No Sleep 'Til Christmas January 26, 2016 13:16

After almost of year of trying to figure out how to get customers to my website (beyond just friends and family), I finally moved the needle.  I had tried Google Ads, Facebook Ads and Instagram but was struggling to find the magic bullet. When I spoke to other small business owners, they were having the similar problems.  Then came the press.  I couldn't afford a publicist so I did it myself.  It worked!  Through a connection, I got mentioned in Redbook Magazine's holiday gift guide.  That guide ended up on MSN.com.  It was a slide show of 100 gifts and I was slide number 71.  I couldn't believe the flood of orders from that one mention.  Even my own retired parents barely had the patience to make it to slide 71.  My chocolate bars with names in chocolate letters were featured and that is what almost everyone was ordering.  I did it!  I created a product that people wanted!  All I had needed was for them to know about it.

Then began the craziness.  I had to hire and train more help fast.  I quickly found people who were excited to work in a chocolate factory and grateful for the opportunity to earn extra money for the holidays.  I'd never run such a high volume operation and we all had to figure out the best processes together while under intense pressure to get the orders out the door.  There were problems.  I struggled to keep the chocolate, packaging and certain toppings in stock.  My suppliers were running low because of the holiday season and my mornings would be spent making calls and driving all around town.  We would begin crafting and shipping the chocolate orders in the afternoon and run until very late at night.  A few of my ladies (who had day jobs as well) were willing to stay past midnight.  I rarely got to bed before 3 am myself.  We were running on adrenaline, sugar and the desire to delight our newfound customers with exquisite custom chocolate bars.  I'd never been so exhilarated and exhausted at the same time.  

The real joy came is seeing how much the ladies loved crafting the bars.  I think they took more joy in decorating them than the recipient would get in receiving the bar with their name on it.  I'd overhear them say things like "I hope Carter really loves this bar, isn't it cute" and "look at how I arranged the marshmallows on Anna".  As they trained, they asked me questions like, "do you think Bethany is going to notice this upside down gummy bear on her bar?" and sometime the bars needed to be remade.  I would constantly run around tell the decorators to add more toppings.  "We don't skimp on toppings around here" was my mantra.  A few times the decorators would criticize the customer choices.  "This bar was beautiful until they added the rainbow sprinkles and destroyed the blue color scheme; can I put a note letting them know how I feel?"  Absolutely not.  We all wished we knew more about who the people were that wanted this or that on their bar and what their reaction was to the final product.

Mistakes were sometimes made.  Some were just part of the steep learning curve, some happened by accident and others made me very angry.  When I care so much about the quality of what goes out the door, it's difficult to watch another person cut corners on the needed intricacy and assume that the customer won't notice or care.  I worked too hard to get this all up and running  to have it be destroyed by shoddy workmanship.  Unfortunately, not everyone will be invited back for the Valentine's Day rush.  It's not always easy to find people who care about how well they do a job or even care about how well they do anything they undertake in life.  

My customers were the best though.  So understanding!  To the extent that anything went wrong, we did the best we could to fix it quickly and they were greatful.  If we weren't going to be able to get an order out in a reasonable time frame, we'd let them know.  At first I was afraid of the customers but I quickly found that if you are honest with them, let them know what the options are and generally do right by them, they are very nice.  I hear from them that they don't often get such good communication and customer service.  That's our specialty.  

So much was learned during this process.  I learned about how best to run the chocolate operation, how best to package and ship, how to manage people, which suppliers I can rely on and that I was undercharging for the name bars.  Making the letters and positioning them on the bars would end up being such a time consuming and intricate process that I wasn't charging enough to cover the expense.  I can only hope that the thrill of having a personalized chocolate bar is worth it.  At the end of the day, I proved I my business was viable and that I could run it well that was all I wanted for Christmas.  That and after the last order went out, an epic nap.