For as far back as I can remember, my grandfather gave boxes of his homemade peppermint patties to our family as Christmas gifts. Like most kids, I would be excited for the holiday, but more than anything else, I looked forward to being able to eat his chocolates again. He didn’t make them often, as chocolate-making was only a hobby during his retirement, so when he did, those peppermint patties were a coveted indulgence for not only my family and I, but for anyone who tried them. As more neighbors and friends tasted the chocolates each year, demand grew to the point at which I recognized an opportunity. I approached my grandfather with the idea to sell his chocolates, he passed down his recipe, and out of my dorm room, the aptly named Seacoast Sweets was born.
My time at Bentley University inevitably concluded, and I shifted my focus to a new career in the commercial real estate industry, another passion. Regardless of the demands of my new job, I could not deny the requests of family and friends who hoped to give the authentic New England treats as gifts. I began experimenting with new flavors and varieties, and as the boxed chocolates passed from hand to hand, word spread and demand grew exponentially. My colleagues at CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate firm, began ordering my chocolates, until one day, one of the major brokerage teams designated Seacoast Sweets as their official holiday gift for clients.
Working full-time in Boston during the day, coupled with finishing an MBA program, presented a challenge as I committed to producing by hand hundreds of boxes of Seacoast Sweets in time to send to these clients for the holidays. That said, I've always thrived under pressure. After creating a vehicle by which for every box of Seacoast Sweets sold, $1.00 would go to a local Boston charity, I was more inspired than ever to ensure the success of this company, not only as a business venture, but as a worthy philanthropic endeavor.
After the annual three-month pre-holiday rush of pulling all-nighters, spending my weekends melting and mixing chocolate in my family's Newburyport kitchen, and sitting in my car in a downtown parking garage during lunch breaks, attaching bows to boxes, I finally began to recognize the reward of the seven-day work week. My life-long goal of inspiring others had started to come to fruition. I’d hoped to inspire my younger siblings, embedding within them a strong work ethic. I'd hoped to inspire fellow entrepreneurs, serving as a poster-child for what happens when one follows his or her passion. I’d hoped to inspire women, proving to them that not only can we achieve success in the male-dominated corporate world, but as independent business owners as well.
When I was invited to speak at the largest women’s networking conference in the country, the Massachusetts Conference for Women, I was floored that my dream of reaching women on a massive scale would soon be realized, but that didn’t distract me from accomplishing my entrepreneurial goals as well. I proudly accepted the invitation and quickly suggested Seacoast Sweets as a gift for the speakers. Public figures and role models such as Shonda Rhimes, Tim Gunn, and Sophia Amoroso would be receiving my chocolates.
Seacoast Sweets will now be a vendor at the Nantucket Wine Festival, as well as a speaker gift at the Innovation Conference for Boston Business Women (where one of my idols, Arianna Huffington, will be speaking). Additional exposure includes an article in the Boston Globe published February 7th, wholesaling at various locations such as a top cafe on Boston's famous Newbury Street, a Best of Boston winner for "Best Gifts", and a two time winner of Northshore Magazine's "Best of the Northshore" (did I mention we are currently nominated as well?). We also have a year-round gig at the Newburyport Farmers’ Market (for which foot traffic averages 1,500 people each week), and beginning this summer, a spot in Boston’s South End Farmers' Market, popularly referred to as SoWA, to which for a six month duration, approximately 10,000 people flock each week.
All profits acquired up to this point have been invested back into the company. However, as a one-woman operation working out of a certified residential kitchen, production is limited to 300 boxes monthly. Additional funding will be allocated towards hiring hourly employees, purchasing machinery to eliminate congestion, and securing kitchen space suitable for a company with exposure to 11,500 people each week.
Seacoast Sweets has developed valuable relationships with various manufacturers in China, who are keen to provide cost-conscious machinery that will speed production from wrapping five chocolates per minute to twenty per minute. In addition, a number of innovative firms have submitted visionary proposals and plans for social media exposure, branding, and marketing.
Risks and challenges
Our project is successfully funded. Now what?
Before spending a single penny, it is essential that I have a seamless game-plan in place, outlining a strategy on 1-, 3-, and 5-year bases to ensure sustainability and profitability. I believe that with a clear vision, anyone can achieve his or her desired success. My definition of success is always expanding and growing, along with my company and my wisdom. Right now, I consider the journey alone to be a success. I’ve been faced with obstacles and threats of failure, and have remained undeterred. If a door closed, I’d open a window. If the ceiling lowered, I’d smash through it. I’ve internalized every lesson along the way, and for that alone, this company has already been a major success, and the journey has only just gotten started.
Unlike the Rolling Stones song, time is NOT on my side. The SoWA market begins on May 1st. My hopes are to have the machinery and manpower in place prior to then, requiring me to make some quick but smart decisions. I’ve grown too large to embark on this endeavor on my own, so I will depend upon the help of others, meaning I will have to let go of some control. However, I view the concept of stepping out of my comfort zone to be an exciting next chapter, and I am looking forward to building our community.
I am honored to have gained recognition for our packaging, our local grassroots vibe, and our integrity. In scaling, I will be sure to maintain this reputation, writing our core values into our strategic outline. My widespread and rapid-expansion vision for Seacoast Sweets will undoubtedly present some challenges, but I am adamant that we maintain our local relationships, treating them with respect and mutual support. Since I sold my first chocolates, I have sent hand-written notes and have met personally with clients, customers, and vendors, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to be the face of the company, visiting retail locations myself to develop relationships with shop owners. Believing in community building, I will also use my own personal funds to send some of the first customers personal boxes during the holidays to thank them for their contributions.
Because of our quality product and packaging, we compete directly with a number of high-end brands. We do offer our product at drastically lower pricing. The following are examples of current competitor pricing: 8 patties for $55 (we offer 12 patties for $29), $5.99 for each patty in cafes and retail locations (we offer this at $2.50), $75 for 1.5 pounds of chocolate (we offer 2 pounds for $29). There will always be chocolate consumers who stick to convenience stores for their chocolate fix, viewing our prices as too high. Seacoast Sweets is clearly the best value among our competitors though and it will be important to continue shining light on this as we market our product.
With capacity low, it will be difficult to distribute all rewards until I get our system in place, which is projected to occur prior to May 1st. Satisfying these specific orders will be a top priority. I recognize continued growth for Seacoast Sweets would not be possible without you.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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