bits and pieces you'd otherwise relegate to rework. If you get to know a customer really well and know that they like a particular piece, and you have a "second" in the back, give it to them to reward them for their loyal business. Make sure that all your counter help is empowered to do this.

Know your customer

One way to grow repeat business is to make it a priority to know your customers. Remember how they take their coffee, remember what flavors they like. Stuff like that. Showing that you are paying attention is the surest way to get them back into the store.

Another aspect of this is to do your homework with respect to the demographics of your town and the neighboring communities and how they are the same or different. In my town (which is composed of three distinct villages/towns) one village has a median income that is double the media income of the rest of the town. Where your store is located should affect product mix and pricing. The rest of the town has a media income that is slightly higher than the median income for the county and that is nearly 50% higher than the median income for the entire state. The population has a slightly higher percentage of females and the average age of adults is about 1 year greater. Knowing all of this helps you position your business properly. Go an look it up.


I make it a rule never to donate to an event I can't attend, especially if it is a silent auction. Plus, I always make sure that there is some other sort of other immediate PR benefit I can claim, which might just be a newsletter letting people know that I am donating and encouraging them to lend their support. Also, make sure to develop a relationship with someone at each organization you donate to who is a high-powered networker and who can introduce you around. In other words, you have to do work in order to ensure that you get something (sales) for the donation. It's not just a "if I give it they will come." That has NEVER happened for me.

Networking Groups

Whether or not a networking group works for you is entirely dependent on the makeup of the group and how it's run. I paid to attend breakfast networking meetings over the course of several months and the group generated only one lead that turned into a sale. Set a maximum amount of time and $ your are willing to spend and then look at the return on the invest made when you hit those limits. If the return is not up to the investment, then stop supporting the group. It's a business decision, they'll understand.


Make it a point to find out who the local food writers (daily/weekly) and bloggers are. Make sure to let them know what you are doing. Make a point of reading what they write and figuring out what kinds of stories they like to run and then not only pitch them those stories (or provide them mostly written in the form of a press release).
Well Written Clay;

There are some points I agree with and some points I don't 100% agree with. However the overall message is "Get Out There!" and that's what's most important.

I'd like to ad two of my own "two cents" to Clay's contribution:

When people hear you're donating product, there will be a veritable flood of representatives of non profit organizations at your door with their hands out. It's happened here at Choklat. Put in place a "community initiatives" program that your company adheres to, and work extensively with one well known organization. Don't fall into the trap of giving gift baskets and collections to every "Silent Auction" and charitable event that comes through your door. You'll forever be giving product away and not realizing any benefit from it. Most well run organizations WILL have a small budget for their event, and will be happy to negotiate some product from you at your cost.

We don't sample in our shop. Our chocolate is extremely high quality and less expensive than the premium chocolate in local supermarkets and other stores. You don't walk into a supermarket and crack open one of their bars to try it before you buy it do you? Neither do we. In fact this policy helps us sell more product, because people have to PAY for the product to try it, so they generally buy more and of different varieties.

If however you see fit to sample, MAKE SURE you have some of your competitor's product on hand to let them try it side by side, and insist that to truly understand how much better yours is, they have to try your competitor's. Remember, you are SPENDING MONEY when that person tries your product. Hammer it home by letting them compare directly on the spot.

People like to be educated. Our customers pay us $40 per person every Monday evening to spend 2 hours taking them on a tour of our facility, sampling the bars we make, and pairing wine with chocolate. We're sold out usually a month in advance. Our "Choklat Snobbery 101" events are great date nights, and aside from making $400 for a couple of hours of public speaking, the customers generally spend a couple of hundred on product at the end of the evening. At the end of the year we will have had personal time with 10 people X 50 weeks = $20,000 in revenue just from door admission, and that doesn't include chocolate they buy, and friends they tell of the event.

What is our cost for the event? A couple of hours per Monday, a couple of bottles of wine, and that's it.

The best part is that they are PAYING US to explain why they should do business with us.

Hope this helps too.

Thank you for the insights about donations--I had a feeling they weren't paying off (and I have noticed the increased mail from charities wanting handouts)

Brad, you are soooo right about education. I teach "the chocolate snob's guide to tasting" and "single origin chocolate" through a local community ed program, and it is a nice side gig. My problem is that our shop is TINY, so I haven't been able to host classes there. Your success encourages me to figure something out.

Clay, thank you for your in-depth response. Many of your suggestions are in line with what we're already doing, but the co-marketing idea was new to me and I had forgotten about the farmer's market option. I'll try it. I do want to point out Facebook Ads to you (cheebs wrote about them too). You can make them ridiculously targeted now (i.e. resides within 10 miles of your shop, specific age range, education, interests, marital status etc.). I just started my ads, so I'll tell you a couple weeks down the line if I get any business from them.

I have a policy about charitable/fundraising events that has generated a lot of business.... I will donate 20% of their purchase.I like the events where there is a dinner and theme involved. So if they spend $1000 for chocolate at the dinner tables I give them $200 off the bill. The $200 doesnʻt cost me $200 so its worthwhile.
Good Afternoon Everyone;

Here at Choklat, we're just beginning to wrap up our first fabulous year of business, and beginning to budget for next year. In light of trying to save money on advertising, while still get the word out about our business and continue to increase sales, I have created a Community Initiatives Campaign, called "A Million Smiles".

Through the Million Smiles Campaign, we hope to propagate the word about our busines throughout the community by assisting grass-roots, and non-profit organizations raise money.

Understanding that word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising, the Million Smiles Campaign works like this:

We register with us an organization (Calgary Food Bank for example). They then appeal to their volunteer base, to pledge the purchase of boxes of truffles from us. The price for each box of truffles is a bit higher than our regular price. However ONE HALF of the gross proceeds go back to the Food Bank by way of donation from our company. It is their responsibility to "sell" the concept to their volunteers, such that they purchase. Their volunteers, if committed, will also ask friends and family to pledge the purchase of a box of fresh truffles to help the Food Bank.

The order system is completely online, and completely seperate from our regular business. Each organization is given the domain They can sell as many boxes of truffles as they like.

At the end of each month we issue a cheque to the organization for their half of the proceeds of the boxes they sell.


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