Making a Mark - doing your best to succeed

Firstly a disclaimer - I'm not a marketer, I'm not a business coach, I'm not really an expert in anything, just a Jack of All Trades that left school at 15 and since then has had a very wide breadth of work and business experience. I've tried and failed many times but learnt from my mistakes and am brave enough to take calculated risks. If you can't do risk, and cannot afford to lose the lot, business is not for you.

When we began Choco Loco, Kath and I knew each other well and knew what skills we each had - a lot. Top of the list is our sense of adventure and our gutsiness so we went in with our eyes open - but we made sure the risk was calculated and minimised and that we made the most of opportunities:

We did Cash Flow Forecasts. We used the figures gleaned from other businesses accounts and calculated 3 risk/return level scenarios for poor/good/great sales level situations.

We did the SWOT analysis - lists of potential Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to make sure we were a) making the most of opportunities and b) were aware and prepared for potential risks.

We did a Business Plan. We took the positives and the negatives and formulated our proposed products and services, a marketing strategy, financial planning and a budget.

We looked at the risk, and it still seemed viable, so now the formal stuff was out of the way we could cut loose and do what we hadn't yet done - make a chocolate!

Now we are both fussy buggers, perfectionists with an eye for detail. We have tasted a lot of ordinary chocolate and know that to succeed in a luxury product market it not only needs to look good, it needs to taste fantastic. People will only buy a pretty product that tastes okay once. OK is not good enough. A one off sale is not going to make a successful business.

Our wee hatch

So that has been Choco Loco's main principle, right from the Business Plan - quality. Quality in product, quality in packaging, quality in the entire experience. We don't do tiddly sizes. We don't do wishy washy flavours. Our chocolates are fairly priced, ie not over-priced, and you go away feeling very happy you visited our store.

On our steep learning curve along the way we have made some mistakes along the way, chocolate can be a very tricky thing to tame. We have never sold a chocolate that did not taste fantastic. It may be tempting to try and recoup some of the money spent on it, but seriously, that kind of logic will only do your business harm so any flavour problems have gone in the bin. We knew that we had to get people to taste our product, once tasted - they were converts.

As stated in a previous blog, we started selling our chocolates out of a kitchen hatch that opened into a car park away from the main street of Takaka. You can see from this photograph that the main street is 30m behind but to some visitors with tunnel vision it may as well be 30km. We knew that in order to be seen and get people to divert from the main street, we had to stand out, so we painted our shop the most eyecatchingly bright colours we could find, that went with our branding. We put large signage on the outside of the building. We had freestanding boards in the main street, directing people to the shop. And still they walked up and down the street, not venturing any further. So we knew we had to do more.

Out came the fancy pinnie, chefs hat and Tasting Board and out into the street we went. We chopped up samples and chatted and joked and gave our profits away. So while giving away your product is not very cost effective short term, in the big picture it is an investment in the future. Everyone likes a freebie, and everyone loves a damned good freebie so that simple goodwill gesture of a gift without strings will come back to you in spades. You can spend a lot of money on glossy print advertising, or online marketing or radio or tv, but when your product relies on taste then the only way to really sell it is to get people to taste it. You do what it takes to make that happen.

So, in essence, we minimised the risks, saw the opportunities and did what it takes to get our product in front of, and in the mouths of, our customers. That's what sells it. More on other methods and strategies in a later blog.

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