Chocolate Shop Start Up


Expert Recommendations to Starting Your Own Organic Chocolate Shop

Jason Vishnefske is the co-founder and master chocolatier of Santa Barbara Chocolate Company and has a wealth of experience in the chocolate business. His letter below includes some great recommendations to starting your own chocolate shop...

A History of Chocolate Experience

Chocolate Shop Display

Growing up in a family of candy makers, bakers and chocolate makers has blessed me with one of the most fun and sweetest opportunities life can offer. With so much exposure to a sweet family life it's no wonder why I have always been interested in the confectionery business and all things chocolate. Today I'm the founder of Santa Barbara Chocolate and a partner in a few chocolate companies including retail chocolate outlets and artisan truffle makers. I'm Jason Vishnefske and if you search this chocolate website you'll probably see me popping up all over the place.  My main job these days is in chocolate recipe development, technical chocolate expertise and strategic chocolate business direction development, phew.

From First time Customers to Artisan Chocolatiers

In the last twenty years of working with Santa Barbara Chocolate Company I've been blessed to see many of our first time customers become professional artisan chocolatiers, chocolate shop owners, bakers and executive chefs. Being their partner over the long term has been an incredibly rewarding and fun experience for us here at Santa Barbara Chocolate Company. Many of these first time novice chocolate makers have succeeded in building their own shops specializing in the best of all things chocolate. 

My Thoughts on Getting Started in the Chocolate Business

I wanted to share a few ideas and thoughts on starting your own chocolate shop. There is a lot involved with doing this and you will need to follow all local business, health and tax laws to be successful. But here are just a few additional thoughts you can add to your bag of tricks in founding your own successful chocolate business. These are some of the secrets we have used in building our businesses and these are things we have seen work with our customers.

Finding Your Location and Unique Chocolate Niche

An artisan chocolate shop start up does not need to be in a high traffic location but it does help in building your business more quickly. There are many successful truffle shops specializing in unique and tasty chocolates and they aren't in high traffic locations because they have achieved the necessary press locally to generate traffic (newspaper press release,, television etc). The chocolate shops that I have seen with the fastest and easiest success have been ones that open up where there is foot traffic. People shopping along a quaint street, along the path walking to a movie theatre, in a mall or in a hotel mezzanine are all good options.

Defining Your Trade

Once you have chosen your shop location build it out so your customers can see what YOU do. Chocolate lovers will like to see your trade and what you do. You don't need your entire work space available for people to see but it is nice if you can have an area where you can dip chocolates or hand roll chocolate truffles and your customers can watch. This type of shop experience helps you build a closer relationship with your customers and it creates a memorable experience. 

From Classic to Exotic Chocolate Flavors

Once you have your shop I recommend offering flavorful classics along with a few far out options. For example, milk and dark chocolate truffles are good reliable classics, but also offer some real creative experience to introduce a sense of discovery and intrigue. Some exotic flavored chocolates that our customers have always loved are: black pepper with paprika dark chocolate ganache, goat cheese with mission fig in milk chocolate, and one of my favorite mad scientist creations - star anise marzipan cardamom dark chocolate ganache, hand dipped in milk chocolate. Maybe once a week include experimenting and offer creations you feel like is out of the ordinary. Engage your customers and help them discover this wonderful journey of chocolate. Make sure you have a nice selection of white chocolate. From my experience in chocolate making, if you offer quality white chocolate, you'll have an intense and loyal niche audience. I think the fun experience you offer will build a loyal base of people that will help build your business and allow it to flourish.

Measuring Your Chocolate for Customers

As far as selling your artisan chocolates, I recommend offering them by the box, piece and by weight. Everyone references differently when buying. For example a gift shopper might find it easier buying by weight as a one pound gift box while a wedding planner or bride might prefer to buy chocolates by the piece because they have an exact number of guests they need to offer chocolates. Having a glass candy case is a great way to show what you offer. Who doesn't remember the fun experience of going into a beautifully decorated chocolate maker's shop and picking out the hand made chocolates one at a time? It is all about offering your customers an experience that they will share with others.

Hooking the Customer with a Little Extra

I also recommend offering a few extras beyond chocolates. Gift cards, coffee, tea, gelato and ice cream are all good ancillary options. By offering a range beyond chocolate you can entice customers that are looking for something in addition to the chocolate truffles. Once a new customer enters and tries your incredible coffee... heck an impulse buy of a wonderful chocolate dipped caramel or a scoop of dark chocolate gelato could hook someone forever.

The Owner's Fatal Error

Lastly I'd like to add just a few really sound pieces of advice. Don't go for cheap on ingredients. There are many things that will separate you from your competition (the big retail store that sells chocolates) and some of the most important factors will be the experience, the flavor and the value. Your customers will taste and compare and they will remember the better tasting chocolates. Your customers will remember the experience you offer: a single register with someone who really cares about them and the personal service. Your customers will remember the value you offer. Of course you don't need to match the wholesale mega store pricing because that isn't possible, but in the same token remember value as pricing yourself out of the market doesn't necessarily work unless you are on 5th Avenue in New York (where everything is overpriced). I recommend buying quality ingredients that offer the best value with flavor so you can in turn offer that to your customers.

A Leap of Faith to Starting Your Own Organic Chocolate Shop

Taking the leap of faith and pursuing your career choice is likely to be both a rewarding and scary experience. Through dedication and smart work you can achieve the American dream of being self employed and sharing your expertise to others. You will help happiness happen here - wherever that might be. I feel like my decision to chose the path I have followed is one of the best I could have ever made. At Santa Barbara Chocolate we know our success will be measured by your success. As your business grows and you flourish so will we. The wind is at your back and the sails are full. Captain your ship because you are at the helm and you have an incredible ocean of opportunity. 
Many thanks,
Santa Barbara Chocolate
JULY 25, 2016 UPDATE: Chocolate inspires and taps into an individual's childhood memories of what tastes good and what comforts, so it is important to honor the reason behind why an individual will choose chocolate.  While exotic flavor combinations like dark chocolate chili mango lime are important to inspire and create interest, it is important to also offer classic flavor combinations.  In your recipe line up of chocolates offer a balance of interesting and unique flavors along with traditional and classic tastes like caramel, toffees and dipped fruits.  The reason why it is important to have chocolate classics is that the unique and exotic chocolate flavors will draw new customers and will drive publicity, but the classics  will guarantee sales and customer loyalty. Exotic fun chocolates will be impulse buys typically which are usually combined with a greater volume of traditional chocolate classics that draw your customers to the times of their childhood.  As a chocolatier (here in our chocolate factory and seeing our customers,) I found a successful combination of chocolate types in a collection is something like this: 10% exotic flavors (soft and solid chocolates), 15% nuts, 10% chews, 15% fruit, 25% truffles, 25% solid chocolates. This is a chocolate combination that will satisfy all tastes. The exotic flavors will inspire interest and help you gain new customers - think of them as a chocolate marketing opportunity.
November 11, 2016 Update: White chocolate has been all the rage this week.  I've never seen the interest this high.  I think as chocolate shoppers start to discover new and exotic flavors like white chocolate and mandarin or white chocolate and pistachio, you'll see a greater range of people interested.  The nice thing is real white chocolate lovers are loyal to a brand they like.
January 2, 2016 Update: Chocolate in bulk is a fast growing trend and a great way to drive additional sales at checkout.  With the success of places like Mr. Bulky and Dylan's Candy Bar one can see a trend toward adding opportunity with a special section in your shop or bulk candy options at the point of purchase in your chocolate shop. Millennials and their purchasing trend in 2016 shows their interest in value along with bright colors, whimsical candy styles and a significant flavor interest in sour (gummies and sour gummies have had a fast growth rate with millennials driving many of the purchases).  
Many of our chocolate shop customers have started selling our bulk chocolate couverture in glass jars near the front of the store.  This allows additional impulse sales opportunities.  If one of your chocolate shoppers is buying several truffles or a truffle gift box, they will likely also opt to buy bulk chocolate to eat as is or to take home for baking.  Additionally you can capture additional sales by offering traditional brands. By having a neat across horizontal integration of all candy and chocolate items you will be able to capture the sales opportunities of an entire demographic (this sales strategy we are seeing most successfully implemented in high foot traffic pedestrian areas like tourist locations such as The Santa Barbara Stearns Wharf or on a main street like State Street in Santa Barbara). This additional method works best if your shop is near a movie theater or mall.  At one of our kiosks in a mall our sales are being driven strongly by theater goers and employees of the local shops. This single kiosk does about $180,000.00 last year.  
So think of the sections of your shop as different styles of stores under one roof, each with revenue opportunity.
If you want to drive sales as much as possible and capture every opportunity we recommend adding these additional revenue streams. 

Hоw саn уоu make whоlеѕаlе bulk саndу work fоr уоur еѕtаblіѕhmеnt? Hеrе are 5 tірѕ tо hеlр уоur buѕіnеѕѕ bеnеfіt from thеѕе рорulаr bulk trеаtѕ. 

Uѕе сlеаr асrуlіс оr рlаѕtіс bins: Aсrуlіс and plastic аrе bоth еаѕу tо clean аnd mаіntаіn, and nеіthеr wіll brеаk easily. Evеn mоrе іmроrtаntlу, асrуlіс and plastic bіnѕ аrе trаnѕраrеnt, allowing уоur сuѕtоmеrѕ tо ѕее уоur dеlісіоuѕ ѕwееtѕ. Whеthеr you оffеr bulk сhосоlаtеѕ, bulk Jеllу Bellys, оr bulk gummі саndіеѕ, уоur customers should gеt a good lооk аt еvеrуthіng. 

Plan out your color ѕсhеmе: Thеrе аrе mаnу аttrасtіvе ways to dіѕрlау уоur bulk саndу. Yоu can аrrаngе it lіkе a rainbow, wіth thе rеdѕ on оnе side, оrаngеѕ nеxt, аnd оn thrоugh tо thе purple and vіоlеt саndіеѕ. Or you саn create ѕtrіреѕ wіth саndіеѕ оf оnе color alternating wіth candies оf another. Pаrt оf thе allure of rеtаіl bulk саndу іѕ the overall іmрrеѕѕіоn of thе whole dіѕрlау, whісh gives реорlе a ѕеnѕе оf hарріnеѕѕ and ѕіmрlе pleasure. Mаkе sure to mаkе thаt іmрrеѕѕіоn whеn уоu рlаn уоur color scheme. 

Uѕе accessories that fit ѕmаll hаndѕ: Kіdѕ аnd саndу are a natural fit, ѕо make sure уоur саndу scoops аrеn't tоо bіg or thе bаgѕ tоо difficult tо open. Older kіdѕ mіght have thеіr оwn mоnеу tо ѕреnd оn саndу, and уоungеr kіdѕ gеt grеаt pleasure out of ѕсооріng their оwn. Thеѕе аrе сеrtаіnlу сuѕtоmеrѕ whо wіll buу аѕ muсh оf уоur tasty whоlеѕаlе bulk candy аѕ thеу'rе аllоwеd! 

Dіѕрlау уоur саndу іn hіngеd bins: All of уоur bіnѕ should hаvе lіdѕ wіth hіngеѕ, оr some оthеr mеаnѕ оf соvеrіng your саndу. Hаvіng a lіd wіth hinges рrоtесtѕ thе unwrapped bulk candy frоm gеrmѕ, kеерѕ іt frоm going ѕtаlе, аnd mаkеѕ it hаrd for аnуоnе tо ассіdеntаllу put a hаndful іn thеіr росkеt. 

Offеr bоth сlаѕѕіс аnd nеw саndіеѕ. You саn't go wrong with the оld bulk саndу favorites, lіkе M&Ms, gummi bеаrѕ, and malted mіlk bаllѕ. But соnѕіdеr trуіng some nеw ones, tоо, like Rееѕе'ѕ Pieces, gummi ѕhаrkѕ, оr сhосоlаtе covered almonds. Dоn't forget thе candies thаt аrе in thе family оf thе сlаѕѕісѕ, but have their оwn style, ѕuсh as sour gummіѕ, оr sugar frее сhосоlаtеѕ.

Dоn't fоrgеt thаt when it соmеѕ to selling candy in bulk, уоur bеѕt bеt іѕ tо оffеr mаnу сhоісеѕ, attractively dіѕрlауеd. Thеrе are ѕо mаnу саndу whоlеѕаlе орtіоnѕ thаt уоu should bе аblе to offer your customers a wіdе vаrіеtу оf dеlісіоuѕ сhоісеѕ.