How to Open a Chocolate Shop
Most of us at some time or other have dreamt of starting our own business. For many this includes opening a coffee shop somewhere picturesque, but what about opening a chocolate shop instead?
In 2003, my partner and two friends embarked on opening a small business, comprising a continental cafe, continental chocolate shop and online chocolate shop. For me the primary interest was the chocolates.
We set the business up from scratch, developed it, then sold it on after the second year, as a going concern and for a decent profit for all of us.
As I see it, there are two basic ways to go about opening a chocolate shop. Firstly, you could go the whole hog and become an artisan chocolatier, which would involve doing some courses in chocolate making and working with chocolate, so that you could develop your own style of chocolates to sell in your shop.
If you decide to take this route, in addition to your chocolatier courses, you will need to undertake a food handling course. These are easily accesed at most further education colleges, are relatively cheap and take a day to complete.
You will then need some basic equipment to manufacture and temper the chocolate. Tempering is important as this is what gives chocolate its shine and snap.
How to Make Pralines
Takng this route implies that you will need larger premises than if you were to simply retail chocolates. you will need a dry ingredients store, a food prep area and and area to manufacture, temper and then dry your chocolates, in addition to a retail area, washroom and hand wash area, sinks etc.
Once you take overheads into account, you need to sell a lot of little chocolates in order to make a profit, so logically you would need to employ staff or recruit sane family members to man the shop whilst you manufacture the chocolates. However, you have the satisfaction of knowing that your product is all yours and you can control the ingredients used. Overhead costs decline as the volume of product sold increases, so over time, your chocs will become cheaper to produce, and your profits larger.
Chocolate is very temperature sensitive, so unless you have a property akin to an old thatched cottage with walls three feet thick, where the temperature is consistent all year round, you will need to consider air-conditioning or a chill counter. Chill counters may be cheaper, but they only cool the immediate area, which may leave stock on shelves or in the storeroom or prep room vulnerable.
Sudden changes in temperature are what gives chocolate that white bloom. It's perfectly edible and doesn't mean that the chocolate is 'off', but it doesn't look so good, or taste quite the same.
Chocolate Retail Store
The second way to open a chocolate shop would be to buy in chocolates wholesale and to sell them. We chose this method, as we wanted a high financial turnover, which implies lots of customers one after the other, with no time to hand-make chocolates.
There are many chocolate wholsalers in the US and UK, generally selling chocolates in 1 - 5kg packs. Many companies have minimum order values which you must meet to receive free delivery, but if you think that you would need at least a dozen different types of chocolate to make up a nice selection, a few kilos of each type soon mounts up cost wise.
The advantages of this type of chocolate shop are that you don't need manufacturing equipment, a food hanlding certificate (classed as sweets, not food), or space to manufacture. The disadvantage is that you don't have direct control over the ingredients used, and they will work out consistently more expensive that home-made. You will still need a stockroom in which to store them, and they will still need to be kept cool.
The Middle Path
I guess the middle path would be to make some of your own chocolates and buy in a few good quality ready made items.
Developing your brand is vital, even the tiny details. You could start from scratch and design and develop your own packaging, however, this is extremely costly. You could buy every packaging item off the peg, or you could do what we did; buy the basic items, but design a few special things that make the brand yours.
For example, we chose burgundy and gold for our company colours - fairly traditional and classic. We bought in cello bags in those colours, and mainly all gold chocolate boxes off the peg. To make the brand our own, we sourced burgundy ribbon (shipped from the USA) and had our company name foil block printed on to it in gold. We commissioned a local printer to make business cards in burgundy, with our company name, address and contact details on one side and Enjoy! on the other. Each box of chocolates we sold had a business card in the top with Enjoy! uppermost, so that that was the first thing the recipient was when they opened the box.
We also designed sticky labels in our colours and with our company name and phone number on, and used these to seal cello and paper bags, or personalise any item we wished.
We offered carrier bags for large purchases; these were clear, so that everyone could see our beautiful products inside.
A Mixture of Novelty and Quality Chocolates
If not making your own chocolates, its important to choose upmarket, quality products that not every other store on the high street has. We sold loose chocolates that could be packaged into the type and size of box or a customer's choosing.
However, we also ordered some 'novelty' chocolates. Although, again these were quality Belgian or French chocolates. A few items for children are a must, and chocolate bars with messages on such as: Thank You for Feeding the Cat (or Dog), or Happy New Year, or Get Well Soon on sold almost as soon as we bought them in.
In addition to the six natural chocolate peak trading seasons a year: Christmas, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, Easter, Father's Day, Halloween, there are also birthdays, graduation days, prom nights etc. You could use almost any event to promote chocolate gifts, given just a little imagination.
Almost inevitably, customers will want boxes of chocolates sending to people as gifts, so it's always a good idea to offere a wrapping, packaging and mail order service, or go the whole hog as we did and open an online chocolate shop.
It's always worth promoting your chocolate shop with local businesses, as the corportate gift sector is growing. However, the business sector is always looking for the innovative, so you may have to do some research to keep ahead with corporate gifts.