Hello my lovely blog readers. It's Shana the owner. Here I am at age THREE and thankfully you all still love making custom chocolate creations. I’ll review what happened at Top This Chocolate this year and share my plans for the coming year.
Last year I said I would redecorate and make the store feel less thrown together and more polished. I did this with new shelves that display the premade bars beautifully. I’ve also upgraded the tables and product display trays. It is a constantly evolving work in progress. One thing I’m proud of is our new stand up banner by the door. It explains to people walking in what we do that is so special and unique. Many who are strolling through the harbor see a chocolate store and are thinking that when they walk in, they will be browsing chocolates on shelves. They have no idea what wonders await inside. Flowing liquid chocolate and a toppings bar with 50+ toppings! The Chocologists are trained to explain to each new customer how it works. But it’s difficult for them to get to everybody at times and it helps to have a quick primer just inside the door to explain and answer some basic questions about the process. The banner has significantly eased the burden for the Chocologists.
Speaking of the Chocologists, if you follow us on Facebook or Instagram, you may have met some of them and even watched us bid farewell to SIX who went off to college this fall. For many it was their first ever job and I was sad to see them go. Here’s hoping they come back during their winter break either to say hello or pick up a shift or two. In the fall, it was time to hire once again. Hiring and training in food service is always a challenge but my judgment gets better each time. I select for great customer service and communication in guiding the customers through a new (and fun) activity for them. Developing the ability to clearly and quickly explain the process to customers is the hard part because the rest of job is now pretty straightforward. My manager Rebecca and the leadership team are stellar and the systems and processes have finally been streamlined and set (though not yet in writing – more on that later). So while I really miss some of the longterm people I lost, the new team has been able to quickly pick up where my summer stars left off because of the infrastructure left in place by them. I know I have been hiring people who understand great hospitality because the reviews on both google and yelp are terrific and the customer service is often mentioned specifically in those reviews. It took three years to have a solid, even if fluid, staff and I feel great about it!
Over the last year we’ve also added several new premade bars (the Turtle bar invented by Rebecca), products (addictive chocolate covered almonds) and toppings (honeycomb, bacon bits, kiwi, and hibiscus flowers). I will say that before we had the honeycomb and bacon bits, they were both requested frequently by customers. Now that we have them, they are rarely ordered. The bacon bits blitz promotion we ran over the summer was more of a bacon bits bust. However the bacon potato chip bar was and still is a hit! Live and learn. We’re still listening and taking suggestions.
This may be surprising to some but revenue has been down by a lot this year from 2021. It defies the conventional wisdom that new small businesses should be growing year over year. However, the past three years have been anything but conventional. Having lower revenue especially during the summer busy season was distressing and required some serious belt-tightening. But the explanation was neither worrisome nor a reflection on Top This Chocolate specifically. In the previous summer, international travel was still off limits and a huge number of road tripping tourists came through Ventura Harbor with government stimulus checks in their pockets. In summer 2022, the entire world was open and many took delayed trips abroad instead. Also, inflation and high gas prices also put a strain on travel plans and spending. Many other businesses in this harbor experienced a similar downturn. It’s new for me as an entrepreneur to have to stomach thin years along with fat ones especially at a time with rising wages and huge price hikes for food and packaging supplies. Everything is panic inducing for me the first time I go through it but I’ll get the hang of the entrepreneurial lifestyle of up years and down years in time. As natural foot traffic declines I really need to step up promotions and marketing. It’s a lot to do myself while juggling everything else and it's time to find help. If you know anyone creative who would love to do local advertising and promotions part time, please have them contact me.
So what comes next? Franchising. Every single day a new customer walks in and asks if this is the only store or if it is a franchise. They often wonder why they haven’t seen this concept done before. Hint: it’s because it’s not easy to do like say frozen yogurt, juice or smoothies. Once I overheard a child say he really wished they had one of these back in Ohio where he was from. Recently, Susan, a local, told me that after her grandchildren visited from New Zealand and spent a week in Ventura she asked them what was the highlight of their trip. They said creating their own chocolate bars at Top This Chocolate! 🥰 So as much as I’m still a little overwhelmed, it’s time to work on the project of bringing Top This Chocolate stores to other cities with their own individual entrepreneurial owners like me. It’s a project just to set up a franchising organization and legally be able to sell franchises. In fact, I cannot offer or sell a single one in California until I have filed a 200 page document with the state. I have to write the operations manual as well so others know everything I've learned over three years about running a customization chocolate store. I have a ton on my plate as usual but am excited about the growth. I love that I will enable new entrepreneurs to make a living while also bringing happiness in the form of chocolate to new areas. Hang on little boy, I’ll make it to Ohio! Onward.
Chocolate display shelves before and after: