The Business Owner: James Hutchins, James Chocolates/ Chocolate Treat Club/ Cocoa Republic
For chocolate entrepreneur James Hutchins, creativity, innovation and fun are just part of the job…
How is your business different from what’s already out there?
We are recognised as leaders in our field in terms of chocolate creativity and innovation.
This carries though all arms of the business, from our core range of James Chocolates branded products with their unique blend of fun and great taste, through to our new brands; Chocolate Treat Club – the UK’s first tailored chocolate subscription service which is set to shake up the chocolate delivery market, and our latest venture, Cocoa Republic – bringing innovation to the chocolate bar market by putting consumers at the helm of creativity.
Finally, through our manufacturing side, we are known for providing innovate chocolate products and solutions for leading high street retailers including Waitrose, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason.
How did you finance your business?
To date, James Chocolates has been financed through traditional bank lending and peer to peer lending such as Funding Circle. Chocolate Treat Club however has huge scalable potential for growth, and would be limited by debt finance. To grow this type of business quickly requires a different approach, and equity crowd funding will allow it to reach its potential.
What is the most important thing to keep track of in business and why?
That differs from business to business. In our business we use Key Performance Indicators to keep track of the important numbers. Working out what these should be for your business is the challenge! There are obvious ones like sales and profit, but sometimes the really crucial things are less obvious. It’s important to have a balance of indicators and to try and hone in on the critical ones rather than trying to monitor everything.
What is the biggest day-to-day challenge you face?
Staying focused on the important things I need to do to take the business forward rather than being sucked into the day to day is definitely a challenge. Ring-fencing time to work on major projects and making an environment where I won’t be disturbed are both key to this.
What marketing techniques do you use to attract new customers?
Our business covers several different sectors and we use different techniques for each area. In the business to business world of our core branded products, what works best for us is still a fairly traditional blend of trade shows, featuring in appropriate trade press, direct mail and telesales.
In the more consumer focused side of the business Facebook advertising, encouraging referrals and consumer press are all great ways for us to find new customers.
Do you think it’s important for small businesses to export, any tips?
That depends on your business, your customers and route to market. Export brings its own challenges and a much bigger potential range of customers, but needs to be considered carefully in terms of profitability. A top tip would be to know your customer and route to market then focus on this to make sure you aren’t wasting time. For us, selling chocolate to Switzerland was a particular highlight though!
What’s the business app you couldn’t do without?
We increasingly use Trello to manage projects and help collaboration across different team members and partners. This works really well for us as staff can update and keep track wherever and whenever, and it is easy to use and adapt to different projects.
Describe your company’s culture in three words:
Creative, fun, innovative.
What would you like the government to do for small business?
Reduce VAT. VAT reduction from 20% back down to 17.5% would impact on the prices consumers pay and reduce margin pressure from bigger retailers. Also, more schemes to make finance accessible for small businesses would encourage growth. SEIS and EIS are great, but we need more support for debt equity to encourage banks to lend. If you don’t have security to offer lenders, or need more than you have available, then there is a real gap.
Who’s your biggest small and medium enterprise hero?
My heroes tend to be businesspeople who have created something new, refused to accept the status quo and haven’t given up. Most recently I’ve listened to the biography of Elon Musk and found his story truly awe inspiring.
Where do you want the business to be in three years?
I’d like all sectors of the business to be delivering separate, profitable growth to plan, to establish each as a separate identity that allows potential sale or exit. And importantly, to enjoy the journey getting there!
What’s your top tip for keeping it lean and making profit?
Get your figures right, monitor them, and make sure everyone in the business understands the figures that relate to them, and knows their role in delivering them.