Small Business Ups and Downs in a Chocolate Shop

By October 4, 2014Chocolate Business
We that you all are as mad as we are.

We love that you all are as mad as we are.

For the entrepreneurial spirit, the small business owner, you often hear it’s the toughest job you’ll ever have and it’s so very true. I’ve worked a myriad of jobs in my years and put in 80 hour weeks but nothing can prepare you for the amount of slogging, the grind, the sheer effort it takes to lift a small business not only off the ground but to carry it to a place of prosperity.

I like to think of us as a very open company. You can always talk to me about how business is, where we are, what we’re trying, where we’re going, and the roadblocks that litter the path ahead, or behind. I’m happy to share. You learn something and I’ll probably learn something, or at least pay a small tab of karma in the universe.

This has been our years Odyssey.

Understanding Ripple Effects

This year started off exactly in a stride we wanted. A new store open and stocked. A holiday season survived and thrived. Then like all good comedy of errors our Valentine’s was crushed by ice and snow. We had some pre-sales, a few corporate orders that went out early but the bulk of Valentine’s historically for us is made the two days before and the day of.

It was simply gone.

Valentine’s isn’t a made up holiday. Sure you’ll take your significant other to dinner but you’ll cast off the accoutrements of the day since it’s effervescent. In that moment we lose 20-30% of what would be our year.

Now we have learned we rarely live in real-time with cash-flow. We’re a bit like chipmunks. We hoard our efforts in the winter and early new year so that we can pad the doldrums of the Summer. This mishap wasn’t felt immediately but like a tsunami I knew that eventually this was going to cause us an issue. Over the next few days I reran our yearly projections and saw what was going to happen. Ran some best case worst case scenarios and really none of them made it that much better.

New Location, Old Shackles

In our new location we began seeking out new relationships with business and consumers. We had a few things working against us. We took the location of a prior shop. One that as we have found out didn’t have a consistent schedule and stocked some great cards. This was a weird burn because old customers hit a wall of unfamiliarity (#1 question: Where are the cards?) and scorned customers who didn’t trust the location were wary to come in (#1 comment: She was never open.)

We also had a combatant land lord which made for some very tough decisions and expenditures that were never in the cards or contingencies. Life happens and it’s usually messy. All you can do is keep moving forward, and so we have.

Gotta Keep Swimming, Swimming, Swimming

Dory:”Hey Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down do you wanna know what you gotta do?”
Marlin:”I don’t wanna know what you gotta do.”
Dory:”Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.”

2014_BOB_AwardWe entered the rest of the Spring well enough and worked our mojo for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and a myriad of little perks and peaks in between. We took our prized creations and found more awards. We took our customers love and turned it into local bests-of. Striving for excellence in the face of adversity we put up an amazing show.

The Arc

Like any good story the long arc of the year is our financial difficulties. What stone was cast months and months ago ripples were catching up to us.

Chocolate does not have a season. People change their tastes through the year but really chocolate, confections, are not seasonal. However Charlotte has seasons. Charlotteans when school is over and summer is here flee to the beach or the mountains but they don’t really stay in the city much. This creates two dips in the summer schedule. July when the full force of vacation is in swing and September when the reality of not being on vacation has fully set in. These two moments are ones we save for.

When You See the Ants

This year however we did not have the savings. Nor did we personally have the savings to pad the bottom line temporarily. A small business is often like a horrible hobby. It takes a large savings and makes it disappear. The repayment, the glory of small business doesn’t play out till 20 years (says my CPA.) That’s a long time off and we have real time issues.

Over the course of the summer we onboarded 2 debts. Square will cash in your future. OnDeck will cash in your projections based off your history. This allowed us to skim the ground and last month we pulled on a bit of the future and the month to pass so low you could see the ants on the ground. With any luck and continued hard work / perseverance this was the end of it.

Financial Drag

The unintended consequences of such actions is drag. Financial drag is when the burdens of your loans slow your growth. We work so hard we have a great growth rate, however because of these two debts, and a few others we took on in late 2013 to get our new store and invest in new equipment are like boat anchors on us. They take forward momentum and make you plod and struggle for that next step. Necessary evils to survival but something that must be weighed very carefully when you are taking on saviors. What can save you today may kill you tomorrow. Most of what we have are very short term and we look forward to paying them off and finding our flexibility return.

Salted Favorites

The Season, Our Light

While the holiday season isn’t really in the consumers thought yet it’s on ours. We have a lot of work to do to be ready. Corporate orders return to send their happy customers and employees wonderful things and we will ride the swing. We also have some crazy new pilot tests about to start which might send us so far into the sky we might find a sustained orbit..maybe.

Maybe it’s adrenaline, fight or flight, or the electricity of potential but I’m giddy to be on the threshold of where we can catch back up.

In All of this a Flood

I’ll write another post once it’s fully settled but to add insult to injury we had the great ceiling flood of 2014 that stopped production, ruined our shops pantry, and created more cash-flow shortcomings. However that’s another tale for another time. We survived it and that’s the important part. The lessons I can impart I’ll do so once I’ve learned them all.

Shop Small, Support Local50% Small Businesses Last Less than 5 Years

There are plenty of reasons a small business fails. Many fail under poor planning. Some fail due to the romantic nature of running your small business not living up to the realities. Others will fall because the unprecedented stop them before they can handle the corrective efforts. Every day my family strives to create great products that please our customers. We hope they spread our quality and love for us so that more may enjoy our efforts.

Throughout this year we have understood many more of the caveats of small business ownership and how fast one can potentially close. When thinking of where to spend a dollar we definitely like to spend it in a local establishment and we hope you do too. It can mean far more than is thought about on the surface.

Plans Writ in Water

In all of this we continue to look strategically to the future but know that every day tactics are writ in water and do our best to stay ahead of the next ripple.

The good thing to know is when we say we appreciate you we mean it. It’s not a big corporate lingo it is a family who means it from the bottom of their hearts. We would never be where we are or the success we strive to be without people like you.

Life is uncertain, eat dessert first.

Author Andy

Andy is a jack-of-all trades. Technologist, designer, super palate enabled crazy individual. He is like a madman helping The Secret Chocolatier reach new heights and when he's not doing that, or entertaining his new son, he might be falling out of nearly perfect airplanes.

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