The Chocolate Life

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If anyone that is currently in business would be so kind as to answer
these questions, your answers would be so helpful to those of us
starting out! No dollar amounts are needed unless you are comfortable
sharing, 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?

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This isn't "News."

Find a niche, don't chase money.

Calculate to the best of your ability how much money you will need, then triple it.

Have stellar credit.

Never trust small businesses, as a rule these customers will lie, cheat, and steal.

Never trust chefs, they're all drug addicted high school drop outs that couldn't get a job doing anything else and most of them smoke, so they really can't taste anything anyhow.

Never, ever, ever accept an order for a half-case or such... it is grooming behavior and a sign of a customer that will only get worse.

A spectacular product marketed averagely or worse will fail in the face of a garbage product marketed averagely or better.

Be an artist or a businessperson, they are mutually exclusive, anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is so bad at one of the two that they don't even notice the exclusion.

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.
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
Attachments:
"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.
Thank you. I was concerned it might be too harsh, but I couldn't think of a way to be softer yet accurate.
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!
My goal is to be viewed in the light of a Heston Blumenthal or Ramon Morato... yours is to be viewed as that guy that owns eight Arby's franchise shops. They are different, both have the potential for financial reward and thus my advice is apt.
"My goal is to be viewed in the light of a Heston Blumenthal or Ramon Morato... "

Hmm. And here I thought you were aiming for Gareth Blackstock.

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Chef!
Hahaha... I had no idea such a show existed, thanks for that. :)

Actually... Brad... I have more.

Go **** yourself. 

It is ***** like you that make the market so difficult for those who truly love what they do. Banishing them to rinky dink famers' markets (as you so kindly put our best connection to the actually producers of food), where they struggle just to make a few people happy. You and your all business attitude and snowmobiling jackass self have ruined this industry right along with slave traders in the Ivory Coast, NoKa and their flat out deception, and all the See's with their 20x margins.

Maybe you should go buy an Arby's, you can hate roast beef, but who cares, you've got staff to bother with all those things you couldn't be bothered with, like production. Hell you won't even need to bother with recipes, all the more time to enjoy life.

Oh yeah... it's Rose Otto, with an O... maybe all that money of yours could be used to make a wikipedia donation... you might learn something while you're there.

 

[Expletives edited by the moderator.]

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.
Look Brad, you know you're a whore, you even said as much. You make overpriced frosting coated in mystery chocolate (go ahead, try and tell me it's porcelana, I dare ya) dusted with Oreos... just own it.

I still stand by assessment that you are bad for the industry... you sell averagely marketed swill and every single struggling passionate artist in this community has you to thank, in part, for their difficulties in offering a good product at a good price.

I still can't believe you have the audacity to drone on about life balance, "I still get to make whatever I want, whenever I want, and let my staff clean up the mess!" For those of us who actually love what we do... we needn't go snowmobiling. Pretty much a break from looking at accounting software is all the break needed, the rest of the time is spent sharing a passion with friends, family, and the world. I know whatever I do on my downtime, I'm always seeking inspiration... from dinner out, movies, travel, whatever. Like I said, you could be running an Arby's, it makes no difference.

I still cannot believe that you slammed farmers' markets... you wonder why I am rude? You insult your customers with your product, you insult those truly passionate about the industry with your business tactics, you insult the overall food community with your words, and finally you insulted me and my statement that people will be best served by having integrity. I am just saying what everyone is too nice, sweet, and political to say... and for respect to Clay, I'm doing so as politely as possible.

You design the recipes? You make frosting with Oreo cookies! That must have kept you up all night or at least until what... 9:45pm?

Of course this thread is about selling, but you've already made it clear what you sell.

Finally, what is up with you and Bernard Callebaut? You are endlessly discussing him, like a fourth grader pulling the ponytail of a girl he likes. The sexual tension is just too much, why don't you take him for a weekend away snowmobiling and spare the rest of us.
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.

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