I've sat staring at this page for far too long...
Trying to figure out how to put all of THAT into context. I'm good at making chocolates, baking and standing in the cold and wet with a smile of my face (well..maybe you've caught me on a bad day) but blogging...pfft.
Every...single...time. I sit down to write annnnnddd...there is ALWAYS something else I need to do 'first'. Bake brownies, whip up a ganache, toast some nuts, order some ingredients, call someone, make a sign, go to the print shop, pack a box, order packaging, pick up Nikolas, file my taxes, go for a walk, pay some bills, pay some more bills...eat. Time for bed.
But then there are those times when I just sit and stare at the computer trying to think of something 'clever' when I'm not feeling very 'clever'. So, I start..stop...stare...stare...and then....oh, need to order more of that too.
Yet, I know it’s important to keep you in the loop so to speak. It’s a crazy competitive world with so many chocolates being made by some really creative and talented Chocolatiers everywhere. You have lots of choices. That is why I'm ALWAYS honoured by repeat customers. Those who regularly visit our Stoke-Newington Farmers' market stall and those willing to navigate through my website (oh that needs work too) to re-order a fav or try a new one or even better, send them as gifts to friends and family. That is some serious trust. In fact, it’s really all about trust, isn't? A new, first-timer rolls up to our website and decides to trust that we will deliver an exceptional chocolate experience that will make the premium price seem right. These first time customers may not have had any direct contact with us, they may not have sampled our products or stood at one of our stalls or had our nougat at the venerable Crown & Castle in Orford. Maybe it was just a simple google search for say 'organic chocolates London' that was the first step. Somewhat surprising, but it does happen.
This trust isn't to be taken for granted, especially for a small producer like myself. Every order, no matter how big or small matters massively.
There were some wild swings through the year that have spilled over into the beginning of this year. The first half of the year was fairly stable...too stable actually. For a small business to grow and compete in this hyperactive environment things have to evolve, and be a bit manic. And that is exactly what the second half of the year was x 1000.
I spent the summer holidays with Nikolas back in the U.S. visiting my mom, sister and family in Michigan. August weather that was/is PERRRFECT..sunny, warm and at times flat out hot...but with freshwater lakes everywhere and BIG American cars with AC the heat was no problem (OK, OK..we didn't drive EVERYWHERE :) ). We got back to London re-energized which is essential to face the back half of the year and the run up to Christmas. The on-going challenge to turn this 'too small' small business into a viable business concern in one of the most expensive places in the world is daunting. However, it can and has been done. The next major step in this evolution came mid-September when I joined the Real Foods Market at Kings Cross (RFF @ KX).
At the time RFF @ KX was a 3 day/week market running from noon-7pm Wed-Fri. Day 1 started with my very first sale right at noon. I was stoked....then at EXACTLY 12:02 pm the first raindrops fell. By 12:30 I'd had my second sale of the day but the rains and winds had become torrential. After a couple of hours of rain blowing on my chocolates (not a good look) I shut it down and went home with 8.80 in sales. So bad that I laughed. What a start…Worst day ever! Day 2 was better..bright and sunny. In fact, it was too sunny...I was in the direct sunlight...melting chocolates (again, not a good look). But by October I'd moved to a better stall location, out of the direct sun and in the flow of foot-traffic. The weather for the month was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. Mild temps, hardly a drop of rain, perfect evenings...and we had our best sales month EVER..in OCTOBER. 3 x's 2015 sales and a bump in profit. It might’ve been the most expensive market in London but it was worth it. I'd added reliable staff and started to gain a few 'regulars'. Yes, things were looking positive heading into the critical Holiday season.
At the start of November, the market went to 4 days, Tues-Friday. 7 weeks to Christmas and things were looking up, up and up coming off that record-breaking October. Then the weather turned. It was still mild..but wet AND windy, very windy..day, after day, after day. It got so bad that the market shut for a week because of the gales. That was critical. My ‘main’ market in Stoke-Newington (Growing Communities Market - Saturdays) was also impacted by the weather. November was as bad as October was good.
So, entering the all-to-important month of December I had no idea what to expect. I’ve been in this sector for more than a decade but this time I heading into December in the dark. It’s always busy in December but that’s expected if you are retail. The question was just HOW busy would it be? Would it be October on steroids or a continuation of a disappointing November?
I added a third market in December, Primrose Hill. And KX was going to run 9 days straight from the 14th to the 23rd. That meant more staff, more packaging, more product, more transportation, more everything. Would the sales justify the costs?
Well, the weather was more of the same..mild, wet and windy. It was a real challenge getting through that month. Staffing 3 markets with unusual, for even London, weather.
So, the numbers…sales were up, a bit better than October. But costs, oh my goodness..the costs were through the roof. We did have a nice jump in online orders, but that wasn't enough to off-set the under-performing markets.
I was exhausted. I always fall over when I cross the finish line in December, but even more so this time. So, many moving parts..so many variables outside of my control. It’s exciting and exhilarating to be in the eye of the storm. But it is also exhausting.
So, as usual I took a couple of weeks to recover and prepare for the new year.
Then the really bad news came: King’s Cross had been shut ‘indefinitely’. Why? Well apparently someone complained that the market’s aesthetic did not fit that of the historic station. The complaint reached the right (or wrong) people and the market was shut. That was on 4 Jan. Ouch! There is no way to replace that kind of income potential overnight. None.
It has taken me pretty much the entire month to pick myself up. It’s part of being an entrepreneur. The unexpected becomes expected. You get knocked off course…but you persevere by taking the good with the bad and looking out for new opportunities that will inevitably come knocking.
What now? Well there is Valentines the holiday of amore and chocolate hearts galore, our next Chocolate Workshop (21 Feb), new accounts (TWO local jazz clubs have selected our chocolates recently for their restaurant menu (Jackdaw) and their Valentines weekend (Vortex), possibly a new chocolate tasting and discussion group…and of course, taxes…it’s time to do my taxes :)
See you soon!