Chef Bill Dietz, his wife Karen Dietz, daughter Robin and son-in-law Andy Ciordia started test marketing the sale of chocolate and orange chocolate truffles at farmer's markets in 2008. The Secret Chocolatier started as a side project, but as the recession kicked off, the family realized it would need to create its own job security. Each family member brought a different skill set to the operation, and soon the foursome was expanding their product lines and testing recipes at additional regional markets.
Along with this success came growing pains. That's when the family looked to SCORE for assistance.
The Secret Chocolatier makes "very happy bellies" by offering chocolate truffles, toffee, pastries, wedding cakes and more.
After nearly three years developing a following for its artisan chocolate confections at local farmers markets and retailers, The Secret Chocolatier secured financing through an expansion loan and opened its first retail chocolate shop at Providence Plaza in Charlotte, NC. The company has since opened a cafe as its second location.
While mentors have helped the team look toward the future, they've also helped The Secret Chocolatier weather a few small business storms — literally. "We lost 30 percent of our yearly revenue in an ice storm that nearly cost us the business," Andy admits. "We've had building issues where a waterfall erupted from our ceiling with no cause of our own. Those are the real unplannable challenges that you just have to weather or be sunk."
The team has also sought help to attract and retain new customers and to grow its wholesale accounts.
Andy recalls meeting with mentor Chuck Sawicki often during the early days of the business. "He schooled us in a lot of thoughts in business development and sales," he says. "He also had a great eye for the far future." Sawicki has since relocated, but the family has met mentors along the way who can assist them in various aspects of the business.