For many chocolate business owners, taking the leap to move their business into a retail location is a huge decision. One of our Ecole Chocolat graduates, Brooke Willis from B Cocoa Artisan Chocolate, has just celebrated the first anniversary of her chocolate business out of her home and to a retail location! Brooke has been kind enough to share her experiences with us in the past, and you can read more about her journey in building her brand and business from the ground up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
We asked Brooke to share the story of making the decision to move her business out of her home and into a brick and mortar shop, and what she’s learned along the way. Oh, and did we mention Brooke is also a mom of two and that she home schools both of her kids?! Read this amazing woman’s story of taking the next leap with her chocolate business.
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Thank you to everyone who braved the rain and nasty weather to celebrate with us and the @wichitafallschamber We are forever grateful! And a special thank you to @brittanydevans1 and @Hamlin clan15 for driving from Frisco! We hope you enjoyed the fall flavors and @scoutandcellar 🍷! Happy fall ya’ll! Here’s to a great year! #wichitafalls #bcocoaartisanchocolate #oneyearanniversary #mompreneur #familyowned
B Cocoa Artisan Chocolate…first, a little background
I began my chocolate journey after we moved to Texas from England. My original plan was to keep practicing everything I had learned from Ecole Chocolat and gradually get to a point where I could open up a small shop. The demand for chocolate took off much faster than I expected, so I ended up starting my business out of my home kitchen. I was able to manage this madness (I don’t know HOW I managed to make as much chocolate as I did out of my house) for almost three years.
I sold at pop up shops, in small retail spaces, and special events. It was a great way to sell and make money without a lot of overhead and it helped me build B Cocoa from the ground up. If you work with chocolate, and you live in a warm climate, or a melt-your face off hot place like Texas, then you can image how hard it is to lug your delicate treats all over. After I while, I was burned out with constantly hauling half of my kitchen and chocolates back and forth, and needing a babysitter for every daytime event.
B Cocoa was becoming better known at this time and I started getting asked about wholesale orders and selling in our local coffee shop. I knew that I had hit the “cottage law” wall. It was bound to happen because there is only so far you can take your business working from home.
The day it all became clear
I still remember the day, I was sitting at my dining room table, which had become the packaging table, and I lost it. We’re talking ugly-cry face, pity party, LOST. IT! I was at a fork in the road and I knew it and I was scared to death. My two options were 1) quit all together or 2) find a commercial kitchen.
I knew I couldn’t keep up at the level I was and be sane anymore but I was terrified to take the next step because a retail location can be very risky and I don’t like to fail at things.
I have the best, most supportive husband and he’s always there as a level head when I hit my entrepreneurial lows. We both knew I had to make sure that I was 100% in if we were going to invest in a retail location, so I took some time to pray and think about whether this was a journey I wanted to continue.
Looking for a retail location
During this time, I started asking local businesses if they had kitchen space to rent and I would drive around looking for an open kitchen or somewhere that might make a good kitchen.
I know that every business owner is different and that most of us start out in our homes for various reasons, for me, the main reasons I had run B Cocoa out of my home were:
- I home-school: can’t really find a kitchen that will let you kids hang out
- We are military: I didn’t want to spend thousands on a space when we could move
- I wanted to make sure B Cocoa was going to be a successfully running business
- No debt: I decided that I was going to operate my business without loans.
I was still scared to take the next step and I had decided that all I would worry about was kitchen space, not a retail front. This way I could get out of my kitchen and make all the chocolate I needed to.
So, when I was looking for kitchen space all of these reasons helped me narrow down what I needed:
- A space where my kids can hang and do school work while I work.
- Somewhere we can lease that is preferably an already finished kitchen.
- Rent that is affordable and we can cover on our own if the business didn’t succeed.
- Good location and area that fits the image of our product.
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Texas ‘Rita Bites and Bark are back in stock!!! The Texas heat made our chocolate shipment delay and we were completely out of white chocolate. We have ALL the chocolate back in the kitchen ready to be made into tastey goodness! Thank you @chocospherellc for always getting our shipments to us safe and sound, even in 100+ temps 🔥. #bcocoaartisanchocolate #chocosphere #margarita #texas #dallaschocolate #dallaschocolatefestival #maldonseasalt
As I was jotting these things down and stalking storefronts, I remembered that there was a beef jerky store that I would frequent before my son’s martial arts class. I also remembered that they had posted that it had to suddenly close for personal reasons. I drove over to the location, looked in the window, and saw it was empty. If they made beef jerky in that kitchen, it had to be up to code and MAYBE even have some equipment in it. I called the number immediately and talked to the owner. Yes, it was ready ASAP, yes it had a 3 compartment sink, a hand washing sink, all floors and walls to spec, an office AND a retail space. I hit the jackpot! Even with this, I teetered on a decision.
The location was great; it was well-known retail area one block off the main strip, which cut the cost of rent in half. Still, the rent was higher than I wanted to pay and I knew I needed to find a way to supplement the rent. That’s when I met G Pops. They make all natural gourmet popsicles and needed a larger kitchen space to rent. We were a great fit, because they didn’t need a ton of space, and the corner I was looking to rent out was just enough space for them. Our busy times are opposite, theirs is spring and summer, and mine is the fall, winter, and spring. There it was. G Pops was in. We signed the lease and our new journey began.
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We've been a bit "chocolate" quiet this last month and that is because we've finally signed a lease for a chocolate kitchen and further retail/workshop space! This almost didn't happen, like 20 times because fear almost took over. It is now official and today is moving day! We will be restocking @littlehcreative as soon as we get set up next week. Retail space will be coming this fall but you are always welcome to come say hi and pick up orders! ✌️❤️🍫 #bcocoaartisanchocolate #wichitafalls #momprenuer #smallbusiness #familyowned
Getting our kitchen and retail space ready to open
My space is 1500 square feet (and it is starting to feel too small)! We have about 500 square feet for retail, 200 for an office, and about 700 for kitchen plus a dry storage.
By September 22, 2017 we were ready to open. We started with light retail hours because I wasn’t sure I wanted full retail, I was more focused on using the kitchen for orders. By the end of October, I had hired my first employee and we were open Wednesday through Saturday. We now have four employees and our retail is far exceeding our expectations.
One year in – advice for chocolate business owners
As we have just celebrated our one year anniversary, the few things that stick out in my mind to tell someone who may be in their chocolate splattered home kitchen, wishing for their own kitchen location are:
- Seeing people support your business is so rewarding. I still get excited when I hear the door chime “Someone actually came for my chocolate?!?!”
- You are in control of your time, your space, your product and that is very freeing.
- In the chocolate industry, you get to celebrate every holiday! It makes all the holidays so special!
- Taking a risk and knowing you have overcome your fears.
- Every day and every new challenge is a learning experience.
The owner of our complex is a very successful businessman. When I signed the lease he told me, “Brooke, remember, feast and famine, feast and famine. Be prepared for the slow months and don’t spend everything in the big months.” He was so right! You can’t track sales until you’ve made it a full year and the summer was HARD. Like, on my knees, praying, “Can I just make rent, payroll, and my bills?” hard.
Sheesh. I learned this early, thank goodness. Handing over your passion to others is hard, and you really need to have trustworthy employees that fit your philosophy and work ethic. If you don’t, this can be a disaster for your business. My first employee was not a good fit and I didn’t realize how negatively it was affecting the business and me until I finally let that person go.
Even when you think you’ve budgeted for every expense you’re going to have…trust me, you haven’t.
We have been BLESSED with the most supportive and complementary customers but remember, once you branch out from your home and your niche market, you will reach a new group of people who have no clue who you are. They will need a lot more convincing to buy your products than those who already follow you and know your story. You have to be ready to prove your worth, and give out a lot of free samples.
Eat it. Be ready to eat it, because going from a home kitchen to a small business is a BIG step. You now have a large overhead and a new audience to reach. It takes a while to build sales and you will feel like a failure at some point every few weeks. This is normal, and part of being a crazy chocolate entrepreneur!
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Owning a small, artisan chocolate business is not glamorous. And, this is ironic because you create these chocolates that are “too pretty to eat.” Most days you give all you have, focusing all the beauty on those tiny treats and then you have moments when you look down and see these shoes… torn, battered, chocolate splattered, your fashion is gone because you are constantly covered in chocolate and colored cocoa butter stained clothes, so faded black becomes your staple (no knocking black here it has been and will always be my fave). Hair is always up to keep it out of the food, and you rush out the door to get the kids to sports and activities, still covered in stains. Your once washed, styled hair is now frizzy from the humidity of washing all the dishes by hand. When you finally get a moment to glance in the mirror you are thankful that your kids are out of diapers because people might mistake that smear of chocolate on your forehead, that you just noticed, as something other than dark chocolate. Temper the chocolate, mould the chocolate, unmould the chocolate, package, repeat. A few years ago I would have thought I was crazy to want to live a life like this, and yet today, I’m so thankful for this journey. So, when I stood at the door to unlock it the other day, I glanced down and saw the beautiful disaster of this chocolate covered life. I stared at the rug and chuckled because that rug has been my mantra lately. We’ve recently said “goodbye” some things that were weighing us down and and this has led to so many new opportunities and new perspectives. I’m excited for adventures we’re saying “hello” to and can’t wait to share them with you! Here’s to the stains and the splatters! #bcocoaartisanchocolate #chocolate #beautifuldisaster #chocolatiers #womenowned #veteranowned #familybusiness
If you are reading this, you may be wishing for your own commercial kitchen or dreaming of how you are going to start your chocolate dream. My best advice to you is do it! Start slow and grow. You have time, chocolate is one of the oldest foods in history, it’s not going anywhere. Take your time, learn your craft, grow your following, don’t be scared to ask other chocolate people for advice. We are all very nice and willing to help!
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|| MEET THE MAKER || A little Thursday truths… I don’t usually post personal things on our chocolate page, I keep that for our @classically_country account, but we’ve had an interesting few months and made a lot of new friends, so I think it’s time a few “truths” about the maker behind B Cocoa. 1. I have two beautiful kiddos Tripp and Vida that I homeschool in our shop. We really classically unschool but not many kids can say their “classroom” is a chocolate shop. 2. I love nature, we have 3 cats, 2 dogs, 11 chickens and and 4 horses hanging in our back pasture. 1 horse is ours and 3 we keep for friends. I ❤️ Natural Horsemanship and always have my nose in a book and am always outside, rain or shine loving on the animals. 3. Last year one of our chickens pecked me in the eye and just missed my line of sight. I couldn’t see for two days and had to wear only glasses for a year… until this week, I finally got contacts again 💃 4. When my husband and I were dating we did 3 1/2 years long distance and when I graduated college I said, “put a ring on it or I’m going to work in New York.” (I said it MUCH nicer than that 😜) He put a beautiful ring on it and I moved to Nebraska… now that ring has been replaced with a durable silicone ring that won’t poke through my gloves at work. Funny how priorities change! I’m blessed with a great man. 5. It’s been over 5 years since I graduated from @ecolechocolat and TODAY I am getting my FIRST tempering machine delivered. That means everything you’ve ever seen us do has been all by hand, over and over, and over. These new machines will make life so much easier! Two of my childhood dreams were to own my own business and to own a horse, I stepped out of my comfort zone and made both of those things happen this year. What is the bravest thing you’ve done or what are you praying to find the strength to do this year??? Stay tuned to meet more of the faces behind B Cocoa. #bcocoaartisanchocolate #nofear #ecolechocolat #stories #meettheartist #chocolatier #womanownedbusiness #bossbabe #wichitafalls #fearless
I just renewed my lease for another year and the owner came in and congratulated me. “Congrats, you’ve made it the first year, 85% of businesses fail in the first three years. You did it, the first year is the hardest and you survived.”
Congratulations Brooke on surviving your first year in business! Thank you so much for sharing all of the lessons you’ve learned!