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tammylc

Adventures in Starting a Chocolate Business

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tammylc   

The networking continues. Went to a Vendor Showcase event yesterday for a local event planners group. I really needed to *be* a vendor, but I only found out about it a few days beforehand. But I took along a bunch of sample boxes and found a few people it was appropriate to hand them out to. I spent some time tonight sending email followups to some particularly promising contacts.

This stuff about marketing and promotion and selling myself is definitely a challenge. I'm pretty comfortable with what I'm doing in the kitchen, and pretty confident with the tasting events (the other side of my business). But the marketing angle is coming a little harder.

It's definitely the biggest barrier I see in me trying to make this into a full-time job - constantly having to be "on" and looking for the next opportunity is really hard work. Having regular paid employment in addition to this work means that if I fall down on promotion for a month or two, it doesn't much matter - the bills will still get paid.

On the technical side of the house, I won eBay auctions this week for an air compressor and a vibrating table, and placed orders for some new molds and a bunch of colored cocoa butter. Hoping/planning to spend some time this weekend doing some experimentation to the end of nailing down my Easter flavor assortment so I can start promoting that. Need to get some acetate, as my plans include trying out making my own transfer sheets. Must go read up on that thread to avoid the pitfalls ahead!

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tammylc   

Well, got the word back today that the local store I'd been hoping would pick up my chocolates isn't interested. Bummer. The sticking point appears to be the couverture - apparently a bunch of the people who were in the decision tree "weren't crazy about the Guittard."

There is some possibility that I might be doing a custom piece for them, however, from a new-ish chocolate that they're really fond of. So that would be something. And we're still talking about caramels, although they thought my last offering didn't have enough depth of flavor, they'd be interesting in trying others that I come up with. And if I find a chocolate I like better, I'm sure I can revisit the bonbon question with them.

Ever onward...

Tonight I'm going to stop by a small wedding expo being run by a local group. It's 12 women-owned businesses who each specialize in a particular aspect of weddings - catering, DJ, flowers, limo, officiant, etc. But they don't have a chocolatier... So I'm going to hand out samples and meet all the different women involved, and if I like them and they like me, they're doing interviews in April for new people to join the group.

In other news, I'm looking forward to playing with my new toys - my airbrush compressor and dental vibrator have both arrived, along with four new colors of cocoa butter, a bunny mold, and an egg-shaped cutter. I'm crossing my fingers that my order from http://dr.ca will get here today too - two different molds and a bunch of individual transfer sheets.

I got my first request for a charity donation and am working on figuring out my strategy for responding to those sorts of requests. In addition to the chocolates, my business also includes customized tasting events, so for any given event I have to decide if a) I want to make a donation and b) whether a box of chocolates are tasting event would be more suitable. The tasting event has more possibility of spin off business, because it would involve more people, but of course it's more time and resource intensive.

And lastly, I'm trying to finalize my Easter offerings. I'm torn between something peanut-buttery and something caramely for my last flavor (the others are raspberry, cardamom, and milk or dark chocolate truffle bunnies). Anyone have any ideas on how to make a peanut butter caramel, and whether it would be any good?

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Lysbeth   

Tammy,

Thanks for telling us about your adventures, it is interesting to read what you are going through with the start of your business.

I wanted to comment on your questions about donations. I am just playing around with chocolate and I was hoping to start a business, but then I got pregnant and now, well now I have my hands full with other stuff.

Any way, I have donated a lot of chocolates to local fundraisers such as hopitals, schools and a local clinic and I can tell you that the exposure you get is tremendous. I have always been allowed to leave my information or present the chocolates myself and many people usually attend these events so you have a rather large audience at once. Also, it gives me the opportunity to try something new and get immediate feedback from people. So it's been a good way to do something for the community, but really, I have also benefitted from it because I viewed these events as a marketing tool (it's cheaper than placing an ad in a local flyer.) Just pick your events wisely and know that you can't do them all! As you go along you will probably come up with some "rules" for yourself that will help guide you through the requests you get.

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tammylc   

Thanks, Lysbeth - I appreciate the comment. I often feel like I'm talking into the void on this thread and wondering if I should bother continuing to post!

I think the rough strategy to donations that I came up with yesterday is that a tasting is a good thing to offer for a silent auction donation request. It's more interesting, and then I have the opportunity to essentially market myself to all of the winner's guests. And, with a silent auction, there's an assumption that the kind of person who would bid on an item valued at $80-$100 is likely to have the kinds of friends who might be a good target market for that kind of event.

For events that are looking for a door prize or something like that, then a box of chocolates is more suitable.

And if I can find the right event for it, one person suggested that I donate a single boxed piece of chocolate (with business card enclosed) to be given to each attendee. Obviously this would be a major investment on my part, but is also the widest possible exposure.

The possibility that you raise is the one about actually donating product to be served at the event, and that's certainly something I'd think about doing as well for events where that was a possibility. Which reminds me, I need to send an email to someone about that exact thing...

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Thanks, Lysbeth - I appreciate the comment.  I often feel like I'm talking into the void on this thread and wondering if I should bother continuing to post!

keep posting tammy! we're reading!

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Tammy,

Please keep posting, even though we don't always answer, we are following with great interest.

I find the whole donation thing a bit difficult, because what I'm selling is education and supplies. So me giving a box or basket of chocolates does nothing for my business except get my business card to someone. I still donate them, cause I generally have chocolate around. I've donated lessons in hopes that it might generate sales of the DVD's or molds or bulk chocolate, but I find that it is kind of rare that the person who bids on the lesson actually follows through and takes it. I know that I've bid on and won all sorts things at auctions and invariably the gift certificates expire before I get around to using them.


Edited by Kerry Beal (log)

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mrose   

The only place I really donate chocolates is to a few auctions for charity orgs. They usually have a offering listing so that you can get a bit of exposure and people get to know your business name. I also always give to raffles or auctions that the church whose kitchen I use has. It also helps people see that you will give to a good cause. I have had truffle logs sell for almost 2x as much as could be bought directly from me.

Mark

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Mary F   

Hi Tammy,

please don't stop the posting, I enjoy reading them!

I am in a similar situation as yours (a "real job", small children, and trying to move over full time into the confectionary business). The posts make me feel better that others are up until 1 am making chocolates, and the kids are clinging to your legs telling you not to leave.

As far as donations go, I find that you have to be selective as people tend to come out of the woodwork asking for a variety of things. A box of chocolates at an auction goes a long way though, as people tend to share with the table after winning (making the other tables jealous!). As long as your name has exposure (as in a auction guide), its a win-win situation.

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Anna N   

Tammy,

I, too, am following along with great interest. I don't always have sensible questions but that doesn't mean I'm not interested!

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patsikes   
And lastly, I'm trying to finalize my Easter offerings.  I'm torn between something peanut-buttery and something caramely for my last flavor (the others are raspberry, cardamom, and milk or dark chocolate truffle bunnies).  Anyone have any ideas on how to make a peanut butter caramel, and whether it would be any good?

Last year we did a trio of decorated easter eggs. They were "life sized" molds purchased from www.chocolat-chocolat.com. We painted a set (two halves) to match and filled with three different flavors. The halves where then glued together and sold in a three pack.

Our flavors were key lime ganache in white chocolate, dark chocolate ganache in dark chocolate, and peanut butter in milk chocolate.

Everyone loved the peanut butter!

The recipe we used was from Top Secret Recipes. He trys to simulate brand products. See it at http://www.topsecretrecipes.com/recipedeta...id=83&agree=yes.

They were so cute I just had to share. You can see a photo at http://www.psiloveyouchocolates.com/catalo...tail.aspx?ID=34

So definitely go for the peanut butter!


Edited by patsikes (log)

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I too am reading your posts!

I have donated some chocolates for events as well. I always ask questions about the events as many of the charitable events tend to be fundraisers that depending on the time of the year are outside.

If it is an outdoor event I provide a gift certificate and a brochure of my products. That way no one gets a lovely melted mass of goo in a box as a prize. Many people forget that chocolate melts when heat is applied.(Unfortunatley, I had to learn this the hard way!)

I have kept track of these certificates and they have all been redeemed and some have become loyal customers.

:smile:

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dantodd   

One more quick note of encouragement. Please do keep posting your experiences, I find them entertaining and valuable as I embark on my own adventure.

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tammylc   

Couple of exciting (and related) pieces of news! An author acquaintance of mine was arranging with a local bookstore to do a reading, and pitched them on the idea of doing a chocolate tasting in conjunction with it. They really liked the idea, so I'll be doing a tasting there on May 11. It's an unpaid gig for me, but a good opportunity to market both the tasting sides and chocolates sides of my biz. AND... in order to build some excitement leading up to the tasting, they want to start selling my chocolate in their store! They've been doing a "roaring trade" in bar chocolates, and think it would be great to highlight a local chocolatier. So starting Monday (or whenever I can get them chocolates to start selling), I'll have my first retail location. I'll be starting with a just a few boxes, as I have no idea what to expect for volume. The following week I'll bring in some of my Easter boxes, and I'm really hoping those will move well.

I've been doing a lot of exploring packaging options lately. Up until now, I've been using boxes with clear vinyl tops for my larger boxes, but just paper for the small boxes. But I think I'll do better capturing the impulse buyers at both the bookstore and the kitchen I work out of if I have something that I can sell for ~$5, which necessitates getting some clear small packaging. I found somethings that I really like at Bayley's Boxes, and have just ordered a few more samples. Unfortunately, most of the boxes they sell that work well for me are pretty small - I still need to find some good options for larger boxes. And they have some beautiful papers that I'd love to be able to use, but for retail sales I need for people to be able to see the chocolates - all the time I spend decorating is my selling point, after all. It would be different if I had my own retail location where people could see what's in the box.

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Great!!!

Good luck with your first retail sell.

I love the Easter boxes they are adorable and unique :smile:

I do to like thier boxe and as you said unfortunally they are too small .

Keep the good work going , we are here to support you , Always! :smile::smile:

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Anna N   
Couple of exciting (and related) pieces of news! 

. . .

Congratulations! Love your Easter boxes. It's great way to appeal to adults who don't seem that into the Easter thing.

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tammylc   

Thanks - I hope other people like my Easter boxes as much as you two do!

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tammylc   
I do to like thier boxe and as you said unfortunally they are too small .

Although I will definitely be using them for some things. I'm using the clear purse boxes (http://www.bayleysboxes.com/purse%20box.html) for my "just eggs" box, and since I'm hoping to get into doing chocolate tastings, etc for bridal showers and the like, it would be a great takeaway box for something like that.

I'm considering the small petal box (http://www.bayleysboxes.com/petal%20box.html) for Mother's Day. (It will fit 5 pieces, so I'd obviously need a bigger box as well, but it would be nice for the small box.)

This is my first time being really precise about what's included in the boxes. In the past, I've let people endlessly customize - here's the flavors, here's the sizes, tell me what you want in the box. This time I decided to simplify. I'll certainly let people make substitutions, but I'm encouraging them down one path to simplify labeling and packaging. We'll have to see how well it works...

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shaloop   

Just wanted to say that I 'm really enjoying this thread. I hope all goes well for you!!

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Your chocolates look beautiful. I definitely agree that people want to see the chocolates.

You may want to look at this site www.sweetpackaging.com they have some very nice boxes. I have ordered from them and have been very satisfied. Most of there inserts are gold (not brown) and they have lots of boxes with clear lids. They have a 4 oz. rectangle shaped box I use. The long narrow shape makes it look like more than 4 oz.

compared with a 4 oz. square box. One of their new boxes is a gold triangle shape with a gold insert, it is much more attractive than it looks on the site. These may be a little pricey though when you are just starting out. :smile:

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tammylc   

Thanks for the compliment! You're all very kind.

I've looked at Sweet Packaging before, and they definitely have some good choices. I'm still at the phase of balancing cash flow with saving money by ordering in volume, and haven't wanted to invest in a lot of one style of box until I was sure of what I wanted. But I need to request some samples from them so I can start making a decision.

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