I wonder if you could track down the owners of the ones that closed and ask why they closed? I'm working on opening my own company, but it will be a side job - unless it explodes! To me it seems possible if you have connections and a large network and have more than a storefront (like partnerships with businesses, hotels, etc.) Just a thought, there are several chocolate companies near me too... but it's also about having a niche...
It is a hard fact that most companies fail, in every industry, not just chocolate. The reason is not that they did not try hard enough or have enough skill/passion. They fail because of lack of business savvy. The general economy has very little to do with it. Business can fail or succeed in any economy and on every budget.
Passion and being able to make fantastic products will not get you very far unless you are able to handle the business side of things. Things like marketing, product positioning, setting the correct margins and prices, managing cash flow, managing growth, setting up supply chains, closing the sale, etc. are equally important to having passion and making great products. It is very hard to juggle all of these roles and do them well. This is not to say that it can't be done, it is just a ton of hard work, perseverance, and requires a steep learning curve on your part.
Two things that helped me were (and still are) asking for help (don't be shy) and finding creative solutions to get things done without spending money. Early on, I flew through money trying to fix problems when I did not yet understand the root cause of the problem. Most of the time the problem could be fixed by my learning more and by asking the right questions, not by spending money. Getting a mentor is the best advice that I could give you. SCORE is filled with experienced people who have been in your shoes and offer free mentoring. Another great resource is talking to others in your industry (like the awesome Chocolate Life community) and especially the shops that are near you. Not everyone will share with you, but you would be amazed with how many people will share their experiences with you… even your competitors, especially when you show respect and keep an open mind.
As far as wether to start your own shop, that is completely up to what you really want. Is owning a business (and wearing all of its non chocolate hats) what you really want, or is working with chocolate a career goal, or maybe a fun hobby. Hobbies are wonderful things, but not always as a full time gig. I love owning my own chocolate company, but I always wish that I could spend more time directly working with chocolate. A good 2/3 (or more) of my time is spent running the company so that I can have the privilege of working with chocolate the other 1/3 of the time. My intense passion for chocolate is what gets me through doing all of the grueling business stuff.
If you are 100% committed to owning and running your own business, then who is to say that you won't be one of the many success stories out there. :-D Karen
Your message is so inspiring. I am going through the same debate myself. I used to be a banker, so I know all about running a business, but would rather just make chocolate. I am now realising that the business side is what will carry my hobby over to the other side - which is to become a business. I live in Singapore, so it is difficult to find someone who knows about chocolate marketing here. As a result, I am doing it all myself. After reading your message, I realise that I have to look for more help.