At Choclatique, our own premium chocolate company, we have built a sizeable following and substantial sales in just a short 10 year span. How did we do it?
Follow the money… be strategic in your thinking and planning. Understanding where the money is and how to get the money is a good way to start planning a successful business. It is essential to understand what the customer will buy and how to drive the customer purchase. In other words... defining the “battle plan.” Post-audit research to understand whether you are getting the money is
crucial in keeping the product lines or services offered relevant. Using the graphic posted at the end of this blog can mean the difference between success and failure.
Do your homework… learn everything you can about the business and the products in the segments you are entering. In our case, it was to study what others were doing with chocolate from “bean to bar to piece.” Reading both current and non-current publications was a great insight. Going to food, candy and packaging expos in the US, Europe and Asia was also very informative. Eating lots of chocolate was very rewarding, but also very fattening.
Break the paradigm… don’t copy others. Our culinary research and development department, not at all familiar with chocolate, was given no special education or classes in chocolate manufacturing.
We struggled on our own. We wanted chocolate confections that were very different from any others in the marketplace, positioning our products in the premium category. If we had sent our R&D chefs to chocolate school in the very beginning we would have developed chocolate just
like everyone else was selling. We felt that this was not market-wise.
Today, it is amazing to hear from well-established candy and chocolate makers, “You can’t do that with chocolate!” “How are you doing it?” Not being confined to standard processes, we didn’t know all that we “couldn’t” do,” and felt totally unrestrained. This is where … chocolates out of the box comes from. It was our out-of-the-box thinking that created the brand, the name, the products offered, the packaging, the sales approach, the distribution/delivery system and the marketing of the products.
Don’t just stay one step ahead… leap-frog over the competition. Try to envision where your competitors might be in the next 5-7 years and get out in front of the market as quickly as you can—years before your competition. In the food and confection businesses (as in all businesses today), “Speed is Life.”
Develop “Strategic Alliances” with vendors… suppliers can be your greatest intelligence tool. They can tell you what is going on in the industry and your specific marketplace. They can help you understand the technical aspects of a new product and/or technology. In some cases, they are willing to invest in your dream for the opportunity to secure the business of a sharp and savvy group of strategic-thinking entrepreneurs who are going to be the next Apple, Microsoft, Google or Hershey.
Use vendors who are compatible to your style of management and are flexible enough to think out of the box.
Test it, before you launch it... all of the planning in the world won’t totally prepare you the reality of live customers. Test all the elements of the sales chain. How does the order-taking chain function… in our case how was our website designed and how did it behave? How did the product pack out… how easy was it to fulfill the order? Did the packaging protect the item… how did the customer receive the product? When the package was received did it look as good when ordered? There are two important “touch points” … when the product is first ordered from the website and when the product is
received a day or so later. The customer shouldn’t have to ask, “Why did I order that anyway?”
Launch it when you’re ready… not a moment before. Make sure all of the tested elements are ready to go and that you are prepared to fulfill all orders, as you will only get one chance to make a good first impression. If the order comes in and you are not ready, you will be disappointing customers. At Choclatique we understood from day one that we were not just selling chocolate... we were selling memories. Imagine an anniversary or Valentine’s Day gift that doesn’t arrive on time or as expected. How will you be remembered?
Understand the sales matrix… there are only four ways to build and increase sales — increase reach... attract new customers; increase frequency... bring customers back more often; increase party size... encourage customers to bring “in” additional family members or friends; and increase check size... sell more items per order or trade up customers to premium products (size or quality).
Embrace and harness technology… get ahead of the game. EPKs, Facebook, keywords, and websites are just the tip of the iceberg for keeping up on your customers' interests and communicating with your "community".
Create the BUZZZZZ… get the biggest bang for your buck. When looking for an ad or PR agency look for the best that you can afford. And if you can’t afford the best, put it on your credit card.
In our case, we wanted agencies who could get the brand the buzz. None of the traditional food or
restaurant agencies were attractive to us. We wanted an agency who may have handled a Brittney Spears, Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian… agencies who were getting their clients in the news on a daily basis to create the buzz.
Surround yourself with the best… only work with the best people that you can find. You are looking for out-of-the-box thinkers; not stinkers. Learn to recruit, train, retain and reward only the best.