The Chocolate Life

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We came into being because of a loss; my father in-law lost his job untimely and we wanted something else to do and something the family could do too.

If he wasn't an expert in the craft it would be much harder, but he's run bakeries and fine restaurants pastry departments so at least one variable is locked down but that's all he likes, the kitchen. The rest of the commercial operation is up to pretty much myself and my wife.

In a time when getting credit is hard, loans harder, we went about this as organically as possible. Being Slow Food participants we decided to use our local markets and farm friends to help get us started. That has been an amazing and remarkable experience.

To us, showing at multiple markets and having a growing loyal consumer base is proof for viability. It's low overhead, you can start with generally nothing more than your product and you can grow from there.

Now we're trying to evolve into retail, hospitality, and beyond and could use some further thoughts on getting a deeper reach into local businesses.

I've started working on sales slicks for each demographic and will be firing those off with family representatives but what else should I be thinking of?

This is the time where you go from simple positive values to successful ones. In a years time I'd like to see us migrating into a real shop where we can have all of what we offer in cases. To do so means we need to multiply the business we have now and gain further traction.

It's been a fantastic journey and I encourage anyone to dabble by doing so at local markets but what are some good growth ideas to cross the chasm?

Tags: bootstrap, chocolate, growth, markets, shop, startup

Views: 137

Replies to This Discussion

Hi Andy, thanks for posting your story. I had written a reply, but lost it in a computer crash. I thought I should post a short message in the mean time to let you know that a longer one is coming. Your questions about how to grow your business touches on one of the fundamental problems of our economy (in my opinion). I look forward to talking about it.
Hi Andy,
This is great that you have started on a local level before going into a larger market. One of the business writer's that I like is Don Debelak. His books are found on Amazon and I love his advice. It is so common sense. "#1. Get to be known in your local area for a few years before you try to go national. "Kind of a paraphrase. But, I don't want to buy into a large franchise. I want to do my own business, according to the needs I perceive. And, I don't mind being small, and growing. I think that this is the right way to do things. Something that grows slowly puts down better roots, deeper roots, and understands it's mission and how to get there. One is not out borrowing money to do a venture that they have no experience in. You are learning your market and refining your product and ways of doing business, as you grow. You are learning "who" your customers are. Be a big fish in a small pond. That is always good.

As far as local business. What seasonal events are held in your community that you could be a part of? Are there charities that you support that you could supply the chocolate to, trading advertising for your product? Can you hold any kind of contests with your product, i.e., the most imaginative "new" recipe for chocolate cake, incorporating your chopped up chocolate? Give a money prize...watch the entrants list grow!

Hum...how about a calendar we gals would buy of the local firefighters...somehow with chocolate?...let's see...chocolate can start a fire...who else to put it out?...how to do that tastefully?...lot's of free press on that...so, what kind of local market do you want to become a part of...who already is doing what you want?...who is your competition...what are your sales slicks like?...can we see them? what sets your chocolate apart from someone else's and why do I want to buy it?...is it made from bean to bar?

This is what I love about your post: "To us, showing at multiple markets and having a growing loyal consumer base is proof for viability. It's low overhead, you can start with generally nothing more than your product and you can grow from there."It appears to me that you are pretty good at steering the ship. I think you will do well.
I've only developed a cafe slick atm. I'm working on one for event coordinators but it's making my head hurt a bit. Do I talk more products, or more how many people we can serve ideas. Each demographic takes me a while to get my head around.

We are not a bean to bar creator, we take bars/chips and make them into other products. Truffles, tortes, pate, mousse, cakes, etc. We serve at the markets with a ratio of for individual and gift orders. We also do deliveries and can cater.

We have no desire at this time to be anything more than a local success (online sales are a bonus). To that extent our general plan has been market success, retail/hospitality/cafe/etc wholesale accounts, transfer that energy and cash flow into refining our process and start picking up the equipment needed to open a basic shop that we can centralize, sustain, and grow in.

Since I'm at the step of getting further into establishments that's where I am in need of advice that has worked, places that have natural affinities for chocolate creations, and whatever else relates.

Thanks for the advices and offerings you've posted. I've learned a lot of those from previous experiences or helping others through there's. Now its time I find further community and help on this specific domain or relevant overlaps. :)

-a
Andy, Since I don't know how to edit comments, let me post what I found so valuable from this website: http://www.bootstrapit.com/why.htm Some of your remarks reminded me of what he had to say. Check out his website for more!!!

Bootstrapping: The Secret to Entrepreneurial Success
Funding your own software venture results in a sales-focused and highly rewarding experience.
Greg Gianforte, CEO, RightNow Technologies

#1 hit home for me the most. How many times have you seen people go out and buy a lot of stuff thinking that they are in business just because of all they spent, and they don't know their market or customer at all, let alone, how to run a business.

1. Bootstrapping ensures that you build your business on a legitimate, real-world value proposition. When you’re Bootstrapping, you’re forced to deal with customers and to fulfill their needs from Day One. If you have a lot of external funding, on the other hand, you can be fooled into thinking you’ve already created an actual business just because you’re paying salaries and rent. But you haven’t. You only have a business when you have paying customers. Bootstrappers know this instinctively, and never lose that customer focus.

2. Bootstrappers initiate the critical sales learning process sooner, not later. Selling is the hardest job of all. You have to learn how to be absolutely great at selling your product or service, and then teach others how to be absolutely great at selling it too. If you have too much cash-on-hand, it will take away from the urgency of initiating this process—so you wind up delaying the day when you screw up your courage, pick up the phone, and ask for that First Order. Bootstrappers are forced to start selling immediately as a matter of survival, which means they become better at selling sooner than their venture-funded counterparts.

3. Bootstrappers don’t waste money; they make it. If you have $100,000 or $1 million in funding, what do you do? Leave it in the bank? Of course not. You go out and spend it—or, to use the commonly accepted term, you “burn” it. This has actually become an accepted practice! Venture funding actually encourages the start-up to waste money long before a viable business has been established. In a Bootstrapping model, on the other hand, waste simply can’t occur because there is nothing to waste. That is just so true!!!!

4. Bootstrapping accelerates time-to-market and time-to-profitability. If you go the Bootstrapping route, you can start your business immediately. Immediately! If you want to pursue external funding, on the other hand, you can’t start your business until everyone else tells you it’s OK. Venture capital firms might take up to a year or more to decide on whether to invest. They might want a 200-page business plan. Their funding requirements might force you to spend up to $50,000 in professional fees. Venture-funded entrepreneurs spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find sources of external funding—while Bootstrappers are already on the street looking for customers and closing deals. Amen! Go for it, Bootstrappers!!!!

5. Bootstrappers are less likely to make big, fatal financial mistakes. Because they don’t have huge amounts of cash, Bootstrappers can’t make the kinds of huge mistakes that often destroy venture-funded companies it. From a personal perspective, Bootstrappers are also at less risk—because they don’t have to put up the family home as collateral or jeopardize a lifetime of savings. They can start with whatever funds they feel comfortable investing to get things rolling and then fund the growth of their business with their actual initial revenue.

6. Bootstrappers are forced into unconventional thinking. Necessity truly is the mother of invention. Without a big cushion of cash, Bootstrappers are constantly forced to solve problems creatively. This results in innovative, outside-the-box approaches to everything from product design and manufacturing to marketing and sales.

7. Bootstrappers have more freedom and flexibility. When you take external funding, you become a slave to your business plan and you have to constantly answer to third parties: banks, private investors, grant agencies, etc. This destroys your ability to respond and adapt to unanticipated business challenges, changing market conditions, and unexpected business opportunities. Bootstrappers, on the other hand, aren’t hampered by these forces. They can change direction overnight if that’s what circumstances call for. This adaptability significantly increases their likelihood of near- and long-term success.

8. Bootstrappers wind up owning much, if not all, of what they create. This is a huge consideration. When Bootstrappers succeed, they get to keep their winnings. Some can even pass them along to their children. In a VC-backed company, on the other hand, you have to have to achieve a tremendous amount of growth to profit personally—since you have to fulfill your investors’ ROI expectations first. In fact, once you’re addicted to external financing, you can see your shares totally diluted by subsequent rounds of funding. So you can wind up with a successful business and little personal financial gain to show for it.
Hi Andy,

Your chocolate looks amazing. I'm in the San Francisco area and there are so many confectioners starting out just like you at farmer's markets. That's how Michael Recchiuti started out too.

If you want to stay local, it seems like getting tied into wedding planner, caterers and other types of event organizers may be a good growth opportunity locally. Perhaps offering small boxes "private labeled" for an event or company?

Also with your espresso, do you work with a local roaster? It would be neat if you did to then try to distribute the chocolate into the same cafes as the roaster...something like that.

Just a few ideas, which I hope are the type you were looking for!

Cheers,

Susie
An FYI to everyone who reads Maria's post:

Maria Marsala is a professional business plan writer, coach, and consultant. This is easy to find out in about 30 seconds of following these two link and searching her name on Google. However, Maria does not self-identify herself as a consultant. Both of the web sites she links to (elevatingyourbusiness.com and theresourcequeen.com) are operated by her and promote her services.

:: Clay
Hi Clay, thank you for introducing Maria, but just wondering if this post is in the correct location? It seems out of context as I can't find a post by Maria anywhere on the site. Now I'm intrigued to see it ...
Langdon: In addition to this comment I also replied to Maria privately expressing my concern that she posted solely for the purpose of soliciting business and that her post ignored the Golden Rules for contributing. I thought that by replying to her comment that were she to delete hers that mine would disappear with it. Apparently not.

Not only did Maria delete her post, she decided to abandon her membership in TheChocolateLife. I surmised that she has a Google alert on "business plan" and when a new site shows up she joins it and posts in an attempt to solicit business.
Thanks for the explanation Clay :-) It all makes sense now.

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