Daniel Jones Artisan Chocolatier & Patissier: Daniel Jones
The young culinary entrepreneur on starting up in a recession – and why it’s all about the branding
Tell us what your business does:
Daniel Jones Artisan Chocolatier & Patissier specialises in creating completely handmade chocolates, using ethical ingredients and innovative flavour combinations.
We use some of the finest cacao in the world, including trinitario beans from the Dominican Republic, which are organic and Fairtrade certified.
Our chocolate is tempered on a marble slab by hand – the traditional way – with no machinery involved.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I have had an interest in food from the age of five, and knew that I wanted to have my own business by the age of 10. I trained as a chef, which led to a specific interest in patisserie, which in-turn led to the niche of fine chocolate.
Having worked in the hospitality industry for six years and gained a first class honours degree in culinary arts management, I now spend my time developing and creating new and innovative chocolates.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Ludlow is a fantastic ‘foodie’ market town and has several butchers, delicatessens, artisan bakeries and Michelin-starred restaurants – but there was no-one that made luxury chocolates completely by hand. This is common in London, but not in the Shropshire Hills. Not until now anyway.
My unique selling point is that I make everything by hand, using some of the finest ingredients – including many locally sourced ones.
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What were you doing before starting up?
I trained at one of the best food colleges in the UK, Birmingham College of Food, for six years, before embarking on a career at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage, as a sous chef and pastry chef.
I went on to run my own kitchen as a head chef – allowing me to perfect my managerial skills, as well as continue my interest in innovative flavour combinations and interesting menus.
What appealed most about being your own boss?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to have my own business. I enjoy being creative and being able to develop something new that the customer thoroughly enjoys – knowing that it has my name on it.
I like being able to competently do every aspect of the business myself, from designing packaging and developing new products to managing accounts.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I compiled a very detailed five-year business plan, including market research, strategic analysis, forecasted sales etc.
I ensured that it was the right product, at the right time, in the right place, with the right promotion.
How did you raise the money?
I funded the business on my own, saving up over a few years.
How did you find suppliers?
Originally from the Midlands area, I already knew a lot of [local] suppliers. However, I got to know a lot of new people through word of mouth and social networking sites, such as Twitter.
I drew up a list of stockists who I wanted to sell my product to, approached them with samples and got some decent contracts.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I think every new business faces certain challenges. Part of running your own business is learning to overcome them effectively.
I have learned a great deal about packaging. The step from the catering industry to the retail industry is a very big one.
Where is your business based?
My business is based at the fantastic Ludlow Food Centre. I rent a kitchen unit there, where customers can see me making my chocolates through the window from the shop. They can also talk to me when I do demonstrations and tasting events on the shop floor.
I think it is very important to liaise and interact with your customers. This is the perfect place to make this happen.
How have you promoted your business?
Word of mouth and tasting events play a huge part in my marketing strategy. I am regularly at farmers’ markets and specialist festivals, allowing people to taste my unique product.
I promote the business through Twitter and my own website. My launch was also assisted by the local newspapers and magazines.
How much do you charge?
My prices are in line with the current artisan chocolate market, and the local economy. This was identified in my business plan.
What about staff – how many do you have?
At the moment, it is just myself hand-making, packaging and promoting. It is hard work, but will definitely pay off in the end. Increased sales over the next year will result in me taking on new staff.
I am very interested in teaching young people about the ‘artisan’ way of making chocolate, so hopefully I can start up an apprenticeship programme.
What has your growth been like?
Currently, I am working to my initial business plan. The launch was timed in line with National Chocolate Week 2011 and Christmas was a fantastic period.
Easter will soon be upon us, so I am currently busy hand-making lots of beautiful eggs.
What’s the impact on your home life been like?
I work a lot of hours at the moment – in excess of 70 hours per week – and never actually get a full day off.
Luckily, I have a very understanding and loving girlfriend, who enjoys chocolate (almost) as much as I do. She is fantastic and extremely supportive!
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
Starting up in the middle of a recession will never be without its problems. However, I feel that if you are passionate about your product and have something very unique to offer, people will show a keen interest, even in these difficult times.
What was your first big breakthrough?
I had an article in Speciality Food magazine. I have also recently been contacted by a large company, enquiring about a very interesting contract.
What would you do differently?
The most important thing that I’ve learned is to design the product around the packaging – definitely not the other way around!
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
If you have an idea, make sure that it’s the right one. Do your market research thoroughly and ensure that your timing is right.
Listen to your customers and, above all, be extremely passionate about your product and business. If you are not passionate, you simply won’t succeed.
At the end of the day, you only live once. I live by the rule that, if I want to achieve something, then I will.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time? Do you have an exit strategy?
In five years’ time, I want to have my own premises in Ludlow, and be thinking about expanding into other areas of the UK.
Any new business has to have an exit strategy for security. However, with my passion, determination and customer loyalty, there won’t be any need to refer to my exit strategy any time soon.